Top 40 things to do in Kyoto (Japan)
Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Japan.
In part, because it served as the capital of the country between 794 and 1868, when power was transferred to Tokyo. In fact, Kyoto literally means capital city in Japanese.
There are so many things to do in Kyoto. While it abounds with temples, its allure does not end there.
In this post we tell you 40 things to do in Kyoto.
Where to stay in Kyoto: best areas and hotels
If you don’t know where to start, we leave you a map with all the things to see in Kyoto marked.
40 THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN KYOTO
1. Fall in love with the Golden Pavilion, an essential visit to do in Kyoto
One of the essential visits to do in Kyoto is to walk through the gardens of the Kinkaku-ji temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.
The nickname honors the material (gold leaves) used to build its two upper floors.
It was built in 1397 as a villa for rest, although it later became a Zen temple.
Currently it houses the relics of the Buddha and you can only visit its excellent Japanese gardens.
The entrance costs 400 yen (3€ approx).
2. Finding Peace at Ryōan-ji Temple
Very close to the Golden Pavilion is one of the most important Zen temples.
Like the previous building, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1994.
However, its main attraction is its almost unique garden.
Built in 1488, it is rectangular and made of raked sand, moss and some slightly larger rocks.
Despite the fact that there are many tourists, it is a pleasure to listen to the sound of nature and enjoy a few moments of relaxation.
The entrance to the temple is paid and costs 500 yen (approx €4).
3. Visit the Ninna-ji temple, one of the most beautiful to see in Kyoto
And if you continue in the direction of Arashiyama, shortly before arriving you will come across one of the oldest Buddhist temples of the Shingon school in Kyoto.
Emperor Kōkō ordered its construction in the 9th century to spread Buddhist teachings, but he never saw it finished.
Later, a fire destroyed almost the entire structure and what we can see today is a reconstruction dating from the 17th century, including the famous pagoda.
Appreciating its five-story pagoda is one of the best things to do in Kyoto.
If you want to enter the temple you will have to pay 500 yen (approx. €4), although access to its surroundings is free, except during hanami, which costs 600 yen (about €5).
4. Get lost in the beautiful streets of Arashiyama
One of the most charming areas of Kyoto is Arashiyama.
This district is located in the west of the city.
It also concentrates many of the attractions of Kyoto.
It is a traditional area, with great contact with nature: crossed by the Oi river and surrounded by mountains.
Walking through its beautiful and lively streets is a recommended activity to do in Kyoto.
5. Being surrounded by bamboo in Arashiyama Forest, a very popular thing to do in Kyoto
Precisely the bamboo forest is one of the attractions of this district.
It is a pity that together we spoil it, since with so many people inside it loses a lot of its charm.
It is very curious how resistant bamboo is.
In Hong Kong the scaffolding is made of their logs and supports huge buildings.
6. Cross the Togetsukyo Bridge
It is the most special of those that cross the Oi River.
It’s especially pretty in the fall, when the mountains in the background take on their typical autumn look.
From there you can have magnificent views of the river, the mountains, and the Arashiyama district.
A fairy tale landscape.
7. Go to Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, a fun plan to do in Kyoto
Finally, the last of the things to do in Kyoto in the Arashiyama district is to have fun with the monkeys.
You can do it at the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama.
Getting to the park is a bit difficult: you will have to go up some 10 minutes up quite steep slopes.
Then, surely you will not regret it.
You will see more than a hundred monkeys roaming freely and you will be able to enjoy incredible views of the city.
The entrance to the park costs 550 yen (about €4.50).
This price does not include the food that you want to give to the monkeys.
If you feel like giving them something, inside they sell things suitable for consumption.
Without a doubt, one of the most fun things to do in Kyoto.
8. Pass under thousands of red torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most famous stamp to see in Kyoto
Surely you have seen these red doors on many occasions.
They are one of the typical icons of Kyoto.
They are inside the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the most important Shinto shrine in the city.
It is at the foot of the sacred mountain Inari, which you can climb by passing under the famous torii.
In total there are more than 10,000 torii, which are donations from individuals and companies.
You can see the name of the donor and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each door.
The price of each one starts at 400,000 yen (approx. €3,347) for a small door and increases to more than one million yen (approx. €8,500) for a large door.
Access is free and if you want to do the whole tour it will take you about 2-3 hours.
9. Enter the Tōfuku-ji temple
This Zen temple is located in the southeast of the old Japanese capital.
As you can see, in Kyoto you have temples to give and give away.
It was built in 1236 under the Fujiwara clan.
What is most worth seeing is the huge Sanmon gate, the oldest main Zen gate in Japan, and the Tsutenkyo bridge, which has beautiful views.
Admission is 400 yen for the gardens and the Hojo (where the head priest lived) and another 400 for the Tsutenkyo Bridge and the Kaisando Building.
10. Visit the Tō-ji temple and its incredible pagoda
This Shingon Buddhist temple is known, in part, for its massive pagoda.
At 54.8 meters tall, it is the tallest wooden tower in Japan.
Like most, this temple is also paid.
If you want to access its enclosure, you will have to pay 500 yen (approx €4).
11. Stroll through Gion and its streams at sunset, a beautiful area to see in Kyoto
There is no better way to end a tourist day in Kyoto than by walking through the streets of Gion.
Walking there you will go back in time, and with luck, you will meet some geisha.
Although it is beautiful all day, it is worth going at sunset.
Without a doubt, one of the essential activities to do in Kyoto.
12. Have dinner at a restaurant in Pontocho Alley
And after a good walk you have to end it with a good meal.
One of the best areas to dine and enjoy the nightlife in Kyoto is Pontocho Alley.
There you will find multitudes of restaurants and bars where you can fill your stomach.
There are them for all budgets, and if you can afford it, in summer some open terraces on the Kamogawa River.
A romantic dinner there is a highly recommended thing to do in Kyoto.
13. Lower dinner walking along the banks of the Kamogawa River, something typical to do in Kyoto
And before going to rest, there is nothing better than resting the food walking along the promenade set up on the banks of the Kamogawa.
A nice thing to do in Kyoto under the moonlight and lanterns.
14. Buy something in Teramachi street, one of the commercial arteries of Kyoto
Although it seems that Kyoto only has temples, it also has a very important commercial area.
We recommend that you walk along Teramachi street, a covered gallery where you can find shops of all kinds, some quite curious.
There are many shops in Japan that only accept cash. That is why we recommend you get yen before the trip.
15. Get to know the Nijō Castle, residence of the Tokugawa
This castle is one of the most iconic buildings in Kyoto.
Its construction was ordered in 1601 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate as a residence in Kyoto and also as a symbol of power.
These shoguns ruled the country for more than 200 years, and in Kyoto, they did not lack a good residence thanks to this castle.
Access costs 600 yen for adults (about €5 approx.).
16. Discover the Kyoto Imperial Palace and its gardens, something historical to do in Kyoto
You cannot leave Kyoto without seeing its Imperial Palace.
The Emperor of Japan resided there until 1869, when the Meiji Restoration ended the power of the Tokugawa.
Then, the imperial power was transferred to Tokyo.
At present, the emperor still resides in the country’s capital.
The palace gardens can be visited for free and are one of the best things to do in Kyoto.
Walking around will allow you to see some of the most important buildings in the palace, such as the Shishinden, the room where the emperor was crowned.
17. Visit the Kamo shrines
Two of the most important shrines in Kyoto are Shimogamo and Kamigamo.
They are separated by about 3 kilometers, which is the route taken in procession to celebrate the Aoi Matsuri festival .
Both were sponsored by the emperor before their move to Tokyo because they were seen as protecting the city and making it prosperous.
18. Stroll through the gardens of the Heian Shrine
Not all the visits to do in Kyoto are ancient temples, the Heian sanctuary is relatively modern.
It was built in 1895 to celebrate Kyoto’s 1,100 years as the country’s capital.
In fact, it is called that because Heian is the old name for Kyoto.
The shrine is dedicated to the first and last emperor to rule Kyoto.
A large torii gate welcomes you to the shrine, which has a very pretty garden full of cherry trees.
Admission is free, but if you want to visit the garden you will have to pay 600 yen (approx €5).
19. Reflect on the Philosophers’ Walk, a very relaxing thing to do in Kyoto
This is one of the most enjoyable walks to do in Kyoto.
During its little more than two kilometers surrounding a stream, you will find a scene of peace and harmony.
In its surroundings there are important temples and very interesting craft shops.
If you are lucky enough to visit Kyoto in April, surrounded by cherry blossoms is even more beautiful.
The name is in honor of Kitarō Nishida, a well-known philosophy professor who walked this path in order to meditate and be inspired.
20. Falling in love with the gardens of the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji), an inevitable thing to do in Kyoto
Very close to the Paseo de los Filósofos you can visit a temple with exceptional gardens.
The creator of Ginkaku-ji Temple built it as a mountain retreat house in imitation of the Golden Pavilion.
When he died, it was converted into a Zen temple made up of several buildings.
During the visit you cannot enter any pavilion, but visiting the pristine sand gardens and its main construction on the lake are a must-do in Kyoto.
Also, it is on a small hill overlooking the city.
The entrance costs 500 yen (approx. €4).
Contrary to what its name indicates, the construction does not have a single gram of silver.
It is named for its inspiration in the Golden Pavilion, although it is also said that the reflection of the moon on its dark façade gave it a silvery appearance.
21. Finding Peace at Hōnen-in Temple
Following the route marked by the Paseo de los Filósofos you will find a gem of a temple that is rarely visited.
Its moss-covered door will lead you into a small corridor surrounded by two mounds of sand that claim to be purifiers.
A small pond with its little stone bridge completes the beautiful picture.
The temple was built in honor of Honen, the founder of the Jodo branch of Buddhism, one of the most popular in Japan.
Admission is free, except to its main hall, where you can see a beautiful Buddha.
It is only open to the public the first half of April and the first week of November.
22. Hallucinate with the Sanmon Gate, in the Nanzen-ji temple
With the number of temples in Kyoto it is difficult to decide on one, but the Nanzen-ji stands out for its impressive gate.
Without much fanfare, it is one of the most impressive for its size.
Sanmon Gate was built in 1628 to honor the soldiers who died in the siege of Osaka Castle.
For 500 yen you can go up to its small balcony, from where you will have views of the city.
It is not an essential thing to do in Kyoto, we recommend that you spend that money to enter the temple because a surprise awaits you…
23. Finding an aqueduct in an unexpected place
Don’t stand there in front of the Sanmon gate, go through it to enter the temple.
Not only will you find a temple and its corresponding gardens, but you will be surprised by an aqueduct.
It was built during the Meiji era to transport water from Lake Biwa, the largest in the country, to Kyoto.
24. See the most spectacular autumn colors at the Eikan-dō temple
If you travel to Japan in autumn, another essential visit to do in Kyoto is the Eikan-dō temple.
It is surrounded by vegetation that takes on spectacular orange tones from November.
Of its various buildings, the pagoda stands out especially, which rises above the rest.
The entrance costs 600 yen (approx €5), but in the autumn season they raise it to 1000 yen (approx €8) during the day.
25. Remember the victims of World War II, something emotional to do in Kyoto
A huge statue of 20 meters high with the figure of Avalokiteshvara, representative of compassion in the Buddhist religion, remembers those who died during the war.
Inside there is a memorial and it is surrounded by tablets in honor of the soldiers who did not return home.
The entrance to Ryozen Kannon costs 300 yen (approx €2.50) and includes an incense stick for you to place in memory of the deceased.
26. Stroll through Maruyama Park and hallucinate with its temples
It is the busiest place to view the cherry blossoms, an equivalent to Tokyo ‘s Ueno Park .
Therefore, it is especially beautiful in spring.
But don’t worry, it’s lively all year round, as there are many street food stalls of all kinds.
Plus, you won’t be short of temples to see there either.
The most popular are Chion-in and Yasaka Shrine.
27. Browse the Nishiki market, a good plan to do in Kyoto for those with a sweet tooth
If you are looking for fresh food, head to Nikishi Market.
It is a narrow street packed with stalls selling mostly fish, but also sweets, ready meals and even kitchen utensils.
The most special thing is that almost all are local products typical of Kyoto.
28. Watch a kimono parade at the Nishijinori Textile Center
You will see a lot of kimonos on the streets of Kyoto, you can even rent one and walk around the city with it.
If you like this traditional garment you should go to the Nishijin Textile Center.
There they do a kimono parade for 10 minutes every hour and you can also see the making process.
29. Go back in time on Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets
If you are looking for the most traditional side of Kyoto, try these two streets.
Its cobblestones and wooden facades will transport you to the past.
There are many local crafts, tea houses and restaurants.
A nice place to take a break from visiting the many temples that must be seen in Kyoto.
It reminded us a lot of the traditional part of Seoul.
30. Hallucinate with the number of graves in the Higashi Otani cemetery
We have never seen such a large and impressive cemetery.
Before entering the Kiyomizu-Dera temple you will find thousands of tombs in a spectacular natural environment.
In addition, in the alleys that go up to the temple there are some very traditional shops where they sell bouquets of flowers for relatives to remember the deceased.
31. Take in an amazing view from Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, one of our favorite things to do in Kyoto
Visiting this temple is, without a doubt, an essential thing to do in Kyoto.
Although the main hall was on scaffolding when we visited, the views from behind the temple were still incredible.
The temple began to be built in the year 778, although the buildings that we can see today are from the 17th century.
32. Photograph the famous statues of the Sanjūsangen-dō temple
This temple is known for housing 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of compassion.
On top of that, its 120-meter main hall is the longest remaining wooden construction in Japan.
Originally built in 1164, it was destroyed by fire a century later.
Admission costs 600 yen (€4.50 approx).
33. Climb the Kyoto Tower
If you want to see Kyoto from 100 meters high, go up to the Kyoto Tower.
Actually, this construction is not very loved by the locals, who believe that it breaks with the traditional aesthetics of the city.
Its construction finished in 1964, a very prosperous year for Japan, since it was also inaugurated in shinkansen and the Tokyo Olympic Games were held.
From the top of the Kyoto tower you will have a 360 degree view and they say that on clear days you can even see Osaka.
Admission costs 770 yen (€6.50 approx).
34. Attend a tea ceremony, a traditional activity to do in Kyoto
Tea is more than just a drink for the Japanese.
There are several tea rooms that do tours in English where they explain the origin, all the rituals that are around it, and all the types of tea that there are.
In the end, you have to put what you have learned into practice and prepare a tea to try it.
35. Feast on a cheese tart at Bake, an irresistible thing to do in Kyoto
A very sweet place in the most commercial street of Kyoto is Bake.
They only sell mini cheesecakes and ice cream.
Imagine how well they do so that there is always a queue! The tartlets are tiny and cost 216 yen (€1.80), perfect for a treat.
36. Try a 3D cafe in Elk, a curious thing to do in Kyoto
Long live cute food! In Japan you can have a coffee with a cat sticking out of the milk foam.
Elk is a cafeteria that specializes in making these types of drinks, but they also make sandwiches and simple dishes that are quite well priced.
If you need a break from all that there is to do in Kyoto, this is a good place to stop and recharge your batteries.
37. Enjoy the huge Nishihongan-ji temple
You will hallucinate with the enclosure that this Buddhist temple occupies just a 10-minute walk from Kyoto Station.
It’s in an area with little traffic, but it’s worth a visit.
Nishi Hongan-ji is the seat of Jodo Buddhism in Kyoto and is a World Heritage Site.
Admission is free.
38. Climb Mount Kurama, a good plan to do in Kyoto if you like sports
In the town of Kurama you can totally isolate yourself from the world.
It is in a mountainous area less than an hour from the center of Kyoto.
It is one of the most popular destinations to relax due to its proximity to the city.
In addition, it has idyllic thermal baths, surrounded by the vegetation of the mountains.
If you like hiking, stay a couple of days to discover the wonderful routes in the area.
39. Take the opportunity to visit the Kurama-dera temple
If you dare to visit Kurama you cannot miss its greatest attraction.
About half an hour’s walk from the town is the Kurama-dera Buddhist temple.
It was founded in the 8th century in a privileged environment that still transmits an absolute state of peace today.
If climbing mountains is not your thing, you can take the cable car to get there more easily.
40. Go to Nara, a very typical excursion to do in Kyoto
To end our list of things to do in Kyoto, we recommend this excursion.
A trip to Japan is not complete without visiting the beautiful city of Nara.
It is just over an hour from Kyoto and is a perfect place to visit in one day.
You will be able to feed its already famous deer and visit more beautiful temples and shrines.