Last Updated on March 16, 2024 by Ezra Matiasi

Here is a list of what to do in Kyoto, Japan:

  • Visit Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
  • Explore Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Wander through Kiyomizu-dera
  • Experience Ryoan-ji
  • Discover Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
  • Explore Gion District
  • Visit Nijo Castle
  • Experience Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
  • Explore the Kyoto National Museum
  • Visit Maruyama Park
  • Walk the Philosopher’s Path
  • Explore Heian Shrine Garden
  • Visit Okochi Sanso Garden
  • Explore the Kyoto Railway Museum
  • Visit Kyoto International Manga Museum
  • Experience Nishiki Market
  • Explore Pontocho Alley
  • Venture to Kibune and Kurama
  • Visit Uji
  • Explore Ohara

Exploring Kyoto’s Ancient Temples and Shrines

Kyoto is home to a plethora of awe-inspiring ancient temples and shrines, each with its own unique history and architectural beauty. 

These spiritual landmarks provide a glimpse into Japan’s storied past and offer a serene escape from the bustling city. 

Here are some must-visit temples and shrines that should be on your Kyoto itinerary:

  • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion):

    The dazzling Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks.

    The stunning temple is covered in gold leaf, reflecting in the shimmering waters of its surrounding pond.

    Explore the meticulously manicured gardens as you marvel at the breathtaking fusion of natural beauty and architectural brilliance.
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha:

    Prepare to be enchanted by the thousands of vibrant red torii gates that form the mesmerising Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

    This sacred site, dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and agriculture, offers a captivating hiking experience through the forested Mount Inari. 

    The higher you ascend, the more spectacular the panoramic views of Kyoto become.
  • Kiyomizu-dera:

    Perched atop a hill, Kiyomizu-dera is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a prime example of traditional wooden architecture.

    The main hall’s expansive wooden terrace offers spectacular vistas of Kyoto’s cityscape.

    Visit during cherry blossom or autumn to witness the temple’s surroundings transform into a sea of pink or fiery hues.
  • Ryoan-ji:

    Known for its enigmatic rock garden, Ryoan-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple that exudes tranquillity and contemplation.

    The minimalist design of the garden, with carefully arranged stones and raked gravel, has been captivating visitors for centuries, leaving them to interpret its meaning.
  • Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion):

    Despite its name, Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, isn’t actually covered in silver like its golden counterpart.

    Nevertheless, it boasts an elegant simplicity that complements the surrounding landscape.

    Explore the immaculate Zen gardens and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere that has inspired artists and poets throughout history.

    As you venture through these revered temples and shrines, you’ll be transported back in time, immersing yourself in the spiritual heritage that defines Kyoto’s cultural identity.

    Each visit will leave you with a profound appreciation for the artistry and devotion that shaped these historical treasures.

    So, put on your walking shoes and embark on a spiritual journey like no other.

Immerse Yourself in Kyoto’s Rich History and Culture

Beyond its temples and shrines, Kyoto boasts a rich tapestry of history and culture that unfolds through its well-preserved districts and cultural landmarks. 

Stepping into these storied areas is like travelling back in time, where age-old traditions and customs continue to thrive. 

Here are some of the top cultural experiences and historical sites to explore in Kyoto:

  • Gion District:

    Arguably Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, Gion is a captivating neighbourhood that preserves the elegance and allure of traditional Japanese entertainment.

    As you stroll along the narrow streets lined with wooden machiya townhouses, keep an eye out for gecko (the local term for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha) gracefully making their way to engagements.

    Embrace the opportunity to witness traditional dance performances or savour the intimate atmosphere of a teahouse.
  • Nijo Castle:

    Built in the 17th century, Nijo Castle stands as a remarkable example of Japanese feudal architecture and design.

    The castle’s exquisite interiors feature stunning wall paintings and intricate wooden carvings.

    Don’t miss the “nightingale floors,” which produce a chirping sound to alert occupants of approaching intruders.

    The beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding the castle add to its allure.
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove:

    A nature lover’s paradise, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is an ethereal bamboo forest that casts a spell on all who wander through it.

    The towering bamboo shoots create a mesmerising ambience, offering a moment of tranquillity and reflection.

    Take a peaceful walk or opt for a rickshaw ride through this enchanting green tunnel to fully immerse yourself in its serenity.
  • Kyoto National Museum:

    For those eager to delve deeper into Japan’s cultural heritage, the Kyoto National Museum is a treasure trove of historical artefacts and art collections.

    From traditional pottery and textiles to samurai armour and religious relics, the museum showcases Japan’s cultural evolution over the centuries.

    Explore the exhibits and gain a deeper understanding of Kyoto’s role in shaping the nation’s identity.

    As you venture through these cultural landmarks, you’ll witness the seamless blend of old and new, where age-old customs coexist with modern life.

    Kyoto’s commitment to preserving its heritage ensures that each visit provides an authentic glimpse into the past, leaving a lasting impression on your heart and mind.

    Embrace the rich tapestry of history and culture that awaits you in this captivating city.

Delightful Kyoto Gardens and Parks

In addition to its historical and cultural treasures, Kyoto is also renowned for its picturesque gardens and tranquil parks. 

Designed with meticulous attention to detail, these green spaces offer a serene respite from the urban bustle, inviting visitors to relax and rejuvenate amid nature’s beauty. 

Here are some of the most delightful Kyoto gardens and parks that deserve a spot on your itinerary:

  • Maruyama Park:

    Famed for its breathtaking cherry blossoms in spring, Maruyama Park is one of Kyoto’s most popular hanami (flower-viewing) spots.

    Spread over acres of lush greenery, the park features a massive weeping cherry tree that becomes the centrepiece of the Hanami celebrations.

    Gather under its branches with locals and fellow travellers to appreciate the delicate beauty of Sakura.
  • Philosopher’s Path:

    Named after the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to contemplate life while walking along its canal, the Philosopher’s Path offers a peaceful and scenic route lined with cherry and maple trees.

    The path meanders through the northern Higashiyama district, providing a tranquil escape and an ideal opportunity for introspection.
  • Heian Shrine Garden:

    The Heian Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Kammu and Emperor Komei, houses a stunning garden that captivates visitors year-round.

    The pond, adorned with irises and water lilies, reflects the vibrant colours of the surrounding landscape. 

    The garden’s seasonal beauty, especially during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons, is a sight to behold.
  • Okochi Sanso Garden:

    Nestled in the Arashiyama district, the Okochi Sanso Garden is a hidden gem that offers a sense of tranquillity and seclusion. 

    Once the residence of a famous actor, Denjiro Okochi, the garden features walking paths that wind through bamboo groves, mossy hills, and scenic viewpoints.

    Savour a cup of matcha tea and traditional Japanese sweets in the teahouse while taking in the serene ambience.

    These gardens and parks provide a meditative escape from the city’s hustle and bustle, allowing you to connect with nature and appreciate the changing seasons.

    Whether you visit during spring when cherry blossoms bloom, or in autumn when leaves transform into a kaleidoscope of colours, each garden and park offers a unique and memorable experience.

    So, take your time to unwind and enjoy the harmony between nature and culture that Kyoto so graciously offers.

Kyoto’s Modern Charms

While Kyoto is renowned for its historical heritage, it embraces modernity with its vibrant contemporary attractions. 

From interactive museums to bustling shopping districts, these modern charms add a dynamic twist to your Kyoto adventure. 

Explore the city’s evolving culture and entertainment with these must-visit contemporary highlights:

  • Kyoto Railway Museum:

    Train enthusiasts and history buffs alike will delight in the Kyoto Railway Museum, where Japan’s railway heritage comes to life.

    Discover an impressive collection of vintage locomotives, train cars, and railway artefacts.

    Interactive exhibits allow you to simulate driving a train and experience the railway’s evolution over the years.
  • Kyoto International Manga Museum:

    Immerse yourself in the captivating world of Japanese manga (comics) at the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

    With an extensive collection of manga from different eras, the museum offers a fascinating journey through the evolution of this beloved art form.

    You can even sit down and read manga from the vast selection available.
  • Nishiki Market:

    Experience the lively atmosphere of Nishiki Market, a bustling food market that has been serving Kyoto locals for centuries.

    Stroll through narrow aisles filled with a colourful array of fresh seafood, traditional sweets, pickles, and other local delights.

    This is the perfect place to sample Kyoto’s culinary specialities and purchase souvenirs.
  • Pontocho Alley:

    As night falls, Pontocho Alley comes alive with lantern-lit alleys, traditional wooden machiya teahouses, and exquisite dining establishments.

    Famous for its traditional dining and entertainment, Pontocho offers a chance to experience the essence of Kyoto’s nightlife. 

    Enjoy a sumptuous kaiseki meal or witness a mesmerising geisha performance at a teahouse.

    Kyoto’s modern attractions harmoniously complement its ancient heritage, providing a well-rounded experience that caters to diverse interests.

    Embrace the city’s dynamic spirit as you venture into these contemporary gems, which showcase Kyoto’s ability to embrace the old and the new, creating a destination that appeals to visitors of all ages and tastes.

Kyoto’s Scenic Nature Escapes

Beyond the city’s bustling streets and historical landmarks, Kyoto offers a wealth of scenic nature escapes that promise tranquillity and natural beauty. 

These destinations allow you to connect with the serene landscapes and immerse yourself in the calming ambience of rural Japan. 

Here are some of the top scenic nature escapes near Kyoto:

  • Kibune and Kurama:

    Nestled in the mountains to the north of Kyoto, Kibune and Kurama are picturesque villages renowned for their stunning natural beauty.

    Take a leisurely hike through the enchanting forested trails that connect the two villages.

    Along the way, you’ll find quaint shrines, soothing hot springs (onsen), and breathtaking vistas.

    The Kibune Shrine, with its unique setting above a river, and the Kurama-dera Temple are must-visit attractions.
  • Uji:

    Just a short train ride from Kyoto, Uji is a town steeped in green tea culture and natural splendour.

    Renowned for producing some of Japan’s finest matcha, Uji offers a tranquil escape from the urban hustle.

    Visit the Byōdō-in Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a magnificent Phoenix Hall, and stroll along the Uji River, which is lined with cherry trees that bloom beautifully in spring.
  • Ohara:

    Venture to Ohara, a rural oasis located in the northern part of Kyoto. This secluded valley is home to several hidden temples and verdant landscapes.

    Visit the Sanzen-in Temple, famous for its exquisite gardens, and explore the surrounding countryside, where rice paddies and traditional thatched-roof houses evoke a sense of serenity.

Practical Tips for Travelling in Kyoto

Travelling to Kyoto can be an enriching and unforgettable experience. 

To make the most of your visit and ensure a smooth journey, consider these practical tips that will enhance your stay in this captivating city:

Best Time to Visit Kyoto:

Kyoto is a year-round destination, each season offering its unique charm. Spring (March to May) is famous for cherry blossoms, while autumn (October to November) showcases vibrant fall foliage. 

However, these popular seasons can be crowded, so consider visiting during the quieter months of late fall or early spring for a more tranquil experience.

Getting Around the City: Transportation Options:

Kyoto boasts an efficient public transportation system, including buses and trains, making it easy to navigate the city. 

Purchase a Kyoto City Bus Pass or a Kyoto Sightseeing Card for unlimited travel within the city. 

The subway is also convenient for reaching specific destinations. Renting a bicycle is another popular option, allowing you to explore Kyoto at a leisurely pace.

Where to Stay in Kyoto: Accommodation Recommendations:

Kyoto offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget and preference. 

For an authentic experience, consider staying in a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) with tatami floors and futon beds. 

Mid-range hotels and guesthouses are scattered throughout the city, while luxury hotels provide exquisite amenities and views.

Must-Try Kyoto Cuisine and Restaurants:

Indulge in Kyoto’s renowned culinary delights, which include kaiseki (traditional multi-course meals), sushi, tempura, and yudofu (tofu hot pot). 

Don’t miss trying matcha-flavoured treats and seasonal wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). 

Visit Nishiki Market, Pontocho Alley, and Gion for a variety of dining options.

Respect Local Customs and Etiquette:

Kyoto, with its rich cultural heritage, values traditional customs and etiquette.

When visiting temples and shrines, be respectful and follow guidelines, such as removing your shoes, refraining from loud conversations, and refraining from photography in certain areas. 

Greeting locals with a bow and saying “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you) will be appreciated.

Cash and Payment in Kyoto:

While major tourist areas and hotels accept credit cards, it’s a good idea to carry some cash, especially when visiting local markets, temples, or small shops. 

ATMs are readily available at convenience stores and banks, but it’s essential to check if your card is compatible with Japanese ATMs before travelling.


While English signage and information are more prevalent in tourist areas, learning a few basic Japanese phrases can enhance your experience and help in communication with locals.

With these practical tips in mind, you can immerse yourself fully in the beauty and cultural richness of Kyoto. 

As you explore the city, embrace its traditions, flavours, and warm


Should I go to Kyoto or Tokyo?

Tokyo is about 30% more expensive than Kyoto. If you prefer big cities and modern technology, choose Tokyo. 

For temples, shrines, and geisha, opt for Kyoto. If you have 4 or more days in Japan, explore both cities. Enjoy Japan’s diverse experiences!

Why is Kyoto so special?

Kyoto’s fame lies in its vast array of temples and shrines, boasting over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. 

Japan’s two main religions, Shinto and Buddhism, coexist harmoniously, and many Japanese incorporate both into their daily lives. 

In this cultural capital, immerse yourself in the spiritual richness that defines Kyoto’s essence.

How many days in Kyoto is enough?

To truly savour the essence of Kyoto, allocate at least two full days; however, with its abundance of historical and cultural wonders, you could easily indulge in a week-long exploration of Japan’s ancient capital without exhausting its wealth of first-class attractions. 

Embrace the city’s timeless allure and embark on a journey that unveils the profound depth of Kyoto’s treasures.

Is it cheaper to stay in Kyoto or Tokyo?

In terms of living expenses, Tokyo surpasses Kyoto in cost. As is typical of capital cities, particularly in developed nations, Tokyo’s higher cost of living is expected.

When comparing transportation, accommodation, and food expenses, Tokyo is approximately 30% more expensive than its rival, Kyoto. 

Travellers should consider this aspect while planning their visit to these vibrant cities in Japan.

Take Away on what to do in Kyoto

As we conclude our exploration of Kyoto, we find ourselves captivated by the city’s enchanting blend of history, culture, and modernity. 

From ancient temples and serene gardens to contemporary delights and scenic escapes, Kyoto offers a unique and unforgettable experience.

Whether you wander through the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha or immerse yourself in the bustling Nishiki Market, Kyoto’s treasures leave a lasting impression. 

The city’s seasonal delights, from cherry blossoms in spring to vibrant autumn foliage, paint a vivid picture of nature’s beauty.

As you embrace Kyoto’s traditions and hospitality, you’ll discover a connection to a place where the past and the present harmoniously coexist. 

With practical tips in hand, your journey through this captivating city becomes a seamless and memorable adventure.

As you bid farewell to Kyoto, take with you the cherished memories and the essence of this remarkable destination. 

Let the spirit of Kyoto inspire future travels and kindle a desire to explore the world’s cultural treasures.

Arigato gozaimasu, Kyoto, for opening your heart and soul to us. Until we meet again on our next journey, sayonara and safe travels!

About the Author

Ezra Matiasi

Head Content Writer

Hello! My name is Ezra Matiasi, and I'm the enthusiastic mind behind Travello, a captivating travel blog that takes you on remarkable journeys around the world. With a passion for exploration and a love for sharing captivating stories, I curate the best travel experiences, hidden gems, and breathtaking landscapes. Through vivid descriptions and captivating photographs, Travello aims to inspire wanderlust and help fellow travelers make the most of their adventures. Join me as we embark on exciting virtual voyages and discover the wonders our beautiful planet has to offer. Let's explore the world together, one adventure at a time!

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