Top 30 Things to Do in Kyoto
If you're wondering what the top things to do in Kyoto are, wonder no more. We've got the definitive guide to the top 30 things to do in Kyoto, including top attractions, shops and restaurants. Read on!
Things to do in Kyoto
Kyoto is the 7th largest city in Japan with a population of 1.4 million people. It served as the capital of Japan and the Emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868 but has, unfortunately, suffered in the wake of war and natural disaster throughout its history. Despite this, Kyoto retains its historical charm and unique mystique.
Visit Kyoto to enjoy a number of historic buildings, Buddhist temples, Imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, gardens and traditional wooden houses. There are also a vast number of shops for, among other things, souvenirs, some world-class restaurants and excellent hotels. Kyoto is an enduringly popular tourist destination not to be missed off any Japan itinerary.
Attractions in Kyoto
1. Nanzenji Temple
Nanzenji Temple, in the Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most popular Zen Temples in Japan. The temple was built in 13th century as a retirement residence for the Emperor Kameyama to move once he retired but with times passing, was converted into a temple. The large Sanmon Gate welcomes each visitor, its balcony also offering beautiful views of the surrounding city. Visit “Hojo”, the main hall, famous for its rock garden’s stone tigers and cubs submerged in the water.
Entrance fee: Sanmon Gate – 500 yen, Hojo – 500 yen, Nanzenin – 300 yen, Konchi-in Temple – 400 yen, Tenjuan Temple – 400 yen (500 yen for the evening illuminations)
Access: 5-10 minute walk from the Keage Station on the Tozai Line or 5-10 minute walk from the Nanzenji-Eikando-michi bus stop
2. Shorenin Temple
This temple, situated at the foot of Higashiyama mountains and one of the city’s many Monzeki Temples, is another tourist favorite. Upon entering, enjoy the beautiful portraits on the walls and the paintings on the sliding doors in the Kachoden drawing room. From here you’ll find the garden, where visitors can sit on tatami mats and enjoy the calming ponds and garden. From March to May and October to December, the gardens illuminations accentuate its evening beauty and are well worth going along to.
Entrance fee: 500 yen (800 yen for seasonal evening illuminations)
Access: Shorenin Temple is located just beside Chionin Temple. The temple is also a 5-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line or a 5-minute walk from the Jingu-michi bus stop
3. Ishibei Alley
This is one of the most popular areas in Kyoto, owing to its traditional architecture and old-world vibe. Houses, restaurants, saloons and tea houses are all in step with this theme. Ishibei Alley, unlike other areas, has not been altered significantly over the years, thanks to a concerted effort by government authorities to maintain the areas traditional charms.
Entrance fee: free
Access: Nearest station is the Kyoto Station
4. Shimogamo Shrine
This shrine, located at the junction connecting the Takano and Kamo rivers, is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site and it is easy to see why. Shimogamo is surrounded by a large forest known as the Tadasu no Mori, where in autumn, the trees’ bright red leaves color the canopy beautifully. The forest was specially preserved as the city modernized and houses trees which are up to 600 years old.
Entrance fee: free
Access: 15-minute walk from Demachi-Yanagi Station on the Keihan Line. Alternatively, Kyoto City Bus number 4 bound for Kamigamojinja-mae can be taken from the station to Shimogamojinja-mae bus stop.
5. Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is a Shinto Shrine and the head temple among the 30,000 Inari Shrines in Japan, named after Inari, the god of the harvest and business. Enter the shrine through the famous red torii gates, symbols of Kyoto as a whole and a popular photo spot then begin your ascent of the 233 meter Mt. Inari, passing through various shrine buildings as you go.
Entrance fee: free
Access: Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. You can also walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
6. Kuramadera Temple
Located in the city of Kurama, a rural settlement in Kyoto’s northern mountains, Kuramadera Temple and its hot springs are a great break from city life. The temple itself is situated on a mountain peak, the climb to the top taking roughly 30 to 45 minutes from town, though a cable-car is on hand to take sightseers half way up. Once there, take in the temple and enjoy both indoor and outdoor baths
Entrance fee: 200 yen (1,000 to 2,500 yen for onsen)
Access: The temple is connected with central Kyoto by Eizan Railway. Eizan Kurama Line from Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kurama Station takes 30 minutes.
7. Gion Tatsumi Bridge
Tatsumi Bridge is one of the most beautiful attractions in Kyoto’s Gion district and a famous spot for photographs. The bridge is one of the largest bridges built over the Shirakawa canal and perfect for enjoying before heading to nearby Tatsumi Shrine.
There are also a number of teahouses in the Gion Shinbashi district in case you get thirsty.
Entrance fee: free
Access: Nearest station is Keihan Shijo Station. Sanjo Station is also within walking distance.
8. Maruyama Park
This park is the oldest in Kyoto and one of the most famous spots for cherry blossom viewing in April. The large cherry trees at its center are a must see, especially when illuminated at night.
Entrance fee: free
Access: Take the bus (number 100 or 206) from Kyoto station and get off at Gion bus stop. The park is just behind Yasaka Shrine. Alternatively, you can from Kiyomizudera through the narrow lanes of the Higashiyama District.
9. Fushimi Sake District
Fushimi is a charming area blessed with natural springs used in the production of its renowned sake. With nearly 40 breweries in Kyoto, some of which are open to the public, the city, especially the Fushimi district, is the perfect place to sample some of Japan’s best sake. Visit one of the sake-themed restaurants or specialist museums in the area, or alternatively, enjoy a boat ride for a novel means of sightseeing. Cruises depart from the docks near the Gekkeikan Brewery and the Teradaya Inn and take roughly 40 to 50 minutes. Caution is advised after a few glasses of sake, however.
Entrance fee: free to visit the area
Access: The sites around the Fushimi Sake District are within a 5-10 minute walk from Chushojima Station or Fushimi-Momoyama Station on the Keihan Main Line or from Momoyama Goryomae Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line.
10. Toei Uzumasa Eigamura
A theme park and film set, the park houses a number of traditional buildings used regularly as backdrops for period dramas. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a production underway, but if not, the charms this traditional environment are plentiful. The old Nihonbashi Bridge, a traditional courthouse, a Meiji police box and part of the former Yoshiwara red light district just some of the attractions you’ll find here.
Entrance fee: 2,200 yen
Access: The Toei Eigamura is a 5-minute walk from Uzumasa-Koryuji Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line or a 15-minute walk from JR Hanazono Station. It can also be reached in about half an hour by Kyoto City Bus 75 or Kyoto Bus 71, 72 or 73 from Kyoto Station or by Kyoto City Bus 11 or 91 or Kyoto Bus 61, 63 or 64 from Shijo Avenue in central Kyoto.
11. Kiyomizu-yaki no Sato Kaikan
Make your own tableware using your hands and a pottery wheel at this small shop, allowing for only a few budding artisans at a time. Instruction is available in English and the prices are reasonable at roughly 1000 to 3000 yen, depending on your choice of item.
Entrance fee: free for observation
Access: Nearest station is Yamashina Station on the JR Tokaido Line or Yamashina Station on the Keihan Otsu Line
12. Otabe Dojo
If plates and cups aren’t your thing, try your hand at making some sweets at this Otabe sweet shop in southern Kyoto. Nama-yatsuhashi is the specialty here, a steamed sweet which is wrapped in mochi and shaped into a triangle. Try many different flavors of yatsuhashi and have a look around the workshop, all for free.
Entrance fee: free
Access: Kyoto Station
13. Kyoto International Manga Museum
This museum was opened in 2006 as the first manga (Japanese comic books) museum in Japan. The Manga Museum has a collection of 300,000 mangas and is the perfect place to learn about the art of manga. There are three floors and most of the walls are lined with shelves of the ever-popular books. Most of the collection is in Japanese but there are also few offerings in foreign languages as well and more translated works are planned.
Entrance fee: 800 yen
Access: 2-minute walk from the Karasuma-Oike Subway Station
Shopping in Kyoto
14. The Funahashi-ya
A Japanese confectionary store and the best in town for snacks from peanuts and multi-coloured creams. Ideal for souvenirs.
Access: Nearest station is the Sanjo Station on the Keihan Main Line and Sanjokeihan station on the Subway Tozai Line
15. Matsuhiro Shoten
Find here beautiful purses of Japanese design and skilled craftsmanship.
Access: Nearest station is Kyoto station
16. Kitayama Morning Bazaar
This morning market sells vegetables, fruits, rice, flowers (chrysanthemums, cosmos, ornamental cabbages), soy sauce and woodcraft of Kitayama cedar to name but a selection. This is also the only place where you can buy locally produced matsutake mushrooms.
Access: A short walk from Kitayama seikyo-mae Bus Stop by JR Bus
17. Kamigamo Tedukuriichi
If you wish to buy souvenirs for your family, friends and colleagues, this is the market for you. All goods are handmade and to an excellent quality. Every Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.
Access: City Bus Stop Kamigamo-jinja-mae
18. Eirakuya Hosotsuji-ihei Shoten
Established during Edo Period, this is one of the oldest shops in Kyoto selling cotton fabrics and traditional hand towels among other things. There is also a gallery displaying different types of Japanese hand towels and other cotton products.
Access: 3-minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station on the Subway Karasuma or Tozai Line
19. Arashiyama Station Hannari – Hokkori Square
There are about 15 shops and restaurants in this prominent square, selling Kyoto-style pickled vegetables, snacks, traditional Japanese sundries, sweets among many other fine goods.
Address: 20-2 Tsukurimichi-cho, Tenryuji Saga Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City
Access: Nearest station is the Arashiyama Station on the Randen Arashiyama Line
20. Adashino Cocoon Village
This shop sells cocoon dolls and mobiles and allows customers to design and make their own rustic toys to purchase and take home.
Address: 12-11 Adashino-cho, Toriimoto Saga Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City
Access: 5-minute walk from Kyoto Bus Toriimoto stop
Restaurants in Kyoto
We’ve compiled as list of some of the best restaurants in the city to save you the hassle – check it out:
21. Chourakukan Cafe
Type: Japanese and Western Kyoto food
Price: 800 yen to 4,000 yen
Access: 5 minutes walk from Gion bus stop. 30 minutes ride on City Bus #206 bound for Higashiyamadori Kitaoji Bus Terminal from JR Kyoto Station
22. Iyemon Salon
Type: Japanese (Mainly serve food made with traditional tea ex: rice with green tea)
Price: around 1,000 yen
Access: 3-minute walk from Subway Karasuma Line Karasuma Oike Station
23. Ponto-cho Robin
Type: Kyoto food
Price: around 7,000 yen
Access: 5-minute walk from Keihan Line Sanjo Station and 5-minute walk from Hankyu Kawaramachi Station
24. Minokichi Honten
Type: Traditional Kyoto food
Price: around 20,000 yen
Access: 7-minute walk from Keage Station
Type: Authentic Japanese Restaurant
Price: 2,800 yen to 10,000 yen
Access: Nearest Station is Kyoto Station
Type: Tofu Restaurant
Price: 2,500 yen to 5,000 yen
Access: 3min walk from Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Tozai subway line
27. Kyoto Gogyo
Type: Izakaya Restaurant
Price: 890 yen
Access: 8-mintues walk from the Shijo Station
28. Kerala – Downtown Kyoto
Type: Indian Restaurant
Price: 850 yen to 2,600 yen
Access: Nearest station is Kyoto Station
Type: Mexican Restaurant
Price: 900 yen to 2,500 yen
Access: 4-minutes walk from Karasumaoike Station
30. Arash’s Kitchen
Type: Turkish, Persian, Indian, Asian, Vegetarian, Halal
Price: 700 – 2,000 yen
Access: Nearest station is the Marutamachi Station