20 Things To Do In and Near Kyoto in Japan

Kyoto in Japan is a city that will instantly seduce you with its ancient charm and modern allure. As you step onto the cobblestone streets, you will be surrounded by a unique combination of traditional wooden machiya houses and contemporary architecture, creating a seamless blend of the past and the present.

For the tourist, a visit to Kyoto is the gift that keeps on giving. That is because there is so much to captivate your attention that it is almost impossible to take everything in during one trip. For this reason, it’s important to prioritise which of the region’s main sites, attractions and landmarks you want to see, and that’s where we come in.

We have put together this list of 20 of the best things to see and do in and around Kyoto. If you focus your energies on visiting these places, it will give you an excellent flavour of what the city is all about.

About Kyoto

About Kyoto

Situated on the island of Honshu and surrounded by stunning mountains to the east and west, Kyoto is a beautiful city located in the Kansai region of Japan. It has a temperate climate with distinctive seasons – where cherry blossoms bloom in the spring and vibrant foliage in the autumn.

Kyoto is one of Japan’s major cities and is known for its rich cultural heritage. For the tourist, it also boasts several well-preserved historic sites, traditional temples and serene gardens.

Visitors can easily access Kyoto by train from Tokyo and other major cities. Due to its central location, Kyoto is a cultural hub that offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in Japan’s timeless beauty and traditions.

20 Things To Do

1. Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine

1. Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine

Nestled at the base of Mount Inari, Fushimi Inari Shrine is a breathtaking sight. As you pass through the iconic vermilion torii gates, which stretch along the entire trail up the mountain, you’ll feel a sense of peace and spiritual connection.

Moreover, the vibrant contrast between the gates and the lush greenery is a mesmerising visual spectacle. Take your time exploring the paths and discovering the smaller shrines while enjoying the stunning views of Kyoto from the mountain’s summit.

2. Savour Kyoto’s Culinary Delights at Kaiseki and Nishiki Market

2. Savour Kyoto’s Culinary Delights at Kaiseki and Nishiki Market

Image Source- Instagram

Kyoto is a culinary haven, and you can’t truly experience the city without diving into its gastronomic wonders.

Take the opportunity to indulge in a traditional Kaiseki meal – a multi-course feast that celebrates

seasonal ingredients and meticulous preparation. For a more casual but equally enchanting experience, stroll through Nishiki Market, where you’ll find an array of stalls offering everything from fresh seafood and pickles to matcha-flavoured delights.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try Yuba (tofu skin) and Yudofu (tofu hot pot), sumptuous local delicacies that showcase Kyoto’s unique food culture.

3. Immerse Yourself in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

3. Immerse Yourself in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Step into a surreal world by entering the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Towering bamboo stalks create a natural canopy, casting delicate shadows on the forest floor. The air is filled with a gentle rustling sound, creating a serene atmosphere that transports you to another realm.

Take a leisurely stroll through the winding paths, and don’t forget to visit the nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park for an opportunity to interact with Japanese macaques or take in superb panoramic views of Kyoto.

4. Wander Through Gion: Kyoto’s Historic Geisha District

4. Wander Through Gion Kyoto’s Historic Geisha District

Image Source- Instagram

Gion is a well-known geisha district located in Kyoto, where it seems as though time has stopped. As you walk through the narrow streets lined with traditional wooden machiya houses, you might catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko (an apprentice geisha) gracefully making their way to an appointment.

Whilst there, take your time to explore the historic Hanami-koji street, which is home to various teahouses and restaurants you’ll definitely want to stop in at.

5. Visit Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) and Ryoan-ji Temple

5. Visit Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) and Ryoan-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a dazzling spectacle that captivates visitors with its shimmering golden exterior, which is magically set against a backdrop of lush greenery and a reflective pond. Dating back to 1397, it was built as a home for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, with its two top floors being completely covered in gold leaf. You’ll find yourself snapping plenty of photos of this impressive structure.

The Zen Buddhist temple, Ryoan-ji, on the other hand, offers a stark contrast with its simplicity and stunning rock garden. It is worth visiting both sites as they provide a unique glimpse into Kyoto’s rich cultural and religious heritage. However, you should try and go to them early as they do get busy with tourists.

6. Take a Scenic Boat Ride in Hozugawa Kudari

If you fancy a change of pace from the frenzy of sightseeing in town, it is worth embarking on a picturesque boat ride down the Hozugawa River.

The Hozugawa Kudari experience offers a tranquil journey through lush landscapes, meandering waterways and underneath historic bridges. During your ride on them, the boatmen skillfully navigate the river, sharing tales of the area’s history and culture as you relax and take in the breathtaking scenery.

7. Participate in a Traditional Tea Ceremony

Delve into the heart of Japanese culture by partaking in an authentic tea ceremony. Kyoto – with its deep-rooted connection to the tea ceremony – offers the perfect location for this experience.

As well as drinking some delicious tea, you’ll discover the intricate art of tea preparation, enjoy a moment of tranquillity and gain a deeper appreciation for the rituals that have been passed down through generations. It is a terrific way to connect with centuries of Japanese and Kyotan traditions.

8. Discover Kyoto’s Imperial Palace and Gardens

8. Discover Kyoto’s Imperial Palace and Gardens

Step into the shoes of emperors as you explore the Kyoto Imperial Palace and its surrounding gardens.

The expansive grounds are a good starting point for your visit as they showcase the imperial architecture, pristine gardens and picturesque bridges that create a serene ambience. However, inside, guided tours provide insights into the palace’s history, which allows you to discover Kyoto’s imperial legacy.

9. Hike to Kiyomizu-dera

9. Hike to Kiyomizu-dera

Image Source- Instagram

Perched on a hillside overlooking Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera offers not only a stunning architectural marvel but also a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. The wooden terrace, supported by massive wooden pillars, gives the illusion of floating above the treetops, which you will have to see to believe.

The journey to the temple takes you through charming streets filled with shops and teahouses – creating an immersive experience that combines nature, culture and spirituality.

10. Experience the Serenity of Nanzen-ji Temple and the Path of Philosophy

10. Experience the Serenity of Nanzen-ji Temple and the Path of Philosophy

Nanzen-ji Temple, which is surrounded by expansive zen gardens, offers a serene retreat from the bustling city. So, it is worth going there when you fancy a change of pace.

You can explore the temple’s intricate architecture and stroll through the beautifully landscaped grounds. After visiting Nanzen-ji, you should also follow the Philosopher’s Path. This trail runs alongside a canal and is lined with cherry blossoms in the spring and vibrant foliage in the autumn.

What makes this such a delightful attraction is that taking this contemplative stroll can offer you a moment of introspection and allow you to appreciate the changing seasons in Kyoto.

11. Admire the Cherry Blossoms at Maruyama Park

11. Admire the Cherry Blossoms at Maruyama Park

Image Source- Instagram

During the cherry blossom season, Maruyama Park becomes a popular spot for those who love to view flowers. The park’s iconic weeping cherry tree is illuminated at night, creating a magical atmosphere that is very Instagrammable.

Visitors can enjoy a picnic beneath the blossoms while savouring the fleeting beauty of spring together with the locals and fellow tourists in perfect harmony. It’s a place where you can easily spend an afternoon lost in happy thoughts and conversation.

12. Discover the Enchanting Katsura Imperial Villa

12. Discover the Enchanting Katsura Imperial Villa

Katsura Imperial Villa is famous for its stunning architecture and beautifully maintained gardens. Situated in Katsura, on the western bank of the river of the same name, the villa dates back to the 17th century.

Guided tours enable visitors to explore the intricately designed tea houses, serene walking paths, and a tranquil reflection pond that characterises the complex. They provide you with a fascinating glimpse into the sophisticated aesthetics of Japanese nobility.

13. Attend a Noh or Kabuki Performance

Why not take the opportunity to Immerse yourself in traditional Japanese performing arts by attending a Noh or Kabuki performance while in Kyoto?

The city has several theatres where you can witness these highly stylised and culturally significant art forms. The elaborate costumes, intricate masks and mesmerising storytelling combine to create a unique and unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss.

14. Visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Manga lovers will be thrilled to visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum – a true paradise for fans of this unique art form.

The museum boasts an impressive collection of over 300,000 manga from various countries, which visitors can freely browse and read to their heart’s content. Providing a unique experience that’s hard to find elsewhere, it provides you with a perfect blend of literary exploration and cultural immersion. Don’t be surprised if you spend a lot of time there.

15. Explore the Nijo Castle and its Nightingale Floors

Discover the historical significance of Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site that showcases some of the most delightful architecture in Kyoto.

The castle is a magnificent structure, which is notable for its Nightingale Floors, which are designed to chirp like birds when stepped on. Ingeniously, these floors acted as a security feature to protect the Shogun.

Whilst at the castle, make sure you take a stroll through the beautiful gardens and admire the exquisite artwork within its ornate interior.

16. Take a Stroll in the Kyoto Botanical Garden

The Kyoto Botanical Garden is another place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by relaxing in the beauty of nature.

This peaceful oasis houses a vast collection of plants and flowers, which makes it a serene place for a leisurely stroll. Whilst there, it is worth checking out the greenhouse to explore these diverse ecosystems.

You should also make a point of seeing the seasonal flower displays that grace the garden – the colours and scents you can see and smell are amazing!

17. Indulge in Kyoto’s Sake Culture

Kyoto is renowned for its sake, so exploring the city’s sake culture is a must during your time in the city.

There are several traditional sake breweries you can visit, such as Gekkeikan, which is highly regarded for its offerings. Alternatively, you could join a sake-tasting tour to sample a variety of flavours at different venues.

Whatever you choose to do, you should take the opportunity to savour the craftsmanship of this quintessential Japanese beverage and learn more about its intricate brewing process.

18. Climb the Daimonjiyama for a Panoramic Sunset

For an awe-inspiring view of Kyoto, it is worth taking a hike up Mt Daimonjiyama. Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted with arguably the best panoramic views of the city, which is especially stunning at sunset, when vibrant colours paint the sky.

From that vantage point, you’ll witness the city lights flicker to life as the sun sets behind the Higashiyama Mountains – casting a warm glow over Kyoto’s ancient rooftops, that will break you out in goosebumps.

19. Take a Day Trip to Nara

If time permits on your itinerary, you should consider taking a day trip to nearby Nara. It is just a short train ride away and offers a chance to meet friendly roaming deer, visit ancient temples and see the iconic Todai-ji with its colossal Buddha statue.

You can also experience the cultural treasures and charm of Nara before returning to Kyoto in the evening. Consider staying overnight to maximise your time there.

20. Join a Traditional Handicraft Workshop

Another thing Kyoto is well known for is its traditional handicrafts. So why not enjoy a delightful hands-on experience that will teach you more about this pastime?

You can learn the art of tea ceremony etiquette, try your hand at creating intricately designed Kyo-yuzen dyed fabrics, or make your own pottery at a local studio.

These workshops offer you a terrific opportunity to immerse yourself in Kyoto’s artistic heritage at a much deeper level than you otherwise might.