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With the exciting news that Japan is now reopening for travel, there’s no better time to plan a trip to Kyoto. When traveling to Japan, Kyoto is at the top of the list of places to visit for good reason. A culturally rich city located along the river, there are temples, shrines and beautiful sights to visit. These amazing things to do in Kyoto will help you plan your time there.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

I have personally been to Kyoto on three different occasions. On every trip, I find something new to love in the historic city. And then, of course, there are my favorite places that no matter how many times I see them, I have to go back.

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Kyoto is both compact and sprawling. This means you can see many things in one neighborhood at a time. Then you can also travel to the outskirts of the city to discover more of Kyoto’s gems.

When planning a trip to Japan, you may find it a bit overwhelming, I recommend you start at my destination page for Japan first. There are useful resources such as a sample 2-week Japan itinerary, popular tips before visiting Japan and a guide to transportation in Japan. It will help you understand ahead of time and help you plan accordingly.

Either way, Kyoto should be at the top of your list if you haven’t been, and is always worth a return. Soak in all those still moments, the noise of the markets, and enjoy every delicious meal in this beautiful city. Here are 20 amazing things to do in Kyoto.

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The 10 Top Things To Do In Kyoto, Japan

One of the most memorable things we did while visiting Kyoto was an evening at Honen-In temple. It is less known, by far less traffic than other central temples in the city.

Located just off the Philosopher’s Path in North Higashiyama, you can hike up the hill to explore the temple.

Inside you will find quiet gardens and ponds with stone paths and bridges. The peace and quiet of this park is what I love to return to. Often you’ll find rotating art exhibits as well to enjoy in some of the pavilions waiting for the season.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

For more information, read this guide to the best temples in Kyoto to visit. Address: 30番地 Shishigatani Goshonodancho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8422, Japan

Best Free Things To Do In Kyoto

An iconic sight to visit in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari temple. You’ll probably recognize it from its bright orange/red gate leading up the mountain in Kyoto.

Many go about halfway but you can easily hike for 2 hours to do the entire trail, so it’s best to plan accordingly how much time you want to spend.

My one suggestion is to arrive early in the morning to experience it without the crowds. As it is very visited, you will find it quieter in the early morning hours.

You can stroll this quiet path that leads to the canal in a quiet neighborhood. Along the way, you will find small boutiques, local ceramicists, design shops and cafes. There wasn’t much going on but it was pretty quiet.

Top 18 Things To Do In Kyoto

An amazing restaurant is located in this neighborhood called Monk, so you can arrange a time to stroll the path and then have dinner.

You’ll find plenty throughout the city to enjoy, which is why I recommend checking out the list below. However, one of my favorites is the Weekenders Coffee. It’s in a small house and has a lovely cozy feel to it. It’s also one of my favorite coffees in town.

I think one of the best ways to do this is with a food tour as you get to taste several categories and are led by a knowledgeable local guide.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

We have done several tours through our hotel over the years and there are several tours available on Get Your Guide (my trusted partner for tours). Their range of food tours ranges from private to group, so you can really decide what kind of experience you might like for your time!

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For a walk back in time head to the Higashiyama district for a wood-built area that takes you back to feudal-era Japan.

The narrow streets lined with small shops selling sweets, pottery and teahouses give you a good taste of the original Kyoto. It is home to Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera shrine located on the hillside overlooking the city.

My favorite time to come here is early in the morning to wander around without the crowds. It is definitely the most beautiful area in Kyoto.

For those looking to lead themselves on a self-guided food tour, head straight to Pontocho Alley. It is home to dozens of restaurants located along the small streets of the hanamachi district not far from the river.

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You can literally go from one place to the next, or consider booking a reservation at some of the finer dining restaurants located on the river.

Now our favorite down the road is Chao Chao Sanjo Kiyamachi for their homemade gyoza. We usually go to this restaurant at least twice a trip and it is well worth the wait.

A 1200-year-old historic temple gives way to not only a beautiful view but also a view of Kyoto. It’s a popular place to go for sunset because of its unparalleled views.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

The temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it one of the most popular spots in Kyoto.

Best Things To Do In Kyoto In Winter

For those looking for a chance to see a geisha, there is no better place than the Gion District at dusk. It is home to most of Kyoto’s geisha houses and often at dusk you can spot one or two.

Please remember to be respectful and always leave their path open as they walk. If you are looking for more information about spotting geisha in Gion, I would recommend reading this article.

Kyoto is home to so many cherry blossoms and the city really comes alive during this special season. My recommendation is to try to make it towards the end of March or early April as the season is quite short.

You need reservations for everything well in advance as it is one of the most popular times to visit Japan.

Places To Visit In Kyoto, Japan

They refer to this style of palace as a flat earth palace, dating back to the first shogun of the Edo period.

It is one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Because of this, it’s a popular sight to visit while in Kyoto and well worth it if you’re looking for historical sights to explore.

When it comes to bringing home souvenirs from Japan, handmade knives are one of my favorites.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

Every trip to Kyoto has brought us back to Aritsugu at Nishiki Market to pick out knives. You can then engrave it as well with a small word or phrase.

Must Do Things In Kyoto 2019

Artisanal shops offer a variety of knives to choose from and they are also a favorite gift to take home.

The vending machine is where you buy your ticket and then you sit in a bar style place. Finally, your bowl of ramen appears from behind the curtain! There is always a team member to help you order your ramen too.

The upper two floors of the pavilion were completely covered in gold leaf! This glowing material reflects off the pond, creating a beautiful sight.

When in the temple, you will find vendors selling all kinds of goods. One of my favorite treats found here is the soft serve ice cream with edible gold leaf.

What To Do In Kyoto

No matter how many times I visit Kyoto, a morning in the bamboo groves of Arashiyama is a must.

It’s a bit of a drive, especially in the morning from the center but well worth it. We always arrive around sunrise and walk around when there are usually only a few people out. The peace is unparalleled (until the crowds arrive).

Our tradition is to walk to the Hozu River and enjoy a coffee at % Arabica which has an epic location on the river.

Top Things To Do In Kyoto Japan

Kyoto’s various artisanal shops and makers are something not to be missed (see the guide listed below).

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I’m talking about the knives we love, but another stop is at Kaanami-Tsuji. They specialize in coil items for the kitchen and home. They are delicate, very pretty, and make wonderful gifts to take home.

As you go through the gate, follow it into the temple to where the zen garden is. It’s a beautiful location and the silence here makes it a great place to zen out. You will find many other people doing the same.

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