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The Best 10 Things To Do In Kyoto

Discover exciting things to do in Kyoto. Explore historic temples, stroll through bamboo groves and discover rich cultural experiences.

By 5 min read

From the gilded Golden Pavilion to the red torii (gates) of Fushimi Inari Taisha to Uji’s rolling green tea fields, Kyoto’s classical imagery conjures picturesque images of Japan, which are even more impressive in person. Tourism is rising in Kyoto, but concerns about waste and strain on public services are also rising. The city is considering measures to tackle overtourism, such as the recent ban on photography in residential areas.

Understanding Kyoto’s history helps explain its appeal to millions of visitors. As the former political capital from 794 to 1869, Kyoto boasts numerous Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and preserved traditional architecture, having been spared from wartime destruction. Its cultural richness earned it the title of Japan’s “cultural capital,” evident in its historic streets.

To get the best out of Kyoto City and the rest of the prefecture, here is our list of the best things to see and do in Kyoto Prefecture.

1. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Photo:
One of Kyoto’s iconic views.

Kinkaku-ji was built in 1397 as a villa for a shogun (military governor) and later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple. It was rebuilt in the 1950s after a monk burned it down. A path leads visitors around the pond and past the gold-foiled temple, which blends several architectural styles inspired by Chinese and Japanese designs. Seeing the shimmering gold exterior reflected in the pond will help you understand why this beautiful temple is so revered.

1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
Nearest Bus Stop: Kinkakuji-michi
Admission: ¥500 (Adults)

2. Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

Photo:
Ginkakuji’s beautiful garden.

In northeastern Kyoto City, Ginkaku-ji was built in the 15th century. Check out the Moon Viewing Mound, a pyramid-shaped hill made of white sand that is said to reflect moonlight. The mountain trail around the back gives a great view of the site below. Next, walk the Philosopher’s Path and enjoy a stream populated with footbridges, benches and cherry blossoms in the spring. The path leads to Nanzen-ji, a large temple complex constructed in the 13th century, which features dozens of temples, national treasures and small gardens.

Ginkaku-ji

2 Ginakuji-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
Nearest Bus Stop: Ginkakuji-michi
Admission: ¥500 (Adults)

Nanzen-ji

2 Ginakuji-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kaege (Kyoto Subway Tozai Line)

3. Kiyomizudera Temple

Photo:
Kiyomizudera Temple in Autumn.

In eastern Kyoto, Kiyomizudera Temple is built into a rock face and features a main hall and a three-tiered pagoda. The famous main hall stands atop a veranda supported by massive 12-meter-high columns. You can see the city from here with the valley in the foreground. You’ll be treated to an ever-changing landscape with pink cherry blossoms in spring, explosions of red and yellow come autumn and bare treetops lightly sprinkled with snow during winter.

1-294, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
Nearest Bus Stop: Kiyomizu-michi
Admission: ¥400 (Adults)

4. Nishiki Market

Photo:
“Kyoto’s Kitchen”

This lively food market, often called “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” showcases some of the best of Kyoto’s culinary culture. Starting as a wholesale fish market in 1310, some of the stands here have been run by the same families for generations. Sample various types of local tsukemono (Japanese pickles), souzai (side dishes), tea, wagashi (Japanese sweets) and more. In addition to the food shops, some stalls sell local goods, such as sencha teapots and Japanese kitchen knives.

609 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Shijo (Kyoto Subway Karasuma Line)
Nearest Station: Karasuma (Kyoto Subway Hankyu Line)

5. Ryoan-ji

Photo:
Find peace at Ryoan-ji’s Zen rock garden.

This UNESCO World Heritage site, which measures 30 x 10 meters, was likely built in the 15th century. Designed as a place of contemplation, the arrangement of the stones has many interpretations. Some see the tiny pebbles as islands in a great sea. The 15 larger stones are also supposedly arranged in a way that makes them almost impossible to see all at once unless you’ve reached a stage of spiritual enlightenment.

13, Ryoanji Goryonoshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
Nearest Bus Stop: Ritsumeikan daigaku-mae
Admission: ¥500 (Adults)

6. Sanjusangendo

Photo:
Women prepare for an archery contest at Sanjusangendo.

Founded in 1164, Sanjusangendo is a Buddhist temple that houses 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of compassion. The temple’s main hall measures 120 meters in length, making it the longest wooden building in Japan. A large Kannon statue sits in the middle of the hall, flanked by 500 human-sized statues arranged ten rows deep. All statues were created using Japanese cypress and covered in gold foil. Sanjusangendo is also home to various events, including Omato Taikai archery.

657 Sanjusangendo Mawari, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
Nearest Bus Stop: Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae
Admission: ¥600 (Adults)

7. Fushimi Inari Taisha

Photo:
The iconic 10,000 torii gates.

Fushimi Inari Taisha was constructed over several centuries, and its oldest structures date back to the eighth century. Dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity associated with rice, tea, agriculture, foxes, and more, this site is the head of the country’s Inari shrine. The most popular sites are its striking vermillion main hall and more than 10,000 torii. Come in autumn and see the sea of red gates matched by the splendor of red leaves overhead.

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Inari (JR Nara Line)

8. Uji Tea and Byodoin Temple

Photo:
The Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple.

In southern Kyoto prefecture, Uji is one of Japan’s largest green tea-producing regions. Sample freshly picked green tea at the numerous shops and cafes along the Uji River. Drop by Chazuna, a new tea education facility with tea-making workshops and a small museum. Uji is also home to Byodoin Temple. Unlike the other buildings, its famed Phoenix Hall has never been destroyed and is one of Japan’s few remaining wooden structures from the Heian period.

Chazuna

203-1 Todo Maruyama, Uji City, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Uji (JR Nara Line)

Byodoin Temple

Renge-116 Uji, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Uji (JR Nara Line)
Admission: ¥600 (Adults, additional fee of ¥300 required for a tour of the Phoenix Hall)

9. Amanohashidate

Photo:
One of the most beautiful views in Kyoto.

Amanohashidate is in the northern part of the prefecture and is one of the three great views of Japan. This snaking strip of land with 7,000 pine trees cuts through Miyazu Bay. There are observation areas on both ends, but the most popular one is Amanohashidate View Land on the southern side. From here, try looking at the strip while standing with your back to it, bent over and through your legs. The sandbar appears as if it is a dragon rising to the sky.

Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: Amanohashidate (access via limited express trains)
Nearest Station: JR Hashidate
Nearest Station: JR Kinosaki

10. Miyama

Photo:
Miyama’s thatched-roof houses must soak every few years to prevent fires.

Miyama is in northern Kyoto prefecture, a region famous for its traditional kayabuki (thatched-roof farmhouses). The area has several small hamlets, but the most famous is kayabuki no sato, known for having the highest density of thatched-roof houses in Japan. Although most of the houses remain private dwellings, there are several inns, restaurants and shops that are freely accessible. You can also explore the Miyama Folklore Museum, where you’ll discover Miyama’s history.

23 Shimo agake Miyamacho, Nantan-shi, Kyoto - Map
To reach Miyama from Kyoto Station, take a local or rapid train on the JR Sagano to Sanin Lines. Then, at Hiyoshi Station, transfer to a local Nantan City Bus, which will directly transport you to Miyama.

Bonus: Arashiyama

Photo:
Cherry blossoms along the Katsura River in Arashiyama.

Arashiyama, located in the western part of Kyoto City, offers a perfect weekend escape. Although the most famous attraction is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, it quickly becomes crowded. We suggest entering from the northern side near Tenryu-ji Temple rather than through the bustling main street of Arashiyama.

Don’t miss exploring Tenryu-ji Temple, renowned for its stunning landscape garden. For a breathtaking view of the city, consider a mountain hike to Senko-ji Temple. Since it’s off the beaten path, it’s likely to be less crowded, but the trek is moderately challenging.

Ukyo Ward, Kyoto - Map
Nearest Station: JR Saga-Arashiyama
What are your favorite spots in Kyoto? Let us know in the comments below!

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