Are you looking for things to do in Kyoto? Beautiful temples, lush gardens, and traditional tea houses await you.
We're convinced Kyoto is one of the most naturally romantic places in the world. If Prague is the City of a Hundred Spires, Kyoto is the city of 2,000 temples. True masterpieces and shrines spring up as if from the earth, lining the city streets and piercing through the clouds in the sky. Take a look at the splendor of Kinkaku-ji and Higashi Honganji. Melodic prayers reverberate through the walls, gardens. Even the modernity buzzes around the wafting scent of burning incense. It seems as if all the things to do in Kyoto revolve around the spiritual heart of Japan.
Here Are Our Picks for the Best Things to Do in Kyoto
1. Walk through the Amazing Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
This is easily one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks. Composed of thousands of traditional torii gates, this shrine leads you up the mountain and to the incredible views of Kyoto by the Yotsutsuji Intersection. This shrine was made to honor the Shinto god, Inari, the god of rice.
2. Visit Kiyomizu-dera
A buzz of activity, this temple isn’t exactly a serene escape. But even so, there’s a soothing beauty about its design, the devout individuals seeking out prayer, and the beautiful views of the city below it. It’s clear to see how important the expression of faith is in the culture of Japan. Visiting Kiyomizu-dera is one of our favorite things to do in Kyoto.
3. Go See the Daitoku-ji
If love the idea of wandering in a Japanese garden, you have to go check out the Daitoku-ji. It is easily one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in and around the Imperial Palace. Walk peaceful lanes lined with solemn places of worship. While the Daitoku-ji is generally not open to the public, there are several smaller sub-temples with lovely dry-rock garden. It’s well worth making the trip out to explore these things to do in Kyoto.
4. Take Part in a Tea Ceremony
While you can find a tea ceremony just about anywhere in Japan, participating in Kyoto is sacred. Here, the Zen Buddhist roots run deep; there is so much preparation that proceeds the ceremony. Each cup of tea is artfully prepared. During the ceremony, you learn to acknowledge the smaller things – the utensils, each others company, and the tea itself. Of all the things to do in Kyoto, you should take part in this simply but lovely lesson in mindfulness.
5. Check off the Smallest Ukiyo-E Museum in the World from Your List of Must-See Spots
Have you heard of Ukiyo-e before? This art form flourished between 17th-19th century Japan during the Edo Period. It is developed from the Buddhist principle of ukiyo-e or “pictures of the floating world” and suggested the sadness of life. Artists produced woodblock prints and paints portraying everything from beautiful women to kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, landscapes and travel scenes.
This Uikyo-e museum is run by Ichimura Mamoru, one of only a few Ukiyo-e artists left in Japan. He doesn’t speak much English and keeps odd museum hours but if you can catch him while he’s there, visiting this site is one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto. You can even learn how to make your own woodblock. Now that is the ultimate souvenir. Be a traveler, not a tourist.
6. Search Yokai Street for Japanese Ghosts and Goblins
This neighborhood is haunted by dozens of tiny homemade Japanese monsters. Take a stroll along this tiny commercial lane and learn about the strange beings pervading local folklore. Inherent in Japanese culture is the native Shinto religion. Shintoism is founded on the worship of nature and animism. In short, this means that everything – objects both animate and inanimate – are embodied with a spirit. The result is some pretty interesting stories, one of which includes an umbrella monster.
If Halloween is your favorite holiday or you’re just interested in learning more about local ghouls and goblins, make your way down Yokai Street. A populated shopping district, you’ll find that it hosts yokai-themed events throughout the year.
7. Indulge in the Most Famous Omurice in Japan
While this food isn’t specific to Kyoto, it’s still worth experiencing while you’re there. Omurice (or omelet rice) is a favorite at the Kyoto restaurant Kichi Kichi. It’s safe to say it’s even become something of a sensation. It all began when people began to upload videos of chef Yukimura Motochi’s signature cooking technique. The finished product involves an omelette cut open and poured across rice and topped with a decadent demi-glace sauce. While this is a dish you could try to make at home, you have to try it at Kichi Kichi while you’re there.
8. Treat Yourself to Some of the Finest Vegan and Vegetarian Cuisine
Sure, Kyoto holds the record for the most Michelin-star restaurants in the world but it’s also renowned for its trendy vegetarian and vegan scene. Ranging from the traditional Buddhist vegan cuisine of shojin to the yuba, there is a long list of delicacies for non-meat (and non-dairy) eaters to enjoy. Keep your eyes open for dishes made with Kyoto-grown vegetables like the shogoin turnip. The farm-to-table movement here is real and thriving. Exploring some of the simpler eateries is one of our favorite things to do in Kyoto.
9. Harvest Your Own Cup of Green Tea to Drink
Nothing is more rewarding than drinking from the benefits of your own hands. If you can craft a killer cup of green tea, why not do it? Did you know that Kyoto’s Uji City is a place where you can do just that? It’s home to one of the largest green tea producing regions in the country, offering several plantations and tea-picking tours open to visitors.
Explore the lush wide open fields, learn from an expert how to pick the tea leaves by hand, and then make fresh tea from the batch in a process called temomi. If you’re so inclined, you can even wear traditional tea-picking clothes just for the occasion. We’re in.
10. Take in 360-degree City Views at the Kyoto Tower
Photographers, listen up. This is the perfect place to snap photos of the city. A modern structure, the Kyoto Tower stands in stark contrast to the surrounding temples. As the tallest building in all of Kyoto, visitors can enjoy sweeping views extending all of the way to Osaka. While you’re walking around the platform, keep an eye out for the LED touch screens. They highlight all of the nearby notable landmarks. So, you can put a name and story to everything you’re seeing. For the most magical experience, go at sunset.
11. Enjoy a Lovely Meal for Two (or Three or Four) at Pontocho
One of the best things to do in Kyoto is enjoy a meal by the Pontocho. This lively alley is framed by restaurants on each side. If you’re indecisive, don’t come here. There are literally hundreds of places to choose from, each with mouth-watering smells, tempting you to peek inside its doors. If you picked up a guidebook for this spot, throw it away. Contrary to popular opinion, the best places to eat are not the largest and most ornate.
The best restaurants are typically smaller and more tucked away. While they might not advertise their menu in English, you can ask a local for help. Or download that one app that translates restaurant menus for you (P.S. It’s not always accurate but it’s worth a shot, right?). But if you really want to find the best cuisine, simply pick an ambiance that appeal to you the most. When you’re sitting out by the Kamogawa River on a cool evening, the food becomes secondary.
12. Spend an Afternoon at Monkey Park (Iwatayama)
Slip on your walking shoes and head up the hill to Iwatayama. Dubbed ‘monkey park’ by the locals, it’s well, just that. There are monkeys everywhere. So, you should realize that anything you’re holding or any loose items (hat, sunglasses, etc.) is fair game. Swinging through the trees above, running along the walkway, and swiping that sandwich, they are the cutest form of entertainment a traveler could hope for. But they’re also the most mischievous, so be on the lookout. If you’re in the mood for some fun, head over to the local shop where you can buy a package of nuts or small bag of apples to feed them.
Book Your Trip Today and Enjoy the Best Things to Do in Kyoto
There is no better place to find a better, more well-rounded view of Japan than in this city. From visiting traditional places of culture and worship to indulging in local delicacies and traditions, the list of things to do in Kyoto is seemingly endless. Fall is one of the best times to visit Japan. Which one of the activities on our list would you like to do the most? Let us know in the comment section below.
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