Top 17 Things to Do in Kyoto

Things to Do in Kyoto

Explore the top 17 must-visit places in Kyoto, where history and beauty converge in spectacular fashion.

From the iconic Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, to the vibrant streets of Nishiki Market, each location promises a memorable experience.

This guide highlights the essential stops that every traveler should make to fully appreciate the unique beauty and historical depth of Kyoto.

Are you ready to discover the best of Kyoto? 😊

1. Kinkakuji Temple

The captivating exterior of the Kinkakuji Temple
The captivating exterior of the Kinkakuji Temple

Get started with your Kyoto adventure with a trip to Kinkakuji. Many also refer to it as the Golden Pavilion because of its glittering facade.

Marvel at the stunning structure that casts shimmering reflections upon the tranquil waters. This architectural masterpiece glows with its gold leaf and sturdy timber components.

The pavilion’s history resonates through its adorned walls, along with the stone pathways and ancient trees. Roam around the beautifully landscaped gardens and stop by the scenic bridge.

Schedule your visit in the morning to find solace in the serene ambiance. Bask in the beauty before the crowd arrives.

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2. Sannenzaka

A crowd of tourists wandering around Sannenzaka
A crowd of tourists wandering around Sannenzaka

Embark on a nostalgic escapade at Sannenzaka and traverse through its cobblestone pathway. Nestled within Higashiyama, this iconic pedestrian showcases the country’s rich history.

Step back in time as you ascend to its traditional slope with Machiya townhouses along the way. Each structure holds a piece of history through the tiled roofs and delicate paper lanterns.

Shops dotted along the ancient street
Shops dotted along the ancient street

As a beautifully preserved street, more traces of the past welcome you with every step. Unravel hidden tea houses and artisanal shops that offer exquisite local experiences.

Drop by local stalls for some unique mementos that portray this charming sanctuary. Discover tasty treats and local ceramics or savor some tasty mochi and matcha ice cream.

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3. Ninenzaka

Traditional structures enclosing Ninenzaka
Traditional structures enclosing Ninenzaka

Carry on with the cultural pursuit at the slope near Sannenzaka. Ninenzaka is another tourist spot for those who love Kyoto’s quiet allure.

Get back in time as you wander around the cobbled surface that is reminiscent of the bygone era. There are plenty of wooden buildings, along with some quaint cafes and tea houses.

Colorful items inside the Chirimen Craft Museum
Colorful items inside the Chirimen Craft Museum

Don’t miss the souvenir shops if you want to immortalize your visit through special keepsakes. There are cultural masks and handmade etchings that perfectly highlight Kyoto’s cultural charm.

There’s also a uniquely designed Starbucks that matches the overall vibe. Its earthy architecture and tatami seating elevate the old-town feel.

4. Fushimi Inari Shrine

The striking two-storied Gate stationed at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
The striking two-storied Gate stationed at the Fushimi Inari Shrine

Spend a peaceful retreat at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The spiritual ambiance of the sanctuary makes it easy to connect with your inner self. Unwind with every step into the forested temple of Mount Inari.

There are smaller shrines and fox statues within the temple grounds with different deities. Light incense and say prayers of gratitude.

Vivid hues of the Thousands Torii Gate
Vivid hues of the Thousands Torii Gate

Capture the famous vermilion torii gates during your exploration. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the best places to see these towering structures with bright hues.

Each gate comes with intricate details that showcase markings of prayers. Make the most out of the light and shadow that peek between gates for your photo sessions.

5. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Otherworldly ambiance of the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Otherworldly ambiance of the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Set foot in a sanctuary of greenery through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Its natural grandeur appeals to many tourists and photographers, making it an iconic tourist spot in the city.

As you navigate along the towering bamboo stalks, sunlight peeks through the lush canopy above. The pathways also offer a soothing experience to every visitor.

Enjoy this tranquil walk into the dense forest and feel the breeze with every swaying bamboo. You won’t regret embarking on this scenic escapade because of its enchanting landscape.

6. Yasaka Pagoda

A prominent view of the Yasaka Pagoda
A prominent view of the Yasaka Pagoda

While in the Higashiyama district, catch a glimpse of the Yasaka Pagoda. This historic figure rises majestically amidst Kyoto’s skyline.

See the elegant silhouette of the five-story pagoda that’s known as an enduring symbol of the city’s past.

Be it known that the place is not open for visitors. Yet even from afar, the structure’s design commands attention.

At dusk, the warm glow from the lanterns and cobblestone streets evokes a charming beauty. So, try to capture the pagoda when daylight wanes and the towering structure becomes the main highlight.

7. Kiyomizudera Temple

Verdant greenery surrounding the Kiyomizudera Temple
Verdant greenery surrounding the Kiyomizudera Temple

Now, it’s time for a hillside escapade on the eastern part of the city. The Kiyomizudera Temple is perched atop a wooded hill with breathtaking views.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the shrine is a pivotal part of Japan’s rich history. Depending on the season, the scenery surrounding the temple changes.

During autumn, fiery maples beautifully envelop the area. In spring, ready yourself for some vast cherry landscapes.

Come summer, the verdant foliage takes up the scenery. When winter arrives, the place transforms into a blanket of snow.

The highly revered Otowa Waterfall
The highly revered Otowa Waterfall

Right after the picturesque pursuits, take the stone steps below to arrive at Otowa Waterfall. You may try to drink from one of the streams for special blessings.

At the entrance of Kiyomizudera, there’s the vibrant Niomon Gate in bright red color.

Continue with the exploration and find the main hall with spectacular wooden architecture. Its architectural brilliance looms through the tiled roof and stunning wooden columns.

Step inside the hall to see Buddhist altars with statues in different designs and sizes. The vast veranda is one of the best places to see the surrounding views.

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8. Nijo Castle

Distinct facade of the Ninomaru-goten Palace
Distinct facade of the Ninomaru-goten Palace

Take delight in the exquisite architecture of Nijo Castle. Constructed back in the 17th century, this stunning castle ground is like a piece of art amidst the vast landscape.

Start the adventure at the Karamon Gate with a spectacular carved entrance. Then, explore the Ninomaru-goten Palace, which comes with impeccable craftsmanship.

See the palace’s intricate wood carvings coupled with well-maintained interiors. Its nightingale floors are another highlight. It was added to the overall design as an extra layer of protection from intruders.

A calming pond near the Ninomaru Garden
A calming pond near the Ninomaru Garden

Apart from its detailed engineering, the castle invites visitors to a serene escapade. Take a stroll along the Ninomaru Garden with lovely nature scenery.

There’s a beautiful pond and some stone lanterns around the lush gardens to help you relax even more. Wander around the thoughtfully curated pathways and don’t forget to capture lovely snaps.

9. Heian Shrine

The towering height of the Grand Torii Heian Shrine
The towering height of the Grand Torii Heian Shrine

Visit another cultural site in Kyoto through the Heian Shrine. At the entrance, you’ll see a massive Torii gate, which is one of the highlights in the area.

Marvel at this towering architectural wonder that’s recognized as one of the tallest of its kind in the country.

Remarkable appeal of the Heian Shrine
Remarkable appeal of the Heian Shrine

The structure’s red and green combination creates a striking scenery that allures visitors. As you step inside the main hall, prominent wooden beams and intricate designs welcome you.

Take your time to admire the interior beauty of the temple and offer a prayer while inside. Apart from its constructional charm, the shrine treats you to a tranquil escape.

Unwind at the vast garden filled with beautiful nature views. The nearby ponds evoke a calming ambiance to help you relax. During spring, the sprawling cherry blossoms take up most of the garden.

10. Nishiki Market

Bustling atmosphere of the Nishiki Market
Bustling atmosphere of the Nishiki Market

Take a break from the cultural quest and go on a market adventure. The Nishiki Market is recognized by many as Kyoto’s kitchen, offering an exciting sensory experience to travelers.

A mouthwatering selection of Hanayori Kiyoe, Kai, Uoriki, and Konna Monja
A mouthwatering selection of Hanayori Kiyoe, Kai, Uoriki, and Konna Monja

Venture into the variety of stalls along the narrow street and discover local delicacies. Some of the must-try fresh treats include pickled vegetables and seafood.

Other unique offerings are their chicken croquettes, octopus eggs, and seafood skewers. There are also several Kyoto sweets that highlight the genuine region’s taste.

11. Sagano Romantic Train

Exceptional nature scenery while aboard the Sagano Romantic Train
Exceptional nature scenery while aboard the Sagano Romantic Train

Take on a picturesque trip through the Sagano Romantic Train. This attraction journeys you through the Hozugawa River bounded by a panoramic valley.

The old-fashioned architecture of the train adds to the overall serenity.

What makes this voyage even more fascinating is the changing of scenery depending on the season. While onboard, you’ll see breathtaking nature views that blend with the riverscape.

Lush greenery and vibrant cherry blossoms envelop your view during spring. Come autumn, the landscapes transform into a fiery red and orange canvas.

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12. Sanjusangendo Temple

Different sections of the Sanjusangendo Temple
Different sections of the Sanjusangendo Temple

When it comes to distinct cultural charms, the Sanjusangendo Temple is part of the list.

Inside the traditionally-looking structure is a breathtaking display of artifacts. These iconic pieces were built in reverence to the goddess of mercy.

Step inside the temple and marvel at the 1001 Kannon statues. The number of sculptures creates a spectacular sight of rows.

Since you can’t take pictures inside, take time to look closely at the figures. Apart from the scenic exhibit of statues, the temple also holds an annual archery.

13. Hanamikoji Street

Laidback vibes of the Hanamikoji Street
Laidback vibes of the Hanamikoji Street – Photo Credit: peia/123RF.com

Do you want to explore the geisha district of Kyoto? Make your way to Hanamikoji Street and meander its cobbled road before entering Gion.

If you visit during sunset or nightfall, be ready for a more magical ambiance.

Spend time along the narrow pathway that takes you back to the ancient era. While embarking on a nostalgic voyage, catch some traditional wooden houses that beautifully stood the test of time.

At times, you’ll be lucky to see a real-life geisha leaving the teahouse.

These traditional female cultural artists are truly captivating. Glue your eyes on these high-class performers with distinctive kimonos and hairstyles.

14. Shinkyogoku Shopping Street

The contemporary atmosphere around Shinkyogoku Shopping Street
The contemporary atmosphere around Shinkyogoku Shopping Street

Go on a vibrant shopping exploration at the famous Shinkyogoku Shopping Street. This modern marketplace welcomes visitors with its bustling stores and affordable products.

The overall ambiance of the area offers a beautiful contrast to the historical sites across the city.

Check out the variety of trendy boutiques and eclectic merchandise shops. There are plenty of quirky items perfect for souvenirs.

As you wander around the cobbled lanes, you’ll come across food stalls. Try some delectable treats from street food vendors. Or if you prefer casual dining, there are restaurants too to choose from.

15. Tenryuji Temple

A picturesque pond enclosing Tenryuji Temple
A picturesque pond enclosing Tenryuji Temple – Photo Credit: bennymarty/123RF.com

If you’re in the serene district of Arashiyama, spend time at the Tenryuji Temple. This is a World Heritage site recognized for its Zen tranquility.

Glory in the moss-covered stones and gorgeous gardens that offer a sense of peace. The surrounding landscapes deliver a canvas of seasonal allure.

The serene pond adds to its tranquil atmosphere and captivating beauty. Beyond its natural scenery, the temple is a cultural landmark with architectural appeal.

Take a step into the main hall to see elegant wooden beams and breathtaking wall paintings. Each artwork elevates the constructional charm of the temple.

16. Yasaka Shrine

The famous West Tower Gate of the Yasaka Shrine
The famous West Tower Gate of the Yasaka Shrine

Set in the Gion district of Kyoto, the Yasaka Shrine is a major site when it comes to seasonal celebrations. There are vibrant festivals throughout the year that elevate the vibe of the place.

The iconic dance stage within the complex
The iconic dance stage within the complex

It holds a legacy of hosting local celebrations, including the iconic Gion Matsuri. During this time of the year, the shine is adorned with unlimited lanterns and vivid colors of red and gold.

Enjoy the rhythm of drums and the bustling energy that comes from locals and tourists alike. So, if you want to experience the cultural vibrance of local rituals, this is the place to be.

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17. Togetsukyo Bridge

The extensive length of the Togetsukyo Bridge
The extensive length of the Togetsukyo Bridge

To wrap up our list, take a walk along the Togetsukyo Bridge. Its translation “Moon Crossing” is a perfect description of its celestial charm.

Admire the seamless blend of natural beauty and ancient craftsmanship through this bridge.

At night, the wooden structure illuminates and creates a beautiful reflection in the waters below.

The views in the morning are equally magical as well. Luxuriate in the foliage of the surrounding mountains that change during autumn and spring.

This tourist site in the Arashiyama district is the gateway to the scenic bamboo groves. It’s also the main passageway to the monkey parks.

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