Welcome to the enchanting city of Kyoto, where ancient traditions meet the serene beauty of Japan’s cultural heartland!
In this vibrant city, every corner tells a story, and a journey through its streets is like stepping into a beautifully painted scroll of history. Whether you’re walking under a canopy of cherry blossoms at the Philosopher’s Path, marveling at the golden splendor of Kinkaku-ji, or taking in the vibrant colors of a geisha performance in Gion, Kyoto is a feast for the senses.
Here, you can sip matcha in a centuries-old tea house, explore mysterious Zen gardens, and get lost in the bustling Nishiki Market. But that’s just the beginning!
Kyoto is a treasure trove of experiences, from the tranquility of ancient temples and shrines to the excitement of its modern, lively streets.
Get ready to be captivated by the city’s timeless charm and discover why Kyoto continues to be a magnet for travelers from around the world! 🌸🍵🏯
The best time to visit Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto is a delight in every season, each offering a unique perspective of this culturally rich city:
- Spring (March to May)
- The cherry blossom season, a highlight for many, with peak bloom usually in early April.
- The city is alive with hanami (flower viewing) festivities.
- Mild and comfortable weather, ideal for outdoor activities.
- Summer (June to August):
- Warm and humid, with the Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s most famous festivals, taking place in July.
- Lush greenery in temple gardens, perfect for evening strolls.
- Opportunities to experience traditional summer events and fireworks.
- Autumn (September to November):
- Spectacular fall foliage, particularly in November, transforming temple and shrine gardens into vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow.
- Pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds than spring.
- Seasonal foods and autumn festivals add to the experience.
- Winter (December to February):
- Cold but less crowded, offering a peaceful atmosphere.
- Occasional snowfall creates picturesque scenes, especially at temples and shrines.
- Enjoy traditional winter cuisine and hot springs in the outskirts.
Each season in Kyoto has its charm, from the blossoming of sakura to the fiery colors of autumn leaves, ensuring a memorable visit regardless of the time of year.
Is Kyoto worth visiting?
Oh, Kyoto! Imagine a city where temples outnumber Starbucks, where geishas shuffle through neon-lit streets, and where you can find more history in a single alley than in some entire countries.
It’s the place to be if you want to time travel to ancient Japan without giving up modern conveniences like, you know, flushing toilets.
In Kyoto, you can start your day with a Zen meditation session, get lost in a bamboo forest by noon, accidentally photobomb a couple’s wedding kimono photoshoot in the afternoon, and end the night wondering how many types of sake you can taste before you start speaking fluent Japanese.
It’s a city where you can find peace and tranquility in a temple, only to have it charmingly disrupted by a troop of school kids on a field trip.
Visiting Kyoto is like stepping into a living museum, but one where the exhibits occasionally bow back to you! 🍵🏯🍣
How to reach Kyoto
Heading to Kyoto? Buckle up for a vibrant journey starting from Narita International Airport, Tokyo’s main international hub, located a bit of a trek away – about 513 kilometers (319 miles) to be precise.
But fear not, because Japan’s ultra-efficient Shinkansen (bullet train) can whizz you from Tokyo to Kyoto in a breezy 2 hours. It’s like teleporting, only with better snacks and comfier seats!
If you’re swinging by from Osaka, you’re just a short 55 kilometers (34 miles) train ride or bus trip away, perfect for a quick nap or an episode of your favorite anime.
And if you’re coming from Nagoya, you’re only 147 kilometers (91 miles) away from a cultural fiesta in Kyoto.
And for the road trippers, the well-connected highways are a joy to drive, just be prepared for some tolls that might make you think you’re funding a samurai’s armor.
So whether you’re flying, training, busing, or driving, getting to Kyoto is as easy as finding a vending machine in Japan (and that’s really easy)!
How to get around in Kyoto
The best way to immerse yourself in Kyoto’s charm is on foot, especially in areas rich in temples and traditional shops, like Gion or Higashiyama.
For longer distances, Kyoto’s efficient bus system is your go-to option, covering most tourist destinations with clear route maps and announcements in English.
If speed is your need, the two subway lines, Karasuma and Tozai, offer a quick way to zip across the city.
The 15 best things to do in Kyoto
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine – A unique thing to do in Kyoto
Visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto is like stepping into another world, where vermilion torii gates create an endless, vibrant tunnel leading up the mystical Mount Inari.
As you wander through this enchanting path, the sun filters through the gates, casting a warm glow. The air is filled with the whispers of ancient traditions and the subtle rustling of the sacred Inari fox statues that guard the shrine.
Along the way, you can stop at quaint tea houses to refresh yourself with some matcha and traditional Japanese sweets, making the experience even more delightful.
- Opening Hours: Open 24 hours, but best experienced during daylight.
- Entrance Fee: Free.
- Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds, especially enchanting during autumn when the leaves are changing colors.
2. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) – One of the best sights to see in Kyoto
Nestled among lush gardens, the pavilion, coated in brilliant gold leaf, shimmers beside a tranquil pond, reflecting its beauty for all to admire. The sight is so dazzling, you might have to pinch yourself to believe it’s real!
As you stroll around the serene pond, every angle offers a new perspective of this architectural marvel, blending opulence with the simplicity of Zen Buddhism.
And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of colorful koi fish darting through the water, adding to the Pavilion’s enchanting ambiance. Don’t forget to wander through the surrounding gardens, where each season paints the landscape with its unique palette, from cherry blossoms in spring to fiery maple leaves in autumn.
- Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily
- Entrance Fee: 400 Yen for adults
- Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon for fewer crowds; spring and autumn for the most beautiful garden views.
3. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – One of the most touristic places in Kyoto
Nestled on the outskirts of Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a place where whispers of nature create a symphony.
As you wander through the towering bamboo stalks, the sun plays peek-a-boo, casting a magical green glow. The gentle rustling of the bamboo in the wind is like nature’s own music, creating a serene atmosphere.
Reaching the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove from Kyoto is convenient and can be done by train, bus, taxi, or bicycle. The quickest method is by train, either via the JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station or the Keifuku Arashiyama Line to Arashiyama Station, with the journey taking about 15-25 minutes. Buses like Kyoto City Bus numbers 28 or 93 are an alternative but might be slower due to traffic. For those seeking a more scenic route, renting a bicycle offers a pleasant hour-long ride to the grove.
- Opening Hours: Open 24 hours, but best experienced during daylight.
- Entrance Fee: Free of charge.
- Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon for fewer crowds; the grove is particularly mesmerizing during the light of dawn or just before sunset.
4. Gion District – One of the best places to see in Kyoto
The Gion District in Kyoto is like stepping back in time into a world where traditional Japanese culture blooms in every corner. As you wander through the narrow, lantern-lit streets, the wooden facades of old machiya houses whisper tales of ancient Japan.
The air is filled with the subtle scent of incense and the faint sound of shamisen music. Gion is the heart of Kyoto’s geisha culture, where these iconic figures, in their exquisite kimonos and elegant makeup, can be seen gracefully gliding to their appointments.
The district is not only a feast for the eyes but also for the taste buds, with its array of traditional tea houses and high-end kaiseki restaurants.
- Opening Hours: The district is open 24/7, but individual shops and restaurants have their own operating hours, typically from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
- Entrance Fee: There is no entrance fee to enter the Gion District.
- Best Time to Visit: Late afternoon and evening are ideal to experience the area’s lively atmosphere and possibly spot a Geisha on her way to evening engagements. The cherry blossom season (late March to early April) adds a magical touch to the district’s beauty.
5. Nijo Castle – Best sightseeing in Kyoto
Nijo Castle stands as a grand testament to the power and elegance of the Tokugawa shogunate.
As you step into its expansive grounds, you’re transported back to the Edo Period, where shogun warriors and intricate politics played out within these walls. The castle’s “nightingale floors,” designed to chirp like birds when stepped on, were an ingenious security measure against intruders – or perhaps just sneaky ninjas!
The opulent rooms, adorned with masterful paintings, and the lush, meticulously manicured gardens showcase the lavish lifestyle of the shoguns.
- Opening Hours: 8:45 AM to 5:00 PM (Last admission at 4:00 PM)
- Entrance Fee: ¥1,030 for adults; discounts available for students and children
- Best Time to Visit: April for cherry blossoms or November for autumn foliage
6. Philosopher’s Path – One of the most unique activities in Kyoto
Nestled in the heart of Kyoto, the Philosopher’s Path is a charming and tranquil walkway that offers a serene escape from the bustling city life.
This picturesque path, named after the famous Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro who was thought to meditate here on his daily walks to Kyoto University, meanders along a quaint canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees.
It’s a place where nature, history, and philosophy intertwine, inviting visitors to ponder life’s big questions or simply enjoy the peaceful scenery.
- Opening Hours: Open 24 hours, accessible any time.
- Entrance Fee: Free, no admission fee.
- Best Time to Visit: Late March to early April for cherry blossom season, though it’s beautiful year-round.
7. Kiyomizu-dera Temple – The most beautiful temple in Kyoto
Perched on the side of a mountain, enveloped in a sea of lush greenery, Kiyomizu-dera Temple stands as a testament to ancient craftsmanship and serene spirituality.
This architectural marvel, built without a single nail, offers a panoramic view of Kyoto that can steal your breath away.
As you stroll along its famous wooden stage, hovering over the hillside, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a living, breathing painting. The temple is a kaleidoscope of colors, especially during cherry blossom season when the scenery transforms into a vibrant tapestry of pink and white.
- Opening Hours: 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM (hours may extend during special night viewings)
- Entrance Fee: 400 Yen (around $4 USD)
- Best Time to Visit: Late March to early April for cherry blossoms; mid-November for autumn foliage.
8. Chion-in Temple – One of the most stunning tourist attractions in Kyoto
Chion-in Temple, located in the heart of Kyoto, is a significant site of pilgrimage and a symbol of Pure Land Buddhism.
The temple’s expansive grounds and impressive structures, including the massive Sanmon gate, one of the largest in Japan, offer a serene environment. The Miedo Hall, the main hall, is particularly revered as it enshrines an image of Honen.
The temple’s surroundings, with beautifully landscaped gardens and peaceful walking paths, provide a tranquil escape from the city’s bustle. The ambiance of Chion-in Temple changes with the seasons, making every visit unique. Its importance in Japanese religious and cultural history makes it a must-visit for anyone exploring Kyoto.
- Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM
- Entrance Fee: Free (specific buildings or special areas may have a fee)
- Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (October to November) for the most scenic beauty.
9. Maruyama Park – Fun thing to do in Kyoto with a family
Maruyama Park, located in Kyoto, is a quintessential representation of Japanese beauty and tranquility.
Renowned as Kyoto’s most popular public park for cherry blossom viewing, the park comes alive during the sakura season, typically in early April. The centerpiece is a large weeping cherry tree, which becomes a spectacular sight when fully in bloom, especially at night when it’s lit up, creating a magical atmosphere.
The park also features traditional tea houses and meandering paths, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a picnic under the cherry blossoms. Throughout the year, Maruyama Park offers a peaceful escape with its lush greenery and serene ponds, embodying the essence of a traditional Japanese landscape garden.
- Opening Hours: Open 24 hours, all year round.
- Entrance Fee: Free admission.
- Best Time to Visit: Early April during the cherry blossom season for the most picturesque views.
🌸 READ MORE – The 10 Best Cherry Blossom Locations In Kyoto
10. Hōkanji-Temple – A famous Kyoto tourist spot
Hōkanji Temple, also known as Yasaka no Tou, is a quintessential symbol of Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama district. This ancient Buddhist temple, dating back to the Heian Period (794-1185), is renowned for its striking five-story pagoda, which stands as one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
The temple’s pagoda, elegantly rising above the narrow, quaint streets lined with traditional shops and tea houses, offers a glimpse into the old-world charm of Kyoto. The area surrounding Hōkanji Temple, often bustling with tourists and locals alike, is steeped in history and offers a picturesque backdrop for photography enthusiasts, especially during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
- Opening Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
- Entrance Fee: Free (Donations are welcomed)
- Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon for fewer crowds; Spring (cherry blossom season) and Autumn (fall foliage) for the most scenic views.
11. Hirano Shrine
Hirano Shrine, located in Kyoto, is a serene and historically rich Shinto shrine that has been an integral part of the city’s cultural landscape since its establishment in 794 AD. Renowned for its stunning gardens and numerous species of cherry trees, the shrine becomes a spectacular sight during the cherry blossom season, attracting both locals and tourists alike.
The annual cherry blossom festival, celebrated since 985 AD, is a highlight, featuring a range of traditional events and a night-time illumination of the blossoms. The shrine’s peaceful atmosphere is enhanced by its traditional architecture and tranquil ponds.
- Opening Hours: 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily.
- Entrance Fee: Free.
- Best Time to Visit: Late March to early April for the cherry blossom season.
12. Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Kyoto Imperial Palace, once the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family, is a historic site steeped in the country’s royal heritage.
Located in the heart of Kyoto in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park, the palace complex is a testament to traditional Japanese architecture and garden design. The main hall, the Emperor’s residence, and other buildings are elegantly constructed, showcasing the refined craftsmanship of ancient Japan.
The surrounding gardens are equally captivating, featuring well-manicured lawns, serene ponds, and beautiful cherry and plum trees, offering a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. Visitors can explore the grounds and some of the buildings, although access to the inner palace requires joining a guided tour, which provides fascinating insights into the history and culture of Japan’s imperial lineage.
- Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Last entry at 4:40 PM)
- Entrance Fee: Free, but guided tours require prior registration
- Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) for cherry blossoms or Autumn (October to November) for colorful foliage
13. Nishiki Market – Best Kyoto food
Nishiki Market, affectionately known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” is a bustling hub of culinary delights and cultural experiences in the heart of Kyoto.
Spanning over five blocks, this narrow, covered shopping street is home to more than one hundred shops and restaurants, offering an array of local, seasonal foods and specialties.
Visitors can indulge in a variety of treats, from fresh seafood and sushi to traditional Japanese sweets and pickles. The market is not only a paradise for food lovers but also a vibrant showcase of Kyoto’s rich culinary traditions and local crafts.
- Opening Hours: Typically open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, but individual shop hours may vary.
- Entrance Fee: Free admission.
- Best Time to Visit: Weekday mornings are ideal to avoid the crowds, offering a more relaxed shopping and dining experience.
14. Rent a traditional Kimono – A fun thing to do in Kyoto
Explore Kyoto in a traditional kimono with this rental service. Choose from a range of kimono patterns and designs, and upgrade to more kimono options and a hairstyling service.
Go to the kimono shop you select at checkout to begin your kimono experience. Discover a wide selection of kimonos, ranging from traditional patterns to modern designs, and get dressing assistance from the on-site staff.
With both packages you will receive a kimono, sash belt (obi), Japanese clutch, sandals and socks that you can use that day. If it’s not too busy, getting dressed takes less than an hour, so you can quickly start your adventure.
The premium package lets you choose from four additional kimono options, with an upgraded kimono and obi (Japanese belt), and traditional hair styling. The premium package is only available for women.
I opted for the premium package and would do it again in a heartbeat.
15. Take a day trip to Nara Park
Just a short journey from Kyoto, Nara Park is famous for its free-roaming deer, considered messengers of the gods in Shinto tradition. Visitors can interact with these gentle creatures, feeding them special crackers and capturing unforgettable moments.
The park also houses several significant historical sites, including the Todai-ji Temple, home to one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues, and the Kasuga Taisha Shrine with its hundreds of stone lanterns.
The lush, scenic parkland and serene ponds make it an ideal spot for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful picnic.
💡 TIP – Watch out for the deer cause they know where it’s at when it comes to getting their cookies.
Take the train from Kyoto Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. The Kintetsu Limited Express is the quickest option, taking about 35 minutes to reach Kintetsu-Nara Station, which is a short walk from Nara Park.
🦌 TOUR – You can also book a fun day trip to Nara which leaves from Kyoto and also includes a visit to the Arashiyama Bamboo forest and the Fushimi Inari shrine.
How many days do you need to visit Kyoto
Ideally, one would need at least three to four days to truly embrace the essence of Kyoto. This time frame allows you to meander through the mystical Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, ponder the serene simplicity of Ryoan-ji’s rock garden, and be mesmerized by the golden reflection of Kinkaku-ji.
It gives you ample opportunity to get lost in the historical alleys of Gion, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Geisha, and to climb the vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. Plus, you can’t miss indulging in the culinary delights of Nishiki Market!
Where to stay in Kyoto
There are many, many options when it comes to accommodation in Kyoto. You can choose for one of the more luxurious hotelsor go the more traditional route with a ryokan.
Below you’ll find my personal favorites in both categories!
- The Thousand Kyoto – Experience the epitome of Kyoto hospitality with a warm welcome and personalized stay.
- Tomoya Residence Hotel Kyoto – The perfect balance between luxury and minimalism.
- Nazuna Kyoto Gosho – One of the most beautiful ryokans in Kyoto!
- Yuzuya Ryokan – Stay in the heart of Gion in this luxurious ryokan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Kyoto best known for?
Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is best known for its exceptional historical and cultural significance. The city is famed for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden houses.
It’s particularly renowned for the geisha district of Gion and the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine with its striking red torii gates. Kyoto also holds a special place in the hearts of nature lovers, with its picturesque cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant autumn leaves.
Additionally, the city’s traditional tea houses and kaiseki dining reflect Kyoto’s deep-rooted culinary traditions, making it a cultural and historical jewel of Japan.
Is it possible to visit Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in one week?
Visiting Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo in one week is possible but requires careful planning and a fast-paced itinerary.
Osaka and Kyoto are relatively close to each other, about 15 minutes by bullet train, allowing for easy travel between the two. However, Tokyo is further away, approximately 2.5 hours from Kyoto by bullet train.
This compact schedule means visitors will have to prioritize major attractions and may not have time for in-depth exploration of each city.
Efficient use of Japan’s extensive and punctual rail network, particularly the Shinkansen (bullet train), is crucial for maximizing time in each destination.
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- The Best Cherry Blossom Locations in Tokyo
- The Best Cherry Blossom Locations In Kyoto (2024 – MAP Included)
- The 11 Very Best Ryokans In Kyoto
- The 11 Very Best Luxury Hotels In Kyoto
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- The Ultimate Nara Park Travel Guide
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.