The 16 Best Things To Do In Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a refined city on the island of Honshu with thousands of classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.
Expect it to be much more laid back than say, Tokyo, a common city to also visit on a first trip to Japan, and also more muted in tone. Expect delicious food, friendly people, and some of the most beautiful and unique sites to see.
The 16 Best Things to do in Kyoto, Japan
1. Sanjusangendo (or Rengeō-in temple)
Sanjūsangendō is a holy building 390 feet long and 54 feet wide and after the original was destroyed in a fire in 1249, the Emperor had it reconstructed in 1266 A.D.
In the middle of the hall sits an 11.5 foot high wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and on each side of her are 500 images of Kannon as tall as a human. 124 of them are originals that survived the fire of 1249 and are indicated as such with a white tag.
All of the figures are made out of wood (Japanese Cyprus) and have never fallen during any of Japan's earthquakes due to the incredible architecture.
There are an additional 28 guardian deities that stand in front of the Kannon with the Thunder-God on one far side and the Wind-God on the other.
It is a simply breath-taking site.
2. Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
It takes two hours to climb to the very top to see its worthy views, but you don't have to commit to going all the way if you want to see these iconic gates. It is one of the most popular shrines in the world and it might be best to go early in the morning and avoid the tourist mayhem.
3. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
A Buddhist temple, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is a 1200 year old temple and has phenomenal grounds. Consider taking a tour and enjoying all of its peaceful glory.
4. The Golden Pavilion
This Zen Temple used to be a home for a Shogun in the 1400s and was later converted into a temple. The top two tiers are covered in gold leaf situated on a peaceful pond. You will have to see it with your own eyes to take in its specatuclar stature.
5. Nijo-jo Castle
A UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1994, this castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun and later became property of the Imperial family. It was then donated to the City of Kyoto in 1939. The grounds are deeply impressive and is worth taking in with a tour.
6. The Silver Pavilion
This too was originally built as a retirement villa for a Shogun in the 1400's and was later converted into a temple. Now, the grounds contain the pavilion, different style gardens, and several temple buildings. Walk along the route to enjoy it all.
7. Gion District (Geisha District)
In Gion Corner you will find the Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation 'Ookini Zaidan' which conducts shows about traditional Japanese ceremonies. The shows performance ranges from music, dance and plays to tea ceremony and flower arrangements. This is the easiest way to see a traditional performance of the Geisha.
You can also walk the streets of the neighborhood and you might see a geiko or maiko upon your path. The buildings and shops are cool to observe and fun to take in.
8. Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Palace used to be the home of the Imperial family until the late 1800's. Consider taking a tour here to avoid applications.
9. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Get yourself a walking tour through this other-wordly bamboo grove. You have to stand amongst the giant bamboo to experience all of it's presence.
10. Philosopher's Path
A stone path along the river. Best time to visit in in early April when the cherry trees are in full bloom. The path gets its name from a famous philosopher who often stopped here for meditation on his way to university.
11. Visit Nishiki Market
Do not miss this 5 block long busy, but peaceful market in the city. It has everything from seasonal seafood delights to kitchen-ware and retail shops.
12. Eat sushi in the Kyoto train station.
The Kyoto station is impressive and you can score some delicious, budget friendly sushi in one of its many restaurants.
13. Stay in a Ryokan
A traditional Japanese house is the way to go in this understated and peaceful city. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn which features many sliding doors, matted floors, and sometimes communal bathrooms. Modern ryokans can have air conditioning, TVs, in room dining and private bathrooms.
For more information and options of places to stay, check out booking.com.
13. Ride bikes
Sometimes Ryokans will also offer bike rentals from their properties. When making your reservations check to see their availability. Otherwise, there are plenty of places to rent throughout the city. It is a great way to get around and learn the lay of the land on a nice day.
15. Kyoto SightSeeing Bus
In the event that you have inclement weather you may want to get to know Kyoto and your bearings of the city through their sightseeing bus tours. Kyoto City isn't a super large city, but there will be plenty of walking to do around the grounds of shrines and temples, so if one of the days leaves you a little tired the bus is also a solid alternative. You can pick up the tours from the Kyoto City train station.
16. Visit the Kyoto Tower
Rebuilt for the 4th time in 1997. Has a great panoramic view of Kyoto
A little BONUS:
If you're also interested in seeing nearby Osaka, consider taking the train over and spending a night. There's a Marriott Shin-Osaka Station hotel just outside of the train station that is also an easy walk to local shops and eateries. You can look for Manzai, a local comedy show and Rokugo, Japanese entertainment. Also noteworthy in Osaka is visiting Dotonbori and the Osaka Castle.
Have an amazing time in Kyoto! Tell me what you think of this itinerary!