Kyoto offers a captivating journey through time. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a seeker of spiritual enlightenment, Kyoto has something extraordinary to offer. Here are some of the best things to do in Kyoto.
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is an iconic Zen Buddhist temple that showcases breathtaking architecture surrounded by picturesque gardens. The top two floors of the pavilion are covered in gold leaf, creating a mesmerizing sight, especially when reflected in the tranquil pond.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Escape the bustling city and venture into the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. As you stroll along the narrow pathways, towering bamboo shoots create a serene atmosphere that feels like stepping into another world. The soft rustling of the leaves and the filtered sunlight make this an ideal place for peaceful reflection. Try to get here early in the morning as it gets very crowded.
Experience a Tea Ceremony
If you love matcha, experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony during your visit to Kyoto is a must. This ancient ritual offers a glimpse into Japanese culture and hospitality. Immerse yourself in the art of tea preparation and savor the flavors of matcha.
Wander Through the Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
Prepare to be captivated by the vibrant hues of the thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. This iconic Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and prosperity. As you venture up the winding path of Mount Inari, surrounded by the vibrant gates, you’ll find breathtaking views of the city below. This is another site that pays off to get there early in the morning before the crowds, especially if you want those Instagram-worthy photos. The further up you go, the less people there will be as well.
Kiyomizu-dera, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a temple renowned for its magnificent wooden terrace that offers panoramic views of Kyoto and is considered one of the top things to do in Kyoto. Surrounding the temple, you’ll discover meticulously landscaped gardens that change with the seasons, creating an ever-changing tapestry of colors and natural beauty.
Take a leisurely stroll through Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district. With its preserved traditional wooden machiya houses and narrow cobblestone streets, Gion exudes an old-world charm. Keep an eye out for geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) gracefully moving between teahouses and establishments.
Take a Stroll Along the Philosopher’s Path
For a serene and contemplative experience, meander along the Philosopher’s Path. This picturesque stone pathway follows the canal that runs through the northern part of Kyoto, lined with hundreds of cherry trees that burst into bloom during spring. Named after the influential philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to walk this path daily, it offers a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
The Philosopher’s Path spans approximately two kilometers, starting around Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) and ending near Nanzen-ji. Remember to visit during the cherry blossom season (late March to early April) if you want to witness the path adorned in delicate pink blooms. The cherry blossoms reflect on the canal, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.
Immerse yourself in the fascinating history of Kyoto by visiting Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo). This UNESCO World Heritage site, showcases the architectural and artistic grandeur of Japan’s feudal era. Built in 1603 as the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns, Nijo Castle offers a glimpse into the power and opulence of the samurai ruling class.
Prepare yourself for a culinary adventure as you step into Nishiki Market, a bustling food market in the heart of Kyoto. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this lively marketplace has been a food lover’s paradise for centuries, offering an array of fresh produce, local delicacies, and traditional ingredients.
Take the opportunity to sample some of Kyoto’s renowned specialties, such as tsukemono (pickled vegetables), yuba (tofu skin), and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). Don’t miss the chance to taste the local delicacy of “tako tamago,” which is a skewer of tender octopus stuffed with a quail egg.Beyond food, Nishiki Market also offers a range of kitchenware, tableware, and local crafts.
Sake Brewery Tours and Tastings
No visit to Kyoto would be complete without exploring the world of sake, Japan’s iconic rice wine. Kyoto is renowned for its sake production, and a sake brewery tour and tasting offers a unique opportunity to learn about the traditional brewing process and savor the flavors of this beloved beverage. Kyoto boasts several sake breweries that open their doors to visitors, providing an insider’s view of the craftsmanship involved in sake production.
If you’re looking for a tour and sake tasting that will really teach you about what all goes into producing sake and let you try a wide array of sake to help you discover which kind is right for you, then I recommend the 3-Hour Kyoto Insider Sake Tasting + Brewery Tour. You will definitely walk away from the sake tasting with much more knowledge about sake and a little cheat sheet to help you choose sake to drink in the future.
Kyoto is a city that effortlessly blends ancient traditions with modern charm, offering visitors a glimpse into Japan’s cultural heritage. From awe-inspiring temples to serene gardens and captivating rituals, the experiences awaiting you in Kyoto are unforgettable.