Kyoto stands as one of the best tourist destinations globally for its rich collection of cultural heritage. The well-preserved historical structures situated on the stunning natural views will bring you back to the ancient world.
Each year, millions of tourists are attracted to visit Kyoto’s various temples and shrines with beautifully manicured borders. Plus, the cultural and traditional experiences from wearing geiko costumes to ninja dress-ups and more are indeed enthralling things to do in Kyoto.
Top 10 Things To Do in Kyoto
1. Stroll and eat at Nishiki Market
You may begin your journey by pampering your palate in the famous kitchen of Kyoto, the Nishiki Market (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba). You will enjoy strolling inside the 400-year old market lined by more than 100 food shops and restaurants. Its delightful atmosphere makes you explore the varieties of Kyoto’s traditional foods and different kinds of seafood, ranging from raw to cooked, everything you want to eat. You will be amazed by the smell and taste of various street foods such as Tako Tamago (sweet and salty baby octopus), one of the visitors’ favorite bites.
You could also enjoy the Japanese sweet delicacies, including mochi (sticky rice cakes with fillings) that comes in many forms and different flavored fillings. Plus, the selections of foods to take home and souvenirs for your friends and loved ones.
2. Try the multi-course dinner in Kaiseki
Dining in Kaiseki restaurant is one of the highly recommended things to do in Kyoto. Kaiseki is a multi-course dinner, in which every dish is meticulously made and beautifully plated. The set of Kaiseki is usually composed of 10-11 dishes such as appetizer, sashimi, soup, grilled course, boiled dish, tempura, pickles sushi, miso soup, and dessert.
You will be astonished by how the chefs strive to put much effort into every detail as Kaiseki is an epitome of their being omotenashi, which means being hospitable.
3. Explore the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Exploring old temples is another thing you can also do in Kyoto. Why not heading to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, a part of Kyoto’s UNESCO world heritage site. Kiyomizu-dera a Buddhist temple means “pure water,” which is derived from Otowa waterfall located at the base of the temple’s main hall. Drinking one of the three streams that have divided from Otowa waterfall is one of the main attractions of the place. Every stream is believed to have a different benefit that may cause longevity, success in school, and fortunate in love life.
Another attraction is the Iron spear and sandals of warrior monk “Benkei,” alongside is the pole weapon used by ordinary monks, which are located at the main hall. Visitors are allowed to try to lift those weapons.
You may also enjoy the other structures like the three-storied Koyasu Pagoda to enjoy the scenic beauty of trees surrounding it.
Lastly, if you want to witness the special illumination night events of the temple, you should plan to visit by the end of March and the second half of November.
4. Wild monkey encounter at Iwatayama Park
One of Kyoto’s busiest tourist spots is the Monkey Park Iwatayama. You need a short hike going to the top part of the mountain to reach the park. Entering the park, you will see walking wild monkeys. However, you should strictly follow the rules and restrictions to avoid any problem. There are tons of baby monkeys and big monkeys just walking freely everywhere at the park. You can buy their foods, which are also available there, and feed them only in the feeding area. The bonus part is being able to view Kyoto from the top.
5. Take a walk at the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama District
Don’t miss out on the iconic Bamboo Grove in Kyoto. It is particularly attractive in the early morning, where the natural beauty of the tall bamboo blooms. You will surely enjoy gazing on the green boughs while walking to the endless pathways just like in your dreams.
6. Try the Sagano Scenic Railway Ride and Hozu River Boat ride
If you want to enjoy the beauty of nature, then try the Sagano Scenic Railway and Hozu River Boat Tour. Enjoy the scenery while riding inside a train, from Arashiyama to nearby Kameoka. Make sure you bring your camera along with you to capture the beauty of nature alongside the view of the enchanting Hozu river.
After enjoying the rail trip, the next thing you should try is the 2-hour boat tour at Hozu River. The boat can accommodate up to 25 people. The cool thing is, the seats turned warm during winter seasons. You will surely amaze passing on the forested mountainsides and the charming view of the river. The adventure of riding a boat on speedy running water is definitely an unforgettable experience.
7. Meet Geisha at Old district Gion
Walking in the old district in Gion should be included on your bucket list when traveling to Kyoto. The place is famous for traditional merchant establishment and the best way to experience Geisha. To encounter real Geisha performing the Japanese cultural dance accompanied by traditional music, serving drinks, and leading drinking games, then dine at the Ochaya. However, Geiko dinner is a high-class event, so it is definitely high-priced.
There are other ways to experience Geiko culture in Gion district without spending too much, such as the daily performances at the Gion Corner.
Planning to travel Gion, it is best to include stroll at Higashiyama District to shop for souvenirs and a tour at Kiyomizudera Temple and Yasaka Shrine.
8. Enjoy with locals at Kamogawa river
Are you seeking for a free spot in Kyoto to relax and breathe fresh air? Stop for a while and take a walk at the long pathways of the Kamogawa river, also known as “duck river.” The riverbanks are famous spots among locals and tourists. Most people do jogging, cycling, painting, or just relaxing while enjoying the sound of the river and the birds flying around. In the night time, you can see the act and play of buskers. If you visit during summer, restaurants open their balconies looking out of the river’s view.
9. Don’t miss out the best view ever at the Golden Pavilion
Your next stop should be in Kinkakuji or the golden pavilion in the northern part of Kyoto. This Zen Temple is also part of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very famous site in Japan. Its unique structure is impressively built, where the top two floors covered in gold leaf and the phoenix on the top made from real gold. The shimmering view of the temple from afar reflecting in the waters of the adjacent pond is a breathtaking sight.
Visitors are not allowed to go inside the temple. So after viewing Kinkakuji, you will enjoy the temple’s beautiful garden and Sekkatei Teahouse.
10. Samurai and Ninja experience
Another exciting thing to do in the cultural heart of Japan is to experience being a ninja and or samurai by visiting the interactive samurai and ninja museum. The museum will not only bring back the history of ninjas and samurais in Kyoto but could also have a hands-on experience of wearing a samurai armor, doing a shuriken (ninja star) throw and using a ninja blowgun. Apart from that, you can have a short sword lesson and watch the entertaining samurai show.
There are more activities and places to visit in Kyoto that also best for family, but I just mentioned a few. During Cherry blossom season (late March~early April), Golden Week (early May) and foliage season (November) people jammed in Kyoto. It would be better to avoid those seasons if you want to enjoy the tranquility of the place.