Kyoto What to See and Do

Kyoto What to See and Do – Guide 2024

There are many things to see and do in Kyoto, thanks to its past as the ancient capital of Japan , offering incredible places to visit. During your trip, visit this city for its wonderful Buddhist temples , ancient bamboo forests , Shinto shrines , royal palaces and traditional alleys. There is also no better place to see the beautiful geishas walking, especially in the Gion district . In this article, therefore, we see what to visit and do in Kyoto during your wonderful trip to Japan.

Where is Kyoto, Why visit it

There are many things to see and do in Kyoto, the ancient capital from 794 to 1868 , thus also retracing the rich history of Japan. Also known as the city of a thousand temples , this is one of the few places spared from the numerous bombings that occurred during the Second World War, thus still preserving the ancient splendors of this culture. Considered a true reliquary of the country, it is a protected UNESCO Heritage Site and a site of immense historical value, as well as an important university headquarters and world cultural center.

Unlike today’s capital Tokyo, Kyoto still retains a charm from times gone by and the traditions of a hidden Japan, which reveals itself to the most curious traveler in the typical alleys where Geishas walk . Located in the central-western area of ​​the island of Honshu , the ancient area is crossed by the Katsura River . Founded by Emperor Kammu in 794 , moving the capital here from Nara , until 1868 under Emperor Meiji . Among the things to visit in Kyoto admire its Zen gardens , wonderful temples, such as that of Ryōan-ji , and Nijo Castle , built in 1626 and built by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Here lies the Katsura Rikyu palace , one of the most famous examples of 16th century Japanese residential architecture . But there are many more things to do in Kyoto, so let’s find out in our travel guide!

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Read also:12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kyoto

10 Things to See in Kyoto

So, let’s go and discover a wonderful city in Japan and see together what the 10 things to see in Kyoto are .

Below you will find the map of the city where you can find the attractions not to be missed in Kyoto during your trip to Japan. Subsequently we will discover them in detail in our guide What to See and Do in Kyoto, Japan.

1. Fushimi Inari

Among the first things to see in Kyoto during your trip to Japan, don’t miss the Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple. This is the main shrine dedicated to the Shinto kami Inari . A Japanese mythological creature of soil fertility that developed into various beliefs. The mountain at the base of which the sanctuary stands has the same name as the temple and rises 233 meters high, among wonderful paths immersed in nature and sanctuaries. Popular above all for its wonderful torii , the entrance portals to the temple, each donated by a Japanese company , Inari also being the patron saint of business .

Among the things to visit in Kyoto for the beauty of the place and the historical importance, it was built during the Heian Period , becoming the center of imperial patronage and is in the first rank as a sanctuary, attracting millions of faithful and travelers here every year; especially during New Year’s Eve. The first structures of this sanctuary also date back to 711 and are those on Inariyama Hill . Furthermore, legend has it that kitsune , the messenger foxes of the temple, are often found in this sanctuary and here we can admire many statues of these animals. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine was also the location of the film Memoirs of a Geisha .

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Girls in Kimono under the Fushimi Inari torii

2. Ginkakuji Temple

Known as the Silver Pavilion , among the things to see and do in Japan, Kyoto, visit the wonderful Ginkakuji Temple. Built in the 15th century , in 1460 , as the resting place of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa , today it is among the Zen temples considered among the great classics of Japan. Furthermore, it has an incredible historical value for its aesthetic inspired by imperfect beauty , wabi-sabi . Before being a sacred place, this villa was considered a cultural center, where the tea ceremony , Noh theater and traditional Japanese poetry were born, as well as the culture of flower arrangements . Although its name may confuse us, there is nothing silver in this temple , but in the original design the entire exterior of the building was to be covered in silver rather than gold.

The shogun did not complete the project, as it reflected wabi-sabi. This temple among the things to see is located in the heart of Kyoto, near the Palace . The Silver Pavilion , a bodhisattva hall, was added to the structure ; that is, for Buddhist enlightenment. It was transformed into a temple in 1490 , after Yoshimasa’s death at his behest. This temple is also popular for its beautiful sand garden , with a sand sculpture representing Mount Fuji . From behind the temple, a path leads to the hill and a wonderful view of Kyoto – definitely on the list of things to do.

tempio Ginkaku-ji
The Ginkaku-ji Temple

3. Path of the Philosopher

Among the things to see in Kyoto, don’t miss Tetsugaku no Michi : the philosopher’s path. A wonderful walking route that will take you to the Higashiyama district , walking for 2 km along the canal that winds from Lake Biwa . Among incredible landscapes, this path is dedicated to Nishida Kitaro , a 20th century philosopher and professor at Kyoto University , who used this path daily for his meditative walks . Furthermore, today, among the things to do in Kyoto, don’t miss this route with the magic of the colors of autumn foliage, or to observe wonderful cherry trees in bloom in spring.

This beautiful walk also leads to many temples and shrines near the canal. Furthermore, there are also refreshment points along the route . Cats have also found a home here that you can cuddle while reading the poems of the master Kitaro, engraved on the stones in the path. Enjoy this poetic excursion along the Philosopher’s Path, one of the places to see in Kyoto and a popular destination during Hanami in April, stopping to have a picnic under the cherry trees. For those who want to avoid the crowds, this path is also open in the evening and illuminated. By visiting this route on August 16 , it will be possible to glimpse the Daimonji celebrations held in the mountains of Kyoto; lighting bonfires .

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The philosopher’s path in spring

4. Gion

Among the most loved and worth-visiting neighborhoods in Kyoto, frequented by travelers and locals due to its importance, we find Gion. Among its traditional atmosphere , the small temples and shrines, the hidden streets off the most tourist itineraries there are bamboo forests and ancient tea houses . But this neighborhood owes its popularity above all to being the place where geishas and maikos live, in the okiya , and work : the apprentice geishas. The Gion neighborhood was born in the 14th century as a place where pilgrims headed to the Yasaka sanctuary stationed . The buildings in this district still retain their original appearance and are made of wood, with traditional windows covered in rice paper and fusuma , typical sliding doors.

Among the things to do in Kyoto, stroll through its streets to savor past traditions, observe geiko and maiko walking, never taking videos or photos of them without permission and treating them with kindness: you even risk a fine if you don’t! Among the places to see here in Kyoto, don’t miss the Yasaka Jinja shrine , where the Gion Matsuri festival is held annually . Visit Kiyomizudera Temple , on Higashiyama Hill and among the most famous in the city, and Kodaiji Temple . Among the most famous historical streets of Gion we find Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka , which still retain the soul of the place. Finally, go to the Kongōji Yasaka Kōshindō Temple , that of the Three Wise Monkeys : I do not see, I do not hear and I do not speak .

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Geishas in the alleys of Gion

5. Arashiyama

Among the hills of Kyoto we find the wonderful suburb of Arashiyama to visit, founded in the Heian period . In fact, since 794 , the nobles of the time loved to frequent this place outside the city, becoming a place full of palaces and historic homes , which today become museums . One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Kyoto to see among the things to do also because of its numerous natural and cultural attractions such as the Togetsukyo Bridge in its center, the Tenryuji Temple , the Okochi Sanso Villa residence , the Iwatayama park with monkeys and , above all, the bamboo forest. A dream setting where Japanese people stroll in traditional dress, the Bamboo Grove is famous for its beauty throughout the world. Here, you can walk on a path flanked by enormous bamboos, guaranteeing a dreamlike experience among the rustling plants, thus taking the title among the 100 soundscapes of Japan .

This place is also always open and you don’t need a ticket to visit it, so we recommend you go here early in the morning. The walk in the forest also leads to various places of interest, such as the Nonomiya Shrine where the priestesses of the Ise Jingu , coming from the royal family, purified themselves. For a unique reminder of this place, local artisans produce many Japanese souvenirs made of bamboo wood . Finally, near the neighborhood station you will find another attraction worth seeing here in Kyoto, the Kimono Forest , made up of 600 traditional kimonos hanging on drapes.

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The Arashiyama bamboo forest

6. Sannenzaka e Ninenzaka

For a dive into the history of Kyoto, among the things to visit here don’t miss its two most famous streets : Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. Today they have become symbols of the ancient city and its lustres, it is a nostalgic and romantic place, full of incredible views where you can take wonderful photos. Between tea rooms, inns and typical taverns where you can taste real Japanese cuisine, these alleys are full of surprises and, looking up, only here will you still see the electricity wires. During spring the avenues are colored with cherry trees in bloom, attracting numerous visitors, making the area very crowded.

Among things to see and do, see the iconic 5-story Yasaka-no-to Pagoda on Kyoto’s Ninenzaka Avenue . Furthermore, the street dates back to 807 and today here you can find cafes and craft shops, lanterns and paper umbrellas among signs with vintage charm . Along the 100 m of Sannenzaka , however, you will arrive at the Kiyomizudera Temple along the curved road between historic buildings that have made the neighborhood a protected area . Furthermore, here you will also find among the things to do in Kyoto the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka museum dedicated to the art of the Edo period .

Sannenzaka road
Sannenzaka road

7. Tempio Kiyomizudera

If you don’t know what to visit in Kyoto, among the most beautiful Buddhist temples to see not only here, but throughout Japan, visit Kiyomizudera. Located near the water that flows from the Otowa waterfall , this is why the temple is literally called the pure water temple . Founded in 798 by the Hosso sect , under which it remained until 1965 , it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site . As well as being a magical place in spring, with the spectacle of the cherry trees in bloom, it also lights up with a thousand colors at night . Its terrace is undoubtedly the most popular place, from where you can enjoy a unique view of a structure with 13 m beams placed on the hill on which the temple stands.

The main place of worship, however, is linked to the goddess of compassion Kannon , while the Jishu shrine is for the goddess of love, where the love stones are found . These stones are located 18 m apart from each other, and if a person with his eyes closed can go from one stone to another, he will find true love; but only if presented by someone . Drinking from the many springs of the Otowa waterfall present in the temple is said to bring luck and long life: but drinking from too many is synonymous with greed for the gods! Other important places in the temple are the hall with the 200 statues of the protector of children and travelers, Jizo , the Okunoin hall and the 3-story Koyasu pagoda .

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple

8. Nijo Castle

Among the most important things to see in Kyoto and symbol of the power of the warlords and the shogun under the Edo period, until 1867 . Nijo Castle is a majestic place, very important on a historical and cultural level, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and among the most important castles in Japan . To avoid the crowds, among the things to do in Kyoto go here early in the morning , thus leisurely visiting the beautiful gardens and the area around. In 1603 this castle was built to be the home of the Tokugawa shogun , towering over the nearby imperial palace and thus displaying Ieyasu’s power.

To increase its prestige , intricate sculptures and wonderful decorative panels were also created here , much more luxurious than those in the royal palace. After 1600 this castle was never attacked, although double moats and high walls were built , as well as watchtowers. Inside the castle area, which opens from the Karamon Gate , is Ninomaru’s Palace . The rooms of the complex are also richly decorated, like its floors , and the gardens have been designed according to the canons of traditional Japanese gardens . There are also orchards, flowering trees in spring and wonderful gingkos: an absolutely must-visit place in Kyoto that will leave you speechless!

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Nijo Castle, portal of Ninomaru Palace

9. Pontocho

Among the most iconic neighborhoods to see in Kyoto, visit Pontocho and its wonderful paved alleys overlooked by ancient wooden buildings . A quiet place during the day, the center of the city’s nightlife in the evening . In fact, restaurants , clubs and cultural events are concentrated here . The roots of this place date back to 1670 , when it was already a place of entertainment and the hub of Kabuki : traditional Japanese theatre. In fact, among the things to do here in Kyoto, don’t miss a show at the Minamiza theater .

If you don’t know what to do in Kyoto and you are here in May, you can also watch the typical Kamogawa Odori dances at the Pontocho Kaburenjo theatre : the show of the geishas who have been performing here since 1872 in spring. This neighborhood, in fact, is also known for geishas in Japan and its name means isolated bridge , as the area preserves traditions and ancient buildings. In the summer, this neighborhood of Kyoto fills the riverside area on the more than 100 yuka platforms , built right on the Kamo River . Here it is also possible to eat typical dishes, such as sushi and sumibiyaki. Being a less touristy place than Gion, prices are also lower but it is still a very busy and popular place, especially in summer and in the evening.

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Pontocho, on the Kamo River

10. Maruyama Park

Finally, among the things to visit and do in Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital, near the wonderful Gion district , don’t miss Maruyama park. Popular place especially for the typical hanami custom ; that is, observe the spring blossoming of the cherry trees. The main attraction to see in this beautiful Kyoto park is its shidarezakura : a large weeping cherry tree. To enter through its main entrance, go to the Yasaka sanctuary , thus entering an oasis of immense peace . The green area is perfectly preserved and will allow you to immerse yourself in nature, with Mount Higashiyama in the background to the north, without leaving the city for a moment away from its frenzy.

With its over 80 km2 , inside you can find ducks and ducks in the small lakes , among the orchards and in the wonderful gardens, among the ancient statues of famous samurai . Furthermore, numerous festivals are also held inside and an area is dedicated to concerts. To take a tasty or relaxing break, stop in its kiosks , listening to the sound of the water of the streams. Finally, the park is always open until night, perfect for an evening walk among its lights, guaranteeing an perhaps even more evocative landscape.

maruyama park
Maruyama Park

Kyoto what to see, FAQ

What to see in Kyoto in 3 days?

With 3 days at your disposal, visit Ginkakuji Temple, Fushimi-Inari, Kinkaku-ji and Arashiyama Forest.

What to see in Kyoto in 2 days?

With 2 days in Kyoto visit Higashiyama and Arashiyama, but also the Fushimi Inari sanctuary and Kinkaku-ji.

Kyoto in 4 days, What to see?

In 4 days in Kyoto visit Arashiyama, Ninnaji, the Imperial palace, the Daitokuji complex, the Higashihonganji temple, the philosopher’s path, Gion, Pontocho, Nijo Castle and the Nishiki Market.

What to see in Kyoto in 1 day?

With just one day in Kyoto visit Fushimi Inari, Ginkaku-ji and Gion.

What to visit around Kyoto?

For an excursion out of Kyoto, visit Nara, Osaka and Hikone Castle, on Lake Biwa.

What to absolutely see in Kyoto?

The points included in our article are among the things you absolutely must visit during your trip to Kyoto.

Kyoto in 7 days, what to see?

A week is enough to visit all the places described in our article and also organize a trip out of town; like an excursion to Uji.

Travel tips for visiting Kyoto

Now that we have seen together what attractions not to be missed in Kyoto, we thought we would recommend a series of tours that will allow you to visit this wonderful city.

Travel Tips for Kyoto and Japan

To discover the country from Tokyo to Kyoto, we recommend our Group Tour: Enchanted Japan. An extraordinary journey that allows you to experience Japanese life at 360°, with travel by bullet train and an overnight stay in a ryokan.

Group Tour: Enchanted Japan

In short: 10-day Classic Japan Trip from Tokyo to Kyoto.
Itinerary: Tokyo, Shirakawa, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Nara, Kyoto.
Duration: 12 days – 9 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: JPARCH1201

With only a week at your disposal, the one for you is the Mini Tour Japan: from Tokyo to Kyoto. 7 days with visits to discover the country from Tokyo to Kyoto, traveling by Shinkansen train.

Mini Tour Japan: from Tokyo to Kyoto

In short: 7-day semi-individual Japan tour from Tokyo to Kyoto with transfer by shinkansen.
Itinerary: Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Fushimi, Osaka.
Duration: 9 days – 6 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: JPARCH0901

Instead, for a semi-individual journey to discover the Islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, choose our Japan Tour: The Secrets of the Southern Islands. The tour that blends tradition and modernity, offering a complete vision of the land of the samurai.

Japan Tour: Secrets of the Southern Islands

In short: 12 Day Japan Tour to discover the Southern Islands.
Itinerary: Tokyo, Osaka, Dogo Onsen, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kyoto.
Duration: 13 days – 10 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: JPARCH1301

How to visit Kyoto and Japan

Now that we have seen what to see in Kyoto and what tours are recommended for your trip, you are ready to go !

We always remind you to inform yourself about the documents necessary for your entry into Japan. In this regard, we recommend that you consult our Travel Safely Japan section to better organize your holiday. Finally, if you are looking for some advice for your next trip to Japan, pop over to our Japan Blog!

Although it is possible to organize your trip to Kyoto and Japan completely independently, we at Arché Travel always recommend relying on a specialized tour operator to organize your group trip. In this way you will be sure to have a  travel experience in Japan in total  safety and reliability, discovering what to see in Kyoto.

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