Every year, Kyoto attracts a staggering 30 million travelers who come to explore the ancient city, which was once the capital of Japan. Kyoto is now home to 1.5 million residents and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its UNESCO Sites include 13 Buddhist temples, 3 Shinto shrines and the Shogun castle. All are open to the public and well worth taking a few days to explore
Getting Around Kyoto
Bike Rental: Kyoto is the perfect city for cycling. The traffic is low, there are many side streets to explore, and it’s easy to park your bike just about anywhere. However, be aware of no parking signs. As your hotel about bike rentals, as many places in Kyoto provide hybrid bikes. Explore this guide for more bike rental resources.
Bus/Train: If you don’t feel like riding a bike, the public transport system in Kyoto is easy to use and affordable, around 220 yen per trip. Consult your Google Maps app for current bus schedules and transfers. All the bus stops have Wi-Fi as well.
How to Use this Guide
Below, you’ll find our recommendations of hidden and popular sites for any guest visiting Kyoto. For each set of activities, read the descriptions, and select 3-5 activities per day that sound especially interesting to you. Don’t try to do more than 2 activities in a morning or afternoon—you’ll be exhausted and won’t have time to truly enjoy the place you’re in. In our experience, it’s always better to thoroughly experience a few places than to sprint through many different ones.
Now, let’s get into it!
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Taxi, Train, Bus
$ Dorayaki and Takoyaki Stand
Location: 19-1 Ryoanji Gotandacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8017
Only 5 minutes walk north of Ryoan-ji Station is a small street stall selling delicious dorayaki and takoyaki. Dorayaki is a Japanese sweet treat of two pancakes with a tasty filling in the middle. Start by enjoying pancakes with sweet red-bean paste filling, a traditional favorite. If pancakes don’t take your fancy, try a few takoyaki! This is a wheat-flour battered snack of octupus, spices and vegetables, rolled into a ball. Typically, it is served topped with mayo and takoyaki sauce.
Location: 8 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001
If you prefer a sit-down meal, then head over to Nanohana, a homestyle eatery at the base of Ryoanji Temple. This is a nice place to line your stomach before embarking upon the busy day ahead. Nonohana also offers various Japanese foods, snacks, and desserts.
Location: 13, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8001
Admission: 500 Yen
Hours: Open daily 8:00am-5:00pm
The Ryoan-ji is one of the most well-known temples in all of Japan. It was built in the 15th century for Shogun Hosokawa Katsumoto. Furthermore, Ryoan-ji Temple’s unique rock garden has 15 stones aligned in a special and magical way in white sand. No matter which angle you view the garden from, one stone will always be out of sight. After exploring the garden, walk over to the Hojo, which is where the head priest lived. In these living quarters, you’ll find elegant paintings, sliding doors, as well as tatami mats. If you’re feeling peckish, there’s also a nice restaurant in the park serving delicious Japanese food and snacks.
Location: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Admission: 400 Yen
Hours: Open daily 9:00am-5:00pm
After a 20 min walk from the Ryoan-ji Temple, you’ll find a Zen Buddhist temple called Kinkaku-ji. Built in the 14th century, this temple is on the list of 17 historic monuments of Ancient Kyoto. It has since been recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Each floor of the building represents a different style of architecture and has impressive gold-leaf covering across the top two floors. On the site there’s also a garden, a pond (which according to legend never runs dry) and a teahouse to visit as well.
Location: 3 Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo, Kyoto City, 602-0881
Hours: April-August open daily 9:00am-5:00pm. September-March open daily 9:00am-4:30pm.
From Kinkaku-ji, take a taxi towards one of the most important landmarks in Japan – the Kyoto Imperial Palace, located within the Kyoto Imperial Park. When Kyoto was the capital city of Japan, the Imperial Palace home to the Emperor of Japan until 1868. The Palace is now a hugely popular attraction. Visitors are not permitted to enter the palace doors, but we recommend admiring its architecture from the outside. It is well worth a visit to enjoy the surrounding park and greenery.
Location: 350-4 Tokudaiji Denchō, Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto, 602-0932
Hours: 12-2pm, 6pm-8:30pm
Enjoy amazingly-fresh sushi with lots of variety and fresh ingredients. The owners of this establishment are very friendly and welcoming. Some staff members speak English as well! It has since been known as a friendly and international gathering spot.
Location: 30-5 Kinugasa Babachō, Kita-ku, Kyoto, 603-8362
Hours: 11am-4pm, 5:30-8pm
Find a variety of Western and Japanese options at this fusion restaurant, just outside of Kinkaku-ji. From salad and soup to wagyu beef and katsudon, find a variety of delicious foods at this Japanese home-style cookery.
Location: 609 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 604-8054
Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm (closed Wednesdays and Sundays)
Nishiki Market is a lively market street featuring seafood, produce, sweets and much, much more! Positioned across five blocks of narrow streets, it has a fun and bustling atmosphere. In addition to the locally produced meals on offer, you’ll also find many family-operated businesses lining the streets. Soak up the sights, smells, and sounds of the market as you enjoy plenty of food samples that will be offered as you walk around. After strolling through, choose your meal from a variety of cuisines on offer.
Location: Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, 602-0881
Hours: 9:30am-4:30pm (closed Mondays).
Less than a 15 min walk from the Kyoto Imperial Palace is the Sento Imperial Palace, which is also located within the Kyoto Imperial Park. The retired Emperor Go-mizuno used the Sento Imperial Palace as a retirement home until 1630. Then, it became a retirement home for the emperors who followed him. Sadly, the Palace suffered many fires in the past and now only the gardens and a few teahouses remain. Within the gardens (which are free to explore) you’ll find a big pond that with small islands and walkways to stroll around. Enjoy a meditative walk through the serene palace grounds.
Location: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301
Admission: 600 Yen
Hours: October-June 8:45am-5:00pm. July and August 8:00am-6:00pm. September 8:00am-5:00pm. The Castle is closed on Tuesdays in January, July, August and December.
From Sento Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle is roughly a 25min walk or a 10min taxi ride away.
The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). The castle then became an imperial palace before it was donated to Kyoto. In 1994, Nijo Castle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The picturesque castle is surrounded by stone walls and a moat. Within the complex, you’ll find more than 400 cherry trees and winding paths through pleasant garden greenery. Visitors enter the grounds through a beautiful main gate. Just inside the gate, you can pick up an audio guide in a variety of languages, which costs 500 yen.
Location: Sanjo-Takakura, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8183
Admission: 500 Yen
Hours: 10:00am-19:30pm (closed Mondays)
From Sento Imperial Palace, the Museum of Kyoto is only about a 15min walk and a great place to visit if you’re in the mood to dive into Japan’s ancient history and culture. Since it opened in 1988, the museum has been displaying exhibits on a rotational basis. Highlights of the museum include galleries of Japanese paintings and a collection of Japanese arts and crafts. Additionally, you can find Kyoto dolls and an historically reconstructed street setting from the Edo period (1603-1867). Step back in time and let your imagination take over, because that is the beauty of exploring a city like Kyoto!
Location: Karasuma-dori Oike-agaru, Kyoto, 604-0846
Admission: 800 Yen
Hours: 10:00am-6:00pm (closed Wednesdays)
Opened in 2006, the Kyoto International Manga Museum contains three floors packed from floor to ceiling with books. Though the majority of the text is in Japanese, there is a section dedicated to foreign language translations, including English. This is an attraction that would predominantly suit a manga fan, however even a non-fanatic can enjoy the artwork, temporary exhibitions, unique storytelling, and manga-themed gift shop. If you’d like to go to the gift shop to pick up souvenirs, you can enter without paying the entrance fee to the museum.
Location: Akinonocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0847
Hours: 11:30am-2pm, 5-7:30pm (closed Sundays, Thursdays, Saturdays)
A small no-frills shop with a simple menu and friendly owners. Enjoy the umami flavor of the their traditional Japanese rice bowls, filled with meat and vegetables. We recommend the karagedon!
Location: 230-1 Kamimyōkakujichō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto, 604-0025
Hours: 5:30-11pm (closed Mondays), reservations recommended
A restaurant that was built to help the world reach universal peace, Shishin Samurai is a unique new addition to Kyoto’s restaurant scene. The restaurant is a self-proclaimed “sanctuary for all samurai lovers” and is filled with samurai regalia, allowing its visitors to step back in time to the shogun era. Enjoy the century-old traditional Kyoto house while feasting on big plates of steak, fish, pasta, burgers, and sushi.
Location: 136 Matsushitacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8093
Hours: 12-2pm, 5-7:30pm, reservations required
Find traditional dishes, made with an incredibly creative and artistic flare. This world-renowned restaurant is a treat for fans of top-quality Japanese foods. Kaiseki meals are usually full of variety, and Nakamura is no different–your plates will highlight seasonal favorites made from the finest ingredients. From tempura to sushi to sashimi, this restaurant serves up all the best-known Japanese dishes, as well as a few that are completely new and innovative. Enjoy the traditional atmosphere-tatami mats, shoji doors, and a Japanese garden-while you go on an unbelievable culinary adventure.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Location: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882
Hours: 24 hours
Today, we’ll explore the Fushimi Inari Shrine. First, transfer onto the Nara Line, which takes you to Inari Station. From there, the shrine is only a short walk away. The Fushimi Inari shrine is said to be the most popular place in Kyoto, and for good reason. However, because of its popularity, it can become crowded as early as 7am during peak season! So we highly recommend getting here early, ideally before 7am. You’ll be thoroughly rewarded as strolling through the thousands of tori gates by yourselves is a beautifully peaceful experience.
You can easily spend 1-2 hours exploring the shrine and pathways leading up to the top of the mountain. You’ll also have a nice view of Kyoto with the morning sunlight. The trails all lead into the forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters in elevation. There is also a lessor known bamboo grove that connects from the main path near the first big set of tori gates, it’s quite lovely but can be tricky to find, you can check out this blog for more detailed directions.
Once you’ve finished exploring the shrine, return to the entrance, where the shrine is likely full of visitors by this time. Explore the freshest street food at the fushimi inari market. The market vendors have just begun cooking their food. Grab something to eat, and sit down to watch the shrine fill up with excited new visitors.
Location: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
Admission: 400 Yen
Hours: Open daily 6:00am-6:00pm
To get to Kiyomizudera Temple you can easily catch a train from Fushimi Station to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, or ride your bike (approximately 4km). Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan, and listed as a UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. It was founded in 780 and is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the gardens, as well as the Koyasu Pagoda nestled in the mountains.
The famous streets of Higashiyama
Location: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Hours: Open daily 9:00am-6:00pm
Walking from Kiyomizudera to you next temple will take you through the most famous streets in Kyoto. Filled with nostalgic charm, make your way to the iconic Hokanji Temple Pagoda, there are many teahouses, restaurants, and shops along the way so take your time and explore the side streets as this is a beautiful part of the city. This is also a great place to stop for lunch if you’re feeling hungry. Our next destination, Kodaiji Temple, is also close by.
Kōdaiji and Entokuin Temples
Location: 526 Shimokawarachō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0825
Admission: 600 yen (Kodaiji and Sho Museum), 900 yen (Kodaiji, Sho Museum and Entokuin)
Hours: Open daily 9:00am-6:00pm
Kodaiji Temple is an amazing temple filled with a beautiful zen garden, a rock garden, and bamboo grove. You can also buy the combination pass that allows you access to the Sho Museum and Entokuin Temple, great value and well worth it. Entokuin features miniature rock gardens that you can use to practice making your own rock garden!
Location: 463 Maruyamachō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0071
Hours: 24 hours
Right next to you is the bustling Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama park, home to the weeping cherry tree. This area is used for a host of events and is full of hanami parties during cherry blossom season. You’ll also find market stalls selling food if you’re hungry, or there are many nice restaurants along the nearby streets.
Location: 400 Rinkachō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-8686
Admission: Chion-In: Free, Shoren-In: 500 yen
Hours: Open daily 9:00am-4:00pm (5pm for Shoren-In)
Within Maruyama Park, you’ll find the Chion-In Temple. With an entrance gate at 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide, it is the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates back to the early 1600s. The massive stairs behind the gate were used in filming The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. Shoren-In is a beautiful temple featuring lovely Zen gardens and artwork. It also has night time illuminations during Spring and Autumn.
Location: 657 Sanjusangenndo-mawari-machi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Admission: 600 Yen
Hours: November-March open daily 9:00am-4:00pm. April-November open daily 8:00am-5:00pm
After a hearty lunch, head for Fushimi-Inari Station. Please note that this is a different station from the previously mentioned Inari Station. Fushimi-Inari Station is a short walk from Inari Station, across the Kaman River. From Fushimi-Inari Station, head north on the Keihan Line to Shichijo Station (the journey takes less that 10 mins).
Only five minutes from Shichijo Station is Sanjusangen-do Temple. The name literally translates as ‘Hall with Thirty Three Spaces Between Columns’ and tells you exactly what you can expect inside! Built in 1164, the temple is famous for being the longest wooden structure in Japan. It also holds over 1000 statues of Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy. At the centre of the main hall, there’s a huge wooden statue of the 1000-armed and 11-headed Kannon bodhisattva. It’s truly an awe-inspiring sight.
Location: 721-1 Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8216
Admission: 770 Yen
Standing at 131 meters tall and right beside Kyoto Station, Kyoto Tower is the tallest structure in the city. Built in 1964, the tower has a viewing platform located 100 meters above the ground offering a 360-degree view of the city. On a clear day it’s even possible to see as far as Osaka.
What better way to end a two-day tour of Kyoto that being able to witness the whole of the city spread out far beneath you, as the orange sun begins to set in the sky? The tower also has several souvenir shops, places to eat, and even a public bath in the basement. The baths cost 750 Yen to enter. Relax and soak it all in during your last night in Kyoto!
Location: 〒600-8211 Kyoto, Shimogyō-ku, Maoyachō, 烏丸東入ル真苧屋町220-3 小串ビル1F
Hours: 5:30-11pm (closed Mondays)
Izakaya are traditional Japanese bars, where you can order a variety of small shared dishes. These include sashimi, salad, fried meats, tempura, grilled meats, and seafood. Similar to a tapas bar, visitors can also find plenty of great drink choices, including sake, beer, and sochu. Step into Razuken and enjoy a Japanese happy hour with Kyoto’s locals in this friendly establishment.
Location: 〒600-8216 Kyoto, Shimogyō-ku, Higashishiokōjichō, 七条下る東塩小路町 721-1 京都タワーサンド地下１階 Karasuma Dori
A good option for vegetarians, Vege Deli Kanna serves up many delicious set meal options, including udon, curry, rice bowls, and salad.
$$$ Aji Fukushima
Location: 570 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0074
Hours: reservation required, +81 75-561-4848
A 10 minute cab ride will take you to Aji Fukushima from Kyoto Tower, and this is a great way to end your visit to Kyoto. Featuring the freshest kaiseki plates that Kyoto can offer, the globally acclaimed restaurant will wow you with its unforgettable flavors and unique presentation.