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
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!
$ Dorayaki and Takoyaki Stand
Address: 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. We highly recommend the sweet red-bean paste filling, which compliment the pancakes perfectly. 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.
Address: 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.
Address: 13, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8001
Admission: 500 Yen
Opening hours: Open daily 8:00am-5:00pm
The Ryoan-ji is one of the most well-known temples in all of Japan. Built in the 15th century for Shogun Hosokawa Katsumoto, its garden is unique among traditional Japanese gardens. The Ryoan-ji Temple’s 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.
Having experienced everything the amazing gardens have to offer, head over to the Hojo, which is where the head priest lived. In these living quarters, you’ll find elegant paintings, sliding doors and tatami mats. If you’re feeling peckish, there’s also a nice restaurant in the park serving delicious Japanese food and snacks.
Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Admission: 400 Yen
Opening 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.
Kyoto Imperial Palace & PARK
Address: 3 Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo, Kyoto City, 602-0881
Opening 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, which is 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.
$ Convenience Store
Kyoto, like every major city in Japan, has more than its fair share of convenience stores. The stores, known affectionally as “conibini” are represented by three major chains: Lawson, 7-11 and FamilyMart. All three can be found throughout Kyoto!
Address: 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!
Sento Imperial Palace
Address: Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, 602-0881
Opening 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.
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301
Admission: 600 Yen
Opening 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.
Museum of Kyoto
Address: Sanjo-Takakura, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8183
Admission: 500 Yen
Opening 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!
International Manga Museum
Address: Karasuma-dori Oike-agaru, Kyoto, 604-0846
Admission: 800 Yen
Opening 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.
Dinner at Nishiki Market
Address: 609 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 604-8054
Opening 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 you stroll through, choose your dinner from a variety of cuisines on offer!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882
Opening hours:24 hours
Today, we’ll explore the Fushimi Inari Shrine. From any station, transfer onto the Nara Line, which takes you to Inari Station. From Inari Station, the Shrine is only a short walk away. Since the Fushimi Inari Shrine is open 24 hours, we recommend an early morning to visit this beautiful shrine. As this infamous shrine is featured in virtually every guidebook of Japan, we recommend doing your best to beat the crowds! Famously, the Fushimi Inari Shrine has thousands of torii gates that wind through a variety of trails behind the main buildings of the complex. The trails all lead into the forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters in elevation.
All of the torii gates in the trail are funded by donations from individuals and companies. Moreover, each donor’s name can be found written on the back of each gate. If you’d like to see your name on a vibrant gate, 400,000 yen can fund a small gate. On the other hand, a large gate is well over 1,000,000 yen.
$$ Fushimi Inari Taisha Sanshuden
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchichō, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882
This restaurant serves traditional Japanese food, which includes curry rice, miso soup and tempura. The restaurant tends to get busy with tourists visiting the shrine so get there early if you want to avoid the queues. The restaurant also closes early at 3pm.
Address: 73 Fukakusa Inarionmaechō, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0881
Located almost right beside Inari Station, Tamaya serves delicious traditional Japanese food. The restaurant opens at noon each day. Because it is near the shrine, which attracts many hungry travelers, we recommend getting there at noon to enjoy this Kyoto-style shop.
Address: 657 Sanjusangenndo-mawari-machi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Admission: 600 Yen
Opening 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 before you’ve even paid the entrance fee! 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.
Address: 721-1 Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8216
Admission: 770 Yen
Opening hours: 9:00am-9:00pm
Standing at 131 metres 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!