If you are wondering what to do in Kyoto and how to have unique local experiences, here is my list. I am a tour guide from Kyoto and these things to do in Kyoto. I combined all the main attractions and activities. This is the list of experiences I usually recommend my guests based on what I personally like and enjoy doing as a resident.
#1 A unique Sandal ride in the ARASHIYAMA bamboo Forest.
There is a secret date spot for Japanese lovers in Arashiyama. You can also visit temples, check out the bamboo grove and feed wild monkeys all at the same place.
Everyone knows the Arashiyama Sagano bamboo forest
but not many know about the sandal ride. With an amazing view in the Spring and fall you will have an amazing Kyoto experience right next to the Sagano bridge. Additionally, the zen gardens in Okochi Sanso
temples in Arashiyama are the most tranquil Japanese gardens.
Tip: must go very early or late in the afternoon otherwise the place gets packed. The area is outside the downtown are and consists of many temples and shrines, so spare a half day. There are many cafes and restaurants so dont worry about the food. The bamboo grove you see in the pictures is only a small part but still nice area to visit.
Tip: After a 30-minute hike you will reach the Iwatayama Monkey Park where many cute monkeys are conserved in their natural habitat. You can feed tham and it is good family activity. If you want to spend the whole day in Arashiyama then you may also check the Otagi Nenbutsuji temple with thousands of Buddha statues.
#2 Find the Hidden Forest in FUSHIMI INARI
In 2018 Fushimi Inari was the most visited spot in JAPAN and by some hiking you can reach the hidden bamboo forest.
Fushimi Inari 10,000 Gates
The 10,000 gates of FUSHIMI INARI
is the most visited tourist spot in JAPAN!!!
The 10,000 gates of FUSHIMI INARI became famous after an unforgettable scene in the movie “the Memoirs of Geisha.” Many people go there to see the mysterious vermillion gates without knowing the place is a part of a big hill where you can hike on. There is a hidden bamboo forest if you follow everyone else but make a right in the middle of the senbontorii gate tunnel and pass by this public bathroom. Everyone asks me if it is worth hiking to the top and how long it takes. You can climb to the top of the hill in 1 hour and there is a nice city view. In my opinion it may not be worth of climbing if you have a big group because the city view is not so clear and after 30 minutes you get used to seeing many gates here and there.
Tip: You must go there earlier in the day to beat the crowds. The higher you go the fewer people you will see. Even in the high altitude there are cafes, tea shops, and noodle shops. Fushimi Inari has many attractions and spots of interest besides the 10,000 torii gates. The famous Tofukuji Temple and Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum which used to be a sake factory are a walking distance from the main shrine.
#3 Experience the KYOTO TEA CEREMONY and wear a KIMONO at MAIKOYA
According to the Time magazine, every Kyoto visitor must experience the traditional style tea ceremony.
Tea ceremony Kyoto MAIKOYA
A must do in Kyoto, the combination of meditation and zen. The freshest tea leaves grow in Uji, Kyoto and and in Kyoto we are are proud of our tea ceremony culture. We consider tea ceremony as an art form and a perfect way to learn the values of Japan. I usually take my guests to MAIKOYA
, the best rated tea ceremony experience where you can wear a kimono and try Japanese sweets in a traditional tatami room. This matcha tasting experience and the green tea ceremony is a must do while visiting Kyoto to have the moment of zen.
Tip: If you are on the honeymoon, Maikoya staff may surprise you. The staff will teach you where to get the fresh matcha tea, or purchase antique tea bowls in Kyoto. They can also tell you neighboring attractions and spots of interest. Tip: You can rent a kimono from MAIKOYA and walk in the Gion geisha district.
Reserve for tea ceremony or kimono experience HERE
#4 Dispel Bad Spells near the YASAKA PAGODA
This is where the locals take wedding photos. If you can crawl under the huge stone you will dispel bad spells forever.
Yasaka Pagoda near Kiyomuzu Dera
In Kyoto, almost all couples take their wedding pictures near the Yasaka Pagoda. Right next to Ninenzaka you will find the Yasaka Pagoda.
You can also visit the historic Yasui Kompiragu shrine nearby. People often purchase the colorful balls to make a wish or crawl under the huge round rock to dispel bad luck. Whenever I have guests, I always take them to this area and it is always a hit. Luckily the place is not far from the Kiyomizu temple area and the Gion area
, so you can easily add the Yasaka Pagoda to your itinerary.
#5 SWORD CUTTING at the Interactive SAMURAI & NINJA MUSEUM
This museum allows you to wear metal armors and use real swords.
Samurai & Ninja Museum
This interactive museum offers samurai sword lessons and allows you to try armors
The best part is the museum has many artifacts from the Edo period belonging to samurai and ninja families. The place is a jackpot for martial arts fans, history buffs and families with kids. If you are not into Japanese history, the museum also has exhibitions explaining the famous spots of Kyoto city. The best part is you can use a REAL SAMURAI SWORD to chop tatami mats.
Tip: the samurai museum has free English tours every hour and free samurai shows every day. This place is right next to the Teramachi shopping street, so it is a good break when you are shopping for kimonos and souvenirs in the area. It is good to go there at the beginning of your trip so you know the history of each Kyoto landmark.
Click HERE to find out more about the interactive museum
#6 Meet with or Transform into GEISHA in GION
This 400 -year- old profession has only been practiced in Kyoto.
The Gion Geisha District
The geisha culture was born in Kyoto and today this old profession has only been practiced in Kyoto.The number of “geiko” (geisha in the Kyoto dialect) and maiko is down to fewer than 200 and most places do not allow visitors to meet a geisha without a reference. If you are lucky, you may be able to see a real geisha or maiko anywhere on the Hanamikoji Street
between 6 and 8 pm when the geishas are on their way to work. Please respect their privacy and remember, they are not objects. If you can afford, you can join a geisha dinner show with a kaiseki meal or watch a geisha show
here (link). Also the recently opened Gion Kyoto Geisha Culture Centre gives tours on the hstory of geisha and provides traditional Japanese koto concerts every hour. If you want to experience being a geisha, then you can try the Geisha transformation at Maiko Henshin Shiki
Tip: Everyone goes to Gion but if you go to Miyagawa-Cho which is less than 10 minute walk from Gion, you can see many old historic geisha houses and also spot many geishas without being surrounded by tourists. Tip: The Kenninji temple in the Gion Geisha area has one of the oldest and most famous rock gardens in Japan.
#7 Wish for love at KIYOMIZU temple
This is the most visited tourist spot in central Kyoto. If you can find the two secret stones and walk from one to another your eyes closed your wish for love will come true.
Kiyomizu Dera / Kiyomizu Temple
Kiyomizu Temple is the most visited spot in Kyoto but it gets crowded easily and often there are constructions. What makes the temple unique is its main hall that is completely wooden even without one piece of metal or nail. Kiyomizu temple is believed to have the sacred water fountain and the word Kiyomizu means the clear water. Behind the main temple hall, there is a shrine which is dedicated to the god of matchmaking and the god of love. There are 2 stones that are about 15 meters apart from each other. If you can walk straightly from one stone to another with your eyes closed, the legend says that your wish for love will come true.
Tip: Kiyomizu temple is right next to the historic Yasaka shrine and only about a 10-minute walk from the Gion Geisha District. Kiyomizu temple has an amazing night view and night illuminations during most of the year. Do not forget to check the historic streets and teahouses in the ninen zaka and sannen zaka areas which are right next to the temple. Recently Starbucks and Hard Rock cafe opened branches in traditional buildings, not far from the vicinity.
#8 Visit SHIBA INU CAFE or Cat Cafe in Shinkyogoku Shopping Street
This is the type of dog appeared in the movie Hachiko. An interactive petting activity. 1st floor is crowded, 2nd floor is quieter and nicer.
Baby shiba inu dog
This is the type of dog starred in the movie Hachiko.
Although this is not necessarily a Kyoto-only experience, Shinkyogoku is like an animal cafe heaven. Shinkyogoku is where the youngsters in Kyoto hang out, shop and socialize, kinda Harajuku of Kyoto. Recently so many pet cafes opened that cater the needs of both locals and visitors. Most popular one is the MAME SHIBA CAFE or the miniature shiba inu cafe. This is the type of dog starred in the movie Hachiko where a dog keeps waiting for his deceased masters in front of the train station for years.
Tip: There are many other pet cafes nearby including but not limited to owl cafe, hedgehog cafe, cat cafe and dog cafe. Tip: Little kids sometimes are not allowed in pet cafes for safety reasons. There is usually an upfront charge to get in whether you drink anything or not. Many foreigners worry about whether these pets are kept in humane conditions though the animals in general seem to be healthy and in good conditions.
#9 Wander on the Bars and Restaurants Street of PONTOCHO
This is Kyoto’s liveliest bars & restaurants street which is also the 2nd largest geisha district in Kyoto.
Pontocho district at night
No matter where you go in Kyoto, you will notice the beautiful Kamo River nicely dividing the city. Right by the Kamo river there is a little canal on the middle part of the city where merchants used to sell goods they transported from Osaka. by the canal many restaurants and geisha teahouses were set up which were later called Pontocho. This is the story of Kyoto’s liveliest bars& restaurants street which is also the 2nd largest geisha area where you may spot some apprentice maiko.
Tip: If you are not comfortable with Japanese food, you can find Italian, Chinese and many other types of mainstream and upscale restaurants here. For those who are into the nightlife of Kyoto there are bars and clubs that open late at night. Most restaurants can serve you in English but you may also want to try the sports bar type of pub called HUB where you can also meet with friendly locals.
#10 FEEL KYOTO’S CALMING JAPANESE GARDENS
Each Japanese garden element has special meanings (e.g. pine trees: strength; circle shaped pebbles: waves in the ocean and the transience of life; turtle stones: longevity) Top 10 gardens listed below.
Kenninji Temple Garden
Many people come to Kyoto to escape from the hustle and bustle of big cities but then face the hordes of tourists at main sites. Luckily Kyoto is home to a number of tranquil Japanese gardens some of which are just a walking distance from the downtown area. The meanings wary but both rock gardens and tea ceremony gardens meant to bring a miniature version of the nature in your backyard. Big rocks represent mountains, small rock represent hills, pebbles shaped as circles represent waves in the oceans.
Tip: As a Kyoto resident, these are my most favorite Japanese gardens and ideal to visit if you are short on time.
- Kenninji near the Gion area
- Kodaiji near Kiyomizu temple
- Shosei-en near the Kyoto station.
If you have more than 3 days in Kyoto, then I recommend 4- Katsura Villa, 5- Zuihoin and 6- Daitokuji on the northern side of the city. If you have a week in Kyoto then I recommend checking out 7- Saiho-ji the UNESCO world heritage site, 8- Enkoji the moss garden and 9- Isuien the old imperial tea garden in Nara.
#11 Try Octopus tamago in NISHIKI Market
Nishiki Market is called the Kitchen of Kyoto with more than 600 types of foods to try. A unique food tasting experience.
This is where the chefs of local izakayas and renowned sushi restaurants come early in the morning to pick up the best catch. You can find many things to try from fried tofu dumplings to black sesame icecream. With more than 600 different types of fresh food to try and countless food stall type of stores, Nishiki market is a heaven for food lovers.
Tip: My most favorite is the baby octopus comes with the fried egg as you can see in the photo. Even if you don’t like the taste, your friends would envy the photo. There are may other types of food to try including but not limited to
- Marinated maguro sashimi on stick
- Soy milk donuts
- Grilled shrimp and mackerel on stick
- Green tea icecream
- Pickled eggplants
- Dried seafood snacks
Tip: Nishiki market closes at 6 PM sharp. If you are not into Asian food, there are many places that serve red meat including Kobe beef. Tip there are many free samples but still it is good to bring some cash since the stalls don’t accept credit cards.
#12 Meditate at the RYOANJI Zen Garden
Near Golden Palace. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most calming zen garden in my opinion.
Ryoanji Zen Garden
Ryoanji means the temple of the Dragon at peace. It was built by a samurai family and became famous after Queen Elizabeth visted the temple in the 70’s. This zen garden has 15 rocks placed in a rectangular area but mysteriously you cannot see all 15 at once from any vantage point. It is presumed that the circles on the sand represent waves, small rocks represent hills, big rockes represent mountains and the moss represent the forest on an island.
Tip: Ryoanji is outside the downtown area and close to the Golden palace. Don’t forget to check the historic water basin in the backyard. If you want a guided
IMPORTANT TIP: Ryoanji is not far from the Golden temple (Kinkakuji) which is not included in this list. I skipped the golden temple on purpose because a) there is not much experience, it is just taking a photo a) you cannot get inside, you just look at it from the outside c) you can only go there by taxi or super-packed city buses d) it is known as the most crowded tourist spot in Kyoto. If you are a photographer, you may still want to check it. I like silver palace (ginkakuji) more because of it is tranquil moss gardens and the moon-viewing hills.
#13 Try Japanese Public Bath (SENTO) or Kyoto Onsen
Onsen means Japanese hot spring. NO TATTOOS allowed because of the Yakuza association and you have to be naked to enter.
Public bath (onsen)
It is a unique cultural experience to enter a public bath in Japan. A few things to keep in mind: no tattoos are allowed and you have to be naked. Tattoos are not allowed because they are associated with gang members and you cannot wear swimsuit as it may dirty the bath water. If you want a hot spring with mineral waters, then you need to go outside of Kyoto City such as Kurama onsen or Arima Hot Spring. If you are OK with any public bath, I recommend Nishiki-yu in the downtown area or Goko-yu near the Gojo area.
Tip: In Japan hot springs are called “onsen” and it is illegal to call a public bath “onsen” if it does not have natural hot springs with certain minerals.
For most foreigners though, it does not matter if it is public bath (a.k.a sento bath) or onsen. After all, the traditional set up and the experience is pretty much the same. Tip: Many ryokans and hotels have a traditional style public bath. Tip: Kinosaki and Arima are the two historic onsen towns that are about 2 hours away from Kyoto. Tip: Osaka has a good public spa with different kinds of spas and indoor pools.
#14 Let the sacred river flow beneath you at the KIFUNE SHRINE
There are cafes set up on the river where you can enjoy the drinks or noodles while the sacred river flows beneath you.
Kawadoko restaurant in Kifune
OUTSIDE THE CITY! The Kifune Shrine is not usually found on popular guide books because it is a little bit far from the downtown area. Most of my guests like the experience here because in the winter time you have an amazing view of orange color lanterns in the snow and in the Spring and summer you can have a picnic on the branches that are set up right above the river. It is a calming and joyful experience to enjoy Japanese sweets and local dishes just 30 cm above the river.
Tip: This shrine is not in the city center and the floating cafe is ideal only for the Spring and summer time.
#15 Try Japanese CALLIGRAPHY or IKEBANA
The shodo calligraphy is used as a zen training method at temples.
Calligraphy Kyoto at Maikoya
Kyoto is also the cultural capital in Japan where it is perfectly normal to see locals wearing kimono and practicing traditional arts and crafts such as Japanese calligraphy (a.k.a. shodo) and Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana). Calligraphy and ikebana are not only the ways of creating aesthetically pleasing arts but also a form of zen training. It is believed that what comes out of your brush in calligraphy is your true spirit. Japanese monks try to achieve satori by simply drawing zen circles. Ikebana is not just putting flowers together nicely, the zen aesthetics are in play where you have to create balance by keeping 45 and 60 degrees among the 3 sets of flowers and branches. These activites are also a great way to create bonding between couples and family members. (Editor credit: Shutterstock).
#16 Hear the Nightingale Floors at the NIJO Castle
The Tokugawa shoguns used to live in this building.This is literally where the Edo period started (1603) and ended (1867)
Nijo Castle Entrance
Nijo Castle is the place where the Edo period started (1603) and ended (1867).
The Tokugawa shoguns used the buildings as a residence when they came to Kyoto to visit the emperor. Some Japanese castle fans may be disappointed since the place looks more like a temple rather than a typical castle. This is because the castle was built during the peace time and there was no need for big keep with an observation tower. However, Nijo castle has specially constructed floors which squeak no matter how light you are. These floors were made in order to catch ninja who may raid at night when everyone is sleeping.
Tip: The castle closes quite early at 4:00 pm so you have to enter the venue before 3 pm. There is a beautiful Japanese garden but you have to pay extra to get in. You can walk to the imperial Palace from Nijo castle in less than 20 minutes. There is a convenient ramen shop right next to the Nijo castle.
#17 Cultural Eating Experience: Kyoto KAISEKI Meal
This is the Kyoto style meal which was recently included in the UNESCO cultural heritage
Typical Kaiseki Meal of Kyoto
Kaiseki meal was recently added to the UNESCO world heritage list and a must do while visiting Japan. Eating a kaiseki meal is once in lifetime experience as you witness how unique seasonal dishes are served after being decorated by seasonal flowers and leaves. It is the most typical Japanese meal which has:
- 5 different types of cooking (raw, simmered, fried, grilled, boiled)
- 5 different tastes (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, savory)
- 5 different colors (white, brown, red, yellow, green)
- Many different seasonal elements (leaves, flowers, mushrooms, etc.)
Tip: Kaiseki meal usually costs more than 100 USD but if you stay at a ryokan, you can get it cheaper as part of your room plan. Kinmata, a historic inn near Nishiki Market, serves the most authentic kaiseki in a great atmosphere.
#18 Walk on the PHILOSOPHER’S PATH
A famous Japanese philosopher used to walk by this creek in the early 1900’s and it has been called the philosopher’s path philosophers’ walk since then.
Philosopher’s Path during the Sakura Season
Silver Palace (Ginkakuji) was built by a shogun who thought the golden palace was too lavish and did not match the image of modest Japanese culture. After building the humble silver palace with moss gardens, he designated his brother as the shogun which caused a civil war that lasted more than 10 years. Many people believe this is the palace where Japanese arts such as the Noh theater and calligraphy were born. Not far from the palace there is Nanzenji with incredible zen gardens. Between both places there is a beautiful creek and a narrow path called the famous philosophers’ path.
Tip: This sightseeing spot is best during the sakura (cherry blossom) season. In other seasons it is not necessarily a must see spot.
#19 Count the 1001 Cannon Statues at SANJUSANGENDO
There are more than 1000 mysterious Buddhist statues inside this temple which is also the oldest wooden building in Japan.
Sanjusangendo (Rengeoin) with 1001 statues
There are 1000 Cannon statues protected by 28 heavenly kings.
Sanjusangendo is definitely not your typical temple with green lush gardens but it is a house to 1001 Buddhist statues similar to the terra cota warriors in China. If you want to learn about Buddhism and if you only have one day then this is it. First there are 1000 Cannon statues protected by 28 heavenly kings and also 2 Nio statiues , the raijin and fujin. The long hall was originally buil in the 12th century making it the one of the oldest wooden structures in the world.
Tip: the place is right across from Yogen In where you can see the 400-year old samurai blood stains on ceilings. The place is near Kyoto’s National Museum and not too far from the Kyoto Station.
#20 Train like a Ninja in the KYOTO NINJA MUSEUM
You can dress up like a ninja, use a blow gun and throw ninja stars!!!
Samurai & Ninja Museum Ninja Training
You can dress up like a ninja as a whole family and throw ninja stars. The ninja tradition was born on the skirts of Mount Hiei which is in Kyoto. There were many ninjas living in Kyoto who frequented the Nijo Jinya , next to the Nijo castle during the Edo period. The samurai and ninja museum in Nishiki Market allows you to train like a ninja and practice their weapons. You can learn how ninjas walked, breathed and survived in the wild. You get to dress up like a ninja and throw ninja stars as well. In the museum you can also learn about the rich ninja history of Kyoto such as the Nijo Jinya ninja house and the special floors in the Nijo castle which were made to protect the imperial family from intruders.
#21 Run in the IMPERIAL PALACE PARK
This is a huge park housing the ancient imperial palace. It is a unique experience to run there before the palace opens at 9 AM.
Imperial Palace Park
Kyoto had been the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1000 years and the imperial family mostly lived in these palaces. The Imperial Palace Park has many small gardens, old buildings, and of course palaces but it is very quiet before 9 am. From one end to the other it is about 1.5 km and you can run into many locals jogging early in the morning in and around the palace. After the morning run you can relax in the Sento Imperial Palace gardens.
Tip: If you are not interested in the morning exercise, the imperial palace is not a must do.
I only take my guests there if they stay more than 3 days in Kyoto.
#22 Make your Japanese tea bowl in NINENZAKA
There are pottery shops allow you to make your own bowl but walking here is also a good experience.
Ninenzaka Souvenir and Craft Shops
After wishing for love and washing your hands with the sacred water in Kiyomizu Dera, you can walk down the narrow alleys to the Ninenzaka where you can find many antique shops and also the pottery making shops. If you go to Kashogama Pottery School, you can make your own ceramic cup or tea bowl. In this way you not only experience the local culture but also get a unique Japanese souvenir to take home with.
#23 Make Sushi or Cook the KANSAI STYLE OKONOMIYAKI –
Okonomiyaki is the local dish and an interesting Kyoto cooking activity.
Cooking Class in Kyoto
Your visit to another town would be incomplete if you don’t try local dishes and make at least one local dish on your own. Sushi making is simple but quite educational experience as you will learn the manners of eating sushi, how to make wasabi, how the sushi culture developed in Japan.
Tip: Okonomiyaki is a local dish of Osaka but it is still popular in the Kyoto area as well. It is using most typical Japanese ingredients to make a vegetable pancake. Tip ask your host for the recipe so that you can make these dishes when you go back home.
#24 Hunt for Forgotten ANTIQUES Away from Crowds
The experience of checking out old antique shops will give you a good idea of Kyoto life.
Teramachi Antique Shops
As an ancient capital Kyoto has so many historic neighborhoods unbeknownst to travelers. My favorite one is the antique shops district on the Teramachi street between Oike and Karasuma. Another one is Kamishichiken, the oldest geisha district and home to the famous Kitano Tenmangu shrine. The place looks like Gion minus thousands of tourists. The thrill seekers may check out the Yokai street where real-life size monsters were placed in different parts of the street. This place gives you good understanding how Japan looked like before the bubble economy.
#25 Join a FESTIVAL in Kyoto
You don’t have to actively participate but it is very educational to watch these parades.
Gion Festival parade in June
There are so many festivals and celebrations in Kyoto to celebrate the harvest season and build social harmony. The biggest festival is the Gion Matsuri which lasts almost 2 weeks during the month of July where giant wooden floats move on the main streets of Kyoto supported by thousands of locals who dress in the traditional attire. Another big festival is “jidai matsuri” the festival of ages that takes place in the Heian Jingu Shrine in October. On that day you can see many locals dressed up as major historical figures. On May 15, people who dress up as aristocrats walk from the emperial palace to two main Shinto shrines on the northern part of Kyoto which feels like time travel for spectators. On August 16, there is Gozan no Okuribi where you can see a giant kanji letter shaped bonfires on the mountains surrounding Kyoto this is to salute the spirits who come to this world every August and return in the mid August. If you visit japan in November search for Gion festival, in February serch for setsubun and in April Search for the month-long Miyako Odori festival.
#26 ~34 JAPAN-ONLY UNIQUE FOOD EXPERIENCES
Interactive Dining Experience
Yakiniku: You grill your own meat at your table. The thinly sliced meat and vegetables are served to your table and you do the grilling. The set up is surprisingly safe for kids. Shabu Shabu: You boil cook your own meat. Thinly sliced beef and pork served to your table raw and you boil cook them in a pan with hot water. Nabe (Japanese hot pot): various vegetables, tofu and meatballs are served to your table raw and then you boil them in the pan. This is the dish what sumo wrestlers usually eat before the tournaments. Okonomiyaki: You don’t cook the okonomiyaki (Japanese vegetable and egg pancake) but the server cooks it on the hot steel plate on your table also known as teppanyaki. Zauo catch a fish and eat: Zauo is only in Osaka which is a train ride from Kyoto where you can catch your own fish in the pool of the restaurant and eat it as sashimi or cooked. Crab Restaurant in Kyoto: You are served a huge simmered crab plate and you can eat it as a whole family. A different food experience for sure. Kyoto fire ramen: The taste of the ramen is just average but they do a fire show where a bowl of ramen in fire with huge flames is served to you. Kushikatsu: Deep-fried meat, fish and vegetables on sticks served to your table and you get to chose toppings on your own at your table. 10 sticks for $10.
#35 ~ 42 Things to do in Kyoto at NIGHT
Kyoto tower at night
There are not many night activities geared toward tourists other than some kabuki performances at the Minamiza theater. However, you can do many things at night in Kyoto including but not limited to
- Romantic walk by the Kamo River
- Meeting locals at HUB pub or other bars at the Pontocho entertainment district
- Walk in the Gion geisha district
- Try some theme cafes such as blue fish cafe/bar where you can touch baby sharks
- Wander in the temple gardens illuminated at night
- Go to the observation deck of Kyoto Tower and view the city lights
- Try some roof top cafes such as, my favorite, in the moon
#43 ~50 Non Touristy Things to do in Kyoto
MOVIX movie theater in the downtown area
Most people have jobs and work hard, so usually people mostly hang out on weekends. Families who have a car go to theme parks or fruit-picking and tea-planting farms outside the city. City dwellers tend to go to the AEON
shopping mall or the Teramachi shopping street
just to enjoy window shopping. Young couples go to theme cafes in nearby cities (Nara, Osaka, Kobe). Youngsters also enjoy karaoke at Jankara
and bowling at Round 1. MOVIX
is another popular spot as it is the largest movie theater in Kyoto. MOVIX is surrounded by game arcades and a pachinko parlor (legalized arcade game based gambling hall). People who are into sports, run by the Kamo river or go see sporting events such as soccer games or baseball games. People who are about to graduate from high school visit various universities for the open-campus events. People who like reading go to libraries and bookstores. The BAL/Maruzen bookstore
in the downtown area has a great selection of books in English. Also every weekend there is a special exhibition, festival or ceremony at certain temples and shrines. You can find out most local activities here on this website
by using google translate .
Things you should know about about KYOTO
- What does Kyoto mean? It means “capital”
- What is the population of Kyoto? 1.5 million (foreigners are 2% of the population)
- How many Geiko or Maiko are there in Kyoto? Around 200
- What is Kyoto’s original name? Heian City (became capital in 794 AD)
- Where is the Kyoto Airport? There is no “Kyoto Airport.” The closest airport in “Kansai airport” which is in Osaka. The Kansai airport is 45 KM away from Kyoto.
- What are the famous companies of Kyoto? Nintendo, Wacoal
- How many UNESCO world heritage sites are in Kyoto? 17
- How many temples are there in Kyoto? 1600
- How many shrines are there in Kyoto? 800
- What is the climate of Kyoto like? Cold in the winter, hot in the summer. It snows in December and January. It rains in half of July.
- What is the terrain of Kyoto like? There is no sea or ocean in Kyoto. Kyoto is surrounded by tall mountains. There are many rivers and creeks in the city. The closest lake is Lake Biwa and it is 14 km away.
- What are the local sweets of Kyoto? Yatsuhashi (sweet beans paste in rice flour)
- What is the local dish of Kyoto? Obanzai (combination of small dishes mostly made out vegetables grown in Kyoto)
- Best sushi in Kyoto: Musashi sushi. Not the best or cheapest but a decent place with decent price and fresh sushi.
- Best ramen in Kyoto: Ippudo ramen. Not the best ramen but decent place with an easy to understand menu with decent price.
- Best steak restaurant in Kyoto: Gion Karoku. Not the best steak restaurant but a decent yakiniku place in the historic geisha district where I take my guests. It is a bit pricey.
- Best izakaya in Kyoto: Ganko Sanjo Honten near the Sanjo bridge. There are also many good izakayas on the Kiyamachi Street.
- Best Vegetarian restaurant in Kyoto: Ain Soph with unique vegan burgers.
- Best Halal food / restaurant in Kyoto: Istanbul Restaurant with good selection of Mediterranean dishes.
- Best Italian Restaurant in Kyoto: Pizza Salvatore Cuomo Pizza & Grill. Definitely not the best but a decent place with decent price located by the river.
- How far is Kyoto from other cities? Kyoto is 15 mins from Osaka, 30 minutes from Kobe, 45 minutes from Nagoya and 2.5 hours from Tokyo (by bullet train).
- What are Kyoto local dialect phrases? Ookini: thank you ; Oideyasu: Welcome…
- What is Kyoto known for? 1- Cultural capital of Japan. There are fewer earthquakes in Kyoto and Kyoto was the only major city that was not bombed during the WW2 since the war minister in the US had spent his honeymoon in Kyoto and really liked the city. 2- Kyoto has the highest number of national treasures in Japan. 3- Kyoto has the highest number of bakery shops per capita in Japan. 4- Kyoto was modeled after the Tang dynasty capital in China. 5- Kyoto has many old town houses with gardens in the middle which are called “kyo machiya.” 6- Kyoto is where the kabuki culture, geisha culture, kimono tradition and the noh theater were born. 7- In Kansai, Kyoto is known to be the place for education (there are many high ranked universities). 8- Japanese people consider Kyotoites a bit snobbish and conservative. 9- Kyotoites are also known for their indirect communication style (it is believed that they never show their true face). 10- People of Kyoto think the capital should be Kyoto not Tokyo.
KYOTO TRAVEL TIPS
- Kyoto and Osaka are not far from each other (many Kyoto residents work in Osaka). You can stay in Osaka and still come to Kyoto everyday during your visit.
- The downtown of Kyoto is not the Kyoto Station. The downtown area is near the Kawaramachi station.
- The shopping district is Teramachi shopping Street. The souvenir shops and kimono shops are located on Shinkyogoku Street. The largest variety of electronics and cameras are found at Yodobashi Camera, a huge building right next to the Kyoto station .
- JR pass is not a great option in Kyoto as you either have to ride a bus or take the subway. If there are 3 or more people in your group, taking a taxi is usually a good option. UBER is not common in japan and I usually use Didi and JapanTaxi instead. Both apps work just fine and have good rates.
- There are very few public bathrooms in Kyoto, always remember these 3 spots to find a bathroom: convenience stores, train stations and franchise stores such as McDonalds and Starbucks.
- There are very few public trash bins in Kyoto , always remember these 3 spots for public garbage can: convenience stores, train stations and franchise stores such as McDonald and Starbucks.
- If it suddenly rains, or it gets too hot/cold, then you may want to go the Teramachi shopping area where there are so many shops, cafes and flea markets in a covered area.
- During the Sakura (Cherry blossom season) everywhere gets so crowded, but you can enjoy the city by going to any zen garden I listed above.
- Although it is changing , many shops still do not accept cards especially in the Nishiki market, so please always carry some cash.
- In Kyoto, store owners usually don’t jack up prices in touristic areas, so feel free to buy souvenirs anywhere.
- Always pick a young person to ask for directions. If you write what you are trying to say on a piece of paper, many people can understand you.
- Always pick the oldest person to complain about something. In Japan hierarchy almost always depends on the age.
- If you have a heavy backpack you can always put it in the lockers available at every train station.
- The nearby cities are closer than you may think. You can go to Osaka in 15 minutes, Kobe in 25 minutes and Nara City in 40 minutes.
People always ask me “must do” or top things to do in Kyoto but I always give the same answer: it depends on your personality and your preferences. While some people may truly enjoy a cooking class some others may consider it a serious hassle while on vacation. That is why I included some common experiences (e.g. tea ceremony and kimono wearing) and also some uncommon ones (e.g. picnicking at the Kifune Shrine). Here is the list of more than 20 Kyoto experiences and Kyoto’s main sightseeing spots. PLEASE ENJOY!
WELCOME TO MY HOMETOWN KYOTO: OIDEYASU!