Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is a beautiful city renowned for its countless Buddhist temples, gardens, palaces, shrines, and wooden houses. Situated on the island of Honshu, Kyoto has a population of approximately 1.5 million people and houses about 20% of Japan’s National Treasures. The city is also known for its formal traditions such as kaiseki dining and traditional Japanese female entertainers in the Gion district. Much smaller than its mega-city sibling, Tokyo, Kyoto is a wonderful destination for travelers, with various activities for tourists and residents alike. Let this guide help you make the most of your time in Kyoto!

Things to do in Kyoto: Visit the City’s Top Attractions

Kyoto has many activities and attractions. Some of the more popular ones include:

  • Ginkaku-ji – One of Kyoto’s most famous temples, Ginkaku-ji is home to a beautiful garden and elegant structures.

  • Gion district – The famous entertainment and geisha quarter comes alive at night with people and bright lights from restaurants and geisha establishments.

  • Kyoto Imperial Palace Park – Sitting in the middle of Kyoto is a park with a beautiful garden and the Kyoto Imperial Palace which used to be the official residence of the Japanese emperor.

  • Nishiki Market – All of Kyoto’s eccentric and wonderful food can be found in the Nishiki Market.

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Walk into the extensive bamboo grove and feel like you are in another world filled with greenery. It is quite the experience.

  • Fushimi Inari-Taisha – This vast shrine is endless rows of orange shrine gates spread across a mountain. Fushimi Inari was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century.

  • Kinkaku-ji – Named the “Golden Pavilion,” this is one of Japan’s most popular sights. Originally built in 1397, the Golden Pavilion was reconstructed in 1955.

  • Kiyomizu-dera – This popular Buddhist temple is on a hill overlooking the basin of Kyoto.

Some of the best restaurants in Kyoto include Omen, Kanei, Hiragana-kan, Shigetsu, Goya, Hiranoya, and Ramen Santoka.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

The various neighborhoods of Kyoto include Shimogyo-ku (tourist hotels, shops, and restaurants), Central Kyoto (main shopping and nightlife districts), Pontocho (nightlife), Eastern Kyoto (walking, shopping, and sightseeing), and Northern Kyoto (primarily residential).

Explore Other top spots in Kyoto: Giommachi, Kyoto, Shimmachidori, Kinugasa, Terada, Nishijin, Iwakura

Browse and book Kyoto rentals now!

Kyoto Transit

Kyoto is very tourist friendly and is easy to navigate via public transportation or by foot. Kyoto has two subway lines with stops announced in English. The older Karasuma Line runs north and south and the newer Tozai Line runs from east to west. You can also get around Kyoto by bus which also allows you to see all of Kyoto’s attractions. Bicycling is also a popular option for getting around Kyoto and there are several bike rental places around the city.

As a sign that Kyoto is in fact that cultural center of Japan, The Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency which was previously based in Tokyo has moved to the city. It is part of an effort by the Japanese to bring more cultural arts to Kyoto.

This article was written by Walter Godinez. Image credit: Kendall Henderson.