Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is home to a ton of history. Tourism, in particular, is huge, as the city holds over 2,000 shrines and temples with many of them considered as National Treasures. Besides those, there are a ton of museums and ancient festivals that have been celebrated for over 1,000 years.
It is no wonder that travel guides are one of the first things that come up when you search for Kyoto on the internet. The city's views, art, and architecture are a photographers dream. When taking a trip, it is near impossible to run out of places to see. We like to keep it simple though, so here are 10 things that are fun to do in Kyoto.
10 Climb The Mountain At Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto. It is famous for its many torii gates, which line the paths around and up the mountain. That's right, the shrine is also a mountain. While the base is typically crowded, not everyone makes the trek to the top.
There is little doubt about getting beautiful photos at this location. The shrine is for Inari, a Shinto god of fortune. He is served by foxes, so there are fox statues all over as well.
9 Visit The Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Like Fushimi Inari, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto. It was founded back in 780 and is on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. There are a lot of shops surrounding the temple as well, so it is a great place for typical Japanese souvenirs.
A major highlight is going through the "womb" of the temple. You get to go into the temple basement where it is dark and you have to follow a string of Buddhist beads to find your way out and be reborn.
8 Read At The International Manga Museum
Manga plays a large part of Japanese culture, and how it has claimed international attention to its media as well. Kyoto is home to a museum all about manga and anime. If you love Japanese cartoons, then you can easily spend an entire day at this museum.
The main attraction is the manga collection. However, most of it is in Japanese. There are also exhibits on how manga developed and became an international sensation. Also, the building used to be an elementary school, and they have kept some of the school's relics.
7 See Kinkaku-ji
Also known as the "Golden Pavillion," Kinkaku-ji has been featured in a ton of art and literature due to its beauty. Like many ancient Japanese buildings, the building has burned down and been rebuilt several times.
The building was originally a retirement home of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. According to Yoshimitsu's will, it later became a zen temple. Each floor features a different type of Japanese architecture. It is definitely one of the most photographed sites in Japan.
6 Feed Monkeys At Arashiyama
Arashiyama is already famous for its bamboo groves, but a hidden gem is the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Part of the mountain is home to wild Japanese macaque monkeys. For wild animals though, they are used to chilling out near the many tourists who visit the park.
The best part is that you can feed them in a safe way. There is a large cage built for humans to walk into to feed the monkeys through. So the monkeys are happy and free and the humans get to feed them. Everybody wins.
5 Explore Gion
Gion is also known as the "Geisha district" of Kyoto. The streets are lined with tea houses and restaurants. Out of things to do in Kyoto, this activity is one of the most expensive ones. Certain tea houses and restaurants have maiko and geisha that dance, play music, and entertain while you eat. To be entertained by one is likely the most expensive activity in Gion and will likely require the help of a travel agency due to how exclusive the experience can be.
Many tourists come to see maiko or geisha. Note that it is important to act respectful, as locals of Gion have had some bad experiences with tourists who act like paparazzi.
4 Eat At Pontocho
Pontocho is known as one of Kyoto's most atmospheric dining locations. It is a narrow street lined with restaurants on both sides. You have many choices from cheaper options like yakitori or more expensive ones that require local connections. As the streets get more popular, restaurants have been producing English menus.
Some of the dining areas have a fantastic view of Kyoto's Kamogawa River. If you are there from May to September, you can sometimes eat out on a platform with a view over the water.
3 Wander Around Arashiyama's Bamboo Grove
Besides feeding the monkeys, you got to visit Arashiyama's gorgeous bamboo grove. The pictures are stunning, but standing there is like you are in a different world. For locals, it is a popular place for engagement photos. Of course, it is also a popular tourist destination. If you want to get a secluded experience, it is best to visit the grove right before sunrise.
If you visit in December, it is recommended to come at night during the festival of lights. The festival is called "Arashiyama Hanatouro Illumination" and it only takes place in December for about 10 days, between 5 pm and 8:30 pm.
2 Visit Ryoanji Temple
Ryoanji Temple is famous for its rock garden. The temple originally was the home of an aristocrat in the Heian Period. However, the history of the rock garden is shrouded in mystery. The designer is only speculated and the date the garden was made is unknown. Besides its origin, the meaning of the garden is also unknown. Some say it is an abstract concept of infinity.
Besides the garden, there are also nice walking trails and restaurants that specialize in Yukofu (fried tofu), a Kyoto specialty.
1 Shop At The Nishiki Market
The Nishiki Market specializes in fresh food and is known as "Kyoto's Kitchen." It is a perfect location to find seasonal food and Kyoto specialties from dried seafood to sweets. Almost everything there is locally produced. The stores range from small and narrow to two stories high. Some specialize in certain foods while others have a bit of everything.
If you are lucky, you might run into and can taste some of the free samples that the stores give out.