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Best Things To Do in Kyoto

Kyoto receives scores of visitors each year and crowds can be overwhelming at many of the city's top attractions. But never fear: A bit of planning can yield introspective experiences in peaceful atmospheres. Climb the well-worn steps of a Shinto shrine or contemplate the deeper meaning of a centuries-old rock garden. On the other hand, if you'd like to join Kyoto's throngs, wind your way through the crowded Nishiki Market or flip through comics at the Kyoto International Manga Museum. No matter how you choose to spend your day, your experience will be unique to Kyoto.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated March 29, 2019

  • #1
    Things to do in Kyoto
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    #1 in Kyoto
    Churches/Religious Sites, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth

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  • #2
    Kiyomizu Temple
    View all Photos
    #2 in Kyoto
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Situated on Otowa Mountain in eastern Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple wows travelers with its stunning natural scenery, which visitors say is best viewed from the verandah off the temple's main building. The "stage," as it's called, sits atop huge pillars more than 40 feet above the hillside and affords visitors panoramas

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  • #3
    Gion
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    Gion
    free
    #3 in Kyoto
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Recent visitors to Gion were in awe of its quaintness (though some travelers note that hordes of camera-wielding tourists can detract from the scenery). This neighborhood is known for its charming historic features: historic tea houses, willow-lined roads, kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants, wooden ryokan (Japanese guest houses) and shops selling local crafts and

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  • #4
    Arashiyama
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    #4 in Kyoto
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Arashiyama is a quaint neighborhood surrounded by trees and mountains on the western edge of Kyoto. The neighborhood's most iconic landmark is the wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge, which has spanned the Katsura River since 1934. It makes a great spot for admiring cherry blossoms or changing fall foliage, depending on the

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  • #5
    Ryoanji Temple
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    #5 in Kyoto
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Every day, hundreds of people visit Ryoanji Temple to see its Zen rock garden – which is probably the most famous of its kind in Japan. Located in Kyoto's northern outskirts, the temple was built in 1450, but details surrounding the rock garden's origins are hazy. Its white pebbles, which

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  • #6
    Nishiki Market
    View all Photos
    #6 in Kyoto
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    For those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, a trip to Nishiki Market can be an overwhelming experience. This bustling, five-block-long covered market is lined with more than 100 stalls, each one hawking Japanese foods and specialty items that are hard to come by in the United States. With barely any English

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  • #7
    Nijo Castle
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    #7 in Kyoto
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    After years of bitter strife, the aging samurai lord Tokugawa Ieyasu finally wrested power from Japan's many warring clans and unified them at the turn of the 17th century. Upon being proclaimed Shogun (feudal military dictator) of Japan in 1603, Ieyasu constructed a palace that would reflect his supreme power.

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  • #8
    Sanjusangendo Hall
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    #8 in Kyoto
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    At nearly 400 feet, Sanjusangendo Hall is the longest wooden structure in Japan (there are archery contests held along the length of the hall every yeah). And lining its lengthy walls is a rare full set of 1,000 wooden statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The human-sized statues

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  • #9
    Philosopher's Walk
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    #9 in Kyoto
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Honoring Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to stroll here on his commute to Kyoto University in the early 20th century, the Philosopher's Walk is a roughly mile-long pathway along the Lake Biwa Canal in the Higashiyama district of northern Kyoto. In the spring, the cherry trees overhang the canal

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  • #10
    Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
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    #10 in Kyoto
    Castles/Palaces, Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces, Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Its top two floors swathed in gold leaf, the Golden Pavilion sits pretty in Kyoto's northern reaches, overlooking the glassy surface of Mirror Lake. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu lived in the gilded structure in the late 14th and early 15th centuries after he passed political power down to his son, Ashikaga

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  • #11
    Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
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    #11 in Kyoto
    Castles/Palaces, Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces, Churches/Religious Sites
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Unlike the very literally named Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is not actually silver – though it was intended to be. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who built Ginkaku-ji in 1482 as his retirement villa, died before he could swath the structure in silver leaf. But even without the bling, Ginkakuji and its

    ...Read More »
  • #12
    Kyoto International Manga Museum
    View all Photos
    #12 in Kyoto
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Many of Kyoto's top attractions pay homage to a Japan of the past, but the Kyoto International Manga Museum focuses on a very current form of Japanese art. Manga is a style of comics that exploded in popularity during the post-World War II period (though some historians date it back to the

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  • Nanzen-ji Temple
    View all Photos
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Shoren-in Temple
    View all Photos
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Kyoto Botanical Garden
    View all Photos
    Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

Explore More of Kyoto

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