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Courtesy of Piriya Photography/Getty Images

Free Things To Do in Kyoto

If you have extra time, Arashiyama is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Fushimi Inari Shrine
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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 century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.

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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 antiques. But all of those things are secondary to Gion's real source of fame – the geisha. Visitors to Gion may catch a glimpse of these extravagantly dressed women flitting between tea houses on wooden-sandaled feet.

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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 season, though some visitors seem less than impressed with the bridge. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds that congregate on the bridge, consider renting a paddle boat to enjoy the scenery from the water. On either end of the bridge are a number of shops, restaurants, temples and gardens to explore. Some recent visitors enjoy walking around and taking in the sites, but others suggest renting a bike. You can get one for the day for around 1,000 yen (about $9) near train stations in Kyoto.

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  • #6
    Nishiki Market
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    #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 signage for reference, it might be difficult to determine what to buy or where to start. But just because Nishiki Market is busy and confusing doesn't mean you should avoid it. In fact, recent visitors said that's exactly why you should go, saying it's an essential food tour. Others pointed out that this is a great way to sample many different local cuisines without having to buy a whole meal.

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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 blossom, emitting a flurry of petals onto the path every time the wind blows. But recent visitors say that Philosopher's Walk is gorgeous no matter the season.

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  • Nanzen-ji Temple
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    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

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