What to see in kyoto?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: July 10, 2024

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is a city teeming with cultural heritage, historical significance, and natural beauty. From timeless temples to serene gardens and bustling markets, Kyoto offers a plethora of attractions that cater to every type of traveler. Let's delve into the must-see sights and hidden gems of this enchanting city.

Historical Landmarks and Temples

Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)

One of Kyoto's most iconic landmarks, Kinkaku-ji, also known as The Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Buddhist temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple is set amidst a beautiful garden complex that reflects the grandeur of the pavilion on its tranquil pond. Visiting Kinkaku-ji offers a glimpse into the opulent life and spiritual practices of the Muromachi period.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and agriculture. The pathway of torii gates leads up to the sacred Mount Inari, offering a mesmerizing hike through forested areas and smaller shrines. This site is a photographer's paradise and a spiritual retreat, embodying the deep connection between nature and spirituality in Japanese culture.


Kiyomizu-dera, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an independent Buddhist temple known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, offering panoramic views of Kyoto. The temple is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons. The complex also hosts the Otowa Waterfall, which is divided into three streams, each believed to grant a different wish: longevity, success in school, or a fortunate love life.

Gardens and Natural Beauty

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a breathtaking natural attraction that feels almost otherworldly. Walking through the towering bamboo stalks that sway gently in the wind provides a serene and meditative experience. Located in the Arashiyama district, this grove is often combined with visits to nearby attractions like the Tenryu-ji Temple and the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

Ryoan-ji Rock Garden

Ryoan-ji is a Zen temple best known for its rock garden, one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (dry landscape). The garden consists of 15 stones laid out in a rectangular plot of raked gravel, carefully arranged so that only 14 stones are visible at any one time, no matter your viewing angle. This minimalist garden offers a tranquil spot for meditation and contemplation, embodying the essence of Zen philosophy.

Philosopher's Path

The Philosopher's Path is a picturesque walkway along the canal lined with cherry trees. The path gets its name from the famous Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro who is said to have used it for daily meditation. The route offers a peaceful stroll, especially during the cherry blossom season, and is dotted with quaint cafes, boutiques, and smaller temples like Honen-in and Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion).

Cultural Experiences

Gion District

Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, known for its traditional wooden machiya houses. Walking through Gion's narrow streets, especially Hanami-koji, may offer a rare glimpse of geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha) in their elaborate kimonos. The area is also home to the Yasaka Shrine and several ochaya (teahouses) where you can experience traditional tea ceremonies.

Nishiki Market

Known as "Kyoto’s Kitchen," Nishiki Market is a bustling marketplace that stretches over five blocks. It offers a wide array of local foods, from fresh seafood and vegetables to traditional sweets and pickles. The market is a fantastic place to sample Kyoto's culinary delights and pick up unique souvenirs. Don't miss trying yuba (tofu skin), tsukemono (pickled vegetables), and matcha-flavored treats.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the residence of the Imperial Family until the capital moved to Tokyo in 1868. The palace grounds are expansive and include beautiful gardens that are open to the public. Guided tours provide insight into the architecture, history, and cultural significance of this royal residence. The nearby Sento Imperial Palace and its gardens are also worth a visit.

Festivals and Seasonal Highlights

Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri is one of Japan's most famous festivals, held every July. The festival spans the entire month, with the highlight being the grand procession of floats on July 17th and 24th. These floats, known as yamaboko, are elaborately decorated and pulled through the streets of Kyoto. The festival also includes various traditional performances, religious rituals, and street food stalls.

Cherry Blossom Season

Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience the cherry blossom season, typically occurring in early April. Popular spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) include Maruyama Park, the Kamo River, and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. The sight of cherry blossoms in full bloom, combined with historical temples and shrines, creates a truly magical atmosphere.

Autumn Foliage

The autumn months bring stunning foliage to Kyoto, with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows transforming the landscape. Notable spots for koyo (autumn leaves viewing) include Tofuku-ji Temple, Eikando Temple, and the Takao area. The contrast of colorful leaves against the backdrop of ancient architecture makes for breathtaking scenery that attracts visitors from around the world.

Hidden Gems and Lesser-Known Attractions

Okochi Sanso Villa

Located near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Okochi Sanso Villa is the former residence of the silent film actor Denjiro Okochi. The villa features meticulously landscaped gardens, teahouses, and stunning views of Kyoto. It's a tranquil retreat that offers a more intimate experience compared to the more crowded tourist spots.

Shrine of the 10,000 Torii Gates

While Fushimi Inari is well-known, few visitors venture to the deeper parts of the shrine complex, where the torii gates become less frequent, and the atmosphere more mystical. Exploring these less-trodden paths can lead to a more personal and reflective experience, away from the crowds.

Kyoto Railway Museum

For train enthusiasts and families, the Kyoto Railway Museum offers an engaging look into Japan's railway history. The museum features a wide range of exhibits, including historic trains, interactive displays, and a large diorama. It's an educational and fun experience that showcases the technological advancements of Japan's rail system.

Unique Experiences

Tea Ceremonies

Participating in a traditional tea ceremony is a quintessential Kyoto experience. Many temples and teahouses offer tea ceremonies that allow visitors to learn about the intricate rituals involved in preparing and serving matcha (powdered green tea). This experience provides a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and the importance of mindfulness and hospitality.

Kimono Dress-Up

Wearing a kimono and strolling through Kyoto's historical districts is a unique way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Several rental shops provide kimonos and yukatas (summer kimonos) for both men and women, complete with hairstyling and accessories. This experience is not only fun but also offers fantastic photo opportunities against the backdrop of Kyoto's temples and gardens.

Cooking Classes

Taking a cooking class in Kyoto allows you to learn how to prepare traditional Japanese dishes such as sushi, tempura, and miso soup. These classes often include a visit to local markets to select fresh ingredients, followed by hands-on cooking instruction. It's a delicious way to bring a piece of Kyoto's culinary heritage back home with you.

Every corner of Kyoto tells a story waiting to be discovered, offering a blend of historical richness, natural beauty, and cultural depth.

Related Questions

What to do in kyoto?

Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, is a city rich with history, culture, and natural beauty. From historic temples and shrines to exquisite gardens and bustling markets, there's no shortage of activities to engage in. This guide will help you navigate the myriad of options and uncover both popular attractions and hidden gems.

Ask Hotbot: What to do in kyoto?

Where to stay in kyoto?

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is a city with an enchanting blend of traditional and modern elements. When planning a visit, choosing the right place to stay is crucial to immersing yourself in its rich culture, historical landmarks, and tranquil gardens. The city offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from luxurious hotels to traditional ryokans and budget-friendly hostels. This guide will help you navigate through the best areas and types of lodging available in Kyoto.

Ask Hotbot: Where to stay in kyoto?