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Kyoto is a popular destination in Japan and I definitely understand why. How can you skip this beautiful city where modern trends are mixed together with rich culture and heritage?! During our visit in Japan, Kyoto was certainly one of our highlights. In this article you can find both popular and non touristy things to do in Kyoto. So, if you’re looking for some inspiration for your time in Kyoto, you’ve came to the right place.
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14 Fun things to do in Kyoto
1. Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari was immediately on my mind when I thought about Kyoto. It seems that not a lot of tourists skip this shrine when they visit, but how could they? It’s really an impressive and important place in Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is a very important Shinto, which is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people.
At the Shrine, there is actually quite a trail you can follow, all the way up to the mountain. And once you’re up, you can have an amazing view over the city. You can visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine 24/7 and it’s completely free!
We went there between 7 and 8 am and its didn’t get busy until 9 am, which gave us enough freedom to take some great photos and really take in the place. It would also be an excellent idea to go here very, very early and walk all the way up the mountain to enjoy the sunrise.
2. Explore the Buddhist temple Kiyomizudera
Kiyomizudera literally means “Pure Water Temple”. The Kiyomizudera temple is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is mostly known for the wooden stage, 13 meters above the hillside, because of the great view that the stage offers. From there you can enjoy the cherry and maple trees below.
3. Explore the magical Gion
Another place that immediately came to mind when I thought about Kyoto was Gion, the most famous geisha district in Kyoto. During our visit we didn’t encounter a geisha, but it was still impressive to walk around the Japanese traditional wooden machida merchant houses. There is a lot of architecture, history, shops and restaurants in Gion, so there is enough to explore!
4. Admire the Saiho-ji Moss temple
The Saiho-ji temple in Kyoto is another World Heritage Site. The area was turned into a temple by the Buddhist monk Gyoki in the Nara Period. Especially the gardens of the temple are special, as approximately 120 different moss grow inside of the temple compound. The moss covers the ground like a lush green carpet. Hence, the nickname “moss temple”.
5. Walk through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyami Bamboo Grove was a lot smaller than we thought, but we still really enjoyed it. Probably mostly because we were there early in the morning when it was still very quiet. Once more and more people started coming, we noticed that it was just too crowded in that small path.
Next to the famous and Instagrammable pathway that you see on the photo above, there is also a lot to do in the surrounding area. For instance, you can visit the Monkey Park or the Tenryuji Temple.
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6. Visit the beautiful Nijo Castle
Another amazing place to visit in Kyoto is Nijo Castle, with it’s beautiful architecture and amazing history. There are three areas at the castle: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and the gardens that surround the two circles of defense.
The castle can be entered through a large gate on the east side. It’s possible to hire a audio guide at a kiosk at the gate.
7. Have a brief visit at the Kimono Forest
The Kimono Forest isn’t all that special, but if you arrive in Arashiyama by train at Randen Arashiyama Station you walk past here any way. So if you visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove it’s nice to stop by here, but if you have to go out of the way to get here, it’s not worth it.
Instead of trees like at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the Kimono forest has transparent pillars with various beautiful fabrics. At the Kimono Forest you can also find the dragon pond, and it’s believed that if you dip your hands in the water, you will be refreshed and blessed with happiness. The Kimono forest is the most interesting and beautiful when you visit it at night, because then they illuminate the pillars.
8. Enjoy the view from the Kyoto Tower
The Kyoto Tower can be found across from Kyoto Station. With its 131 meters it’s the tallest structure in Kyoto. The tower stands out in Kyoto because it’s a modern landmark, while Kyoto mostly is famous for its historic temples and shrines.
Even though it’s in contrast with the rest of Kyoto, the Kyoto Tower is a great place to get a 360 degree view of Kyoto and even of Osaka on a clear day.
9. Relax at the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park
At the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park you can find the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Sento Imperial Palace and various beautiful gardens. We took a stroll around this park and still got a glimpse of the last few cherry blossoms. It’s especially nice to go here when the cherry trees are in full bloom, from March to April.
10. Admire the Zen rock garden at Ryoanji
At the Ryoanji temple you can find the most famous rock garden in Japan! Every day hundreds of visitors flock to this Zen place, probably making it a bit less zen. It used to be an aristrocat’s villa, but it was converted into a Zen temple in 1450.
The temple grounds of Ryoanji include a spacious park area with pond, and there are even some nice walking trails. Furthermore, if you want to try a Kyoto specialty, it’s also possible to try Yudofu, which is boiled tofu, at the restaurant that is situated on the temple grounds.
11. Visit the Honganji Temples
The Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji temple are located right in the middle of Kyoto. Only Nishi Honganji is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. At this temple you can find the Geido Hall and the Amidado Hall.
Higashi Honganji was built eleven years after Nishi Honganji. Both temples look alike, so I didn’t consider it necessary to visit them both.
12. Learn more at the Kyoto Railway Museum
At the Kyoto Railway museum you can experience Japan’s steps toward modernisation and learn more about the railway history in Kyoto. According to the Kyoto Railway Museum’s website, they seek to “contribute to the revitalization of local communities through business activities centered on the railway.”
13. Enjoy the cherry blossom during Spring
Of course everyone actually wants to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season. Like I said earlier in this article, the cherry blossom season in Kyoto is from the last week of March through the middle of April. It’s a bit hard to predict when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, since it varies each year. During our visit, there were still some cherry blossoms trees in full colour while it was already the beginning of May.
It’s definitely a great time to visit Kyoto, however, because it’s so beautiful during this time of year, it’s also a lot busier. Thus, you have to consider whether it might be better to actually visit Kyoto in a different time of year just to avoid some crowds.
14. Go to the Kyoto International Manga Museum
This cool museum is full with, you could’ve guessed it, Manga. There is a crazy big collection of Japanese manga, with a small section dedicated to foreign manga. The museum also shows the development and development of manga internationally. Next to the permanent collection, there are also temporary exhibitions on different themes.
I’m completely sure that you’ll love Kyoto! Hopefully this article will help you choose what you’ll do during your time in Kyoto. Have an amazing time.
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