Kyoto is a historical town, full to the brim with ancient temples and shrines, but it isn’t anything like the historical sites of your middle school field trip days.
If you’re like me, you may not have heard of it even though it’s just two hours away from Tokyo by train (fun fact: if you rearrange all the letters of Tokyo you get Kyoto!) But let me assure you, it is a must-visit if you’re in Japan. Here are the top 10 things to do in Kyoto!
1) Viit Kinkaku-Ji Temple (400 Yen)
You may not be able to go inside the Kinkaku-ji Temple, but a walk around the temple is just as nice. Besides, the exterior is covered in gold leaf and the reflection upon the water is stunning. It makes for such a breathtaking shot that you won’t even care that you can’t go inside.
2) Stroll Around Gion – The Geisha District (Free!)
Geishas are Japanese female entertainers who dress up in traditional Japanese kimonos and cake their faces with makeup, and Gion is where you’ll find all of them.
3) Eat Ramen (Prices Vary, Generally Very Inexpensive)
You can’t come to Japan without eating ramen! And no, not the cheap packaged stuff that you can make in a minute, the real ramen. Long and thin noodles in delicious broth with any sort of meat and veggies you wish. It’s absolutely delicious.
4) Visit Ginkakuji Temple And Gardens (500 Yen)
This one is much less touristy, and therefore, you’ll probably find it much more tranquil than the others. The temple is peaceful and the gardens absolutely stunning.
5) Wander Around The Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (300 Yen)
Words fail me when it comes to describing this wonderful temple. It is located up in the hills, so there is a rather steep climb to get there, but once you’re there you feel as though you’re at peace. You understand how buddhist monks felt up there – far from the clamor of the city.
6) Marvel At The Bamboo Grove (Free!)
Also known as the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, this is a top spot for photographers in Kyoto. If you visit, be sure to keep walking beyond where most of the tourists enter, because that entrance is filled with power lines and random normal trees that will spoil your photo.
Walk uphill and you’ll get to a break in the bamboo, but keep going and you’ll enter the real bamboo forest, where you can now happily snap away.
7) Stop By Tenryuji Temple (500 Yen)
Right next to the bamboo forest, the Tenryuji Temple reminds me of the quintessential ancient Japanese house, with white walls and brown roofs. Gorgeous and serene, this temple has a humble air to it, and is well worth the visit.
8) Try Green Tea Ice Cream! (Around 100 Yen)
This is a must try in Kyoto. Where else are you going to get green tea ice cream? It really is quite a unique flavor, but is delicious all the same.
9. Visit Fushimi-Inari Shrine (Free!)
Now what kind of Kyoto guide would this be without mentioning the Fushimi-Inari Shrine? You might’ve seen this shrine before – it’s the most famous shrine in Japan (according to Tripadvisor and confirmed by instagram posts).
A walkway leading all the way up a rather large hill/small mountain is completely lined with these orange torii gates.
10) Play With Monkeys At Iwatayama Monkey Park (500 Yen)
There is a decent hike to get up here (about 20-30 min), but then you get to play with monkeys! While this attraction is free, if you want to feed the monkeys you have to pay 100 yen for a bag of food.
It’s not a zoo – the monkeys are wild – and in fact, the humans are the ones who have to stand in a cage to feed the monkeys!
What To Know For Visiting Japan
Citizens of many countries can get a free 90 day entry to visit Japan for tourism.
Be sure to check the official Japanese Immigration Website for the latest information for your specific country.
The currency used in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). The current exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 108 JPY. You can check the latest EUR exchange rate on Google.
While traveling, our number one tip is to use a free Charles Schwab Debit Card which gives unlimited worldwide ATM Fee Refunds and the true exchange rate.
Best Tours In Kyoto
Some of the best tours and things to do in Kyoto are:
- Tea Ceremony Ju-An at Jotokuji Temple
- 3.5-Hour Small Group Cultural Walking Tour
- Kyoto Evening Gion Food Tour
- From Kyoto: Full-Day UNESCO and Historical Sites Tour
Book Your Stay In Kyoto
- The Hotel Kiyomizu Gion is located a short distance from attractions such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple in central Kyoto. This hotel is a great choice for travelers interested in old-town exploration, ancient landmarks and architecture.
- Find the best price on hotels in Kyoto
- Sign up to Air BNB with this link and receive a US $35 off your first booking!
Best Books About Japan
Read more about Japan before you go! Some of the best books about Japan are:
What Power Adapters Do You Need
Japan uses standard Type A and Type B adapters also commonly used in the USA. However, keep in mind that the voltage is different so be careful with your electronics and bring a voltage converter if necessary.
You can buy a universal adapter that will work in any country and has extra ports for USB cables to charge your phone and other devices.
We also always travel with a portable battery pack which is great to keep your phone charged on long journeys.
Transportation In Japan
- Public Transportation: Japan has extensive public transportation by both bus and train. The high speed trains are particularly good.
- Rental Cars: If you want flexibility, we recommend renting a car at the airport. This provides the easiest way to see certain landmarks, though parking in Tokyo can be expensive.
- Uber: Uber is sometimes available in Japan, though it depends on the area (mostly in Tokyo and Kyoto). However, the rules are constantly changing about Uber in Japan due to the strict permits that are required for drivers to offer rides. Metered taxis are readily available. You can use the popular JapanTaxiApp instead of Uber.
Our top recommended travel insurance companies for Japan are:
- World Nomads: Comprehensive coverage for medical, travel delays, and electronics.
- SafetyWing: Cheaper monthly coverage primarily for medical, starting at $37 for 4 weeks of coverage.
For more information, read our article on why you need to book travel insurance for your next trip!
More Articles About Japan
- The Perfect 7 Day Japan Itinerary
- The Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo
- How To Plan A Trip To Tokyo Disney In 5 Easy Steps
- Naoshima, Japan Will Surprise You
- Why You Should Consider Japan For A Solo Female Trip
- 8 Things To Do In Japan Totally Worth The Hype
- 8 Off The Beaten Path Things To Do In Tokyo, Japan
- Why Every Traveller Should Experience A Traditional Japanese Ryokan
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting A Japanese Onsen
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Kyoto. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
Do you want to share your own travel tips by guest writing for We Are Travel Girls? Please visit our Contribute page for guidelines and to submit your article.
We Are Travel Girls Contributor Claire Wang of AdventureAtWork.co.vu
Connect with Claire Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
Pin For Later
This article may contain affiliate links, if you purchase something using one of our links we may receive a commission. Please see our Disclosures for more information.
John S says
Well done. I have seen a few of these on my Pinterest feed and I am planning to visit Kyoto when I land in Japan in December. Any thoughts on what to do in winter? I will be in Tokyo and Kyoto and the surrounding area for about 5 days or so before heading to Hakuba for 4 months.
Claire Wang says
Hey John! I’m the writer of this article, and unfortunately, I have not been to Japan during the winter, so I’m not sure how much I can help you with that. Although, I have heard that Kyoto in snow is exceptionally pretty, so you may want to remember those gloves so you can snap away even during a snowstorm!
Jessika Garcia says
Awesome post! My boyfriend and I are hoping to travel to Japan (our first time) in spring 2017. Would you say that Kyoto is a good first timer’s place to start? Or would you recommend another city?
Claire Wang says
Yes I would highly recommend Kyoto! Also Tokyo and Osaka are fantastic places to start out as well!
LAUREN @ LAURENSOMEWHERE.COM says
I love that most of the things you such are either free or super cheap. Great suggestions! You don’t have to break the bank to have fun in Japan! xx
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for reading Lauren and glad this was useful!
Lily La says
I had the most amazing time when I was in Kyoto – although it was almost 5 years ago now, I remember how wonderful the place was, how great the food was, and how friendly the people were. I’d love to go back!
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for reading Lily, hope you make it back to Japan and can visit some of these spots!
One of my favourite places to visit in Kyoto is the lesser known Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji with it’s 1200 moss covered stone statues. It’s about half an hours walk from Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. and definitely worth the detour.
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for the advice Vanessa, we will definitely be visiting these when we go to Japan!