Translated by Lester Somera
Kyoto Complete Guide: Travel Tips, Sightseeing, Festivals And More!
The city of Kyoto still retains much of the classical architecture and culture from when it was the nation's capital. We'll explain how to get there and introduce 40 of the city's most fascinating spots for international visitors.
Written by Mayu
All You Need To Know To Enjoy Kyoto, Japan's Culture Capital!
Founded in 794, the city of Kyoto has existed for more than a millennium. Until the capital of Japan was moved to Tokyo in 1869, Kyoto prospered as Japan's imperial capital and the nation’s political, cultural and religious center.
Now a city with a population of about 1.5 million, Kyoto is thriving as Japan's third largest city after Tokyo and Osaka. Many of the old Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples constructed centuries ago still exist, and even today, the venerable culture of maiko and geisha is preserved in Kyoto, fascinating both Japanese and international tourists.
Kyoto is the home of renowned World Heritage sites such as Kinkakuji Temple and its Golden Pavilion, Gingakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, the old Imperial Castle, or Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, which has been ranked as the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto in 2017.
In this article, you can learn in detail about Kyoto’s culture and famous sightseeing spots so you can make the most of your trip to this fascinating city..
Table of Contents:
1. Getting To Kyoto
2. Public Transportation In Kyoto
3. Kyoto Area Guide
4. Helpful Assistance From Your Friends At The Kyoto Tourist Information Centers
5. 40 Of Kyoto's Top Spots
6. A Model Kyoto Itinerary
7. Kyoto Nature And Festivals
8. Kyoto Culture
9. Kyoto Souvenirs And Shopping
10. Hotels In Kyoto
11. Dining and Cafe Recommendations In Kyoto
12. Kyoto Climate And What To Wear (+Smoking In The City)
13. Helpful Info For Your Trip
A Brief History of Kyoto
While Kyoto is said to have been properly founded in 794, according to archaeological studies, the area has been inhabited since the Paleolithic, but very little is known or can be excavated from this time without disturbing other historical buildings and sites.
One of the first known buildings in Kyoto is Shimogamo Shrine, which dates back to the 6th century, and is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site. Kyoto, then called Heian-kyo, became the capital of Japan after Nara, and, despite the political power shifting to cities like Kamakura and Edo (Tokyo), Kyoto was the defacto capital of Japan from 794-1869 when the Imperial family and seat of power was officially moved to Tokyo, and Kyoto underwent two decades of hardship.
The modern city of Kyoto is said to have been born in 1889, but there has been a strong bond with tradition here, which often sees historical preservation pitted against contemporary advances when it comes to architecture, but overall, Kyoto remains the traditional heart of Japan.
Getting To Kyoto
From Narita Airport
Once you arrive at Narita Airport, if you want to bypass Tokyo and head directly to Kyoto, hop on the Narita Express to Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station, then take the Shinkansen bullet train bound for Kyoto.
[Narita Airport] →(Narita Express)→ [Tokyo Station Or Shinagawa Station] →(Shinkansen)→ [Kyoto]
Fares (one-way trip):
From the airport (via Narita Express) to Tokyo Station: 2,820 yen
From the airport (via Narita Express) to Shinagawa Station: 2,990 yen
From Tokyo or Shinagawa Station (via Shinkansen) to Kyoto Station: 13,080 yen (unreserved seating
The trip takes two and a half hours and costs about 16,000 yen, but you can use the Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel via the Narita Express, Shinkansen lines and all of the JR-operated railways and buses nationwide. You should absolutely reserve a JR Pass in your country before setting off from Tokyo to Kyoto, or when doing any other long-distance trips.
From The Tokyo Metropolitan Area To Kyoto Station
The most convenient way to travel is by Shinkansen. Hop on a Nozomi service from Tokyo and you’ll pull into JR Kyoto Station two hours and 20 minutes later. The fare for a one-way ticket is 13,080 yen (as of August 2016). Announcements are made in English, so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop.
By Night Bus
The cheaper alternative to the Shinkansen is a night bus. Most of these buses take on passengers from the bus terminal at the Yaesu exit of JR Tokyo Station, or from Busta Shinjuku outside the south exit of JR Shinjuku Station. You can expect to pay a fare of anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 yen for the trip to Kyoto Station, which takes seven to nine hours.
From Kansai International Airport To Kyoto Station
There are several different ways to get from Kansai International Airport to the Kyoto city center, but these two ways are the most convenient, as you don’t need to make any transfers.
1: Board The Kanku Limited Express Haruka
Ride the Kanku Limited Express Haruka train to go directly to Kyoto from the airport. You can purchase a ticket at major stations in the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto area or from travel agencies. An unreserved ticket is 770 yen (1,830 yen+940 yen), and a reserved ticket is 3,080 yen (1,830 yen+1,250 yen); there are additional fees for seating location. You’ll arrive at Kyoto Station in about 80 minutes.
2: Take The Kanku Limousine Bus To The Front Of Kyoto Station
The limousine bus to Kyoto Station leaves from the bus stop in front of KIX, and costs 2,550 yen. You’ll arrive at Kyoto Station in about an hour and a half.
Public Transportation In Kyoto
The various forms of public transportation in Kyoto include trains (operated by JR West, Kintetsu, Hankyu Kyoto, Keihan and Eizan), the municipal subway, and city buses.
Convenient City Bus One-Day (Two-Day) Passes For Tourists
Tourists who want to travel to many places around Kyoto should take advantage of the convenient one-day or two-day city bus pass. Holders receive unlimited rides for 24 or 48 hours on almost all Kyoto city buses and municipal subway lines (not valid on certain lines). Both passes come with a guidebook as a welcome gift to visitors. You can buy them at subway station information counters or city bus stop offices (including those in Arashiyama and Kono), as well as at Kyoto tourism offices in Demachiyanagi and Tokyo.
One-day pass: 1,200 yen for adults, 600 yen for children
Two-day pass: 2,000 yen for adults, 1,000 yen for children
We recommend Kyoto city buses as the best way to get around. With a city bus pass, you can freely travel almost anywhere within the city. You can find the city bus pass at tourist information counters in subway and bus stations, commuter pass offices and aboard the city buses themselves. If you’re certain that you want one, head to the tourist info counter as soon as you get to Kyoto Station. A pass is 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. The pass cannot be used for travel to the following areas: Takao, Katsura, Rakusei, Iwakura, Shugaku-in and Ohara. Pass holders will be assessed a separate fare on these buses, so please be careful.
The Municipal Subway
The Kyoto subway is indispensable for tourists going around Kyoto to check out the sights. The subway comprises two lines: the Karasuma line and the Tozai line. Famous locations by subway stops include the Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho), Honnoji Temple, Nijo Castle and Heian-jingu Shrine, so travelers will find the one-day subway pass to be very convenient. These can also be purchased at subway and bus station tourist information centers, commuter pass offices and subway station ticket counters. A pass is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. For more information, check out the official homepage.
Trains (JR, Keihan, Hankyu, Tram)
The JR West Kyoto Line, Kintetsu Kyoto Line, Hankyu Kyoto Line, Keihan Main Line, and Eizan Railway all operate within the Kyoto area. However, they do not run in Kyoto City proper. You’ll need to use trains to visit places like Arashiyama and Hiei.
Riding The Tram
Keifuku Electric Railway operates a tram service from Shijo-Omiya Station to Keifuku-Arashiyama Station called the “Randen,” the only one of its kind in the city. Other than Arashiyama, the World Heritage temples Tenryuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji are all located along the Randen’s route. Passengers on the Randen get on from the back and get off at the front, so board the bus at the center door, and pay your fare when getting off. The fare is an even 200 yen.
Kyoto Area Guide
① Gion And Higashiyama
Gion and Higashiyama are packed with aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and should absolutely be visited by any Kyoto tourist. Visit the history-rich Gion district and you can do more than look at the sights; take in a maiko dancing girl performance, make your own wagashi sweets, and sample all sorts of actual cultural marvels.
② Shijo Kawaramachi, Karasuma And Omiya
If you’re looking for souvenirs, we recommend heading to the Shijo Kawaramachi/Karasuma/Omiya area. Rows of department stores and shopping complexes line the area around the central street of Shijo-dori. Teramachi-dori, popular with students, has an array of shops that handle souvenirs and general goods. The Pontocho-dori, which runs alongside the Kamogawa River, has cool restaurants built out of remodeled town houses.
③ Kitano And Kitayama
The Kitayama area sets itself apart from central Kyoto’s traditional townscape with a stylishly modern vibe. The area is home to many cool cafes and restaurants, and an aura of refinement wafts through the air. Kitayama is also home to Kitano Temmangu Shrine, famous as the home of the god of learning. Students visiting to pay homage are a conspicuous sight.
④ Arashiyama And Uzumasa
Located a short distance from Kyoto’s city center, Arashiyama and Uzumasa are home to magnificent natural scenery. When the fall foliage is at its most brilliant, the area will be bustling with tourist activity.
⑤ Kyoto Station
The pattern of overlapping metal lattices in the entrance hall of Kyoto Station create a futuristic atmosphere, welcoming visitors to the city. The station’s beauty is impressive, and with department stores and shopping areas spread throughout the station, it’s also easy to find souvenirs. Yodobashi Camera, AEON and other major consumer appliance stores can be found in the vicinity of the station, as well as other various important locations.
⑥ Fushimi And Uji
The most famous place in the Fushimi area is the Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, known for the thousand torii gates which line its pathways. Visitors to Uji should check out the World Heritage Site Byodoin, which is engraved on the 10 yen coin. Uji is very well-known as a green tea producer, as well.
Helpful Assistance From Your Friends At The Kyoto Tourist Information Centers
If there’s something you need assistance with, or you need help sorting out your itinerary, ask at the tourist information centers in Kyoto and Kawaramachi. The center in Kyoto Station is on the second floor. Go out the west exit and turn right, then go straight for about 30 seconds. The center is close by. The staff provides assistance for both Japanese and international tourists, and will give directions or recommend day-trip plans for people in need. Various people on staff are fluent in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean, so you can freely ask for help. The centers are jointly operated by Kyoto Prefecture and Kyoto City, so pamphlets about city events are available here. You can find out how to get to your next destination and even pick up tickets for seasonal events like Kyoto’s spring dances. You can also find out about hotels and guest houses.
Kyoto Tourist Information Center
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Shimogyo ward, Higashi shiokoji takakura-cho 8-3
Operating hours: 08:30~19:00, open year-round
Kyoto City Communication And Tourist Information Center
Located in the heart of Kawaramachi, the Kyoto City Communication And Tourist Information Center can be found by heading north from the Shijo Kawaramachi intersection for five minutes. Like the Kyoto Station Tourist Information Center, the staff here will help you get to where you want to go, providing directions and operating hours for places like Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple or Shimogamo Shrine. They will also advise you about the best places to shop in Shijo, Kawaramachi, the Nishiki Market, Shinkyogoku, Teramachi and other nearby areas. Learn about where you can join culture workshops and inquire about the most quintessential Kyoto shops, so you can make the best of your time in the city!
Kyoto City Communication And Tourist Information Center
Kyoto City, Nakagyo ward, Kawaramachi-dori Street, Takoyakushisagaru, Shioyamachi 33
Operating hours: 10:00~18:00
Holidays: Every Tuesday, New Year’s (12/29-1/3)
The centers also sell one-day passes for public transportation, discounted tickets for daytime travel, Traffica Kyoto cards and other useful items for tourists. If you need any assistance at all, by all means, stop by the tourist information centers in Kyoto and Kawaramachi.
40 Of Kyoto's Top Spots
When you look at rankings of the world’s top tourist destinations, Kyoto always occupies a top spot, with many shrines and temples that are designated as World Heritage sites. We’ve put together a list of places you’ll certainly want to visit when you visit Kyoto.
Kyoto Sightseeing Destinations (Buddhist Temples)
No trip to Kyoto would be complete without visiting a temple. In addition to being the home of internationally famous temples like Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji, Kyoto also has many historically important temples like Toji and Tenryuji. It is a rule at these temples that visitors must remove hats and sunglasses, and taking photos of inner sanctuaries is not allowed. Please respect the shrine’s rules when you visit.
1. Toji And The Five-Story Pagoda
The construction of Toji was entrusted to the priest Kobo-Daishi (Kukai) in 796 by Emperor Saga. As the head temple of the Shingon (“true word”) Buddhist sect, it is also called Kyo-ogokuji. The highlight of the temple is the three-dimensional mandala in the auditorium centered around the Mahavairocana, or Supreme Buddha. For more information, check out our Toji Temple And Its 1200 Year History! article.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Minami warm, Kujo-cho１
2. Kinkakuji, Kyoto’s Golden Representative To The World
Kinkakuji is formally known as Rokuonji. Located in Kita ward, Nugasa, it was constructed in 1397 as the villa for Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, the third shogun of the era. The three-story reliquary hall, built to deify Shakyamuni, is coated with gold leaf on both the inside and outside, creating a glittering reflection in the waters of the surrounding pond that captivates tourists.
Address: Kyoto City, Kita ward, Kinkakuji-cho 1
3. The Tastefully Glamorous Ginkakuji Temple
Ginkakuji is formally known as Jishoji, and was built as a mountain villa for the shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga. Its elegant simplicity provides a counterpoint to the showiness of Kinkakuji, and the design is intended to express the essence of Higashiyama culture.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Ginkakuji-cho 2
4. Stand Atop The Stage Of Kiyomizu-dera And Gaze Down At Kyoto
Built in 778, Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan’s preeminent historic temples. Visitors can get a sweeping view of the city from the wooden-frame stage. Inside the temple grounds, there are three little waterfalls of spring water called the “otowa-no-taki.” They are said to bring the drinkers success in school, romantic fulfillment and long life.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Kiyomizu 1-294
5. Unforgettable Sights And Beautiful Foliage At Eikando
Built in 863, Eikando, (also known as Zenrinji) is located in Sakyo ward. Eikando’s historical pedigree reaches so far back that it was written about in the ancient poetry anthology "Kokin Wakashu", and it is especially gorgeous during fall foliage season when lit up at night. The principal object of worship is “Amitabha Looking Back,” an unusual Buddhist image which shows the Buddha kindly looking over his shoulder as if he’s being spoken to from behind.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Eikando-cho 48
6. Tofukuji’s Fiery Trees Will Leave You Speechless
Tofukuji was under construction for 19 years until it was completed in 1255, and has Kyoto’s largest monastery. The beautiful view of the fall foliage from the Tsutenbashi bridge on the temple grounds will take your breath away, and the garden is also famous. It’s a ten-minute taxi ride from Kyoto Station.
Address: Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Honmachi 15-chome 778
7. You Must See The Garden and Cloud Dragon Painting At Tenryuji
Located in Arashiyama and built by Takauji Ashikaga in 1339, Tenryuji is a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. The Sogen Chiteien garden, created by Zen priest Muso Soseki, was designated as Japan’s first historic landmark and National Scenic Site. There is a dragon painted on the ceiling of the temple hall, and its sharp eyes glare in all directions. The feeling of being intently watched from every angle is very intense.
Address: Kyoto City, Ukyo ward, Sagatenryuji susukinobaba-cho 68
8. Witness The Beguiling Form Of Maitreya At Koryuji
Founded in 603, Koryuji is said to be the oldest temple in Japan, and its main object of worship was a gift from Shotoku Taishi. The faint smile on the face of the Miroku-Bosatsu-Hanka-Shii-zo, Japan’s first national treasure, gives it a charm that is difficult to describe. The Kyoto Studio Park located close by is a theme park primarily based around historical productions, and is worth a visit.
Address: Ukyo ward, Uzumasahachioka-cho
9. Nanzenji Temple
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
Nanzenji in the Sakyo ward is the main temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. Known for its cherry blossom trees and fall foliage, many people visit this temple in spring and fall.
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
The temple compound contains Hojo Garden, an example of the karesansui style, and Nanzen-in, one of Kyoto’s three famous historical gardens. It’s close to Ginkakuji, Heian Jingu and Eikando, so stop by when you’re in Sakyo ward.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Nanzenji, Fukuchi-cho
10. Daitokuji Temple
A Rinzai Buddhist temple established in 1315, Daitokuji is said to be deeply connected to the history of Japanese tea ceremonies. Many famous priests studied here, and Daitokuji prospered as a space for the transmission of Buddhist culture. For that reason, many cultural properties are still extant in the temple’s architecture and gardens, as well as in places like the sliding screens, teacups and imported Chinese calligraphic works. Visitors to the nearby Chado Sogo Shiryo-kan, a reference archive for the history of Urasenke tea ceremonies, can experience the rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony for themselves. If you’re interested in tea culture, you should definitely stop by.
Address: Kyoto City, Kita ward, Murasakinodaitokuji-cho 53
11. Daigoji Temple
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
The Shingon Buddhist temple Daigoji was built in 874, and is a designated World Heritage Site. Possessing a massive land area on Mt. Daigoji that spans 661,200 ㎡, the military commander Hideyoshi Toyotomi once went to view its magnificent cherry blossoms, which are famous even now. The premises are home to a national treasure - the five-story pagoda - and three Toyotomi-affiliated buildings called “the three Buddhist treasures.” Many items of great historical importance can be seen at Daigoji.
Address: Kyoto City, Fushimi ward, Daigoji, Higashioji-cho 2
12. Myokenji Temple
Myokenji is the head temple of the Nichiren Buddhists, and is known for the nine sub-temples on its grounds. It’s a ten-minute walk from the Degawa subway station.
Address: Kyoto City, Kamigyo ward, Myokenjimae-cho 514
13. Ryoanji Temple
The Rinzai Myoshinji Temple Ryoanji is a World Heritage Site, and registered as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. It is famous for its rock garden, made from only stones and white sand. The spring cherry blossoms and fall foliage are also highlights.
Address: Kyoto City, Ukyo ward, Ryoanji, Goryoshita-cho 13
14. Shingyoji Temple
A mural of 167 flowers was painted onto the ceiling of Shingyoji, a Jodo Shinshu temple in Sakyo ward, by Jakuchu Ito. The palette is not limited to typically Japanese flowers such as chrysanthemums and lotuses, Ito also painted plants like cacti and sunflowers which were imported from Portugal and Holland during the Edo era, and the mural is worth a look.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Kitamonzen-cho 473
15. Nishi-Honganji Temple
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
Located in Shimogyo ward, World Heritage site Nishi-Honganji is the head temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect. Its Chinese-style gate is a designated national treasure, and important cultural buildings like Mieido and Amidado are lined up inside the compound. You’ll definitely be taken aback by the buildings’ sheer gravity. Happily, admission is free.
Address: Kyoto City, Shimogyo ward, Horikawa-dori, Hanaya-cho Sagaru
16. Seiryoji Temple
Seiryoji is a Jodo Shinshu temple in the Saga area of Ukyo ward, known for its standing wooden image of the sage Sakyamuni. Hokyokuin, Sagano, Enrian, Rakushisha and the Kyoto Arashiyama Music Box Museum are all close by.
Address: Kyoto City, Ukyo ward, Sagashakadofujinoki-cho 46
17. Rokkakudo Temple
It is said that the temple of Rokkakudo was built in 587 under the direction of Shotoku Taishi, and it is known as the birthplace of ikebana flower arranging. You can try out an ikebana induction course for yourself at the classroom, and do your part to spread ikebana culture to the world.
Address: Kyoto City, Nakagyo ward, Rokkaku-dori Todoin Donomae-cho
18. Honen'in Temple
Honen'in is well-known for its foliage. With plenty of greenery and a uniquely pastoral atmosphere, it was well-loved by Japanese scholars and writers of the day. The temple is also home to the important cultural properties of Mitsunobu Kano, art pieces drawn onto sliding screens.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Shishigatanigoshonodan-cho 30
Kyoto Sightseeing Destinations (Shrines)
There are many shrines in Kyoto that represent Japan to the world, like the Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine and Heian Jingu.
19. Fushimi Inari Shrine - Witness The Impressive Vermilion Torii Gates That Bring Business Prosperity!
The grand shrine Fushimi Inari is the main shrine of all 30,000 Inari shrines nationwide. Said to be the home of the god which brings success in business and abundant harvests, the shrine has had faithful supplicants paying homage from 711 until now. The thousand torii gates are very popular with tourists.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Fushimi ward, Fukakusayabunouchi-cho
20. Yasaka Shrine
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
Yasaka Shrine venerates Susanoo-no-Mikoto, Kushi-Inada-Hime-no-Mikoto, and Yahashira-no-Mikogami, three gods of Japanese legend. Known for the Gion Festival in July, one of Japan’s three great festivals, Yasaka is also known as Gion-san. The shrine is right next to the Gion area. For more information, check out our Searching For Your Special Someone? Stop By The Kyoto Power Spot, Yasaka Shrinearticle.
Address: Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Gion-cho, Kitagawa 625
21. Kifune Shrine
Kifune Shrine. The Heian-era poet Izumi Shikibu created love poems inspired by this shrine, which is why people connect it with the god of making connections.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Kuramakifune-cho 180
22. Heian Jingu Shrine
Heian Jingu Shrine is a relatively new shrine, founded in 1895. The elegant appearance of the buildings evokes the character of the old capital from more than a thousand years ago. The spring cherry blossoms, summer water lilies and irises are seasonal highlights.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Okazaki Nishitenno-cho
23. Kitano Temmangu, Home Of The God Of Scholars
Established in 947, Kitano Temmangu is the head shrine of the 12,000 Temmangu shrines across Japan which worship Sugawara-no-Michizane, the lord of learning. Many students come to the shrine on school trips, which is famous for its plum orchard. When the orchard is open to the public, you can also drink green tea at the shrine. Cow statues, the symbol of Michizane, are scattered throughout the shrine compound, and rubbing them will bring you luck. The shrine market is open on the 25th of every month, as well as holidays.
For more information, check out our Kitano Tenmangū Shrine, Kyoto- Offer A Prayer To The God Of Scholars article.
Address: Kyoto City, Kamigyo ward, Bakuro-cho
Kyoto Sightseeing (Art Galleries And Museums)
Having served as a transmission point for Japanese culture up to this point, Kyoto’s history makes it impossible to overlook the city’s art scene. We’ve compiled our recommendations for art galleries and museums in Kyoto.
24. Kyoto National Museum
The Kyoto National Museum opened its doors to the public in May of 1897. The museum exhibits contain important Kyoto cultural properties dating from the Heian period to the Edo period, with Buddhist figures, dyed goods, lacquer decorations and sacred Buddhist texts. Deepen your knowledge of Japanese culture with a visit here.
Address: Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Chayamachi 527
25. Kyoto Culture Museum
All sorts of historic pictures and art objects are on display at the Kyoto Culture Museum. You can also buy traditional handicrafts on the first floor of the museum, which also has a general store, cafe and restaurant. Discover the depth of Kyoto culture with all of your five senses at this museum.
Address: Kyoto City, Nakagyo ward, Sanjo Takakura
26. Kyoto City Municipal Museum Of Art
The Kyoto Municipal Museum Of Art exhibits all sorts of contemporary art, from Japanese paintings to oil paintings. The museum curates many pieces from Japan’s noted artists, and is worth a visit if you are curious about modern Japanese art.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Okazaki Park
27. National Museum Of Modern Art - Kyoto
The National Museum Of Modern Art exhibits Japanese artwork, art objects and pictures from the western areas of Japan, including Kyoto. The museum also has present-day pieces from artists like Henri Matisse, and is highly recommended for art fanatics.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Okazaki Enshoji-cho
28. Kyoto International Manga Museum
The Kyoto International Manga Museum, Japan’s largest manga museum, has exhibits about the history of manga and the manga publishing industry. The museum also has a manga drawing workshop corner. Any pop culture fan should visit this spot. For more information, check out our Visiting The KyotoInternational Manga Museum article.
Address: Kyoto City, Nakagyo ward, Karasuma-dori Go-ike Agaru
29. Kyoto Railway Museum
The Kyoto Railway Museum has exhibits dealing with the history of railroads and the history of their development in Japan, as well as driving simulations. Displays feature the 53-carriage steam locomotives that hauled Japan into the modern age and Shinkansen trains, and you can actually ride on a real steam locomotive inside the facility. You can even try taking control of a train for yourself, using the simulator on the second floor. If you experience it for yourself, you may come close to discovering the secrets of Japan’s precise train operations.
Address: Kyoto City, Shimogyo ward, Kankiji-cho
30. Hosomi Museum
The Hosomi Museum mainly has ancient Japanese pieces, from Shinto and Buddhist works to art ceremony items, as well as Rinpa paintings and artwork from Edo-era artist Jakuchu Ito. These displays, which encompass a wide range of material from different fields and historical eras, are the highlight of the museum.
Address: Kyoto City, Sakyo ward, Okazaki Saishoji-cho 6-3
Kyoto Sightseeing Destinations (Others)
In addition to temples and shrines, the classical Kyoto townscape in the Gion district and the beautiful trees at Arashiyama are some of the other sights any tourist should check out.
The Gion district is home to Yasaka Shrine, and is known for its teahouses, where maiko entertain customers. Hana Mikoji-dori is the main street in Gion, with shops selling Kyoto-style crafts, cafes and restaurants. The district’s atmosphere, evocative of the old capital, draws Japanese and international tourists alike.
Address: Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Gion-cho
32. Nijo Castle, Witness To Japan’s History Of Upheaval
Nijo Castle was built in 1603, and is famous for being the place where Japan formally restored political authority to the Emperor in 1868, changing the course of history. The castle’s outer moat is a particular point of interest. Being able to walk through a real Japanese castle is a precious experience.
Address: Kyoto City, Nakagyo ward, Nijo-dori, Horikawa-nishi-iru, Nijo-jo-cho 541
33. The Historical And Scenic Arashiyama
The cherry blossoms and fall foliage at Arashiyama are beautiful, and the area is representative of Kyoto, with many scenic highlights. Centered around the Togetsukyo bridge, Arashiyama is home to Tenryuji, the marriage-focused Nonomiya Shrine, Seiryoji, the Matsuotai Grand Shrine, Horinji and more. The bamboo forest also has a striking appearance, and one day is not enough to see everything Arashiyama has to offer.
34. Toei Kyoto Studio Park
The Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a theme park that uses shooting locations from movie sets. Edo period townscapes have been faithfully recreated, and sword fights and other shows are reenacted in the park. You can also dress up as a ninja, peasant, princess and more. The park also does anime shows, so it’s fun for the whole family.
Address: Kyoto City, Ukyo ward, Uzumasa, Hachigaoka-cho 10
35. Kyoto Tower
Kyoto Tower is a 131-meter high tower by JR Kyoto Station. You can get a 360-degree view of Kyoto for the observation platform, 100 meters above ground.
Address: Kyoto City, Shimogyo ward, Karasuma-dori, Shijo Kudaru, Higashi Shio-Koji-cho 721-1
36. Maruyama Park
The famous cherry blossom viewing spot, Maruyama Park, is adjacent to Yasaka Shrine and Chion-in. It is designated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty. With waterfalls, a pond and other natural sights, the park grounds seem like a recreated Japanese garden. With its proximity to Gion, it’s a great spot for a stroll.
Address: Kyoto City, Higashiyama ward, Maruyama-cho
Tourist Spots Outside Kyoto City
We’ve introduced spots inside Kyoto City up to this point, but there are plenty of other highlights throughout the prefecture. If you have some extra time on your journey, stretch your legs a bit and venture out to Amanohashidate, Tateiwa and Ine.
Amanohashidate is one of Japan’s three great views, located in northern Kyoto Prefecture. It refers to the sandbar which separates the bay in Miyazu City from the Aso Sea. From Kasamatsu Park and Amanohashidate View Land, you can see the entire length of this “bridge to heaven.” There are also ancient places like Moto-Ise Shrine and Chion-ji Temple, and the area is good for taking relaxing walks.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Miyazu City
Source: Kyoto Open Source Images
The Taiza inlet in the town of Tango, close to Miyazu, is where you can find a giant boulder floating in the ocean, known as Tateiwa. Legend has it that this boulder fell from heaven when demons were exterminated from the earth, and that they are all sealed away inside.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyotango City, Tanba-cho, Taiza
39. The Floating Seaside Town, Ine
The harbor town Ine is famous for the sight of funaya, traditional fisherman’s houses, lined up along the emerald green Ine Bay. You can spend a romantic night in a funaya, gazing out the window at the quiet ocean. The town is home to the Mukai sake brewery, which has a female lead brewer, and the restaurant Nagisa, where you can try a rice bowl topped with dried sea cucumbers. If you’re looking for something a little different from Kyoto City, visit Ine for a totally different Kyoto atmosphere.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Yosa-gun, Ine-cho
Check out the activity ticket for Kyoto
A Model Kyoto Itinerary
From here on we will introduce an efficient route to take if you want to see the most important sightseeing spots in Kyoto over two days. The first day begins in Higashiyama ward.
Morning: Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine
Afternoon: Kenjinji, Kodaiji
Night: Hanami Koji-dori
On the second day, head out of the city center.
Late afternoon - evening: Kyoto International Manga Museum
This route is very reasonable if you’re looking to visit Kyoto for only a short time. For more information, check out our Enjoy Kyoto To The Fullest! A Two-Day Sightseeing Itinerary article.
Nature In Kyoto
The best seasons to visit Kyoto are during spring and fall, when the cherry blossoms and fiery red leaves lend the streets a splash of color. Places like Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka Shrine are particular highlights in either season. If possible, try to visit at these times.
Festivals In Kyoto
Festivals have been a part of the city’s tradition for more than a thousand years. The Gion Festival, Aoi Festival and Jidai Festival are known as the three great Kyoto festivals, and people come from all over the world to attend them. People wear ancient Japanese garments at these festivals, and visitors can get a feel for what aristocratic culture was like, a millennium ago.
Originating more than 1100 years ago, the Gion Festival began as a way to suppress a disease outbreak by appeasing the gods. The festival runs from July 1st through the 31st, and is held in the zone between Karasuma and Kawaramachi. The festival is busiest during the early parade from July 14 to 16, known as Yoiyama, and on the 17th, when the yamahoko floats are paraded around town. The sight of the 50-man crews, pulling 25-meter tall floats through the streets, is the best part of the festival. For more information, check out our Gion festival article.
Picture courtesy of JNTO
The Aoi Festival is one of the city’s three great festivals, where onlookers can see what nobles looked like a thousand years ago. At this precious festival, nearly 500 people in elegant outfits, along with several horses, cows, and ox carriages, walk along the 8 km long road which leads from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine.
Every year, at the Jidai Festival (the "Festival of the Ages") on October 22nd, you can watch an extravagant parade of celebrating the former capital's birth, history and culture from the Heian period to the Meiji period. The costumes and accessories of the participants are closely examined by historical experts, and you can get an authentic glimpse of Japanese history.
Daimonji No Okuribi
Every year on August 16th, this festival is held in Sakyo ward on several of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Daimonji, where fires are lit to give a proper sendoff to spirits on their journeys to the afterlife. This event reminds many people of Kyoto in the summertime. Organized in the shape of Japanese kanji characters, when the lanterns are set ablaze, it looks like the kanji formed by their flames is floating on the mountain.
Tanabata is beloved by Kyoto residents, and is held from August 1st to the 15th. During this time, places like Kitano Temmangu, Nijo Castle, Umekoji Park and others are all lit up with brilliant lights.
Other events include the Old Book Festival at Shimogamo Shrine, the Kobo Ichi Market held at Toji Shrine on the 21st of every month, and the pottery market at Gojozaka. If you’re in Kyoto during festival season, by all means, stop by and check one out for yourself.
Many of Kyoto’s ancient cultural traditions still exist today, including maiko, kimonos, shodo calligraphy and tea.
Maiko And Geiko (Geisha)
Maiko and geisha (geiko in Kyoto dialect) are the women who entertain customers at teahouses and traditional Japanese restaurants through song and dance. The Hanamachi area is where many geisha quarters are clustered together, so you may be able to catch a glimpse of them walking through the streets.
Kimonos are traditional Japanese attire, and it’s said that the current style of kimono, which opens in the front and is tied with an obi sash, has been in vogue since the Edo era. There are also yukata, lighter versions meant as night wear, and they are now worn in the summertime. Putting on a kimono or yukata requires some practice. Visit a kimono shop like Yume Yakata to learn how to tie them properly, and to take memorial photos.
Yuzen dyeing is a type of traditional technique, still carried on by a few shops in Kyoto. The painstaking work results in a brilliantly colored Yuzen kimono. One Yuzen kimono for a woman can cost anywhere from 300,000 to 1,000,000 yen.
Shodo calligraphy is an aspect of traditional Japanese culture, using a brush and ink to express kanji characters and hiragana. It originally began in China, and spread to Japan.
Kiyomizu-yaki is traditional pottery craft that originated in Kyoto, known for its characteristically vivid blue and scarlet hues.
Tea And Tea Ceremonies
Making tea in a tea ceremony was fashionable with Kyoto nobles in their day. There is an established routine for both the person making the tea and the person drinking the tea, which they rigidly follow in order to continue the ceremony. Join one for yourself at one of Kyoto’s teahouses.
Japanese sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. It has many indispensable uses in Shinto ceremonies, and is typically offered to the gods. You can visit the Jo - Social Sake Bar in Kyoto to sample many different kinds of sake for yourself.
Other cultural activities include the ”Sounds of Temples” concert at Jokyoji, among many others. If you come to Kyoto, don’t limit yourself to passive sightseeing - try joining a tea ceremony or calligraphy workshop and experience them for yourself.
Many visitors to Kyoto buy souvenirs such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery and folding fans, or Japanese sweets like yatsuhashi. Since Kyoto contributed so much to the culture of tea, there are also many green tea-flavored sweets.
The shopping streets of Shinkyogoku, Teramachi-dori and Nishiki-dori are beloved by Kyoto locals. They’re definitely recommended for tourists who are trying to find souvenirs like Kyoto folding fans and Japanese-style accessories.
Hotels In Kyoto
Kyoto gets crowds of tourists all year-round, and there are plenty of places to stay, from the unassuming Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse to the glitzy rooms at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto, and even traditional inns where you can experience classical Japanese entertainment. We can recommend Hotel Anteroom Kyoto, a concept hotel where the rooms are covered in art. Make sure to choose accommodations that work with your schedule and budget. In recent years, staff fluent in English, Chinese and Korean have increased in number at hotels.
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As the center of Japanese culture for generations, Kyoto also has a rich food tradition, and the culinary styles shojin (Buddhist cuisine) and Kyoto kaiseki were born in Kyoto. Kitcho is a famous, well-established kaiseki restaurant in the city, and there are all sorts of restaurants where you can find original Japanese cuisine. One kaiseki meal can cost up to 20,000 yen, which is probably a bit steep, but it’s a great opportunity to sample the essence of Japanese food, so visit one of these restaurants if you have some extra room in your budget.
Recommended Cafes in Kyoto
When you’re a bit tired after strolling around Kyoto City, drop into a cafe to take a breather. There are all sorts of unique cafes with their own modern or classical aesthetic.
The Kamogawa Riverside Cafe “efish”
At the efish cafe, you can have a comfortable time as you gaze at the Kamogawa River, winding its way through Kyoto. Relax in the cafe’s mysterious atmosphere as light breaks through the windows. We recommend stopping by if you want to take a short break from sightseeing. For more information, check out our Taking a Break in Kamogawa Riverside Cafe “efish” article.
Time Stands Still At The Peaceful Francois Tea House In Downtown Kyoto
Francois, located along the Takase River, has stood unchanged for more than 80 years, and is beloved by the local residents. The cafe interior’s Western classical style makes it feel unique, and the cafe serves exceptional coffee and cheesecake. For more information, check out our Francois article.
Sarasa Nishijin, built out of a renovated bath house, offers more than just coffee and cakes; the cafe also serves various ethnic dishes from different countries. For more information, check out our Sarasa Nishijin article.
Kyoto Climate And What To Wear
Kyoto City is a basin, surrounded on all four sides by mountains, so it’s said to be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Summer in Kyoto is notorious for sweltering, sticky weather, and snowfall is frequent in the winter. It’s important to dress light in the summer and put on appropriate cold-weather gear in the winter.
Smoking In The City
Helpful Info For Your Trip
For when you want to exchange foreign currency and yen, use bank exchange counters and Seven Eleven ATMs.
Need Japanese Yen? Four Ways to Get Cash in Japan
When you’re out of pocket money, look for any ATM with a Plus insignia to use cashing services with no hassle.
Where You Can Find ATMs
Here are some useful Japanese phrases you can use when you’re staying at a hotel.
10 Japanese Phrases You Can Use At A Hotel
To use the convenient free wi-fi services in Japan, download this app beforehand.
Where To Find Free Wi-Fi In Japan - Japan Connected-Free Wi-Fi
How much can you expect to spend on food while traveling in Japan? Figure out your budget before you set out on your journey.
Average Food Expenses For A Day In Japan
To Fully Enjoy Kyoto
Kyoto is packed with amazing sights, from the showy Gion district to the beautiful nature at Amanohashidate. You’ll have a much better time if you spend several days in Kyoto instead of just taking a one-day trip. Have fun discovering the mysteries of Japan’s culture capital for yourself!
The Best 12 Sightseeing Destinations in Kyoto
Tokyo To Kyoto: Should You Go Via Shinkansen Or Night Bus?
The Perfect Guide For Your Kyoto Trip - Transport and Attractions
Finding Japanese Souvenirs - The Best Shopping Spots in Kyoto
Kiyomizudera Temple - A Must-See in Kyoto