Top 7 Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

If Tokyo is a city of neon lights, foggy windows, and crowded streets, Kyoto is the opposite. Its lush greeneries surround the city with its downtown being filled with old-style buildings. Here are the top things to do in Kyoto. Read this and make the most of your trip.

See the Kinkaku-Ji Temple

When something literally translates to “Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” it will surely be beautiful. The structure is actually a Zen Buddhist temple. A lake and a garden surround the temple which makes it both conducive for meditation and attractive for tourism.

Kinkaku-Ji Temple

Visit the Kiyomizu-Dera

Truth be told, this building is an achievement in engineering. Not a single nail was used in this building. Instead, all the wood used were cut precisely to stack and interlock to each other.


It is known for its wooden pavilion which is 13 meters above the hills below. A view of the blossoming cherry and maple trees in the morning or the bright city lights in the night will welcome all visitors.

Explore the Fushimi Inari Taisha

At this site, the path to the mountains seems like something out of a fantasy movie. The rows of torii gates, which are painted in vibrant orange, run along the mountain named Inari.

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha

The site is actually the head shrine of Inari. It is known to have 32,000 sub-shrines throughout the country. This is one of the most physical activities among the top things to do in Kyoto.

Experience the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Home to more than 300,000 items, this museum has both historical and modern collections. Finish your trip by learning the rich history and culture of Japan and its regions. Fans of manga will love this place because of its many manga collections and its own Manga Walls spread among the museum.

Kyoto International Manga Museum
Kyoto International Manga Museum | Photo by Peat Bakke under creative commons

Fun fact: the museum is actually the Tatsuike Elementary School before.

Explore Gion

This district is filled with “machiya” (townhouses) and “ochaya” (teahouses). All are old-style Japanese houses which have been residents of samurais back then.

You can visit Minamiza Kabuki Theater if you are a theatre fan or dine at Café Opal which is called the “most soulful café in the world”. Make sure to time your trip right to witness the Miyaki Odori or the “Dances of the Old Capital” throughout the month of April.

Visit Nijo Castle

If you want to see a whole Japanese castle system, this site is for you. Built-in 1601 during Feudal Japan, the main Honmaru Palace was burned (and never rebuilt) in a fire in 1788. Today, 5 buildings are still preserved and still a favorite among tourists. These are Kuro-Shoin, Ohiroma, Shikidai, Tozamurai, and Shiro-shoin.

Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle | Photo by Tatters under creative commons

Food trip

The former capital is a haven of much authentic Japanese food. However, known Japanese dishes like ramen and sushi are lesser known in Kyoto.

You can try local restaurants like the family-owned Chihana which has been serving high-class Japanese food or Kagizen which offers a traditional teahouse and bakery experience.

If you want something more affordable, the Pontocho district has many dining stalls that cater to the nightlife and early-riser crowd. Noted as one of the top things to do in Kyoto, a food trip with friends and family will show you more of Kyoto’s delicacies.

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