The Best Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

The 10 Best Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is an enchanting place that time simply passed by. The city’s endless allure, ancient traditions, and captivating culture beckon people from around the world, all trying to find out if the city is just as enigmatic in real life as it is online. With its fascinating mix of historic rituals and a handful of contemporary delights, this city provides an experience that’s spiritually enriching and emotionally exciting at the same time.

Whatever type of vacation you’re dreaming of, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Kyoto. This age-old city is home to magnificent temples that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of a picture book, fascinating tea ceremonies that date back centuries, hot springs that soothe every ailment, and quirky museums that bring out your inner child. And that’s just the beginning! 

With so many amazing things to see and do, you may not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Kyoto. Add these activities and attractions to your Kyoto bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time exploring the “City of 10,000 Shrines.”

The 10 Best Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

1. Visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park

Best Things to do in Kyoto: Iwatayama Monkey Park

If you love animals, one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto is to spend the day at the Iwatayama Monkey Park. This quirky place is located in Arashiyama (easily accessible by train) and is home to around 120 snow monkeys. This may not sound like a lot, but it definitely will seem like a lot when you’re there!

Find a comfy spot to sit and watch them do their thing – scampering along the paths, swinging through the trees, and generally being mischievous. Although the monkeys are wild, feeding them is allowed. Pack some fresh fruit and nuts with you and see if you can get any friendly monkeys to take them out of your hand.

2. See the Light Sculptures at Higashiyama Hanatoro

Cool Things to do in Kyoto: Higashiyama Hanatoro

Planning on visiting in March? Then you’re just in time for one of the top Kyoto attractions. Every year, the first few weeks of March are dedicated to Higashiyama Hanatoro, one of the most sensational light festivals in Japan.

The festival takes place in the Southern Higashiyama sightseeing district, where delicate lanterns adorn all the roads and lanes throughout the neighborhood. The most impressive place to visit during the festival is the Maruyama-koen Park. Here, you’ll have the chance to admire all kinds of installations and light sculptures created by talented students from various Kyoto art schools. 

3. Photograph the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Unique Things in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Snapping a picture of the mesmerizing Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the must-do things in Kyoto. This iconic attraction is hidden away at the end of a vermilion-colored walkway created by thousands of traditional torii gates. When you’re standing at the entrance, the walkway looks like it goes on forever, but don’t be put off.

All your hard work will be rewarded when you arrive at the spectacular shrine, which has ancient origins that date back to 794. The temple is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari, and is surrounded by fox sculptures said to be Inari’s messengers. After you’ve admired the work of art, spend some time exploring the various trails in the area that take you to other fascinating shrines. 

4. Experience Authentic Kaiseki Ryori

When all the Kyoto sightseeing has left you feeling exhausted, take a break and indulge with some kaiseki ryori (kaiseki cuisine). This traditional Japanese way of eating includes multiple courses made with seasonal ingredients, time-honored techniques, and stunning presentations to create a spectacular gastronomic experience. 

Kaiseki ryori in Kyoto began with cha kaiseki (tea kaiseki), a simpler meal served before a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Since then, it has evolved to become something much bigger that’s enjoyed all on its own. 

Kitcho Arashiyama Honten is one of the best places in Kyoto for this style of dining. Here, you’ll have your mind blown by ostentatious, no-expenses-spared kaiseki ryori!

5. See Cherry Blossoms at Maruyama Park

Fun Things to do in Kyoto: Maruyama Park

For some of the best sights in Kyoto, head to Maruyama Park. One of the most stunning gardens in the city, this natural space is home to all kinds of magical cherry trees, which are in full bloom at the beginning of April. At this time of year, the park is hugely popular, so we suggest visiting in the early morning to avoid the crowds.

Even if your trip doesn’t coincide with cherry blossom season, Maruyama Park is still worth visiting. In the evening, the giant weeping cherry tree in the center of the park is illuminated with twinkling lights and looks incredible. 

6. Unwind in the Hot Springs

All that Kyoto sightseeing can be draining. When you think you can’t take any more, one of the best things to do in Kyoto is to spend some time at a hot spring. In the west of the city, you’ll find Tenzan no Yu, one of the best Japanese onsen resorts home to indoor and outdoor tubs just begging you to step in and take a soak.

The therapeutic water that fills these tubs comes from a nearby thermal spring, which contains high levels of sodium and calcium chloride – two things that are said to help heal the body. If you need a little extra attention, Tenzan no Yu also offers excellent massages and body treatments, too. 

7. Experience a Traditional Tea Ceremony

Kyoto Bucket List: Traditional Tea Ceremony

When it comes to authentic Japanese experiences, one of the most unique things to do in Kyoto is to take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Known locally as “sado” or “chado,” this sacred ceremony takes place inside a special tea house and follows a series of highly ritualized gestures and movements, from the way the tea is prepared to how it is served and consumed. 

What makes this experience extra special is that the ceremony is influenced by the season. The choice of utensils, decorations, and even the type of tea used varies according to the season, emphasizing the importance of nature in the tea ceremony. Maikoya hosts one of the finest tea ceremonies in all of Japan and will leave you with memories you’ll never forget.

8. Visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Must do things in Kyoto: International Manga Museum

Whether or not you’re interested in comic books, visiting the Kyoto International Manga Museum is one of the most fun things to do in Kyoto. This family-friendly museum invites you on a journey through the history of manga. You’ll get to discover its influence in the post-WW2 era, watch artists draw exciting scenes, and even have your own portrait drawn. 

Most of the manga in the museum are in Japanese, but there’s a decent number of English copies, too. Grab a book that piques your interest, settle down in one of the reading areas, and fall in love with a new art form. 

9. Check Out the View from the Kyoto Tower

What to do in Kyoto: Kyoto Tower

For sensational views, one of the top things to do in Kyoto is to climb to the peak of the Kyoto Tower. The tallest building in the city, the Kyoto Tower rises 430 feet into the sky and is packed with things to see and do. Throughout the tower, you’ll find an observation deck, restaurant, beer garden, gift shop, and hotel.

The observation deck is a must-visit. Located 328 feet in the air, this amazing viewpoint rewards visitors with 360° panoramic views, which stretch on for miles. There are free telescopes dotted around the deck so you can get a better look at the view, as well as informational touch panels so you can learn more about what you’re looking at.

Kyoto Tower Admission Ticket

10. Say “Cheers!” with Kyoto Sake

Kyoto Things to do: Sake

Even if you’re not much of a drinker, trying sake is one of the most fun things to do in Kyoto. The city, especially the Fushimi neighborhood, is well known for its high-quality sake, which stands above the rest, thanks to the excellent water that flows throughout the city.

Sake is an alcoholic drink that is usually sipped on its own or mixed as part of a cocktail. It’s made from fermented rice, but has a pleasantly fruity flavor and tastes a bit like apples and bananas. It’s hugely popular throughout the city and you’ll find it everywhere, from liquor stores and grocery stores to simple bars and fine dining restaurants. 

There you have it! The 10 best things to do in Kyoto, Japan. What’s your favorite thing to do in Kyoto?

Planning a trip to Japan? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!



  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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