Previously, we here at Photography Guides took you on a journey through the best activities in Tokyo and Osaka. This time, we are telling you about another great city in Japan with the best things to do in Kyoto.
Kyoto holds a special place in the hearts of the Japanese, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be adoring this place, too. Thanks to the beauty of this Japanese city, the Allied forces agreed not to bomb it during World War II. That still benefits everyone today – Kyoto is one of the most perfect and exuberant cities in the world, with traditions and architecture so unique they couldn’t be found elsewhere in Japan.
Furthermore, the travelers’ experiences here are as refined as those in Rome or Edinburgh. But, it is interesting to note that there seems to be a disconnection between its past and its modern life. Rather, Kyoto is a magnificent presentation of the days that have gone by, a glimpse of an otherwise lost world, and an opportunity for guests to be educated and enthralled at each turn. Let’s hear it for the best things to do in Kyoto.
Get To Know Some Of The Best Things To Do In Kyoto
Kyoto is warm and welcoming. Here are 10 of the best things to do in Kyoto.
1. Venerate A Shrine Dedicated To The God Of Rice
Wait up, the god of rice? Yes, you read that right. Nothing is quite as unique as Japanese mythology. In Shinto faith (Shinto is Japan’s native belief system), there are literally eight million gods, so having a deity attached to particular things like rice is a norm here. In fact, there’s a shrine dedicated to the god of the grain in Kyoto. That is at Fushimi Inari Taisha. It deserves your visit.
Here, thousands of vermilion torii gates snake across a hillside in the city’s southern part, offering every tourist a kaleidoscopic walking tour. Sure, this idea may be simple, but there’s nothing quite like it in the whole of Japan. This is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. But the crowds can get massive during peak seasons, so be sure to arrive at dawn or dusk if you want to beat the throngs of visitors.
2. Meet Some Geishas
Other than sushis and arresting temples, Japan is also synonymous with geishas. A geisha pertains to a female Japanese performing artist and entertainer. If you have watched and read the classic period drama movie and novel “Memoirs of a Geisha,” Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, will remind you of that film and book.
Gion is a vibrant labyrinth filled with endearing backstreets and old townhouses. Believe it or not, geishas, whose popularity was back in the 18th and 19th centuries, still scurry around Gion’s narrow lanes in those traditional immaculate kimonos and infamous makeups, as they looked during the Edo period.
In one perspective, the place is a museum spectacle, but the interiors of several buildings here have already been converted into art galleries, teahouses, and shops selling local arts and crafts. Visiting Gion is among the best things to do in Kyoto.
Enjoying the things to do in Kyoto? Don’t forget to take pictures! Here are the best photography spots in Japan.
3. Admire Kinkaku-ji, A Zen Temple With Quite A Dramatic Story
When in Kyoto, prepare to be astounded by a whirlwind of temples. One of them is Kinkaku-ji. This magnificent Golden Pavilion in the city holds a reputation as one of the most iconic sights in the whole of Japan. The top two tiers of this Zen temple are fully-gilded in dazzling gold leaf, reflecting the opulent tastes of the time when it was first built.
It also has quite a dramatic story to tell. Throughout its history, Kinkaku-ji has been burned down several times. But, reconstructions are fast to take place, still faithful to its 14-century original design. Seeing Kinkaku-ji from afar, reflected in the pristine waters of the pond below and surrounded by pine trees, it is a spectacular and otherworldly sight to behold. Be sure to add this on your things to do in Kyoto itinerary.
4. Garden-Hop At Ginkaku-ji
You’ve learned about Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. This time, it’s all about Kyoto’s Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji. This name comes from the unfulfilled ambition of the shogun who built this temple, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Unfulfilled since this temple was never really coated in silver. But, its delicate grace is the living embodiment of wabi-sabi aesthetics. Iin traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of imperfection and transience.
There are several things to do in Kyoto while you’re here. Aside from exploring the temple itself, you may also head to the impressive Zen gardens here, or take the walking trail past a meticulously-raked sand garden featuring a large cone that represents Mount Fuji (this space is said to have been created for moon-viewing). Then, you can meander between the temple’s mossy gardens, and tiny ponds and islands linked by bridges made of stone.
If you loved the things to do in Kyoto, you will, for sure, also love the activities in Tokyo, another city in Japan and its capital. Click here for the guide.
5. Find Inner Peace At Daitoku-ji
Another ji (Japanese for “temple”) that deserves your visit in Kyoto is Daitoku-ji. If you are curious and want to learn more about the mysteries of Zen Buddhism (which may literally take a lifetime to comprehend), you can do so in this temple.
This temple complex spans more than seven centuries of history, together with the 22 sub-temples in its eponymous main building. There are also several things to do in Kyoto while you are here. Daitoku-ji is home to some immaculate gardens where you can seek solace and peace, making this temple one of the most popular religious sites in Kyoto.
6. Be A Real Samurai For A Day
You have just learned some of Kyoto’s famous jis, and we know you are craving for more, so read on. Aside from the geisha, another popular personality in Japan is the samurai.
Samurais were the hereditary military nobility and officer caste that flourished during Japan’s Medieval and early-modern eras, from the late 12th century until these samurais were abolished in the late 1870s during the Meiji era. But even though samurais are things of the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience being one. Check this out on this things to do in Kyoto list.
While samurais are long gone, there are still several samurai-themed attractions and tours in Kyoto, such as this. Here, you will literally experience how to be a samurai, as you wear the samurai’s traditional armor and use a real samurai sword. But you won’t be slaying people, of course. You will get to experience cutting tatami mats (a kind of mat utilized as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms), which is the traditional way to test your sharpness and swordsmanship. A fan of the “Samurai X” anime or not, you will love this tour.
7. Wander In A Food Safari At Nishiki Market
There’s so much antiquity going on in Kyoto, from the temples to its markets. One of the markets that oozes the ambience of old Japan is Nishiki Market. Visiting this place is among the top things to do in Kyoto.
As you tour around, you’ll realize that this place exudes an atmosphere of the time before supermarkets existed. Here, you can trawl its stalls to discover some of the most bizarre ingredients that go into Japanese cooking, as well as the tools used to prepare the dishes.
When you’re done and have had enough of those shiny, slimy, slithering, and spicy ingredients, don’t forget to sample the finished products at Nishiki Market’s food stalls. If you wish to make your own, take it to Aritsugu where you will also learn how to use kitchenware and knives with sharpness like samurai swords and katanas.
Can’t get enough of the best things to do in Kyoto? Continue your journey to beautiful Osaka.
8. Wear A Kimono And Participate In A Traditional Tea Ceremony
We know one of the experiences you are looking forward to while in Japan is wearing the country’s traditional garb, the kimono. You’ll get your wish.
In this tour offered on Viator, you will receive a cultural introduction to Japan in a tea ceremony, and yes, while you are donned with a traditional kimono. During the ceremony, you will learn about Japanese history and sample matcha as well. One of the things to do in Kyoto that you should not miss.
9. Sip Some Matcha, Japan’s Very Own Tea
So you’ve had a tour of the temples, and the experiences of being a samurai and wearing a kimono. This time, here’s another that’s a not-to-miss on your things to do in Kyoto itinerary – sipping on matcha. If Costa Rica is to coffee, Japan – particularly Kyoto – is to matcha.
These fabled green teas in Kyoto are touted as some of the finest quality teas across Japan, and perhaps the world. You can get started by participating in traditional matcha ceremonies like you learned about earlier, or, head to Nishiki Market to buy matcha that you can bring home with you.
Some of the best teahouses in Kyoto for matcha are Gion Tsujiri, Saryo Tsujiri Kyoto Isetan, Nakamura Tokichi, and Saryo Suisen. And don’t forget to pair your matcha with wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets to counteract the bitterness of the tea.
10. Live The Magic Of Bamboo Trees At Arashiyama
It’s been copied in various parts of the world, but no bamboo paradise is as perfect as Arashiyama. This historic neighborhood in the west of Kyoto is most famous for its magical bamboo grove – where air is cool and the light takes on a bewitching green hue.
To get the most out of these things to do in Kyoto, arrive early in the morning, before Instagrammers flock to this place. Plus, you may also treat yourself to Shigetsu, the neighborhood’s restaurant where you can sample traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine that even meat-eaters will want to try.
Aside from this “things to do in Kyoto” guide, here’s another related story to read: Best Photography Spots In Tokyo
Seamless Enjoyment Of The Best Things To Do In Kyoto, Japan: Essential Travel Tips To Remember
Meanwhile, here are the most important travel tips you should remember for a seamless enjoyment of the best things to do in Kyoto.
- Schedule your trip to Kyoto on weekdays – Not only is Kyoto a hotspot for foreigners, but locals also are fond of taking weekend trips to escape the big cities. You’ll thank us later.
- Wake up early – Aside from the fact that the Japanese wake up early, you will also escape the huge crowds and groups as you enjoy the things to do in Kyoto.
- Have your Plan B – In particular, this tip will be helpful when entrance fees to the temples in Kyoto are too expensive for you. If they are, go for the lesser-known temples in this city that also provide the same experience.
- Try a traditional tea ceremony – That’s on our list of the best things to do in Kyoto above. If you will skip this, you are going to miss a lot. Believe us.
- Feel free to get lost – You’ll never know what you’ll stumble upon.
Konnichiwa! Explore Kyoto
Did you know that Kyoto served as the capital of Japan and the emperor’s home city from 794 until 1868? That’s a lot of years! Kyoto is one of Japan’s largest cities that isn’t afraid to show off its past without forgetting it still has its modern face.
Over the centuries, this Japanese city was destroyed by many wars and fires, but its beauty is its saving grace. Because of its exceptional historical value, Kyoto was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb during the Second World War. If it wasn’t, you might see the temples, shrines, and other priceless structures as they are today.
From its tranquil gardens whispering tales from centuries ago to its vibrant streets adorned with the colors of modernity, visiting Kyoto is a journey that transcends time. That’s our guide to the best things to do in Kyoto. ‘Til next time! Sayonara!