Kyoto is one of the more traditional cities in Japan. It’s only two short hours from Tokyo when traveling by the bullet train and more than worth visiting to soak up the beautiful culture Japan has to offer. There are lots of shrines to visit, temples to see and places to explore.
If you want to see a breakdown of what we did in our four days in Kyoto, please check out the entire itinerary of the full trip here and for finding out how much money we spent on our trip, check out the Is Japan Expensive post for a full breakdown of our spending. If you’re in a rush, you can check out this two day Kyoto itinerary. For now though, here are seven things you cannot miss in Kyoto!
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is probably one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto, mostly known for its thousands of torii gates. Through the gates, you can walk a trail up Mount Inari. During the walk, you can see hundreds of gates, statues, and little shrines. The hike to the summit takes about 2 hours while walking down only takes about 30 minutes.
How to get there? Fushimi Inari is easily accessible via the train from Kyoto Station. Take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station and within 5 minutes you arrive at Inari Station. The entrance of the shrine is literally right outside the station. (Always double check your train stops at Inari, only the local train stops here!)
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882
When to go? Fushimi Inari is open 24/7 but is very popular with tourist (which is understandable, it was my favourite shrine we saw in Japan). This means it can get very crowded, which kinda ruins the experience. Try to go as early as possible! I’m talking 6-7 AM. We got there for 7:30 AM and there were a few people there already, but it was quiet enough to take some good photos and enjoy a quiet and peaceful hike up the mountain. When we descended the mountain at around 10-11 AM, it was so crowded! People were literally walking through the torii gates in a queue, moving up slowly. I’m super glad we went early and avoided that crowd!
How much does it cost? It’s free to go to the shrine and hike up the mountain. There are some souvenirs and snacks you can buy on the way up, and you can use your loose change to pray at the shrine.
Check out this blog post for more things to do in Kyoto that won’t break the bank!
Iwatayama Monkey Park
How to get there? Iwatayama Monkey Park is located in the western part of Kyoto called Arashiyama. Arashiyama is quite touristy but you can find some great souvenirs and foods to try! I really enjoyed the more traditional vibes this part of Kyoto has, compared to the busy metropolitan side in the city centre. The Monkey Park is located on top of a little hill which you can reach after a 10-minute hike. At the summit, you can walk through the park where the monkeys roam around freely. Plus the view is stunning!
How to get there? From Kyoto Station, you get on the Sagano Line to JR Saga-Arashiyama station. From there it’s about a 15-minute walk to get to the monkey park.
8 Genrokuyamacho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 616-0022, Kyoto Prefecture
When to go? Because Arashiyama is quite a track from Kyoto station, I’d recommend combining the monkey park with the Bamboo Grove, which is also located in Arashiyama (more on that later!)
How much does it cost? To enter the park it costs 550 yen per person. You can also buy some bananas, apples or peanuts to feed the monkeys for 100 yen per bag.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
If you’re planning for a trip to Kyoto, you most likely have come across the Bamboo Grove already. It’s one of the most photographed places in Kyoto, and not without reason. Walking through the grove is something very unique and special. It was a little smaller than I expected at first because I’d seen so many photographs of it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it immensely!
How to get there? From Kyoto Station, you get on the Sagano Line to JR Saga-Arashiyama station. From JR Saga-Arashiyama it’s about 10 minutes by foot to get to the Bamboo Grove. If you want to combine it with the Monkey Park, it’s 10-15 minute walk by foot from there.
When to go? As mentioned before, I’d recommend combining the Bamboo Grove with the Monkey Park because it’s
How much does it cost? The Bamboo Grove is completely free.
Higashiyama and Gion
Higashiyama and Gion are both part of the best preserved historic districts in Kyoto. The streets are filled with little shops and cafes, which are really fun to explore. It can get a little bit crowded with tourists, but it’s 100% worth a visit. It really gives you that traditional Japan vibe!
We started our walk through the districts from Kiyomizu-Dera temple in Higashiyama, continued our walk through the main Higashiyama district to the Kodaji temple. From there we walked to Kenninji temple and followed the track to the beautiful Gion district. Gion used to be one of the most famous Geisha districts. You might have heard about it from the novel Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki (one of my all-time favourite books).
How to get there? There are tons of subway stations near Higashiyama and Gion, so depending on where you want to start your exploring you can pick the right station. All of which can be easily accessed via Kyoto Station.
When to go? Because it’s another popular touristy place to visit, you should visit the earlier the better. Of course, you can only go to many places in the morning. We spent half a day in the afternoon visiting the two districts and it was more than enough time. I’d definitely recommend planning at least half a day for both though, you wouldn’t want to rush it!
How much does it cost? Both districts are completely free to visit. Some of the shrines do charge a small fee to visit them. Also, make sure to bring some cash to try some of the street foods and get some special souvenirs.
Hire a real Kimono
If you’re like me, wearing a real kimono in Japan sounds like the ultimate dream. Luckily, it’s very common to rent a kimono for a day (or a couple of hours). We saw it all over Japan, but it was especially popular in Kyoto.
Renting a kimono for a day can cost anything as cheap as 1900 yen (£13 / €15). We rented two kimonos for around 5000 yen (£34 / €38) and we could return them anytime that same day. I think it’s a very reasonable price, considering how great the experience is and how expensive kimonos are if you want to buy one. We rented ours from a place called Yumeyakata and is located just outside of Gion. I personally had a really lovely experience there. There were lots of gorgeous kimonos to choose from. I had someone help me to pick the right colour obi for the kimono I chose. The lady who dressed me as incredibly friendly and when we returned the kimono they made sure the same person helped you undress. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Would 100% recommend this place as they’re very good and affordable.
If you’re worried about offending Japanese people by wearing their traditional clothing, don’t worry. There’s a ton of tourist doing it and when we were walking around in the kimono we got a lot of lovely comments from natives. I did some research myself on this topic before we decided to book it because offending people is the last thing you want to do on holiday. But almost every forum or website I found that discussed the issue said that most Japanese people don’t mind it or even like the fact that tourists want to engage in their culture so much.
For my fellow Nintendo fans, it might be interesting to know that the Nintendo HQ is located in Kyoto. It isn’t a very touristy place. It’s literally where the magic happens (where people who work at Nintendo, you know, do their job). We decided to quickly go have a look, cause our hotel was quite close to it.
How to get there? From Kyoto Central, you can get the Kintetsu Kyoto Line to Jujo station, which takes about three minutes. From there it’s a five-minute walk to get to the HQ.
Nintendo Company, Ltd., 11-1 Kamitoba-Hokotate-cho, Minami-Ku, Kyoto 601-8501
When to go? Because it is literally just a workplace for people who work at Nintendo, please be polite and don’t hang around too long.
Kinkaku-Ji – Golden Palace
Kinkaku-Ji, also known as The Golden Palace, is one of the most popular Buddist temples in Japan. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf, making it such a gorgeous temple to look at. It also helps that it’s located in a beautiful garden! It’s a must-see for first-time visitors of Kyoto!
How to get there? It’s quite a track to get to Kinkaku-Ji, but definitely worth it. From Kyoto station, take the JR Sagano Line for Sagano to Uzumasa station. This will take you 13 minutes. From there, walk to Satsueisho-Mae station, which is about 5 minutes by foot. From Satsueisho-Mae, get onto the Randen Kitano Line for Kitanohakubaicho. Get off at the last station. From there, you can walk to Kinkaku-Ji in 20 minutes.
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361
When to go? Because Kinkaku-Ji is such a popular place for tourists, I don’t think it really matters what time or what day you go. It’s going to be busy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good view/some good pictures of the temple. The temple is open for visits between 9 AM and 5 PM, every day.
How much does it cost? It costs 400 yen per adult to visit the temple.
Where to stay in Kyoto, Japan?
We spent three nights and four days in Kyoto. Because Fushimi Inari Taisha was the one thing I really wanted to see, we picked a hotel close to it. This is why we decided to stay in the Urban Hotel Kyoto. It was very affordable and within 5 minutes from the nearest train station. There was a lovely bakery next door, where we had our breakfast every day for less than 300yen each. Across the road are a Family Mart and a really cool (and cheap) retro gaming shop.
When staying in Kyoto, make sure to remember they started charging Tourist Tax since October 2018. This is not included in the price of the room and has to be paid at arrival.
Kyoto was such a lovely place to visit and I’d love to go back sometime. My
What would you like to see in Kyoto?
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Find more awesome Kyoto tips in this Kyoto Travel Guide.