What to do in Kyoto

Activities, attractions and tours
Heian Shrine showing a temple or place of worship, religious elements and heritage architecture

Kyoto Attractions

Japan’s capital for over a thousand years, Kyoto is renowned as the country’s most beautiful city. And whilst it in no way matches many of Japan’s larger cities in scale, it more than makes up for it with the wealth of parks, temples and traditional Japanese heritage to be found in an around this ancient city. Which isn’t to say that it’s stuck in the past - far from it - Kyoto has also modernised enthusiastically, yet remained sympathetic to the fascinating traditional architectural and cultural roots that weave through its towering skyline.

Areas & Neighborhoods in Kyoto

Central — Dominated by Nijo Castle, central Kyoto is an absolute must for anyone looking to enjoy a dramatic taste of Japan’s feudal and imperial past. This huge estate, surrounded by stone walls and moats, features a central fortress and keep, a periphery of further defensive outbuildings, and yet further extensive gardens and grounds.

Arashiyama (Western Kyoto) — If you’re looking for a restful lakeside stop decorated by lilting tree-lined hills, then Arashiyama is the place for you. With a selection of small shops, restaurants and more situated close to the renowned Togetsukyo Bridge, you might find this beautiful spot particularly restful during the radiantly colourful cherry-blossom and autumn seasons.

Higashiyama (Eastern Kyoto) — This wonderfully preserved traditional Japanese district is a real treasure. Narrow lanes and wooden buildings house a huge selection of boutique-y shops and restaurants. Furthermore, with the geisha district of Gion and the famous Philosopher's Path nearby you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of old Japan.

North — Simply littered with shrines and temples dating back over centuries, North Kyoto boasts a number of World Heritage Sites, including Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. One of Kyoto’s most well-known sites, the upper floors of this spectacular Zen temple are completely covered in gold leaf.

Things to See in Kyoto

With its incredible wealth of World Heritage Sites - 17 in all - alongside four imperial palaces and villas, Kyoto demands real commitment and no small degree of planning if you want to see it all. Thankfully the city is organised perfectly for the many treasure hunters and amateur-archaeologists it welcomes every year, and its brilliantly organised public transport system and walking routes ensure you won’t miss a thing.

Things to Do in Kyoto

As well as its great spread of heritage that can be explored on foot, Kyoto offers quick and easy access to dramatic countryside where you can run through sweeping mountain forests, or take to the water on the boating lake of western Kyoto. Interestingly the city itself is also the home of traditional public baths known as sento, a custom dating back to the 13th century, and which remains a cornerstone of Japanese culture.

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