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Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is now the cultural capital of Japan. The city is renowned for preserving traditional Japanese culture. It is popularly known for its temples, shrines, gardens, palaces and traditional wooden houses. Unlike any other city, you will find temples almost everywhere in Kyoto.
If you have heard of Geishas and their tea ceremonies, this is where you will spot them in the traditional kimonos and makeup. Kyoto has so much more in store for you and it is a beautiful city to visit. If you really want to get a feel of Japanese culture and its people, do not think twice, Kyoto is where you need to be! You will find an exhaustive list of things to do in Kyoto and will find it difficult to pick and choose, especially if you have limited time. Here is our list of top 16 unforgettable things to do while in Kyoto.
Take a Stroll Through the Torii Gates to Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is without a doubt a mandatory attraction to visit in Kyoto. We guarantee that you will not find anything similar to this location anywhere else. You will be mesmerized by the immense number of Torii Gates that lead you to the Fushimi Inari Shrine at the end of the walkway. The Torii Gates are orange in color and they form the pathway to the mountains through the forest. These gates are actually donated by both individuals and companies and if you look closer you will see their names and date of donation written on each of them.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is devoted to the 'Shinto God of Rice'. On your way, you will come across many smaller shrines including fox statues. These foxes have been considered as messengers to Inari, the Shinto God. You will enter the Shrine from 'Romon Gate', its main gate.
After walking for about 30 minutes, you will arrive at the Yotsutsuji Intersection halfway up the mountain. This is where you could enjoy spectacular views of the city of Kyoto from high up the mountain. Altogether, it will take you approximately 2-3 hours to reach the summit and to return back. You can also taste some local dishes at some of the local restaurants along the way.
Visit the Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is also worth a visit when in Kyoto whether you are in for some shopping or not. A five minute walk from the Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line will take you to the market.
You will find everything here from fresh seafood, dried seafood to sushi and local sweets. The market sells handmade crafts and textiles too. The shopping street is full of restaurants and Nishiki Market is also popularly recognized as 'Kyoto's Kitchen'.
If you are a food lover you will thoroughly enjoy your visit to the Nishiki Market and more than anything you will love its atmosphere. You will even get to taste samples of the dishes served at the various shops and restaurants here and there. Do not forget to taste some dumplings, roasted tea and pickles, but make sure not to eat while walking as it is not acceptable.
Pay a Visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace
A short drive from the Kyoto Station along the Karasuma Subway Line will get you to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. This palace was once the original residence of the Imperial Family of Japan, before relocating to Tokyo. You can explore the palace grounds in the Kyoto Imperial Park, but you cannot enter any of the buildings within the premises.
In the southwestern corner of the park, you will find the Kaninnomiya Mansion which was once used by court nobles and the Itsukushima Shrine. You can take a stroll through the gravel paths exploring the surroundings of the palace.
Explore the Various Artifacts at the Kyoto National Museum
A 25-minute walk from the Kyoto Station will take you to the Kyoto National Museum. Opened in 1897, the museum is a top class museum inline with the Tokyo National Museum.
It houses a variety of artifacts from calligraphy, paintings to costumes, sculptures and relics. The permanent collection of the museum is housed in the galleries of Heisei Chishinkan, a beautifully designed building by the architect Taniguchi Yoshio. Temporary exhibitions are also held at the museum.
Make a Visit to the Kyoto International Manga Museum
Japan is famous for its Manga and this is where you can explore everything about them. This will be a unique experience for you and if you are traveling with kids they will equally enjoy time spent at the Manga Museum. If you are a Pokemon fan or a Dragonball Z fan, you will love this place for sure. Not only these Manga, you will find a number of popular Manga and the good thing about this place is that you will get to browse through them and even get to learn about its history and influence. You will have the luxury to see the Manga being drawn by the Manga artists as well as to get your own portrait done by them. How cool is that?
Enjoy the Hot Springs at Kurama
This is the perfect spot to relax and to enjoy the hot springs. Kurama is a town popularly known for its hot springs and the temple Kurama-dera. Approximately 20 km away from the center of the city of Kyoto, you will find this town.
A hot spring bath can be enjoyed at Kurama Onsen, a ryokan (a Japanese styled inn) which offers baths for visitors for a fee, while the inhouse guests are allowed to bathe free of charge. The most popular attraction in Kurama is its temple Kurama-dera. Kurama-dera is a Buddhist temple and in approximately 45 minutes from the town you will reach the temple premises. If you are not someone who is in for a hike, you can take a cable car ride halfway up the mountain.
At the temple grounds you can explore the Yuki Jinja Shrine, which is popular for the Fire Festival. After exploring the Shrine, you can further go on a hike to Kibune, a small town in the neighborhood if you are up for some adventure. The hike will go on for approximately an hour and you will have to watch your step as the pathway gets steeper sometimes. If you are lucky you will be able to spot the animal species in the surroundings including monkeys, deer and birds.
Appreciate the Architectural Details of Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple
It is a must to visit Kinkaku-ji while in Kyoto. Kinkaku-ji, unlike other temples, is a temple where its top two floors are covered in gold leaf.
It is a Zen temple and was built as a villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu to spend his retirement. It is a picturesque sight with the stunning temple overlooking a pond and it is insta-worthy. The golden pavilion is also something for you to appreciate and the calm surroundings will soothe you without a doubt.
Make sure to appreciate the ornate architectural details of the building and its structure. You will see that the architectural styles are varied across the different floors. The first floor follows the Shinden style, second floor the Bukke style and the third floor follows a Chinese Zen Hall style. A golden phoenix sits on top of the third floor.
In the first floor you will find statues of Shaka Buddha as well as statues of Yoshimitsu. The front windows of the first floor are always kept open for visitors to view the statues as visitors are not allowed to enter the pavilion.
Explore the Ginkaku-ji Temple, the Silver Pavilion
Ginkaku-ji is yet another temple in Kyoto to be explored and appreciated. Despite the name Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji Temple is not covered in silver leaf. It is also a Zen temple built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu as his retirement villa replicating his grandfather's retirement villa.
Picture wise both temples Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji are very much alike. However, Ginkaku-ji temple houses a moss garden and a sand garden. The sand garden also known as the 'Sea of Silver Sand' features the 'Moon viewing Platform', a large sand cone, while the moss garden features bridges, ponds and islands. If you go uphill through the pathway behind the buildings, you will be treated with panoramic views of the temple and its surroundings.
Pay a Visit to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple
A visit to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, should not be missed at any cost while vacationing in Kyoto.
The temple also known as the 'Pure Water Temple' is located on top of a hill with cherry blossom trees surrounding it. You will find the Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the God of Love. It is believed that you can find true love if you can successfully walk between two stones while your eyes are closed in front of the Jishu Shrine. If you need someone to guide you to walk between the stones, it is said that you will require support from a third party in your love life.
The Otowa waterfall close by the shrine divides water into three streams that symbolize love, longevity and success. It is also believed that if you drink from a stream you will have good fortune, but if you drink from all three you are considered greedy.
The temple is also recognized for its wooden terrace. Visitors are treated with breathtaking views from the terrace of the cherry blossom trees and the maple trees.
Take a Stroll Through the Gion District
Gion District is the ideal place to get a feel of what Kyoto is all about. It is the entertainment district of Kyoto and you will not run out of activities to do in Gion.
You will be able to witness performances, including kabuki shows at the Minamiza Theater. Kabuki shows feature dancing performances. You will also find numerous cafes for you to grab a snack on the way through the street lined with cherry blossom trees. An interesting activity you get to do is the writing of dreams to keep on the Yasui Konpira-gu Shrine's stone. You can also spot a Geisha in this district.
Take Part in a Tea Ceremony
Taking part in a traditional tea ceremony will give you a unique, one-of-a-kind experience without a doubt. So, it is a must to participate in the ceremony to get a feel of how the tea ceremony is performed.
Tea ceremonies are widely held in Japan and Kyoto is no exception. Also known as 'sado' or 'chado' is part and parcel of Japanese culture. You will get to witness how the cup of tea is prepared and you will be amazed to see how carefully it is presented. The ceremony celebrates the tea as well as the company of others and the utensils used to prepare the cup of tea. It is an art of making tea and you will simply love watching the whole presentation.
Take the Philosopher's Path for Some Relaxation
If you want to escape from the busy city areas for a while this is the perfect place for you to be. Taking a stroll through the Philosopher's Path will soothe your mind and body as you get to walk along a cherry blossom tree lined pathway.
This 2 kilometer long pathway connects the two temples Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. This walkway was named after the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, where he used to walk daily for meditation. This place also offers perfect meditation spots for visitors too.
Pay a Visit to Nanzen-ji Temple
If you are planning to take a stroll along the Philosopher's Path, make sure to visit Nanzen-ji Temple, which is located at the end of the walkway.
It is also a Zen temple and offers a lot of green shady places within the premises of the temple. As it is free to explore its grounds, feel free to explore the Sanmon gate at the entrance and the aqueduct made of bricks belonging to the Meiji period.
You can continue uphill to see the Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in Shrine from here where you will also find a waterfall. You will also come across a bamboo grove, a pond and a rock garden inside the premises of Tenjuan, a sub temple of the main temple.
Learn How to Cook the Japanese Way at a Japanese Cooking Class
This is a cool and interesting thing to do in Kyoto. If you are keen on learning about Japanese cuisine, this is something that you can consider doing apart from traveling.
You could watch and learn the art of Japanese cooking by taking a cooking class. The cooking classes will be held in smaller groups and the good thing about them is that you can ask and learn according to your preferences.
Witness the Spring Dances of Geishas
This is something you need to witness while in Kyoto. Geishas are very popular and they are highly skilled entertainers of traditional Japanese art and culture.
It is totally worth it to witness a performance of a Geisha where they dance, sing and even play instruments to entertain the crowds. You will love all the details of their colorful clothing and accessories. It is important to keep in mind not to take photographs while the Geishas are performing at the traditional dances.
Dine at Pontocho
If you are the ultimate food lover, you should dine at Pontocho. Pontocho is an alley with a large number of restaurants that offer traditional, modern Japanese cuisine and English cuisine.
Some of the restaurants overlook the Kamogawa River, enabling visitors to enjoy the atmosphere around them while dining.You can choose the type of cuisine you like to try and dine accordingly from the large number of restaurants available.
Whether you like to go for fine dining or to go for a low budget snack you are encouraged to do both. We suggest you keep walking along the alley until you are satisfied with the restaurant you are about to dine at. If you select a restaurant beside the Kamogawa River you will not feel the heat due to the cool breeze that sweeps across the area. Your dining experience at Pontocho will be a memorable one for sure.
Kyoto is a breathtaking city that reflects and restores the traditional culture of Japan. If you really want to get a feel of Japanese culture and traditions, Kyoto is the ideal place to be. When in Kyoto, make sure to witness a Spring Dance of Geisha, stroll through the massive Torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, visit Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji Temples, Kiyomizu-dera Temple which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and to take part in a tea ceremony to leave Kyoto without regrets.
This city is worthy of making your stay an unforgettable one without a doubt. We hope the article was useful to help you plan your holiday in Kyoto and if you found it interesting, please don't hesitate to share it with your friends.
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