It was once Japan's capital. Though it no longer holds this title, Kyoto continues to be an incredible place to visit. There are so many Kyoto attractions that you won't want to miss, from ancient temples to traditional tea houses as well as more modern landmarks.
With our guide to Kyoto tourist attractions, you'll see the very best of Japan's cultural centre.
See the top 10 things to do in Kyoto below:
Known as the Golden Temple or the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji is one of the best attractions Kyoto has to offer. It's spectacular in every season, sitting on the water's edge being lit by the summer sun or covered in a blanket of snow.
Understandably, this eye-catching building has become a top tourist attraction. It was originally constructed in the 14th century and is now open daily as one of Japan's most famous temples. During your visit, stroll around the gardens, which provide the perfect photo opportunity.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is a place of religious worship. This Shinto shrine is surrounded by woodland, with Mount Inari in its grounds. If you're looking for somewhere peaceful and calming, there's no better place to spend your time.
Visitors to the Fushimi Inari Shrine will notice the many fox statues. These represent the fox messengers of Inari, the Shinto god of rice. You'll find these statues as you walk the mountain trails, which can take roughly three hours in total. There are restaurants along the trails themselves, providing many spots for refreshments, and halfway up the mountain there are viewing points that provide a place to rest and relax.
The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's one of Kyoto's most famous temples, with panoramic views of the city. Many people visit the Otowa no Taki Waterfall, located within temple grounds. It's said that if you drink the fresh water from Otowa no Taki, you're drinking to good health and romance.
Stalls within temple grounds sell a vast array of handicrafts and treats. Meanwhile, the Zuigu-dō hall plunges you into total darkness and is a must-do experience. You might also want to make a wish at the statue outside the main gate, making an offering and spinning the statue's head in the hope that your wish will come true.
Higashiyama is a historic district and a good spot for shopping in Kyoto. If you're wondering what to do in Kyoto, you should make a point of visiting this area. Narrow streets are lined with traditional shops where souvenirs and crafts can be bought. There are many restaurants and places to eat, where you can sit and watch the world go by.
If you're visiting in March, Higashiyama lights up with lanterns and illuminations. If you can't make it in March, any other month is still an amazing time to visit.
One of Kyoto's most incredible sights, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is almost an escape from reality. This is one of the best activities in Kyoto, as the towering bamboo only lets through thin streaks of sunlight. This atmospheric destination is somewhere that you just have to see for yourself. It's impossible to put into words how you'll feel when you stand in its centre.
Signs will guide you along the best route through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, though you're very welcome to explore on your own and spend hours simply walking around. See many shrines and temples as you walk around the forest, and listen to the sound of the wind as it rustles the bamboo all around you.
One of the top attractions Kyoto has to offer is Gion, a famous geisha district.
Japanese geisha are female entertainers that sing and dance in traditional clothing. In Gion, you'll find tea houses, shops and restaurants with geisha entertainers. If you're looking to experience authentic Japan, there are few better places than here.
Narrow wooden buildings line the streets, and a willow-lined canal passes through. Attend a traditional tea ceremony, widely considered one of the top activities in Kyoto for tourists.
For peace and relaxation, you will not want to miss the tranquillity of Kurama Onsen. This is one of the best things to do in Kyoto, with an open-air bath and sulphur hot spring that's open every day of the year.
During your visit, you'll relax in a hot tub with the forest and mountains around you. You can visit during daylight and listen to nearby birdsong, or sit back and relax in silence with the gentle glow of the moon.
The Imperial Palace was the original home of the Japanese Emperor. Though the Japanese Imperial Family have since made the move to Tokyo, the palace itself remains a visitor highlight. Now, the palace and grounds are completely open to the public. You can walk through the grounds on your own, or join a guided tour of the buildings.
If you're visiting Japan in cherry blossom season, there's no better place to see them in Kyoto than at Maruyama Park. Beautifully maintained and very atmospheric, this public park is a top spot in Kyoto. Highlights include the weeping cherry tree that stands at the park's centre, which is lit at night and glows against the dark sky.
Visitors also flock to Maruyama Park for the New Year's celebrations. Far more than just an open space, this is a leading tourist attraction. As you walk around, you'll see a vast array of Japanese wildlife, with orange and gold foliage that create the perfect scene through the autumn seasons.
See the best of Japanese architecture at the Katsura Imperial Villa. It is a beautiful building in landscaped grounds, only accessible through a guided tour.
As you walk through the grounds, there are designated spots where you can stop to take photographs. Between these, simply take in the sights including tea houses and floral landscapes. Since it's only open to tour groups, the Katsura Imperial Villa grounds remain very calming and peaceful.
Before you travel, take time to visit our Japan travel content hub. We've got so much information to help you on your trip, including the best places to stay in Kyoto and flight guides.
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