Kyoto is the tourism capital of Japan. It has countless spots to visit, but most people stick to visiting shrines and temples. This is a great idea, and frankly speaking, it is impossible not to see them. However, you shouldn’t do so without any plan. In that case it might get boring, especially for kids.
For that reason, this post will be helpful making temple/shrine hopping much more fun and interesting. Additionally, there are other, non-shrine and temple related types of activities.
1. Taking Pictures From The Stage of Kiyomizu
The scenery from Kiyomizu Stage at Kiyomizudera Temple is simply something every visitor needs to see when coming to Kyoto. A picture taken from here is proof of truly visiting Kyoto, since this temple represents the city.
2. Walk Blindfold Between Two Rocks At Jinushi Shrine
Inside Kiyomizudera Temple there is a shrine called Jinushi Shrine. When visiting this shrine, find two big rocks. People say that if you can walk from one rock to the other with your eyes closed, you will find a great companion in the near future.
3. Drink Sacred Water From Otowa no Taki
There is one more important thing to do in Kiyomizudera Temple. Under the Stage, there is a waterfall called Otowa no Taki. This waterfall branches off into three smaller falls. According to legend if you drink water from the waterfall your wish about study, love, or long life will come true. Choose the fall to match your wish (left to right when facing the waterfall).
4. Do Shopping & Snacking Around Kiyomizudera Temple
Near Kiyomizudera Temple, there are many small shops & restaurants. After visiting Kiyomizudera, enjoy shopping on the slopes leading towards the temple. It is busy and bustling but definitely fun to just to walk around.
5. Count Buddha Statues At Sanju Sangendo Temple
At Renge O-in Temple, better known as Sanju Sangendo Temple, there are countless numbers of Buddha statues. It might be fun to count them (to yourself, please). It is believed that you will find one statue who has a face of someone you want to see in real life. Note that taking photographs is strictly banned.
6. Climb The Staircases To The Rooftop Deck at Kyoto Station
Sightseeing in Kyoto (and Japan) requires a lot of walking. However, for those who want some additional exercise, there is a perfect place to explore. It’s Kyoto Station. From the Karasuma entrance (Kyoto Tower side), the long staircases proudly look down on every visitor. There are 171 steps from bottom to top. The rooftop is actually an observatory, and it is FREE.
7. Try To Capture The Gigantic Torii Gate At Heian Jingu Shrine In One Photo Frame
Heian Jingu Shrine has probably the biggest Torii gate in Japan. Here, the challenge is simple but not easy. Try taking a picture of the entire Torii gate in one frame. Some people try to do it in the middle of crosswalk, but this is pretty dangerous.
8. Try To Capture As Many Torii Gates As Possible In One Photo Frame At Fushimi Inari Shrine Without Any People
Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto. Their landmark is no doubt the numerous Torii gates. It is like a vivid, sacred tunnel. Since this place is busy, this challenge might involve some waiting time.
9. Count Torii Gates At Fushimi Inari Shrine
As mentioned above, Fushimi Inari holds a sea of Torii gates. And the number of gates is constantly growing. It’s definitely challenging to count them.
10. Rent A Yukata Or Kimono
Kyoto is the most traditional city in Japan, so the traditional clothes are more suitable than in any other city in Japan. There are many places where people can rent a Yukata or Kimono, but when considering accessibility, Kyoto Tower’s rental store might be the best as explained in “Large Kimono Rental Coming to Next to Kyoto Station“.
11. Walk Or Jog Along Kamogawa River
Kamogawa River is like a hidden treasure. Most guidebooks do not consider this to be a sightseeing spot. But as the author of this blog and Kyoto e-Guidebook, I strongly disagree. For more information on this beautiful & rustic river, read “Local Hot Spot 3: Kamogoawa River in Kyoto“. Personally, I think jogging is the best activity for this spot.
12. Walk Or Jog Around Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle is designated as a World Heritage Site. It has historical value, since it is the place where the Samurai era ended. After exploring inside the castle, take a walk around the castle outside the wall. It is 1.8 km (1.118 mile), and perfect for jogging or walking.
13. Walk Along Philosopher’s Path (Canal) From Ginkakuji To Heian Jingu Shrine
Philosopher’s Path becomes one of the busiest sightseeing spots in Kyoto during cherry blossom aka Sakura season. However, even without those petals, this little path along a stream (actually a canal) is worth visiting. It might take to two hours, but if you can handle the distance and time, after visiting Ginkakuji Temple set out for Heian Jingu along the Philosopher’s Path.
14. Try Sushi In Kyoto
Kyoto has many sushi restaurants. However, not all of them are great. Try one of these five affordable sushi restaurants listed in this article.
15. Try Tofu In Kyoto
Most Japanese people eat Tofu when they visit Kyoto. Some people hate Tofu, but the Tofu at Tofu restaurants is completely different from that at a supermarket. There are countless Tofu restaurants in Kyoto, but most are pretty high class. For those who are not sure about this healthy food, Togaden is the place to visit. It is popular among locals as well. And they have an English menu.
11：00 – 20:30
16. Take Pictures At Bamboo Alley In Arashiyama
Bamboo Alley in Arashiyama is one of the most picturesque spots in Kyoto. Even if taking pictures isn’t your hobby, it is tempting to pull out your smartphone and take some photographs. Additionally, the sound made by bamboo trees creates a serene & relaxing atmosphere.
17. Take Pictures Of Golden Pavilion Without Any People
Golden Pavilion at Rokuonji Temple (Kinkakuji) can not be missed. However because there is no access by subways, the bus to this spot is always busy. That’s why it is better to take the early bus. Since it opens at 9:00 AM, taking a bus at around 8:20 – 8:40 is the best thing one can do to avoid an uncomfortable bus ride. This will result in a fine view of the Golden Pavilion without a single person.
18. Throw Coins Into A Bowl At Kinkakuji
Looking at and taking pictures of the Golden Pavilion is not the only activity in Kinkakuji Temple. There is a corner where people throw coins into a bowl along the path. It is believed that successfully throwing a coin into the bowl might bring some luck.
19. Jog Or Walk Around Takaragike Pond
It is far away from the center of Kyoto City, but for those who love nature, Takaragaike Pond is an excellent spot to visit and walk around. Two minutes from Kokusai Kaikan station (subway Karasuama).
20. Hike Daimonji Mountain
There are several spots where people can enjoy hiking in Kyoto. Daimonji Mountain, officially known as Nyoigatake is one of them. This mountain is famous because it is one of the Gozan Okuribi spots. For more information on this event, read “Kyoto’s Summer Tradition – Okuribi Bonfire“. The picture below is taken at Nyoigadake mountain.
For those who are interested in hiking at Daimonji Mountain, be sure to read “Hiking in Kyoto – Daimonji Mountatin” beforehand.
21. Hike Kurama/Kibune Area
Although it is less accessible than Nyoigatake or Daimonjiyama (see No. 20), this hike is quite popular. The main hall of Kuramadera Temple is thought to be one of the sacred spots in Kyoto, where visitors will be surrounded by mystical energy. Read “Hiking in Kyoto : Kurama & Kibune Area” and be prepared.
22. Wish For Romantic Relationship In Shimogamo Shrine
More accurately, wish for romantic relationship at Aioi no Yashiro in Shimogamo Shrine. There is a certain way to make your wish here. Since this is a very important wish, read “3 Shrines for Praying for a Mate” and do it correctly.
23. Try Sightseeing Without Any Transportation Methods For A Day
It might sound impossible, but it is possible. The key is stick to one area, like Kyoto Station Area.
24. Visit Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is sometime called the kitchen of Kyoto, where locals and professional chefs visit for the quality food. However, some parts of the market became touristy and is a great place to feel the local atmosphere. Read “Nishiki Market” Page and enjoy exploring the area. Since it is a market, visit before noon at the latest before all the good food is gone.
25. Have Fun At Toei Movie Studio
For those who want to BE or dress up like a Samurai or Ninja after visiting several temples, this is the best place to visit. There are many Ninja/Samurai themed attractions and shows (for example, this). Check out their official website for times and fees.
26. Visit Kyoto Zoo
For those who travel with kids, this is a fantastic place to visit. It is located next to Heian Jingu Shrine and two big museums, so it makes perfect sense to spend a whole day in this area. For detailed information, read “Local Hot Spot: Kyoto Zoo“.
27. Visit Kyoto Botanical Garden
Kyoto’s Botanical Garden is the perfect place to walk around. There are about 120,000 plants in 60 acres (24 hectares). Read “Local Hot Spot 2: Kyoto Botanical Garden“.
28. Visit Kyoto Aquarium
This place is very popular among locals, so be sure to visit early in the morning (they open at 10 AM). They have some unique food selections such as a chicken burger featuring local spring onions and sea creature shaped breads. The dolphin show is also fun. Check out “Idea 3 of Traveling with Kids“.
29. Visit Kyoto Railway Museum
Kyoto Railway Museum opened in April 2016 near the Kyoto Aquarium in Umekoji Park. Japan has the best train systems in the world, and this museum boasts 53 different trains including the Shinkansen Type 500 which reached 300 kph (186 mph) for the first time in Japan in 1996. In addition, there is a steam locomotive that visitors can ride for 300 yen (100 yen for kids).
30. Watch Sunset At Kyoto Tower
From the observatory of Kyoto Tower you can get a 360 degree view of Kyoto City. Check out the sunset view.
31. Learn About Kyoto At Museum Of Kyoto
Searching information online is easy, but why not learn from actually looking at culturally & historically valuable objects at Museum of Kyoto?
32. Enjoy Illumination Events
Kyoto has many illumination events especially in the spring and fall. Be sure to check “Kyoto Illumination Event Calender” beforehand.
33. Touch big Peach at Seimei Shrine
Seimei Shrine, which was built to honor the great Onmyoji `ying yan master` Abe no Seimei, is one of the most unique shrines in Kyoto. Touching the big peach here is believed to make bad luck go away.
34. Take A Picture of Byodo-in Temple with 10 Yen Coin
First take a look at the 10 Japanese yen coin. There is a temple drawn on one side. That’s Byodo-in Temple. It used to be a villa of a highest ranking court noble, Michinaga Fujiwara, but it was turned into a temple by his son, Yorimichi. Take a picture of the coin and the actual temple in one frame.
35. Visit As Many World Heritage Sites As Possible
There are 17 World Heritage Sites in and around Kyoto City. To see them all is quite challenging, but try to visit as many as possible. Note that one of sites, Saihoji Temple, also known as Moss Temple, requires a reservation. For more information, be sure to read “17 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto” Page.
36. Use Just Subways Without A Bus Ride
It is no wonder that everybody wants to ride the city bus because of its famous 500 yen one day pass. However, for one day try sticking to the subways. This will actually kill the stress of waiting for the bus, especially when it is very hot or cold, and the bus gets crowded & uncomfortable. Reading “How to Use Subways in Kyoto Wisely” will be helpful.
37. Find 5 Different Statues
Since Kyoto is the most historical valuable city in Japan, there are many statues related to its history. Try to find at least five of them.
38. Buy A Set of Postcards And Find The Spot in Each Postcard
Every gift shop and even convenience stores have several sets of postcards. Buy one, but try not to look at the pictures. Then open the box, and go take the exact same pictures. For this challenge, it’s a good idea to get the postcards as soon as you arrive in Kyoto.
39. Try Matcha Flavored Ice Cream
Kyoto is located near Uji City, where high quality green tea leaves are grown. This means there are many places serving green tea and Matchas. Understandably, that some people do not like the bitterness of these drinks. So what about eating Matcha flavored ice cream or shaved ice? “4 Great Cold Sweet Spots in Kyoto” will be helpful to find a good place that serves this kind of food.
40. Ride A Rickshaw in Arashiyama
Jinrikisha or Rickshaw is possibly the simplest form of guided tour. The drivers are well-trained and know how to help visitors have fun. Arashiyama is one of the best places to try it. It is easy to find the Rickshaws in front of Saga Arashiyama Station (JR Line).
41. Spend A Day Without Visiting Any Temples & Shrines
Try this one without any hints!
42. Use Just Randen Tram For A Day
Keifuku Line, better known as Randen, is a tram that connects the center of the city (Shijo Omiya) to Arashiyama and Kitano Hakubaicho (near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine). There are many spots in between, and luckily there is a one day pass (500 yen/adult, 300 yen/child). This pass can be purchased at Shijo Omiya station, Katabiranotsuji station, Kitano Hakubaicho station and Arashiayama station and also at some hotels such as Hotel Keihan Kyoto and Hotel Nikko Kyoto. For more information, read “Use Randen And Visit Many Spots In One Day“.
43. Explore Kyoto Station’s Underground (PORTA)
There is a big underground area called PORTA in Kyoto. For those who want to kill time near Kyoto Station for an hour or so, this is the perfect place to explore. There is a good selection of restaurants as well.
44. Make A Wish At A Shrine Correctly
There are literally hundreds of shrines in Kyoto. Therefore it’s wise to learn how to pray or make a wish at shrines in advance.
45. Take A Picture of An Astonishing View At Katsuragawa River & Arashiyama
There is a secret spot where an astonishing view of Arashiyama can be seen. Take Hankyu Arashiyama Line and get off at Matsuo Taisha station. Cross the Katsuragawa river and turn around.
46. Shopping Arcades
Explore at least one shopping arcade. Kyoto has several. For those who want as many stores as possible, Teramachi & Shinkyogoku arcades are the best choice. However for those looking for a more local atmosphere, try Sanjokai arcade.
47. Visit 10 Different Spots A Day
It will be hectic and require careful planing, but its possible to have a lot of fun. To count a spot, take a couple of pictures, learn a little bit about the site and stay there at least 15 minutes.
48. Use Hop on-off Bus & Enjoy Stress-free Sightseeing For A Day in Kyoto
For those who prefer stress-free sightseeing trip, the Hop on-off bus called K Loop is the best option. Read “Kyoto Hop On Hop Off Bus Report” as a reference.
49. Walk Between Kiyomizudera Temple & Yasaka Shrine
This is the golden walking route. Here, Kiyomizudera Temple, Sannnezaka Slope, Kodaiji Temple, Maruayama Park and Yasaka Shrine can be visited. Check out “Kiyomizu Area” Page for more information.
50. Find a Roman Style Aqueduct in Nanzenji Temple
There is a roman style aqueduct in Nanzenji Temple. The temple and an aqueduct don’t seem to match. However, the rustic looking of the aqueduct is perfectly blended in the atmosphere.
51. Before Leaving Kyoto, Visit Higashi Honganji Temple To Pray For A Safe Trip Home
For those who will go home or go somewhere else in Japan from Kyoto Station, take 30 to 45 minutes for a short trip before taking that train. Visit Higashi Honganji Temple and pray for a safe trip.
Or if you rather want to read the guidebook on your Kindle e-book reader or application, then get our Kyoto e-Guidebook on Amazon instead.