What to do in Kyoto
On our Hiking the Nakasendo Trail adventure, we explore the outskirts and “old town” of Kyoto, but the city has so much more to offer if you can arrive a few days before the trip. Kyoto is very large, and public transportation is efficient and relatively easy to use compared to the rest of Japan. That being said, exploring on foot is our favorite way to see a new destination! Keeping all of that in mind, it is definitely best to check with your hotel concierge as to the best means of transportation to get to any particular site of interest. We hope you enjoy your time in this bustling and diverse city!
For some of Japan’s best (and most unique) food finds, head to Nishiki Market. This narrow, crowded street covers five blocks of vendors, shops, and restaurants that specialize in everything one can imagine—including fresh meat and produce, cookware, sweets, fish, and prepared Kyoto specialities. Everything is local and the market has been operating since the early 14th century. The Nishiki Market street runs parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of Shijo Avenue and west of Teramachi Street.
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
Smaller than the crowded Kyoto National Museum, the Museum of Traditional Crafts is tucked below the Miyako Messe exhibition hall near the Heian Shrine. On display are crafts such as Kyoto pottery, Nishjin weaving, doll making, textile dyeing, and many others. Visit kmtc.jp/en to learn more.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The residence of the Imperial family until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Imperial Palace stands at the center of Kyoto Imperial Park. The Palace has stood on this site since the 12th century, but the current building dates from 1855, after the previous palace was destroyed by a fire. Tours in English are available.
For a selection of Japanese arts and performances, head to Gion Corner. Here you can purchase tickets for maiko dance, bunraku puppet theater, and others forms of traditional entertainment. Performances are daily at 6 and 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased directly at the ticket counter (no reservation necessary). Web: kyoto-gioncorner.com/global/en
Nanzen-Ji, Ginkaku-Ji, and Eikan-Do via the Philosopher’s Path
The Philosopher’s Path is an easy, 1 km walk along a cherry blossom-lined canal. It passes several temples and restaurants, including the popular Eikan-do Temple. Access the path by starting at one of the temples that book-end the walk—Ginkaku-ji or Nanzen-ji. All three temples have a small entrance fee.
Kiyomizudera, or “pure water temple,” is an 8th century Buddhist temple perched on a cliff overlooking Kyoto.It boasts a serene view from the wooden veranda, a three-story pagoda, and a shrine to the deity of love. You can also sip fresh spring water from the waterfall. A lovely 2 km stroll between here and the Yasaka Shrine takes you through Higashiyama, lined with shrines and small shops and cafes selling traditional food and wares.
Kyoto National Museum
One of four national museums in Japan, the Kyoto National Museum offers rotating exhibits of the permanent collection. Typically on view are exhibits dedicated to calligraphy, religious statues, ceramics, painting, and archaeology. Web: kyohaku.go.jp/eng
Kinkaku-ji, or the “Golden Pavilion,” is one of Japan’s best-known sites. Originally built in the 14th century as a retirement villa for the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it was converted to a Zen temple upon his death. A fanatic monk set fire to the temple in 1950, and the current structure was built in 1955. The pavilion is made of wood, and the top two floors are covered entirely in gold leaf.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
This popular walk travels through a towering bamboo grove, growing dense and otherworldly in the Arashiyama area. Photography enthusiasts may want to plan on early hours here, when the light is magical and the crowds are smaller. Arashiyama is a small town on the Oi River, known for its beautiful wooden bridge, Togetsu-kyo. Nearby you can also find Tenryu-ji Temple, one of the 14 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.