12 Reasons Why You Need to Visit Kyoto at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Hanamikoji Street in the Gion District
Hanamikoji Street in the Gion District | © hans-johnson / Flickr
Christine Bagarino

There are many cities in Japan in which you could steep in the country’s vibrant culture, but no place offers a greater concentration of history and tradition than the ancient capital city of Kyoto. It’s absolutely worth a visit — even if you only have 48 hours to spare — and frequently tops the list of must-visit destinations for travelers around the world. Here are 12 reasons why Kyoto is the destination of a lifetime.

Loved by over 40s

1. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including three located in the nearby cities of Uji and Otsu, known as the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

The historic Heian Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

2. The cherry blossoms

If you can go only one place in Japan to see the cherry blossoms, make it Kyoto, the city that inspired the term hanami, or flower viewing party.

Riverside cherry blossoms in Kyoto

3. Centuries-old festivals

Kyoto is home to three major festivals that number among the oldest in the world. The Aoi Matsuri, which takes place every May, is a procession between two important Shinto shrines. The Gion Matsuri is a month-long summer festival that takes place in July and features massive parade floats. The newest of the three festivals is the century-old Jidai Matsuri (“Festival of the Ages”), which takes place in October and focuses on historical reenactment.

Gion Matsuri float

4. Trying a kimono experience

Nothing could make you feel more like you stepped out of a traditional ukiyo-e print than donning a kimono and strolling the streets of Kyoto. You might even be mistaken for a geiko, one of Kyoto’s local geisha.

Strolling through Kyoto

5. Staying at a traditional ryokan inn

Experience the world-famous Japanese hospitality known as omotenashi at some of the best ryokan in all of Japan, which range from the budget to the very high-end.

Hiiragiya Ryokan, Kyoto

6. The 10,000 gates of Fushimi Inari

Kyoto offers plenty of stunning landmarks, but the sight of the 10,000 orange torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine is one for a lifetime. If you have time, you can hike all the way to the summit of Mt. Inari.

Torii gates of Fushimi Inari

7. Amazing vegan eats

Japan is not a particularly vegan or vegetarian-friendly country, but non-meat eaters rejoice — there are plenty of fantastic options in Kyoto, from dishes like yuba, silken tofu skin, to shojin ryori, the traditional Buddhist temple meal.

The traditional temple meal, shojin ryori

8. Geisha encounters

If you’ve always wanted to see a real, live geisha — or geiko, as Kyoto geisha are known — and their maiko apprentices, then the streets around the Gion district of Kyoto is just the place for it. While the geiko and maiko are usually too busy to stop for a photo, if you visit in April during the Miyako Odori festival, you can enjoy a public performance.

The maiko Tomitsuyu at Eishoin Temple

9. The autumn foliage

Second only, perhaps, to the falling cherry blossom petals in the springtime is the vision of Kyoto’s golden autumn foliage in all of its glory.

Kyoto fall colors

10. World-class Michelin star dining

After Tokyo, Kyoto has the second-most Michelin stars of any city in the world. This includes not only Japan’s traditional haute cuisine, known as kaiseki ryori, but an impressive number of restaurants focused on modern and international cuisines.

Michelin three-star restaurant Chihana in Kyoto

11. Swaying bamboo forests

Find inner peace strolling between tall bamboo stalks as they move gently in the breeze at one of Kyoto’s tranquil bamboo groves.

Bamboo forest, Kyoto

12. Japanese sweets

Kyoto is famous for its parfaits made with Uji matcha, a premium brand of matcha green tea, along with green-tea flavored wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). Even those without a major sweet tooth are sure to enjoy the mild sweetness of wagashi, which contrasts wonderfully with the slightly bitter matcha.

Matcha ice cream

Find places to stay with our partner, Hotels.com

- affiliated-image -
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.