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13 Reasons to Visit Kyoto, Japan

There are some 400 shrines in Kyoto, including the Kiyomizu-dera shrine
There are some 400 shrines in Kyoto, including the Kiyomizu-dera shrine | © Sean Pavone / Alamy
Photo of John Asano
2 September 2021
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There are many good reasons to visit Kyoto – colourful shrines, maiko and geisha culture, and the multi-course kaiseki ryori meals are top of the list for many. But if you’re still hovering over the Book Now button, we’ve plenty more reasons why the ancient capital of Japan should be on your travel bucket list.

A trip to Kyoto is included as part of our carefully planned 12-day tour of Japan. Led by a local insider, you’ll get expert insight into Kyoto’s attractions and everywhere beyond.

Tour more than 1,600 Buddhist temples

Kyoto is home to more than 1,600 historic Buddhist temples with many dating back more than a millennium. The most famous temple district is Higashiyama, where you can find some of the best and oldest temples in Japan such as the celebrated Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

In southern Higashiyama is the West Gate of Kiyomizudera | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy

Visit more than 400 colourful shrines

Kyoto is home to more than 400 colourful shrines dedicated to the ancient religion of Japan. Some of the most famous include Fushimi Inari Taisha, Heian Jingu and Yasaka Jinja.

Stroll through the torri gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine | © Sean Pavone / Alamy

See the large collection of World Heritage Sites

Kyoto has one of the largest collections of Unesco World Heritage Sites on the plant, which includes 12 Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines and one historic castle. No trip to Kyoto is complete, without visiting at least some of these amazing sites.

Stroll through sublime gardens

Take a stroll in one of the many gorgeous gardens in Kyoto, designed to be enjoyed as recreation by feudal lords and samurai shoguns. There are many places around Kyoto to enjoy these peaceful gardens from temples and shrines to public parks and ryokan (traditional inns).

While you’re at Nijo Csatle, stop by the peaceful Ninomaru gardens | © Xavier Dealbert / Alamy

Relax in tranquil Zen gardens

Relax and contemplate the world at one of the dry stone Zen gardens in Kyoto. One of the best and most famous is the Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji Temple, which features 15 mystical rocks floating in a sea of pure white sand.

There are 15 rocks floating on white sand at the Ryoan-ji Temple Zen | © Sean Pavone / Alamy

See the birthplace of geisha and maiko culture

Kyoto is the birthplace of maiko and geisha (geiko in the local dialect) culture with the Gion district its spiritual home. The wooden teahouses and traditional restaurants of well preserved areas such as Hanami-koji Street and Pontocho offer the best chance to spot a geisha elegantly scurrying to their next appointment.

Gion is the home of geisha culture | © master2 / Alamy

Stay in traditional ‘ryokan’ and ‘machiya’

Kyoto is home to many ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and machiya (traditional Kyoto townhouses) that offer a glimpse into old Kyoto. They are a fantastic place to stay to experience authentic Japanese accommodation and lifestyle.

Stay in a traditional ‘ryakon’ for a glimpse into the Kyoto of old | © Leopold von Ungern / Alamy

Sample Kyoto cuisine

Kyoto has a rich and historic food tradition with various culinary styles that have been around for centuries. Enjoy the luxury of carefully prepared multi-course kaiseki ryori meals, or simply relax and reap the health benefits of shojin Buddhist cuisine.

‘Kaiseki’ is a traditional multi-course meal in Japan | © Alberto Paredes / Alamy

Try matcha-flavoured goodies

If you are a green tea lover, then you will be in matcha heaven in Kyoto. Matcha goodies can be found everywhere and include treats such as as ice cream, chocolate, cookies, cream puffs, cakes and traditional yatsuhashi confectionary.

Matcha is a common flavouring in sweet treats | © maximimages.com / Alamy

Drink traditional sake

Sake has been made in Kyoto since the 16th century with the Fushimi area home to many of the most famous sake breweries in Japan. Most places offer a chance to sample some of their finest with a great variety of tastes available.

Head to a local brewery in Fushimi region to sample sake | © Mirko Kuzmanovic / Alamy

Explore samurai castles

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Kyoto,Japan, Asia - September 3, 2019 : View of the Nijo Castle
The Nijo Castle is one of the finest examples of a samurai castle in Kyoto | © Dionigi Pozzi / Alamy
Kyoto is home to several historic samurai castles. Nijo Castle is the best known as the former official Kyoto residence of the powerful Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan for more than 250 years. It was designed to show off their prestige and wealth and is a must see for its ninja proof chirping nightingale floors.

Say hello to the wild monkeys

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Arashiyama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan
Arashiyama Monkey Park is home to around 130 of the cute critters | © Anna Walsh / Alamy

We all love cute monkeys and the Arashiyama Monkey Park is home to around 130 wild monkeys. The park aims to replicate the wild habitat of the monkeys, so the adorable creatures roam free and hang out with the tourists who visit the park.

Visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Museum
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The Kyoto International Manga Museum is the largest manga museum in Japan and exhibits the history of manga and manga publishing in the country. It’s a must for any pop culture fan with a collection of some 300,000 comics and manga-related exhibits. If you are experiencing temple and shrine fatigue then check out this shrine to manga.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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