ViaHero · October 21, 2018
Kyoto is so packed with temples, geishas, insanely delicious eats, and hidden gems, it’s hard to know where to go. But don't worry—we have insider info on the 15 coolest places to visit. Still have questions after reading? Send us a message!
Want to explore Japan differently? Have a local
#1: The Gion District: Japan’s geisha capital
The Gion District transports visitors back to feudal Japan, complete with cobblestone streets, lantern-lit paths, and strolling geisha who tend to venture out at dusk. Gion’s tea houses are worth the trip to Kyoto by themselves—try Ichiriki Ochaya to dive into an authentic tea ceremony.
Pro tip: Everyone tends to take a break on Mondays though, so try visiting mid-week.
#2: Samurai Kembu Theater: The place to see samurai “sword dancing”
The Samurai Kembu Theater just might be one of the most awesome places in Japan—whether you watch a traditional sword (katana) demonstration or learn how to wield a katana yourself, you’re in for a treat. If you really want something to write home about, you can wield your own katana in full samurai gear for 9000 yen. Ask your local trip planner how!
dera: Kyoto’s “Pure Water Temple”
A still-functioning Buddhist temple, the Kiyomizu-
ji: Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion
One of Kyoto’s crown jewels, Kinkaku-
Pro tip: It can be tricky to get a good pic of Kinkakuji, especially since the temple gets a lot of visitors—ditch the crowds and go in the early morning for a sunrise view.
#5: Ninenzaka Stairs: The place to go for traditional shopping and sweets
Pro tip: Our Heroes confirm that the Ninenzaka Stairs are actually much less crowded in the evening when most of the student field trips and tourist groups are done for the day.
#6: Nishiki Market: Kyoto’s bustling indoor market
Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” Nishiki Market is an indoor marketplace with a few city blocks’
Pro tip: We recommend the seafood-on-a-stick, dumpling soup, or grilled baby octopus. Since Kyoto’s locals eat here, you know it’s going to be
#7: Pontocho Alley: For off-the-beaten-path good eats
Pontocho Alley is far from grungy—this riverside pathway is where luxury restaurants and family-owned yakitori stands are neighbors. Some restaurants in this narrow alleyway require reservations, so be sure to ask a Hero for help with your night out in Kyoto.
Pro tip: While making your must-do in Japan list, don’t forget to add a dinner at a
#8: Fushimi Inari-
taisha Shrine: A maze of orange gates
One of Japan’s top places to go, the shrine of Fushimi Inari-
Pro tip: Trek to Inari-
#9: Kyoto Tower: A 500-foot tribute to the 1960s space fever
Standing at almost 500 feet tall, Kyoto Tower is almost impossible to miss in all its 1960s spaceship-
#10: Philosopher’s Path: A quaint riverside stroll
Situated alongside a canal, Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path is the perfect spot for taking a deep breath in your Japanese adventure. A brief 2–
#11: Nijo Castle: The ancient “chirping” castle
Home to ancient warlord Ieyasu Tokugawa, the massive white walls of Nijo Castle surround not one, but two palaces and a regal-looking garden. You might’ve seen castles before, but none are tricked out like Nijo—with its chirping “nightingale floors,” the palace itself could warn nobles of approaching assassins.
Pro tip: Nijo Castle is one of the only Japanese castles where visitors can enter the inner palace grounds and walk through the buildings—talk about a hidden gem!
#12: Forever Modan Art Museum: Priceless art inside an ancient home
A small museum nestled in the Gion district, the Forever Modern Art Museum houses world-renowned works from all over Japan, including the massive polka-dotted pumpkin designed by Yayoi Kusama. With 2 floors of 6 permanent exhibits, the Forever Modan Art Museum is housed inside a restored, traditional Japanese home, so be prepared to remove your shoes!
#13: Gyoen National Garden: Elegant green space in Kyoto’s concrete jungle
Around a mile long, Kyoto’s Gyoen National Garden meets 3 key criteria—it’s open 24/7, open to the public, and totally free! Pick up a few bento boxes from a nearby 7/11 and have a picnic on the park grounds (seriously a great romantic date idea if we do say so ourselves).
#14: Teramachi Arcade: Kyoto’s hidden shopping gem
No, the Teramachi Arcade isn’t full of pinball machines or Dance Dance Revolution, but it is one of Japan’s must-go spots. A nice stroll away from Nishiki Market, the Teramachi Arcade is a huge covered-market street, especially known for its small Buddhist antique shops. Teramachi’s shops carry handmade items that can only be found in Kyoto—a nice break from “I Heart Japan” shirts.
#15: Ryoanji Temple: A massive rock garden with a hidden meaning
One of the coolest places to visit in Japan, Kyoto’s Ryoanji Temple Temple has a hidden gem up its sleeve—a 600-year old Zen rock garden (
Ready to make Kyoto the highlight of your dream trip to Japan? Before you polish off your Japan itinerary with a Hero’s input, check out some essentials for creating your Japanese adventure: