Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations in Japan among international travelers and with good reason. This beautiful city is home to countless numbers of great restaurants, shopping spots, and fantastic accommodation options to choose from.
Not surprisingly, however, this all comes at a price. If you want to plan a reasonable trip to Kyoto but doesn’t break the bank, check our list of the best free things to do in Kyoto below!
- 1. Walk along the Philosopher’s Path
- 2. Explore the Geisha district
- 3. Shrine hopping around Yasaka Shrine
- 4. Visit the rows of torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine
- 5. Hike in Arashiyama
- 6. Panoramic views from Kyoto Station
- 7. Watch the Summer Festivals
- 8. Visit the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
- 9. Tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace
- 10. Discover Japanese cuisine at Nishiki Market
- 11. Vibe along the Kamo River
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Kyoto
- Are you looking for a SIM card in Kyoto?
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1. Walk along the Philosopher’s Path
Philosopher’s Path is a famous tourist attraction located in the northern part of Kyoto and is widely known as Higashiyama District. It was named after a famous philosopher at Kyoto University known as Nishida Kitaro, who loved taking a meditative walk along the quaint path. This scenic path stretches approximately 2 kilometers along a peaceful canal. Taking a relaxing stroll in spring lets you enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms along the pleasant stream away from the bustling city.
2. Explore the Geisha district
Geisha are traditional Japanese female entertainers who are highly trained to entertain customers with performances such as traditional dancing and singing. If you want to see them in person, Kyoto is definitely the best place to go!
Kyoto is home to several famous Geisha districts where you can expect to encounter the beautiful entertainers on the street. Gion district is the most famous Geisha district which is home to traditional teahouses where you can have your first Geisha experience. If you are not lucky enough to run into them on the street, this beautiful neighborhood is packed with traditional buildings and is still worth a visit.
3. Shrine hopping around Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine is one of the most famous Shinto Shrines in Kyoto. This sacred shrine is conveniently located within a short walk from Gion District and is also accessible by bus or train from JR Kyoto station. It is open 24 hours and admission is free. The shrine is also widely known as the host of “Gion Matsuri”, Kyoto’s biggest summer festival which takes place in July every year. Inside the spacious shrine grounds, you will find not only the main hall but also several small sub-shrines which are dedicated to deities that bring you fortunes such as a good relationship, beauty, and economic success!
4. Visit the rows of torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Originally built in 711 AD, Fushimi Inari Shrine is the head shrine of more than 30,000 Inari shrines scattered across Japan. Every year, it attracts around 3 million people who come to pay their first shrine visit of the year during the New Year’s holidays. In addition, it is also famous among international tourists as the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto with thousands of stunning tori gates called “Senbon Torii”.
There are literally countless numbers of torii gates around the shrine grounds. Walking through the rows of thousands of torii gates will be an unforgettable experience and a highlight of your trip! It is also a perfect spot for enjoying a refreshing hike along the trail leading up to the summit of Mt. Inari.
5. Hike in Arashiyama
Another great hiking spot in Kyoto is Arashiyama, a beautiful neighborhood nestled in the western part of Kyoto. It boasts a wide range of popular hiking trails which are suitable for all levels of hikers. Start your adventure from Arashiyama Station and walk through some of the best tourist attractions, including Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo groves.
Along the way, you will find the starting point to Mt. Matsuo Hiking Trail which covers a distance of approximately 3.3 kilometers and takes about 1.5 hours to complete. The trail may be hard to find as it is a narrow path, but there are some signs at the starting point.
6. Panoramic views from Kyoto Station
Kyoto Station is the main gateway to the world-famous tourist attractions around Kyoto. This modern station serves as not only a transportation hub but is also a great spot to enjoy shopping, dining, and great views of Kyoto city for free!
The free observatory is located 45 meters above the ground and is open to the public from 6am until 11pm. Take the escalators up to the 10th floor where you can find the entrance to the observatory. It offers panoramic views of Kyoto and some landmarks such as Kyoto Tower through the large glass windows. On the rooftop of the station, there is a lovely garden which also has great views that can be enjoyed for free!
7. Watch the Summer Festivals
If you want to get a better understanding of Japanese culture and tradition on a deeper level, joining festivals is one of the best and most affordable ways! Kyoto hosts a great number of seasonal festivals all year round, and in particular, summer festivals draw crowds from all over Japan.
The Gion Festival is a perfect option as your first Japanese summer festival experience. You can enjoy exploring stalls that sell a range of food and drink along the street. One of the highlights of the festival is the Yamahoko parade, which is a stunning display of giant traditional floats marching through the main streets of Kyoto.
Gozan Okuribi is another famous summer festival that annually takes place on August 16th. The biggest selling point is the giant bonfires that are lit on five mountains in the shape of Kanji! (for more annual events and festivals, see here.)
8. Visit the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts is a free museum which is also known as “Fureai-kan”. It is about a 10-minute walk from Higashiyama station on the Subway Tozai Line to reach the impressive museum located on the first basement floor of Kyoto Miyakomesse Hall. This museum showcases fascinating exhibits of Kyoto’s traditional crafts which have been passed down through generations for centuries. Occasionally (typically on weekends) they also provide craft demonstrations by skilled craftsmen using traditional techniques to create beautiful works.
9. Tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace
One of the reasons that could make a trip to Japan so expensive is the admissions for temples and other historic sites, but Kyoto Imperial Palace can be enjoyed completely for free! This impressive palace officially served as the residence of the Japanese imperial family from the late 8th century until the capital of Japan was finally moved to Tokyo in 1868. The spacious ground is home to beautiful traditional buildings, lovely gardens, and lush greenery, making it a perfect environment for walking around. Free guided tours are occasionally held in English and Chinese. (see here for datils)
10. Discover Japanese cuisine at Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is a lively food market that is a must-visit for foodies! This traditional market has more than 400 years of history and has been adored by both locals and tourists for over centuries as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. This is where you can find a wide variety of traditional ingredients used for Kyoto cuisines, local specialties, gift shops, street food stalls, and much more to explore. There are over 120 shops and stalls packed along the narrow street stretching about 390 meters long. It is also close to other famous tourist attractions such as Shinkyogoku Shopping District.
Don’t forget to check our popular food and drink tour at Nishiki Market!
▶Kyoto Food and Drink Tour @Nishiki Street & Gion
11. Vibe along the Kamo River
If you want to spend a peaceful afternoon like a local but without spending the money, let yourself stretch your legs and sit along the peaceful banks of the Kamo River! This symbolic stream runs through the central part of Kyoto City for about 31 kilometers from the north down to the south. Many locals love taking a relaxing stroll along the lovely riverbanks, sitting down, or chatting on the banks while enjoying the great view of the beautiful river. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit there as the temperature is relatively mild even at night!
Kyoto offers a wide range of free activity options that are easy to add to your itinerary. If you are planning your first trip to Kyoto, we highly recommend you visit famous shrines which are generally free to enter. It will help you deepen your understanding of the unique Japanese culture and history without spending any money. Be aware that admissions for shrines are generally free, but not for temples on the other hand!
Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Kyoto
When you are visiting Kyoto and you need some help organizing your trip, you came to the right place. We’re happy to help you make your trip to Kyoto the best trip ever. We can advise you on where to go or even better, show you around with a local, English speaking guide. Let us help you create safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memories in Kyoto!
▶Kyoto Private Full-Day Walking Tour
On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see Kyoto efficiently in just one day and also develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and of Japan as a whole.
▶Total Kyoto Experience
If you only have one or two days in Kyoto, we offer a full-day itinerary, enabling you to experience the entire city of Kyoto in just 10 hours!
▶Kyoto Food and Drink Tour @Nishiki Street & Gion
If you’re looking to learn more about the culture and the local cuisine, this is definitely the perfect option for you! Take part in our food and drink tour while exploring the 400-year-old market & the Gion district.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with traveling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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