Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is always listed among the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. It is a wonderful place to visit, all year round and offers an abundance of things to see and do. Like many of the other bigger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, it has been through rapid growth as a center of the economy. There are many amazing sightseeing spots that draw many tourists to the city. Once you open a travel guide in Kyoto, you might get a little confused and feel lost as there are so many places to go and things to do there. In this article, we will divide the city into five main districts and tell you more about each area and its’ highlights! But first, let’s start with an introduction to a beautiful city!
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- The central part of Kyoto City
- The northern part of Kyoto City
- South part of Kyoto City
- Higashiyama Area
- Arashiyama Area
- Hidden parts of Kyoto Prefecture
- Mysterious spots of Kyoto
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Kyoto
- Where to stay in Kyoto
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Kyoto (京都, Kyōto) is Japan’s oldest city and served as the nation’s capital and the emperor’s residence for over 1,000 years, from 794 until 1868. Over the centuries, the city has been destroyed by many wars and fires, however, because of its cultural and historical value Kyoto was largely spared by the WWII bombings. It is for this reason that you can still visit many old cultural landmarks and historical sites.
Present day, Kyoto is home to about 2,000 temples and shrines such as the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, the Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Some of Kyoto’s other famous tourist destinations include the Imperial Palace and Gion district.
Kyoto is often combined with day trips to some of Japan’s famous tourist destinations that are located nearby, including Nara, Kobe and Hiroshima.
The central part of Kyoto City
1. Kyoto Station
Kyoto station is the city’s main gateway located in the very center of Kyoto. This is where most tourists start their trip in Kyoto as almost all of the public transportation lines depart and arrive here. The station is also known as a huge shopping complex, where you can try local foods and find perfect souvenirs to take home. Around the station, there are several attractive spots that can be seen from the observation deck of Kyoto Tower, which offers an amazing view of the entire city of Kyoto!
▶Book your Kyoto Tower Observation Deck Admission E-ticket here
2. Kyoto Imperial Palace & Kyoto Gyoen
Other famous tourist attractions are also accessible by bus or subway. Kyoto Imperial Palace (also known as Kyoto Gosho), one of the most popular historical spots in Kyoto, can be reached by a 10-minute comfortable ride on the subway. Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former residence of the imperial family for over 1,000 years. The current building was reconstructed in 1855 after it burned down but the architecture kept the ancient style. It is located in the vast park of Kyoto Gyoen, and you can see the other important historical sites and enjoy beautiful gardens.
3. Nijo Castle
Another must-visit spot called Nijo Castle, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is within a walking distance from Kyoto Gyoen. This castle was originally built in 1603 and used as the temporary stay for the shogun when visiting from Tokyo and the lookout for Kyoto Gosho. The big reconstruction had been done with gorgeous paintings on the sliding doors, and it was the event that showed the power of the Edo shogunate throughout Japan. However the prosperity didn’t last forever, the end of the flourishing Edo period, one of the biggest historical events of Japan, happened here in 1867, when the imperial court regained its power once again when the last shogun returned its power to the court. The gorgeous interior and beautiful paintings on the sliding doors can be seen at the main hall, Honmaru Goten. Also you can enjoy a relaxing stroll around the gardens at the castle site.
▶Check out Nijo Castle and Imperial Palace Visit Private Tour to get a deeper insight into Japanese history accompanied by a professional English-speaking guide. You’ll learn a lot more than exploring places on your own.
4. Nishiki Market
If you get hungry, Nishiki market is the best place to try Japanese traditional foods while surrounded by the unique atmosphere of the small stores packed in the narrow, but lively street.
▼Book our food and drink tour in Nishiki Market!
This locally guided tour takes you on a food adventure at Nishiki Market, and then, you will stroll two Geisha districts. One is Pontocho Alley known as a scenic and quaint grummet spot along the most quaint river, Kamogawa, and the other one is Gion District, the biggest Geisha district of Kyoto. Let’s try several Kyoto local foods, sake, and sweets on the tour!
The northern part of Kyoto City
If you are interested in Japanese history, temples, and/or sacred shrines, the northern part of Kyoto City can never disappoint you! This area is full of historical temples and spots, most of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Take our customizable private tour to ensure to visit all the places you would like to visit in the area!
5. Kinkakuji Temple
The most prestigious site is Kinkakuji Temple, also known as Golden Pavilion, a Zen Buddhist temple widely known because of its stunning design and appearance covered with gold leaf. You can take a relaxing walk in the Japanese traditional garden around the temple as well. In winter, the magnificent view of the golden temple covered by snow can be seen if you are lucky!
6. Ryoanji Temple
Ryoanji Temple is another Zen temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a famous rock garden which represents a simple, but important aspect of Japanese culture.
7. Kurama Temple and Kifune Shrine
Further north in the mountains, there are two historical sites, Kurama Temple and Kifune Shrine. This area is also known as the best spot to enjoy hiking on the sacred mountain while exploring the spiritual sites in nature. The atmosphere here is totally different from what you can feel in the city, and the place offers an unforgettable memory! Although it is a bit out of the way, it is definitely worth visiting!
▼Book our Kurama & Kibune Private Trekking Tour!
In this private tour, the guide will pick you up at your hotel and take a local train to the sacred mountain of Kurama. While hiking to the top, you will find many shrines and temples the guide will explain. During summer, you can have lunch at a riverside in the Kibune area!
South part of Kyoto City
8. Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is probably where most foreign tourists think of when they think of Kyoto. The south part of Kyoto City has the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto; the Fushimi Inari Shrine. What makes it so special and popular is the long line of thousands of red torii gates known as Senbon Torii. You have probably seen the iconic red torii gate pictures online or in guidebooks before. And to be honest, this is actually a must-visit spot that is also easily accessible by train from Kyoto station.
9. Tofukuji Temple
Besides Fushimi Inari Shrine, there are a number of other tourist spots in the area. Tofukuji Temple is one of them which is known as the best place to see the beautiful view of the colorful leaves in autumn. It’s one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto and the large temple site includes the Zen garden and the oldest gate of the Zen temples in Japan which is designated as the National Treasure.
10. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
It’s a museum about Japanese sake, renovated from the old sake brewery. You can learn the history and process of making sake using a traditional method, but of course, you can taste some sake at the end of the tour! There’s an optional tour to visit the small sake brewery where a fermentation process can be observed through the window (currently closed due to COVID-19).
East Kyoto is also known under another famous name: Higashiyama District. In the Higashiyama district, you can experience Japanese history and culture more deeply. The area is relatively small and everything is close to each other, which makes it easy for tourists to walk around and visit several places in one day. If you prefer not to walk on your own, and look for another way to explore the area easily and comfortably, you should try a rickshaw ride. This is a traditional Japanese vehicle that can often be seen in sightseeing spots in Japan! They take you to the must-visit tourist spots around while offering helpful information by a knowledgeable guide pulling the rickshaw.
11. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
When it’s your first time in Kyoto, we recommend visiting the famous temples such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It’s one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto all year round which is always crowded with many tourists. Kiyomizu-dera is located in the middle of the mountain, and its wooden stage of the main hall is so famous that many people visit and see the view over Kyoto City from the stage. On the way up to the temple, you can enjoy some souvenir shopping and have some snacks at the stores lining up on the gentle slope path.
12. Sanjusangendo Temple
It’s nicknamed as a forest of buddha statues because 1,001 buddha statues are nestled in the long wooden main hall of the temple. Each face of the statue is slightly different, and it is said that you can find a familiar face from them. The view of the overwhelming number of statues all lining up neatly along the hall is quite an impressive sight.
13. Gion District
Gion district, often described as the geisha district, is the famous entertainment district which is home to many beautiful traditional buildings and is great for strolling around. For those who want to have a more special experience, you can also visit traditional performances by the geisha.
14. Togetsukyo Bridge
The Arashiyama area is a popular tourist attraction which is about an hour away from central Kyoto. Compared to other areas in Kyoto City, the area is relatively isolated and a bit outside of the city. However, once you visit there, you will immediately understand this is exactly where everyone should go to experience the real Japan coexisting in harmony with nature. The Togetsukyo Bridge, a long wooden bridge, creates a breathtaking view along with the Arashiyama Mountain in the background and is the landmark of the Arashiyama area.
15. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Arashiyama Monkey Park is a home to about 120 wild monkeys. At the observation deck you can check the view over Mt. Hiei and Kyoto City with the monkeys! There’s a place where you can feed monkeys with some fruits or peanuts through the wire fence, and also there’s a playground for kids.
16. Bamboo Groves
The peaceful bamboo forest is always full of tourists, but has a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. If you stop and listen to the sound of the bamboo moving in the wind, you almost forgot you are in one of the most popular places of Kyoto!
▼Book our food and drink tour at Arashiyama!
Let’s try some local sweets and snacks and enjoy the highlights of the Arashiyama area with a guided tour! We will explore the famous bamboo forest, Togetsukyo Bridge, Tenryuji Temple with a Japanese garden, and so on.
Hidden parts of Kyoto Prefecture
If you travel further from Kyoto City, you can discover completely different attractions of Kyoto surrounded by beautiful nature. In Northern Kyoto, there are tranquil villages near the ocean providing stunning scenery.
Amanohashidate is a popular spot located in Miyazu Bay, the 3.4 km sandbar covered with 5,000 pine trees across the bay. You can take a pleasant walk across the sandbar or cycling is popular too.
In Ine in Tango peninsula, over 230 boat houses floating in the sea create unique and beautiful scenery. It can only be accessed by sea taxi or ferry, and taking a tour is recommended. These unique houses were originally built for fishermen, who parked their boats on the first floor and then used the second floor as their residence. To respect the residents, it’s strongly recommended to take a guided tour if you would like to explore the area.
Uji is a small town located a bit far from the central Kyoto City. It is known for the matcha tea and the historical temple. Byodo-in temple is a beautiful temple originally built in the Heian period. Flip the 10 yen coin and you’ll find a picture of it!
Uji is also known as their tea field and Uji matcha is one of the high quality brands of tea.
▼Book a one-day tour from Kyoto or Osaka to explore Northern Kyoto!
Traveling to the countryside of Japan is sometimes a little tricky in terms of the convenience of transportation and lack of English signs. If you are looking for the easiest and most comfortable trip to Northern Kyoto, take a private tour exploring Ine, Amanohashidate, and more beautiful attractions in the area!
Mysterious spots of Kyoto
20. Yokai Street
Last but not least, there are many unique and mysterious spots in Kyoto. Yokai Street is one of them. Yokai are legendary creatures that appear in folklore.Yokai Street is a shopping street where you can spot some marks of Yokai, and is best known for the Yokai parade that is carried out on the second Saturday in October every year. You think it’s similar to the Halloween parade but somehow it’s more beautiful yet scary with hundreds of Yokai walking solemnly on the street. It will get you a chill up and down the spine.
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 the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.
▶Total Kyoto Experience
If you only have a day or two in Kyoto, we offer a full-day tour of the city, enabling you to immerse yourself in and fully enjoy 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 of Kyoto, this is the perfect tour for you! Take part in this Kyoto food and drink tour and explore the 400-year-old market and the famous Gion district.
Find the Other Tours
If you want to make travel easier, we suggest you look into tour packages.There are a wide range of tour packages out there to suit the accomodate for each traveler needs. Click the button below to find the best tour package from various Tour Operators!
Where to stay in Kyoto
By now you have an idea what to do in the different parts of Kyoto, but then the next question arises. What is the best place to stay in Kyoto? All things considered, we recommend you stay downtown, in or near the Gion or Kawaramachi-Dori districts. These areas are well connected to the public transport and central to many of the main attractions. Here you will also find an abundance of restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
- Tazuru – a traditional Japanese ryokan with historic charm, overlooking the Kamo river.
- Kyoto Hotel Okura – luxury hotel offering great views of Kyoto and the Higashiyama Mountains
- Gion Minami House – apartment rooms that also enable you to relax after your full day of sightseeing.
Surrounded by beautiful nature, rich with history and filled with many interesting and beautiful places, it might be quite a challenge to decide on the best places to go in Kyoto. The former imperial and political capital of Japan has so many options and attractive places to choose from. We hope with this article you got some helpful information and that you now have an idea of where you want to go!
Find out the top 10 tours in Kyoto▼
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