Ker & Downey’s guide to the top things to do in Kyoto.
Kyoto is the storehouse of Japan’s traditional culture and the stage on which much of Japanese history was played out. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shintō shrines, Kyoto is home to the country’s most treasured remnants of imperial life. Here, geishas still entertain in full makeup and dress within the Ochaya teahouses of Gion, masterpieces of religious architecture still house mesmerizing Zen gardens, and the Nishiki Market—or the “kitchen of Kyoto”—bustles with frenetic fish-selling energy. We asked our Luxury Travel Experts for their top things to do in Kyoto, and because so many suggestions revolved around food, we added a bonus section on the foods you should try while you’re there.
1. Explore the bustling 400-year old Nishiki food market where you’ll find seasonal and year-round delicacies and treats like roasted chestnuts, sweet red bean cakes, ground sesame and tofu doughnuts. While eating while you’re walking on the street is discouraged in Japan, it is luckily acceptable in this market!
2. Have tea at the “modern” tea house on the park grounds of Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). This won’t be private tea ceremony, but it’s often overlooked and really quite nice.
3. Stroll through beautiful Sagano bamboo forest in Arashiyama. This is one of Kyoto’s most popular sites and often crowded, so try to arrive in the early morning or late evening on weekdays to fully enjoy the serenity and beauty of this enchanting forest. It’s open 24/7 with no admission fee.
4. Enjoy a coffee break at the first Starbucks with a tatami room in a two-story 100-year old wooden Japanese home. Located in Higashiyama, one of Kyoto’s best-preserved historic districts, the cafe opened in June, and features vernacular architecture and a tiled roof to blend into the neighboring Japanese houses.
5. Meander the picturesque Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka cultural districts up stone steps and narrow lanes, passing pretty historical shopfronts and traditional homes. Within walking distance is one of Kyoto’s most famous and beloved sites, the UNESCO Kiyomizudera temple.
Top Foods to try in Kyoto:
Beef sushi. You can find it in restaurants and street stalls all over Kyoto.
Buddhist vegetarian (temple) cuisine or “kaiseki” (Imperial) cuisine. This is the best city for both.
Cool down from the intense heat and high humidity typical of Japanese summers with a popular local treat: a refreshing shaved ice dessert drizzled with green tea syrup, mini-sticky rice balls, and sweet red beans.
Want more help planning your journey to Kyoto? Contact your Luxury Travel Expert today.