Kyoto is on the go-to list of most people who visit Japan. Often dubbed as “the most beautiful city in Japan” and home to hundreds of historical sites, the former capital of Japan is the favourite of many and visited by millions of people every year. Kyoto is known as the best place to see traditional temples, authentic architecture, and the world-famous geisha and maiko girls. It is THE place to be immersed in Japanese tradition and culture.
However, it isn’t realistic to try to do everything in Kyoto within a few days, and most people who visit are only there for a day or two. It’s important, then, to plan accordingly to make sure you get the most out of your visit. Here is a list of 30 things to do in Kyoto for a fantastic experience, whether you’d like to see ancient sites, try delicious food, or create your own authentic Japanese items. Many activities on this list will take you off-the-beaten path, are less touristy and will provide more insight into Kyoto.
Are you a morning person? Are you worried you’ll wake up early because of jet lag? Do you love to see places as the sun rises before the hustle and heat of the day? If any of these gets a YES, try this early bird morning tour where you can see famous places like Fushimi Inari Shrine and its endless red torii gates, Kiyomizu Temple, and the bamboo forest in Arashiyama in the hours before the crowds arrive. Experience the real charm of Kyoto with the sunrise, avoid the crowds, and get three of Kyoto’s must-see spots done before breakfast!
Booking details: See the morning freshness of Kyoto in an early bird tour
This tour is for those who don’t want to blindly follow the same itineraries everyone is and the places everyone goes. This six-hour tour is flexible and designed to fit everything you want to do into one day. Upon booking, your host will send you several suggested itineraries to choose from and will take care of the hows and whens! Check out the link below for some itinerary examples.
Booking details: Kyoto Fun: Personalised Private Tour
Joe Okada is an old samurai in Kyoto who knows the whole city inside out, so why not embark on this four-kilometer tour with him? Visit historical spots throughout the city and watch the samurai’s famous mini-show of cutting an apple in the air! Let him introduce you to delicious Japanese food and learn about local tea houses and Buddhist temples. There is an option to take a group tour on Saturdays or a semi-private tour on other days. Children under twelve years old can attend free of charge, but a fee for food applies.
Booking details: Cool Kyoto Walking Tour with the Last Samurai
For an evening tour, you can meet Okada in the Samurai bar and have a chilled out evening with him! This is a chance to spend time with a real Japanese samurai and observe the skills he has acquired from over fifty years of training.
Booking details: Watch an Evening Samurai show in Kyoto with The Last Samurai
If the tour with the last samurai inspires you to walk in his shoes, this is just the thing for you! This short two-hour course will teach you the basics of being a real samurai. You can wield an authentic Japanese katana sword, practice zen meditation, and even learn the samurai code Bushido, all in a real samurai house! Those interested in samurai culture would love this unique activity.
Booking details: Authentic Kyoto Samurai Experience
Samurai fans can make their very own samurai knife with a real swordsmith in Kyoto! Of course it takes years to truly master the art of sword making, but you can learn to make a knife in just a day. Spend the morning at the forge and shape it after lunch. You can then take your new creation home with you! Everyone loves a souvenir with a story!
Booking details: Make your own samurai knife with a certified swordsmith!
If samurai is not your thing, you can take a short ninja training course in Kyoto. Learn how to move and breathe like a ninja and even learn how to use ninja weapons. This fun experience may even teach you something that you can use in the future! For those interested in ninja culture, this class should not be missed.
Booking details: Enjoy The Ninja Training Dojo and Items Store in Kyoto!
Combining cultural activity with dining, this unique restaurant in Kyoto offers an exciting live ninja show involving swordplay, acrobatics, and exciting special effects. With this ticket, you get a seat reservation, see the show, and even chat with the actors later on. This is all enjoyed alongside some delicious Japanese dishes.
Choose from either the lunch course or the dinner course and explore the different dining options to get the best deal for your visit.
Booking details: Enjoy the ninja experience at the Ninja Restaurant, Kyoto!
Don’t leave seeing a geisha or a maiko to chance! While many wander the streets of Kyoto and take a rushed blurred shot of a passing geisha or maiko (geisha apprentice), this maiko tour includes taking some gorgeous photographs with your very own real maiko. The maiko models for photos against gorgeous backdrops. With scenic locations such as gardens and temples, free sweets, and a private car pickup, this activity is a photographer’s dream.
Booking details: Take photos with a real Kyoto maiko at scenic locations
And another similar photo tour below:
Booking details: Enjoy an exclusive photo session with a maiko in Kyoto
Although it happens that you see maiko geisha in public places in Gion, it’s very rare for tourists to enter real teahouses. With this activity, you can enter a traditional-style Japanese restaurant and eat dinner with a real Japanese maiko. There is an interpreter and you can enjoy this unique experience for three whole hours. Keep an eye on seasonal activities if you’d like to see temple illuminations or private gardens, too.
Those with a keen interest in Kyoto’s geisha culture would love the chance to experience this.
Booking details: Book an exclusive private dinner with a maiko in Kyoto
If just seeing and meeting a maiko geisha in Kyoto isn’t enough, then try getting a full makeover so you can be one for a day! Not only will you be transformed into an apprentice geisha, but you will also be taught how to walk like a maiko and a little about their culture. Have pictures taken in the studio and take the photos home as great memories.
Booking details: Try a Complete Maiko Makeover in Kyoto
Another maiko makeover tour lets you take photos in Gion instead:
Booking details: Maiko Makeover in Kyoto Gion
Meditation is used mostly to relax the body and decrease stress levels. In Buddhism, it is still practised today to achieve enlightenment and acquire a good frame of mind. Understand the Japanese mind more and learn the basics of Zen meditation from an American-educated abbot before taking a tour of one of the most historic temples in Kyoto. An experience that will elevate your visit to Japan above the touristy things.
Booking details: Join Zen Meditation Class in Kyoto
Similar to the previous one, with this tour, you can spend the afternoon with a Buddhist priest who will teach you about zen meditation in one of Kyoto’s beautiful temples. You can also enjoy an authentic Japanese lunch called “shidashi”. The meal is suitable for vegans and is also gluten-free. Have an unusual experience in Japan and immerse yourself in ancient Buddhist culture.
Booking details: Try Zen Meditation and Eat Lunch in Kyoto, with a guide
One great thing about visiting a new place is the opportunity to meet new people. Whether it’s a samurai, a priest, a maiko, or an random local, talking to them deepens one’s understanding of the local culture. So, whether you’re travelling alone, as a couple, or in a group, why not meet up with a local person who will show you the best parts of Kyoto? See Shijo’s historical area, Kiyomizu Temple, and Gion before heading to a traditional Japanese pub for a drink. Enjoy the city with a friendly local person and make a new friend during your trip!
Booking details: 10% OFF Tour all the popular places in Kyoto with a local!
Are you a fan of zen gardens? The Japanese garden is a form of art and Kyoto is full of these charming little areas. Take a tour to see some of the city’s prettiest gardens! You can sip green tea and even try some meditation, fully immersing yourself in the culture.
Booking details: Visit Kyoto’s Amazing Zen Gardens in a Private Half Day Tour
A little tired and fatigued from the busy city life? Check out this opportunity to experience a Japanese hot spring and relax for the day. This is exactly how Japanese people prefer spending their weekend getaways and holidays, so that’s an added bonus – vacationing like a local. Take an open-air bath and enjoy some traditional food while your worries and stress melt away. After lunch, stroll the local shops for souvenirs before heading back to Kyoto city.
Booking details: Embark on a One Day Onsen and Japanese Cuisine Tour, Kyoto
What better place to pick up some sushi-making skills than the homeland of sushi, Japan? This sushi making experience takes place in a Japanese restaurant and after making your own hand-rolled sushi, you can enjoy it with free refills of miso soup and tea. Learn from a professional sushi chef and have a great time cooking one of Japan’s most beloved dishes. Be sure to book this at least one week in advance.
Booking details: Take a hand-roll sushi cooking lesson in Kyoto
Or, for an opportunity to try cooking Japanese food with friendly local peopletry this tour:
Booking details: Enjoy Japanese Cooking Class with Friendly Locals in Kyoto
One great thing about visiting a new place is trying out the local food! Kyoto is home to some amazing cuisine and with this tour, you can experience many of Kyoto’s foods. Visit the Nishiki Food Market and explore the fresh seafood, local snacks, and preserved fruits. Learn about how food gets from the source to people’s homes and taste various local flavours. A 7-course lunch is included in this tour.
Booking details: Kyoto Nishiki Market Tour with 7 Course Lunch
One feature that gives Kyoto its unique look is the plethora of machiya townhouses in the city. Explore these interesting works of architecture and learn about their history and the local culture. You can also explore sake breweries on the way. You can even rent a kimono to wear along the way if you like, as this tour has customizable elements.
Booking details: Explore the traditional Machiya houses in Kyoto
Taiko is an incredibly fun Japanese style of drumming that often features in traditional festivals. There is even a whole arcade game dedicated to it. Whether you’re a drummer yourself or just interested in making some noise and learning some beats, all are welcome at the taiko drum class. Wear a traditional “happi” drumming garment, learn a little about taiko’s history, and have a go yourself! This activity is suitable for children too.
Booking details: Learn to Beat the Taiko: Japanese-style Drumming
This is the opportunity to try out gold plating in Kyoto close to the Golden Pavilion Temple. Learn the steps made to create a design on a square plate by a professional craftsman and create your own pattern. This class is excellent if you pair it with seeing the Golden Pavilion itself as it is very close by. The exact address will be provided when you book.
Booking details: Enjoy Hands-on gold leaf experience near the Golden Pavilion
This activity is slightly different to other green tea tasting activities. because here you can grind your own matcha tea for only the freshest taste. Learn basic knowledge of Japanese green tea before you whisk, crush, and grind the powder to make your own green tea. Taste your creation and take some home as a gift.
Please keep in mind the grinding process takes a little hard work so it may not be suitable for the elderly or for very small children.
Booking details: Grind Matcha and enjoy Matcha tasting in Kyoto!
If just making the green tea isn’t enough for you, there is also the opportunity to visit Kyoto’s most famous tea farm, Wazuka! This farm has been producing tea for 800 years and the scenic views are just beautiful. Stroll through the area, learn about green tea production, and enjoy a tea-related lunch included in the tour. You can even taste some tea and figure out your favourite blend.
Booking details: Walk around the Wazuka Tea farm in Kyoto!
Fushimi is a lovely area in Kyoto, so why not see it in style? Wear a traditional yukata or kimono and walk around Fushimi town before riding a boat on the Kamo River and then visiting a museum. Afterwards, enjoy some traditional activities such as koto music, a tea ceremony, and origami. This pleasant day out will surely be an excellent addition to your Kyoto itinerary.
Booking details: Kyoto Fushimi tour with a boat and yukata!
Saiho Temple, also known as Moss Temple, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Matsuo, Kyoto. To protect the moss it is so famous for, the number of permitted visitors is limited. You’ll get access to the grounds for 90 minutes where you can explore the ancient gardens and see how Japanese Buddhists live. The best time to visit this temple is in June or July when it is rainy season and the moss is particularly lush. Be sure to book this tour, which includes English interpretation, at least two weeks in advance to guarantee access.
Booking details: Visit Saihō-ji (Moss Temple), a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Bus and car are the main ways to get around Kyoto, but what about bicycle? Cycling around Kyoto is easy and fun and with this tour, you can see many of Kyoto’s sights in an active and interesting way. The tour offers some history on the city, scenic routes with your safety in mind, and several exciting itineraries to choose from. See Kyoto by bike and get a little exercise while exploring one of Japan’s most charming cities.
Booking details: Kyoto Fun: Cycling Tour
A koto is a Japanese stringed instrument that creates a calming Japanese ambient sound in many old plays and performances. If you’re interested in the koto, try learning a song from a teacher in a century-old house! You can even take the musical score home with you afterwards. Test your musical ability and learn to play a Japanese song during your visit to Kyoto.
Booking details: Take a Koto Lesson at a Traditional House in Kyoto
Getting around Kyoto can be tricky for first timers as you often have to rely on the bus rather than the subway. Why not see Kyoto by car instead? Take a half-day tour to see the house of pottery and a sake brewery before enjoying a traditional tofu lunch. You’ll be picked up and dropped off by private car, taking away the stress of navigating the local public transport.
Booking details: A Halfday Private Car Tour Experiencing Traditions in Kyoto!
Beer lovers, you can’t miss the Suntory Beer Factory! Suntory is one of the biggest alcohol manufacturers in the country and while in Kyoto, you can visit the brewery and see where the beer is brewed from the raw materials to the final product. Pamphlets are available in English, Korean, and Chinese. The guide can also provide some English explanations.
Booking details: Visit Suntory Kyoto Beer Factory Tour
Kyoto is charming by day but just as amazing at night! Check out local classic folk songs and adapted pop tunes, sip craft beer and sake, and soak up the local nightlife at RAN, a music event in Kyoto. Enjoy traditional music with a twist after a long day of sightseeing at this lively venue.
Booking details: RAN Kyoto: Enjoy a Fun Night of Live Entertainment
This is the chance to have an exclusive private tour of Kyoto’s more rural areas. Visit Motoise Kono Shrine, Kasamatsu Park, and Amanohashidate by minibus with English support. This is available for groups of up to five people. See beautiful shrines, walk through rows of pine trees, and ride a cable car at the lovely park. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of central Kyoto and immerse yourself in nature with a guide to help.
Booking details: Private Sightseeing Tour in Rural Kyoto with a Mini Bus!