The 17 Best Things To Do in Kyoto, Japan

things to do in Kyoto

I was only in Kyoto for four nights, yet I really managed to pack in the activities. There was no shortage of things to see, eat, and do in Kyoto. It’s really surprising how many options there are for a city that has many things closed by 8:00-10:00 p.m.

It feels a bit calmer here, a bit slower and more peaceful. The tiny streets cars squeeze through make everything feel like a small neighborhood instead of a bustling city. And everyone we met was just so nice. Kyoto was a blast. Kyoto has a special charm to it that definitely puts it in the running for a revisit for the next time I’m back in Japan.

So, in no particular order, here are the best things to do in Kyoto, Japan, in my opinion. I hope this helps you plan your visit to Kyoto! See my other Japan posts to learn how to plan a Japan trip or find the best things to do in Tokyo. I also give a detailed breakdown of expenses for my 12-day Japan trip.

Edomae Sushi Dokoro Sora

Sushi Sora - searing fish with charcoal

Thanks to the great concierge at ACE Hotel in Kyoto, I was able to snag a last-minute reservation at Edomae Sushi Dokoro Sora for an omakase of 10 courses. Inside, there’s a bar for six, along with a table for four comfortably. The sushi chef used his phone to help translate whenever possible, and we didn’t have difficulty communicating. 

Sushi Sora - fried fish

I had the standard omakase dinner, and it filled me up; I can’t imagine upgrading to the bigger setting. The standard set included a series of appetizers, sashimi, eight pieces of sushi, miso soup, five small dishes, and dessert. My favorite dishes were the steamed abalone with liver butter sauce, chawanmushi, and all the sushi! 

uni nigiri at Sora Sushi

This is still an up-and-coming restaurant, so you can easily book it on sites like Tablecheck.  The restaurant is tucked away on the street, and our taxi driver gratefully called the restaurant to meet us outside so we wouldn’t get lost–you can’t beat Japanese hospitality! The host was just as sweet and attentive during the two-hour meal. 

me next to the waitress at Sushi Dokoro Sora

Price: ¥ 8,800-22,000 ($50-150 USD)
Address: Edomae Sushi Dokoro Sora
612 Tachibanachō, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 京都府 Kyoto 604-0944, Japan
Google Maps | Instagram

Ippodo Tea Kyoto Main Store

special matcha tasting at Ippodo Tea

Ippodo Tea has been a family-run company since 1717 in Kyoto, and now they’re available worldwide. It’s one of my favorite matcha brands, and they also make various Japanese teas. Since we were visiting Kyoto, I knew I needed to stop by their main branch. There are only a handful of stores worldwide (Kyoto, Tokyo, and New York). 

During my visit, the main store in Kyoto was being remodeled, so they opened a temporary store around the corner. You can still order a handful of teas to go, but not their full menu. Fortunately, they were also offering a special tasting of matcha that isn’t available to buy except for their in-store tasting. 

They still have a complete list of matcha and Japanese full-leaf teas available to buy, including special seasonal items like their Kyoto matcha. While you can’t taste-test all their teas in-house, you can still smell and look at the different types. If you’re from the US, I would definitely recommend buying in-store because the prices were significantly cheaper than online prices, about half off.

Price: ¥ 540-780 ($5-6 USD) for takeout tea
Address: Ippodo Tea Kyoto Main Store 一保堂茶舗 京都本店
〒604-0915 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Tokiwagicho, 52 寺町通二条上ル, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Have a special coffee tasting at Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle - slow drip coffee

Despite my being apprehensive about Blue Bottle being owned by Nestle, this was a very polished, educational, and peaceful experience. The experience consists of seven courses that include tastings from the coffee plant itself in the form of teas, pour-over coffee, and specialty desserts. 

We have many Blue Bottle locations back home in southern California, but this was a unique studio with a room dedicated to the educational tasting experience–Blue Bottle Studio Los Angeles just started their tastings in Fall 2023. This store’s architecture is a remodeled and repurposed traditional Japanese home converted into two commercial buildings: A store and tasting studio in the front and a more traditional cafe and open patio in the back.

The most novel part of this experience was when our instructor brewed one of the founder’s recipes for “espresso without an espresso machine.” (It’s great to hear how much the founder still has his hands in managing these stores, almost to the point of hearing our guide mention the owner’s name too much.) 

Blue Bottle - aerating coffee

This process is summed up as an extremely slow, 20-minute pour-over, with an incredibly low ratio of water, and 80g of coffee. To give some perspective, the recipe yields about the same volume as a double shot but takes over five times the amount of coffee to achieve. This is not an exercise in practicality or economy but a creative exploration of what is possible. This machine-less espresso was served two ways: black, and with milk. To simulate the espresso milk drink our guide poured warmed milk from up high into a cup to aerate it without additional tools. 

Coffee tastings at Blue Bottle Studio Kyoto is only available during specific times of the year, so I recommend getting on an email. It costs about ¥ 8,250 ($55 USD) per person, and you can buy beans and other coffee accessories during your tasting. 

Price: ¥ 8,250 ($55 USD), per tasting
Address: Blue Bottle Coffee – Kyoto Cafe ブルーボトルコーヒー 京都カフェ
〒606-8437 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Nanzenji Kusakawacho, 64, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Have cocktails at Bee’s Knees

two delicious cocktails at Bee's Knees

Continuing on my journey to try all the best bars in the world, and after trying out the fantastic Mexico City bars on the list, I had to try Bee’s Knees. This bar is listed as 44th on the Best Bars of Asia and did not disappoint. 

Located in the downtown area of Kyoto, Bee’s Knees is designed as a prohibition-era speakeasy. To find the location, just look for a yellow-lighted doorway with the words “Book Store” on the front–or a really long line outside. I waited 45 minutes for two people and had a standing-only spot that was fine for a quick drink. 

Bee's Knees cocktail bar

I ordered a Ninja Smash made with Japanese gin, yuzu, passionfruit, green tea, shiso leaf, and it came with a show of liquid nitrogen. I also ordered the Gatsby Punch with gin, cranberry liquor, pineapple milk punch, and tea. These drinks were dangerously delicious, where you couldn’t tell you were drinking alcohol–the perfect drinks. I wished we had more time to order more before dinner. If you come to Bees Knees, make sure to plan ahead for the line and come with a full stomach so you can enjoy more drinks.

Price: ¥ 1,700-2,000 ($11-$14 USD
Address: Bee’s Knees
〒604-0961 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kamiyacho, 364 マツヤビル 1F, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Dine at Yakitori Daikichi

chicken skewers at Yakitori Daikichi

The cutest father, mother, and son team served up charcoal-grilled yakitori, in contrast to some other places we looked up that use electric grills (but the food also looked good!). Their mini draft beer was cute and just enough beer for me. Although Don Quijote sold mini cans of beer, I don’t think they’re that common in convenience stores or grocery stores. I didn’t see any “small” size draft beers at any other restaurant we visited.

I liked that you could order yakitori with salt or sauce seasonings and offered many meats. My favorite dishes were the heart, pork belly, chicken thigh, and chicken skin. Oh man, the chicken skin is the best I’ve ever had in yakitori. It had an amazing crunchy texture and was seasoned so well. 

tiny draft beer at Yakitori Daikichi

This place is a chain restaurant, as there are at least locations, but it’s unclear who owns them. I ate at the Higashiyama Ward location, and it accommodates a good number of people for such a small bar. We tried booking this restaurant for the same night, but due to the busy 3-day holiday weekend, Kyoto was packed. Luckily, we could reserve a spot for 6:30 pm the day after, and we are sure glad we did!

Price: ¥ 140-200 ($1 USD) per skewer
Address: Yakitori Daikichi やきとり大吉 二条店
〒604-8302 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Ikemotocho, 400
Google Maps | Website

Nishiki Market

tempura shrimp at Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a really popular tourist attraction in Kyoto, so be prepared to be wading in a crowd if you stop by. It’s a totally different vibe than Toyosu and Tsukiji market in Tokyo because it’s basically on a long, never-ending street in an indoor hall. As soon as you walk in, you’ll be met with an array of fresh seafood displayed on ice, ready to be grilled at your request, dozens of specialty food and dessert stores meant for souvenirs, and plenty of restaurants in between. 

The official market hours are from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Try to go during the off hours, like right at 10 a.m. or 5 p.m., and not dinner hours like I did because it was tough to get through with so many people walking between the aisles. One of my favorite stores to buy souvenirs was Ocha no Kosaisai, where you can get spicy sesame furikake and yuzu pepper seasoning. If you find it overwhelming, don’t worry because the Nishiki has breaks between the side streets so you can exit and explore other streets of Kyoto. 

Price: free admission
Address: Nishiki Market 錦市場
Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8055, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Fushimi Inari Taisha temple & market

Fushimi Inari Taisha red gates

If you’ve seen the orangey-red gates tourist photos on the internet, then you’ve seen the popularity of Fushimi Inari Taisha. This famous temple sees hundreds of tourists daily, and I recommend going during off hours if you don’t want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists going through the torii gates. 

The Fushimi Inari shrine honors the Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and you will see many foxes around the temple because they were thought to be the god’s personal messengers. There are several platforms walking up the torii gates with access to bathrooms, food stalls, small gifts, and shrines. About the second or third platform, there will be a sign stating that the last bathroom will be available there before the peak. 

If you visit a shrine, you can use coins to light a candle and even get a fortune. You’ll need to use a translation app to see your fortune. I went around 10 a.m., and it was already packed; some people recommend going at 7 a.m. or during the evening for less crowds or keep hiking up the mountain until you reach the top. The path is about a 2.8-mile long hike and takes 2-3 hours to reach the peak. 

Fushimi Inari Taisha food market

After coming down from the gates, there’s also a market at the entrance where street food stalls sell freshly made takoyaki, grilled wagyu skewers, okonomiyaki, and other treats. Make sure not to eat inside the temples or shrines, though.  

Price: temple is free admission
Address: Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka 

crowded streets of Ninenzaka

Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka are famous cobblestone streets that lead up to Kodaji Temple but are also known for many souvenir shops and restaurants. You’ll also find many people dressed in traditional kimonos walking through these streets. Much like other popular tourist sites in Kyoto expect a crowd. 

One of my favorite things I did was create custom chopsticks in a store at the corner of Sannezaka and Matsubara-dori. They have plenty of chopsticks to choose from, and customizing them with your name is free. It takes about one to two hours to engrave, and you get a ticket to pick up your chopsticks when it’s done. Just make sure to follow the labels to make sure the chopsticks you use can be engraved and are dishwasher safe. 

iced matcha and warabi mochi at Ninenzaka

I also found handmade block prints from a man who’s been making Ukiyo-e prints as a hobby for 20 years–again found through TikTok tips! He makes prints of flowers based on the flower for ¥200 each, and maiko and geisha prints are available for ¥ 2,000 each. 

If you’re hungry, many matcha cafes and restaurants specialize in udon, soba, and other traditional Japanese foods. I especially loved the warabi mochi and iced matcha combo from Fujinami Sannenzaka Honten; it was the perfect pick-me-up after shopping for a few hours. 

Price: admission is free
Address: Ninenzaka 二寧坂 (二年坂)
〒605-0826 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Masuyacho, 清水2丁目, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Tour the d:matcha Farm

d:Matcha tea fileds

The d:matcha farm tour was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Japan, and I would recommend it to any friends or family. However, I will warn you that you will have to trek an hour outside of Kyoto to get to the farm, including both metro and taxi transportation methods. And don’t forget about traffic, my group was unfortunately 20 minutes late and missed the introduction; however, the owners, Daiki and Misoto, were so accommodating. They even called taxis to bring us back to the Metro station after the tour. 

standing in the field at d:matcha tea farm

d:matcha is located in Wazuka. Daiki and Misoto formed this family-run farm in 2017 to help continue the art of Japanese tea, focusing on a more sustainable future. Their farm includes beds of Japanese green tea, matcha, and brown rice fields. 

d:Matcha tea tasting with sweets

The tour includes walking through the tea fields, visiting a local shrine, visiting the processing farm to learn how they make the tea, matcha and tea tasting, and lunch. It’s a full four-hour tour, and you really learn about the matcha and tea-making process. The food is also super tasty. I especially love that it’s an actual family-run process. 

d:Matcha lunch

After taking our group through the farm, Daiki quickly set up shop in the kitchen to make our lunch while Misato gave us a tea tasting of their favorite sencha and matcha teas. Their four-year-old son joined our tour and helped me pick the best cookies to bring home. 

I brought a load of souvenirs of matcha and sencha home, along with some cookies. If you take a tour, I recommend buying souvenirs in-store because their online prices are higher. 

Price: ¥ 19,500 ($132 USD)
Address: d:matcha Kyoto CAFE & KITCHEN
Gonose-142 Yubune, Wazuka, Soraku District, Kyoto 619-1203, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Take a dip in an onsen

private onsen at hotel Mitsui

While most people trek all the way to Hakone or other neighboring cities to stay at a ryokan and experience an onsen (or hot spring baths), I didn’t have enough time to visit another city, so I booked the private onsen experience at HOTEL THE MITSUI KYOTO. Note that you can only book this onsen as a hotel guest (check out our full MITSUI hotel review here!).

Walking into the private onsen was like walking into a really nice hotel room with an outdoor patio and hot spring just outside your living room. The onsen was nice and steamy as soon as I walked out and automatically flowed when it needed to reheat or fill up. 

There’s a traditional bathroom and shower (with steam settings) alongside a conventional Japanese shower station with bamboo buckets to help you clean before entering the onsen. If you want to take a break from relaxing in the onsen, the patio has comfortable lounges and chilled beverages inside the fridge. 

I also enjoyed the in-room afternoon tea set that included tons of sweet and savory treats, but the onsen had small snacks like fresh fruit and macarons if you’re only enjoying the onsen. 

Pricing for the private onsen experience at Hotel The Mitsui ranges from ¥ 19,500 ($130 USD) for 60 minutes, ¥ 27,000 ($180 USD) for 90 minutes, and ¥ 34,500 ($230 USD) for 120 minutes. If you include in-room dining like breakfast or afternoon tea, the hotel recommends booking at least 90 minutes. 

Price: ¥ 19,500 ($130 USD) to ¥ 34,500 ($230 USD)
Address: HOTEL THE MITSUI KYOTO, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa ホテル ザ ミツイ キョウト
Aburano-Koji St. Nijo-Sagaru, Nakagyo-Ku, 284 Nijoaburanokojicho, Kyoto, 604-0051, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Have afternoon tea

afternoon tea snacks and food at Mitsui hotel

Afternoon tea and Kyoto may not be the first pair you can think of, but afternoon tea at Hotel The Mitsui was one of the best experiences I’ve had. You can enjoy the afternoon tea at the Garden Bar without spending the night at this hotel. But for our afternoon tea, it was an add-on to the private onsen experience which is only available for guests staying at this hotel. I would recommend the latter because you get a private space, which feels so fancy. 

The afternoon tea experience includes two teas per person and another beverage, like a cocktail or a mocktail. You’ll be full of sweet and savory bites like mushroom and truffle arancini, chestnut and yuzu miso creme brulee, and pear pavlovas. When you book the private onsen and afternoon tea, they recommend you book at least 90 minutes for the experience to enjoy your tea and the onsen with enough time–I booked 2 hours, and it was plenty of time. Pricing for afternoon tea at Hotel The Mitsui ranges from ¥ 7,100-¥ 7,700 ($48-$52 USD). 

Price: ¥ 19,500 ($130 USD) to ¥ 34,500 ($230 USD)
Address: HOTEL THE MITSUI KYOTO, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa ホテル ザ ミツイ キョウト
Aburano-Koji St. Nijo-Sagaru, Nakagyo-Ku, 284 Nijoaburanokojicho, Kyoto, 604-0051, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Make a custom ring at Glänta

ring making station at Glanta

I first found out about Glänta TikTok and was excited to see a fun way to create a souvenir with jewelry. I made reservations online and got to pick a location. It’s important to note there are two relatively nearby locations for Glänta in Kyoto, and both locations have a ring-making studio. There are also several studios in Tokyo. 

polishing custom ring at Glanta

During the session, you can choose the type of metal (silver, 10K gold, or 18K gold), thickness, and design. Once you pick the look of your ring, you can begin the process of creating your ring. From heating your ring, shaping it with a hammer, and polishing it, you get a teacher to help figure out any tips and tricks. The staff was kind enough to answer any questions for jewelry-making newbies. 

This experience can be priced anywhere between ¥ 4,180-¥ 55,00 ($28-$366 USD) depending on the material and size of a ring you make. We were the only ones taking this studio session, with at least five other stations open. It may not be popular, but it was super fun if you’re into crafting!

Price: ¥ 4,180-¥ 55,00 ($28-$366 USD)
Address: glänta Kyoto Sanjo Kawaramachi 三条河原町店
〒604-8004 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 三条通河原町 東入中島町87番地 1F, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Sanjo Meiten-gai Shopping Arcade

gachapon for capsules

Sanjo Meiten-gai Shopping Arcade is an indoor mall off Sanjo-dori full of souvenir stores, restaurants, gachapon (vending machines), and claw game stores. I stumbled onto this mall after my ring-making class at Glänta and needed to find some snacks. From end to end, the arcade is almost half a mile long, with entrances and nearly 200 stores inside. 

fresh taiyaki - fish shaped waffle with filling

If you’re like me and love Somi Somi’s fresh taiyaki, you must try Naruto Taiyako Honpo inside the Sanjo Meitan-gai shopping mall. If you want to peek at vintage shopping, there’s High Street Vintage too. This place seems like it’s never-ending with stores and restaurants, especially tax-free and souvenir stores. 

Price: admission is free
Address: Sanjo Meiten-gai Shopping Arcade 三条名店街商店街振興組合
11 Ishibashicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8036, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Visit fancy gift shops at ShinPuhKan 

souvenir shop at ShinPuhKan

If you step outside of the Ace Hotel’s impressively designed building, you’re met with a seamless transition into an outdoor shopping space just outside called ShinPuhKan. The design, material, and colors are in sync, and you wonder if you ever left the hotel. This seems like a very well-curated allotment of stores that includes well-known brands like Beams (a clothing store) and Traveler’s Factory (a stationary store). 

There are also more cafes and restaurants throughout the outdoor mall, like Cafe Kitsune (which is now opening a location in Los Angeles), and Tempora Tentora. If you’re in the mood for a movie, there’s also Uplink–a movie theater. One of my favorite stores was Books and Vegetables OyOy–a cafe bookstore that featured specialized ingredients. This was a great place to check out, especially if you love unique souvenirs and were staying at or near the Ace Hotel. 

Price: admission is free
Address: ShinPuhKan 新風館
〒604-8185 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Banocho, 586-2, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Visit the Ace Hotel (Kosa – breakfast, Stumptown)

Kosa at Ace Hotel - Japanese breakfast

Walking into the Ace Hotel was like being transported to downtown Los Angeles, which could be good or bad, depending on your preference. Regardless, the hotel design was impeccable, filled with minimalist and modern Japanese-inspired designs. The staff had terrific service when we walked through the doors, helped us book dinners, and answered any questions about our stay and Kyoto. 

The design of this entire hotel is cohesive, as it flows from the lobby to the hotel rooms, the hallways, and, pleasantly, the dining room where we had breakfast at Kosa. The Japanese breakfast was beautifully plated and, more importantly, very well-rounded and delicious. It was a great way to start our day before we traveled over an hour to Wazuka for the d:matcha tour. 

Stumptown capuccino and paper to go cup

If you’re in the mood for a familiar American coffee cup, a Stumptown on the first floor offers sustainable paper-to-go cups and pastries. While many third-wave coffee shops in Tokyo and Kyoto opened later at 11 a.m., Stumptown opens at 7:00 a.m. 

Price: ¥ 50,000-55,000 ($350-380 USD)
Address: Ace Hotel Kyoto エースホテル 京都
245-2 Kurumayacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8185, Japan
Google Maps | Website

fiveran bakery

fiveran sign

If you’re sick of konbini breakfast during your trip, stop by fiveran bakery because they open at 9 a.m. and have delicious pastries. Like many restaurants and businesses in Kyoto, fiveran was surrounded by apartment buildings, so it was an incredibly peaceful and quiet business to visit despite the steady stream of patrons going in and out. It’s about a five-minute walk from Ace Hotel. 

fiveran - spread of baked goods

I recommend coming early if you want your pick of baked goods because some pastries were already sold out by the time we arrived at 9:30 a.m. Luckily, I could snag a fresh biscuit and a savory tomato and bacon pastry. The quality was excellent for both of these flakey and buttery pastries. It’s mainly a grab-and-go bakery, and you pay using a kiosk at the front. Even though there’s no seating, there’s a small ledge outside to enjoy your pastry quickly. Each pastry was affordable at ¥ 230 ($2 USD). 

Price: ¥ 230 ($2 USD) per pastry 
Address: fiveran
〒604-8174 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Ennogyojacho, 377, Japan
Google Maps | Website

Take a break at Weekenders Coffee

Weekender's Coffee - tiny coffee counter

Weekenders Coffee is a cute little coffee shop hidden behind what seems like a pay-to-park lot, which is entirely unrelated to this business. Weekenders Coffee looks like someone converted the bottom floor of a local residential home into a coffee storefront. They tease you with an open window upstairs with a beautiful flower bouquet poking out, but upstairs is for employees only!

Weekender's Coffee - flat white coffee

It is tiny inside the shop–you’re meant just to order and be seated outside. Of the four or so seats outside, it still is a charming setting, really designed in a way where you are kinda meant to hang out for not too long, sip your coffee, and be on your way.

Price: ¥ 450-650 ($3-5 USD)
Address: Weekenders Coffee Tominokoji
〒604-8064 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Honeyanocho, 560 離れ, Japan
Google Maps | Website

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