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Visiting Kyoto for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do


Visiting Kyoto for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

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Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

see more

Kyoto is an unmissable stop on the itinerary of any first-time visitor to Japan, seducing with its ancient temples, shrines, and serene Zen gardens. Ensure your visit goes as smoothly as possible by following our top tips for your first time in Japan’s ancient capital.

Get an early start

And beat the crowds.

Kyoto can get overwhelmingly crowded with tourists at times, so ensure a hassle-free experience by booking a tour that visits the most popular attractions early. Stroll around the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before the tour groups arrive, visit the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji Temple) right as it opens, and walk through the torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine before it gets packed.

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Explore traditional culture

From dance to dinner dates.

Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience the Japanese arts. Packages are available that combine watching a range of performances, including maiko (apprentice geisha) dancing, flower arrangement, court music, and puppet theater, with a tea ceremony and dinner.

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Kyoto is one of the best places to enjoy traditional Japanese culture. Photo: Yelena Sophia / Viator

Deepen your knowledge

Learn more about Japanese traditions.

You’ll enjoy a much richer experience of the temples, shrines, and gardens that make Kyoto famous if you learn about the traditions and practices behind them. A scholar-led walking tour focused on Shinto and Buddhism or garden and landscape design can fill you in.

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Ditch the crowds

See a quieter side to Kyoto.

When the masses of tourists get to be too much, head off the beaten path on a bicycle tour of Kyoto’s hidden side, and discover intimate Zen gardens and charming backstreets known only to locals.

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Beat the crowds and get off the beaten path in Kyoto. Photo: Yelena Sophia / Viator

Go to Samurai school

Learn an ancient art.

Learn the skills of the samurai in a class studying the basic techniques of these ancient Japanese warriors. Especially popular with families, courses typically include a photo session in samurai costume and a certificate of completion.

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Take a bite out of the food scene

Kyoto has some of the country's best cuisine.

Don’t leave Kyoto without trying some local specialties, such as obanzai (homestyle cooking) and sake. A guided walking tour can take you to some of the city’s best food spots, including some hole-in-the-wall eateries and hidden watering holes that most visitors miss.

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Make sure to dedicate some time to eating in Kyoto. Photo: Yelena Sophia / Viator

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See all Kyoto tours
448 tours & tickets
Things to do in Kyoto
See all things to do in Kyoto
Where to Find the Best Views in Kyoto
Where to Find the Best Views in Kyoto