Is Kyoto Worth Visiting? 10 Top Reasons to Visit Kyoto


I’d heard some horror stories from a friend who lives in Tokyo about how busy Kyoto can get.

He actually told me he avoids it, and prefers to stay in the capital city.

But despite this, we jumped on a Shinkasen from Hakone and headed to form our own opinion on where whether Kyoto is worth visiting.

And after our visit, I couldn’t have disagreed more, and actually found Tokyo to be far busier than Kyoto.

In this post, I help you to make an informed decision on whether Kyoto is worth visiting, as well as covering some of the top places to visit and ways to get the most out of your time in the city.

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The Reeves Roamed for 25 days through Japan, taking notes as we went. Our route was based on our typically thorough research, though we also found some surprises along the way. We only write about places we’ve actually been, so you can be confident that the details are first-hand.

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Ben Reeve
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Is Kyoto Worth Visiting?

Yes, in my opinion, Kyoto is worth visiting, and I struggle to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to go!

As the nation’s former capital, and a city that largely avoided the damage from World War Two, it is beautifully preserved, and has so many of the countries most iconic places – such as the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Golden Temple.

Of the places we visited in Japan, Kyoto was our favourite, with three of the top seven destinations in Kyoto.

Top 10 Reasons For Visiting Kyoto

The Golden Pavilion

most instagrammable places in kyoto

Kinkaki-ji or the Golden Pavilion came number three in our favourite places we visited in Japan.

Part of the wider Kyoto UNESCO heritage site group, (as many places on this list are), its gleaming walls, surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens

Nijo Castle

a traditional japanese white castle nijo castle in kyoto

Nijo Castle is a perfect destination for anyone interested in Japan’s history.

Built in 1603 by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, it’s a key site for understanding the country’s feudal past. The main attraction, Ninomaru Palace, is renowned for its ‘nightingale floors’ designed to squeak and alert guards of intruders, a clever security feature from centuries ago. The rooms here are less about lavish decoration and more about showcasing the power of the shogunate in a subtle way.

The gardens surrounding the castle offer a peaceful escape with their seasonal blooms, especially the cherry blossoms in spring. Visiting Nijo Castle gives you a peek into the life of samurai rulers and their ingenious ways of maintaining power, making it a must-visit for a real taste of Japan’s historical depth.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

a bamboo forest is japan with people walking down the middle of it

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, in the outskirts of Kyoto, is one of those places we were told is a must-see, famous for its towering bamboo paths. In theory, it’s a dreamy walk through an endless green tunnel, where the bamboo stalks sway gently in the wind, crafting a serene soundtrack.

However, the reality can be a bit different, especially when you’re sharing the path with a throng of tourists, all vying for the perfect photo op. The tranquillity of the grove is somewhat diminished when you’re elbow-to-elbow with a bus-load of tourists, and the sounds of nature were lost.

Despite this, there’s no denying the place has a unique charm, and we don’t regret visiting, but next time we’ll try and get here a bit earlier or later to avoid the rush.

🔥 HOT TIP: Once you get to the top of the hill, hang a right over the small tourist railway line, and you’ll get to a traditional Japanese housing area which has some much quieter bamboo groves – perfect for escaping the crowds.

Gion DIstrict

a lady in traditional japanese clothing standing by a red picket fence with japanese letters on it in gion district toyko

When you wander into Kyoto’s famed Gion district, you step back in time into the heart of traditional Japan. It’s here, along the preserved streets, that you might catch a glimpse of a geisha, with her elegant kimono and distinctive makeup, hurrying to an appointment.

Gion isn’t just about the allure of these cultural icons; it’s a vibrant area brimming with wooden tea houses, shops, and restaurants where you can experience authentic Japanese cuisine. The district comes alive in the evening when lanterns light up the narrow lanes, meaning you don’t really need an itinerary, just get walking and see what you find.

Philosopher’s Path

philosophers path by jon 2 japan

The Philosopher’s Path stretches for about two kilometres along a cherry tree-lined canal between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji, two of the city’s most prestigious temples. The path is named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to meditate while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. Visiting during the cherry blossom season transforms the path into a breathtaking tunnel of pink blooms, creating an almost ethereal atmosphere that’s hard to forget.

Ginkaku-ji Temple

a japanese multi tier temple beside a pond silver pavilion in kyoto

Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, leads. to some confusion for first-time visitors. Despite its name, the pavilion isn’t clad actually silver. It was intended to be covered in silver foil, a part of the design that never got finished.

I’m glad they didn’t, as instead of this Zen temple being about a gimmick, it is a masterpiece of Japanese aesthetics, emphasising the beauty found in simplicity and imperfection. Surrounded by meticulously maintained sand gardens and set beside a reflective pond, Ginkaku-ji is a place of reflection and calm – well, that is if you’re not exploring with a toddler like we were!

Fushimi Inari Shrine

red torii gates with steps between them at fushimi inari shrine in kyoto

Famous for its thousands of torii gates that create an almost enclosed pathway up the sacred Mount Inari, this Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and prosperity. The gates, donations from individuals and businesses hoping for success, vary in size and inscribe the names and dates of the donors on their sides.

The hike up the mountain takes about two to three hours, but the view of Kyoto from the summit is well worth the effort, not to mention the smaller shrines and fox statues that dot the path, each telling its own story of devotion and hope.

Kiyomizu Dera

kiyomuzu dera by dain hans

Kiyomizu-dera, perched on the side of Otowa Mountain, offers one of Kyoto’s most iconic views. This historic Buddhist temple is famous for its vast wooden stage that juts out from the main hall, 13 metres above the hillside below. From this vantage point, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of Kyoto, particularly stunning in the spring and autumn when the city is awash with cherry blossoms or vibrant fall colours.

The temple’s name, meaning “pure water,” derives from the Otowa Waterfall running beneath the complex, where visitors can drink for health, longevity, and success.

Higashiyama Old Town

a traditional japanese wooden house on a street at night in kyoto

Higashiyama Old Town, with its preserved historic streets, offers as much, if not more, than the more famous Gion District. This area is one of Kyoto’s best-preserved historic areas, where traditional merchant houses have been converted into charming shops, cafés, and tea houses.

We started our walk through Higashiyama Old Town at the top of the hill by Kiyomizu Dera, and followed the lanes all the way back down to Gion, you can see the exact route we walked to take in the most famous temples and parks in Higashiyama on our three-day Kyoto itinerary.

Yasaka Pagoda

yasaka pagoda by kyoto photograph

Yasaka Pagoda, set in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, is a five-story pagoda, the surviving part of the Hosho-ji temple. It showcases the grace of traditional Japanese architecture, with the narrow alleys leading to it a favourite with photographers who come to Kyoto. The iconic structure actually made the front page of the latest Lonely Planet Japan guide!

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Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Time in Kyoto

Get Up Early

It is one of our top travel tips, but the earlier you get up, the more peaceful the top attractions in Kyoto will be.

Most graphs of the key attractions look similar to the one below (this is Fushmi Inari Shrine), where they peak around 1000-1100 as the first tour buses start to arrive, and then don’t start easing off until around 1500.

fushmi inari busy times

Outdoor places such as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove are open 24 hours, so it’s possible to get out to these early, temples generally open between 08300 and 0900.

Use the Open Top Bus

a woman and daughter on a hop on hop off bus in kyoto japan

Kyoto is fairly spread out, and whilst it has a good metro system, some of the top sights aren’t close to stations.

Step in the fantastic Kyoto hop-on hop-off bus, which drives a regular route around the city to places such as the Golden Pavilion, Nijo-ji Castle and the Silver Pavilion.

Take Tours to Maximise Time

If you’ve only got a short amount of time in Kyoto, a tour is the perfect way to see the big sights in the city in an efficient way.

Below, I’ve picked out some of the top-rated tours in Kyoto:

Stay NEar Sanjo Station

We explored staying in multiple areas across Kyoto, but just east of Sanjo Station turned out to be a great call.

With two stations nearby that get you anywhere in the city, it’s also within walking distance of Gion, Higashiyama Old Town and Okazaki Park.

Here are some top picks of where to stay near Sanjo Station:

  • Laon Inn Gion | Budget option, but highly rated
  • Hostel Niniroom | Super cheap, good ratings, shared bathrooms
  • Hotel Alza Kyoto | Superb reviews, more expensive
  • Minn Sanjo | Perfect for families as small apartments, reasonably priced and highly rated – this is where we stayed

Get a Seico Card (7 Different Types of Train)

Kyoto is served by multiple train companies, making navigating the city’s rail network a bit complex for travellers.

A key reason to get a Seico card in Kyoto is the convenience it offers in this scenario. With around seven different train companies operating in the area, including JR West, Keihan, Hankyu, Kintetsu, Eizan, Keifuku, and the Kyoto Municipal Subway, having a Seico card simplifies travel.

Instead of purchasing separate tickets for each company’s lines, you can use the Seico card across multiple networks, making it a practical choice for efficient and hassle-free travel around Kyoto.

Is Kyoto Worth Visiting? FAQ

Is Kyoto Overrated?

I would say parts of Kyoto are definitely overrated, but the city as a whole is fantastic.

Top of my overrated list would have to be the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – a place which I’m sure was awe-inspiring before it found fame, but now is just overrun with people.

But overall, Kyoto is definitely not overrated with many places such as Philosopher’s Walk, Kinkaku-Ji and Higashiyama District surpassing expectations.

Is Kyoto Worth Visiting in Winter?

Kyoto in winter is less crowded compared to the cherry blossom season in spring or the colourful foliage of autumn.

The city’s temples and shrines, blanketed in snow, offer a serene and picturesque setting. You might find the cold weather a bit challenging, but it also means cosy moments in traditional tea houses and enjoying seasonal delicacies.

Plus, Kyoto is well-connected to nearby winter destinations, like ski resorts and onsen (hot springs) towns, which can add variety to your trip. Keep in mind, though, that daylight hours are shorter and some attractions might have reduced hours or be closed.

How Many Days Do You Need in Kyoto?

We suggest a minimum of three days in Kyoto to make the most of the city, however, below are some suggested itineraries to get you going.

2-Day Kyoto Itinerary:

  • Day 1:
    • Fushimi Inari Shrine (early morning to avoid crowds)
    • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
    • Walk through the historic Higashiyama District
    • Gion evening stroll (chance to see Geisha)
  • Day 2:
    • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (early morning)
    • Tenryu-ji Temple
    • Explore the Arashiyama area (Togetsukyo Bridge, Monkey Park)
    • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
    • Nijo Castle or Kyoto Imperial Palace

3-Day Kyoto Itinerary:

  • Day 1 & 2: Same as above.
  • Day 3:
    • Ryoan-ji Temple (famous rock garden)
    • Explore the Philosopher’s Path
    • Nanzen-ji Temple
    • Heian Shrine
    • Evening at Pontocho Alley

4-Day Kyoto Itinerary:

  • Day 1, 2 & 3: Same as above.
  • Day 4:
    • Daigo-ji Temple
    • Visit the Kyoto Railway Museum or Kyoto International Manga Museum
    • Tofuku-ji Temple
    • Evening walk through the Nishiki Market

5-Day Kyoto Itinerary:

  • Day 1, 2, 3 & 4: Same as above.
  • Day 5:
    • Day trip to Nara (Todai-ji Temple, Nara Park, Kasuga Taisha Shrine)
    • Alternatively, explore Kurama and Kibune (rural areas north of Kyoto)
    • Relax in an Onsen (Japanese hot spring)
    • Final night in Kyoto: revisit a favorite area or explore a new neighborhood

Is Kyoto the Most Beautiful City in Japan?

Well, we only saw four of them (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima), but based on what we saw, we’d have to say yes, Kyoto is the most beautiful city in Japan.

Before You Go

Check out our complete Japan travel guide for links to all our posts from our adventures in the country.

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AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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