Historically known as the former imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is a melting pot of culture in Japan’s Kansai region. As the epicenter of traditional culture in Japan, Kyoto is home to some incredible attractions, such as 17 USECSO World Heritage Sites.
Kyoto is an incredibly interesting place with plenty of visually appealing architecture, including around 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shintu shrines. It can take weeks to explore all these incredible sights, but if you only have a day to explore the Japanese culture of Kyoto, then here are a few thigs you absolutely have to do.
1. Stay in a Ryokan
Ryokans are Japanese inns that have long been a traditional form of lodging and have existed for longer than a millennium. These rooms are built with tatami (rice straw flooring) and sliding wooden doors using classic methods. If you are up for it, sleep on a mat on the floor with sobagara (rolled pillows filled with buckwheat husks).
2. Explore the Kinkakuji Temple
This golden temple is one incredible photographic opportunity! Found amidst a lake and trees, this golden Zen temple (aka the “Golden Pavilion”) was originally built as a retirement home. A famous shogun sanctioned the building that was to become his temple once he died. It is most beautiful in the morning when the sun gleams off the temple.
3. Wander the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
This shrine stands as Kyoto’s most iconic treasure. It honors the Shinto god, Inari — the god of rice. You will find it at the end of a bright walkway that consists of thousands of vermilion torii gates.
The shrine is surrounded by beautiful trails that you can spend an entire day wandering through, exploring the network of ornate shrines. Once you get halfway up Mount Inari, you will be rewarded with an incredible view of Kyoto — particularly at the Yotsutsuji Intersection.
4. Visit the Silver Pavilion
Formally known as Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion is a Zen temple with some of the most magnificent, authentic and alluring Japanese gardens. It can be found alongside Higashiyama, the eastern mountains of Kyoto.
It was modeled after the Golden Pavilion and converted to a Zen temple in 1490 after the commissioner’s death. The magnificent architecture is something to admire along with the incredible gardens.
5. Participate in a Tea Ceremony
Tea ceremonies are present throughout Japan, but the ceremonies you can experience in Kyoto are much more sacred thanks to the strong roots of Zen Buddhism.
Enjoy the artistry involved in the preparation of tea. The ceremony acknowledges not only the tea but the utensils used and the company of other people too. This is all done while being mindful and present in the moment.
6. Watch a Geisha Show
Geishas are entertainers who don white makeup on their faces and wear colorful and floral kimonos. There is a misconception that Geishas are the equivalent of prostitutes. In certain cases, this is true. In others, it is not. You can enjoy group Geisha shows in which a group of Geisha entertainers dance, act and sing to entertain audiences.
7. Take a Panoramic View of Kyoto
In a city permeated with temples, the Kyoto Tower is a modern building that stands out from the pack. If you venture to the top of the tower, you can enjoy the most incredible panoramic view of Kyoto.
The sights extend as far Osaka. LED touch screens and telescopes on the platform make the experience all the more incredible, allowing you to put a name on the sights around you. If you want a truly exceptional experience, go to the tower at sunset. You won’t be sorry.
8. Relax in the Hot Springs at Mount Kurama
Just outside the center of Kyoto, you will find the quaint town of Kurama. It is known for traditional baths and hotels. You can take a hike to the top of Mount Kurama, where you will find a beautiful, ornate Buddhist temple.
There is also the option of a cable car from halfway up the mountain. Just past the temple, you will find a rather steep hiking trail adorned by old trees that have outstretched roots. It is an incredible sight and common to see an array of wildlife such as monkeys, deer and songbirds.
Kyoto is an absolutely marvelous wonder, with all of its awesome architecture, dazzling temples and shrines along with the beautiful gardens and rich Japanese culture. This Heritage Site is bursting with culture, places to see and experiences to enjoy. This is just a short list of things to do in Kyoto. If you have the chance, plan to spend more than just one day in this fascinating city.