Top Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids (or Without)

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No matter what kind of traveler you are, you’ll find loads of things to do in Kyoto. Flashpackers and family travelers alike will find Japan’s ancient capital to be a fascinating place to explore. Travel in Kyoto with kids is amazing, but those same Kyoto attractions are just as cool for adults, as well. Scroll down for some of the best Kyoto tours, hotels and activities.

_Kyoto wagashi Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

Things to do in Kyoto with Kids or Without

When most travelers visit Kyoto, they go into full-on tourist mode for 24-48 hours and burn out quickly. If time allows, give yourself the time needed to simply take a walk or bike around. Whether you’re a solo backpacker or a family with five kids, most people pack in too many historical and “touristy” things to do in Kyoto on their first day. It’s exhausting. If you just hustle from one historic spot to the next, you and/or your kids may develop a subconscious aversion to temples and shrines. The historic monuments of Kyoto are a UNESCO Heritage site, but there is much more to the city than old buildings!

Kyoto temples aren’t the only reason to visit. In fact, Some of our favorite Kyoto experiences involve classes, museums and the great outdoors. I hope that after you read this post, your own Kyoto travel itinerary will grow dramatically.

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Table of Contents

Kyoto Travel Tips

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

As you start putting together your Kyoto itinerary, logistics will play a role. I’ll address many of these at the end of the post. After all, the city is spread out and it’s impossible to walk to it all. But first I’ll run through our recommended Kyoto activities, attractions and accommodation. If you want to jump to Kyoto weather info and other nuts and bolts issues for Kyoto travel planning, follow the links below.

  • Kyoto Weather
  • Best Time to Visit Kyoto
  • Getting to Kyoto

How to Avoid Kyoto Crowds

Over the past 10 years, Japan has experienced a travel boom like never before. Part of it is due to the drop in the value of the yen (JPY ¥) over the years. However, it’s mostly due to the rise of China/Southeast Asia and the growing popularity of travel amongst its citizens. Many of the things to do in Kyoto that we recommend are popular among all tourists. That said, there are ways to avoid the crowds:

  • Go to Kyoto temples early, before the tour buses arrive.
  • Visit popular sites around an hour before closing.
  • If you really want to avoid the crowds, then avoid visiting Kyoto cherry blossom season, “Golden Week” (national holidays in early May) and during the changing of the leaves in Fall. 

Tokyo *or* Kyoto?

Whether you’re traveling to Kyoto with kids, with a partner/friend or on your own, you may have the same question: “I only have a week. Should I go to Tokyo or Kyoto?” I’ve been asked this question by many families traveling to Japan with kids as well as backpackers and retirees.

For your Japan trip, you may have limited time, a small budget or some other limitation. Perhaps you’d rather concentrate on one Japanese city for a week or two instead of skimming over more places with the added time and cost of transportation between them. Perhaps you’re looking at several great Japanese cities to visit — usually Tokyo and Kyoto — and you want to choose one. I get that.

That said, it’s hard for me to tell you if I don’t know you well and what your interests are. So here’s a broad generalization. If you love history, tradition, nature and a slower pace, then maybe visit Kyoto. If you want more action, museums, street life, art, and events, then perhaps choose Tokyo.

Kyoto Activities by Category

_fushimi inari Our Top Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

So I’ve broken down my recommendations things to do in Kyoto with kids or without. There are four main categories:

  1. Kyoto Tours & Classes
  2. Best Kyoto Temples & Shrines
  3. Where to Walk in Kyoto
  4. More Fun Things to Do in Kyoto

Most people looking for things to do in Kyoto have Kyoto temples and shrines on their bucket list. And indeed, they are certainly worth visiting. But if you have time and want to do more than snap a few pics at historic monuments, then the best activity to do in Kyoto is walking. In fact, simply walking around town is one of my favorite Kyoto activities. Of course, there are loads of great classes and tours in Kyoto, as well.

You probably didn’t come all the way to Japan for a simple stroll. Thus the four main sections below. One section details specific Kyoto shrines and temples that are my favorites (also kid-friendly). Another section is for specific roads, trails, and areas that are great for walking and exploring — in town or as a small Kyoto day trip. Finally, I list up a few of our other favorite things to do in Kyoto with kids, (rafting, museums, etc) that also happen to be fun for everyone. Whatever you decide to do, getting around in Kyoto is not that hard. You can totally depend on public transportation (bus & train) and/or taxi. 

Related: Things to Do in Osaka

Kyoto Tours & Classes

With so many things to do in Kyoto, it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re interested in any kind of classes or tours in Kyoto, then my usual recommendation is to do them early in your trip. It’s good for classes but especially recommended for tours in Kyoto. Why? Well, this gives you access to locals and other knowledgable people sooner than later. 

Professional tours in Kyoto can also help you get your bearings in the city and help you plan the next few days more efficiently. For example, if you take a walking tour of Kyoto on day-one, you can ask your guide specific questions such as where to find a certain souvenir or type of restaurant you’re interested in. By the same token, let’s say you take a Kyoto food tour soon after you arrive. If you love any of the restaurants your visit, now you can go back a second time. Here are a few Kyoto tours to think about. 

Magical Trip Kyoto Food Tours

Kyoto cuisine and Japaonese food tour to Gion restaurant

Our top recommendation for Kyoto food tours is through local company Magical Trip. Kyoto cuisine is unique in its own ways, and you learn about it here while eating some delicious dishes. I’ve written about their Kyoto Night Foodie Tour, and they offer a breakfast one as well. They aren’t specifically designed for kids but both are kid-friendly. Recommended!

Kyoto Food Tours with Magical Trip

Nishiki Market Walking Tour

Authentic Kyoto Night Food Tour in Gion

Kyoto Walking Tours

If you want to take a walking tour of Kyoto, then we once again recommend using Magical Trip. They are a locally owned and operated company with many Kyoto walking tour options, including many the most famous Kyoto landmarks and sites. They go to the green and beautiful Arashiyama area, as well as the vivid vermillion tori gates of Fushimi Inari. Other Kyoto walking tours involve temples and Japanese tea ceremony. 

Magical Trip Walkling Tours in Kyoto

Kyoto Hiking Tour Through Fushimi Inari

Arashiyama Walking Tour

Kyoto World Heritage Walking Tour

Walking Tour to Kyoto Temples Uji Matcha & Byodo-in

Other Walking Tours in Kyoto

If you’re looking for more Kyoto walking tour options, there are plenty to choose from. From full-day excursions to 3-hour strolls, here are links to more Kyoto walking tours. Some may also include other modes of transportation between attractions, depending on time and distance. 

Earlybird Kyoto Walking Tour 

One of the best ways to see Kyoto without crowds is to visit very early in the morning. If that appeals to you, then this is the right Kyoto walking tour for you. You hit three of the ara’s most famous attractions: Fushimi Inari, Kiyomizudera and Arashiyama…all before 10 am. 

Book Now: Earlybird Kyoto Walking Tour

More Kyoto Walking Tours

Full-Day UNESCO & Historical Sites Tour 

5-hour Kyoto Walking Tour 

3.5-Hour Small-Group Kyoto Walking Tour

Personalized Private Walking Tours of Kyoto

Two-Wheeled Kyoto Tours

Kyoto Rickshaw Tours

Don’t want to walk? Prefer pedaling or being pulled along? There’s a customized Kyoto tour for you, too. Kyoto is a very bikeable city and there are bicycle tours in the area that are loads of fun. For those who want an old-school experience, you can hire a rickshaw to roll you through the beautiful Arashiyama district. We really like Magical Trip’s Kyoto bike tour but there are several options to choose from.

Bike Tours in Kyoto

These small-group Kyoto bike tours take you safely through the city to some of its most beautiful landmarks.

Magical Trip’s Historical Bike Tour in Kyoto

3.5-Hour Small Group Cycling Tour

Kyoto Fun Cycling Tour

Kyoto Rickshaw Tours in Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Go old-school and try a rickshaw tour in Kyoto. Rickshaw guides also act as tour guides and are happy to take some pics of you, as well. 

45min-3hrs: Rickshaw Tour in Arashiyama

30min – 2hrs: Kyoto Rickshaw Tours

Classes, Experiences, & Lessons in Kyoto

Kyoto cooking classes

There’s a lot to learn in Japan, and Kyoto is one of the best places to start! From tea and tempura to swords and samurai, there are loads of fun, educational experiences in Kyoto. As we’ve said many times before, cooking classes are a great way to experience a new place. And a delicious one as well!

Kyoto Cooking Classes with AirKitchen

Our top recommendation for cooking classes in Kyoto is AirKitchen. Through their site, AirKitchen connects you with locals for culinary experiences. Sometimes it’s a local granny cooking in her kitchen, while other times it may be a shop-owner or long-time resident steeped in the traditions. Either way, there are loads of Kyoto food classes to explore. 

Explore AirKitchen’s Cooking & Tea Ceremony Lessons

Other Cooking Classes in Kyoto

Morning Bento Cooking Class in Kyoto

Afternoon Izakaya Cooking Class in Kyoto

More Kyoto Tea Ceremony Lessons

Kyoto Tea Ceremony at Jotokuji Temple

Tea Ceremony by Master of Urasenke School

Authentic Kyoto Tea Ceremony Experience

Samurai Experiences in Kyoto

Ever wanted to wield a real katana (Japanese sword)? Would you like to learn some of the basic movements of Japanese sword fighting and other skills from a bygone era? If the answer is yes, then you should consider booking a samurai experience.

Kyoto Samurai Class

Authentic Kyoto Samurai Experience

Best Kyoto Temples and Shrines

Everyone talks about visiting the temples and shrines of Kyoto. Trying to encapsulate that in one blog post is a tall order, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just tell you which places I think the kids (and you) will enjoy most. And as mentioned above, I highly recommend not overloading on these sites on day-one. Whether you’re a fit solo backpacker or traveling with toddlers, take it easy and spare some time to enjoy some street food, people-watching, and strolling by the Kamogawa river.

Kiyomizu Dera – Best Kyoto Temples

kiyomizu dera. Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

You’ve probably seen pictures of this Kyoto temple perched on a hillside, and it’s as beautiful as you’ve imagined. It’s also one of the most crowded and touristy places in Japan, being one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto, but one of the main reasons that I recommend visiting Kiyomizu Dera is because walking there is fun on its own.

Route #1: Ninen-zaka & Sannen-zaka to Kiyomizu-Dera

There are two main ways up to the temple entrance. One is to take the steps on Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. There’s no worry about cars, so kids can walk freely. It is usually crowded though, so keep your eyes open. There are lots of little shops along the way, many of which could be of interest to stop and check out. A baby carrier is better than a stroller on this route.

Route #2: Matsubara Dori to Kiyomizu-Dera

The second option is to take the main road, Matsubara Dori. It’s a slow incline, which makes it a better route for strollers or wheelchairs, but keep in mind that this road is used by bikes, cars and tour buses. Out of all the things to do in Kyoto, this can be one of the most crowded mid-day. The path is lined with tea houses, restaurants and souvenir shops, both cheesy and more sophisticated.

Either way, you have plenty of eating, shopping and resting options along the way. Some say that all of the commercialism takes away from the serene temple experience. I wouldn’t argue with that, but I prefer to just go with it, thankful for all the extra stimuli to keep me and the kids occupied. Also, there’s really a great view of the town from the top.

One extra point to note is that Kiyomizu Dera actually is more stroller friendly than most Kyoto temples. They have “no-step, barrier-free” routes for wheelchairs, which can be used for strollers as well. The only two steps en route are at the wooden stage in front of the main hall where everyone would go for the view of Kyoto city. Here is PDF map for the route.

The Myoshin-Ji Temple Complex

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

This large complex has over 45 Zen temples, but only four are open regularly to the public (for a fee). Others open only for special occasions. But don’t be discouraged! The grounds are quite nice and car-free for the most part, and gazing upon the dragon painting by Tan’yu Kano alone is worth the trip. There is no through traffic for public vehicles, so just walking around the complex can be peaceful and refreshing.

Hatto (Dhama Hall)

This is the Kyoto temple with the famous dragon painting. You need to pay for a tour to go inside ( ¥500 adults, ¥100 for kids). Tours are available only in Japanese, but the dragon painted on the ceiling needs no explanation. You will also see Japan’s oldest bell and bathing room in this 20-minute tour. 

Taizo-in Temple

This small Kyoto temple holds one of the oldest ink paintings and Japan’s national treasure: Joesetsu’s Catching Catfish with a Gourd. For ¥500, they offer tea next to their beautiful garden. No booking needed. Just walk in and ask.

Keishun-in Temple

This is another small Kyoto Zen temple in the complex with four gorgeous gardens of different styles. Macha tea is served for ¥400.

Daishin-in Temple

This small Zen temple in Kyoto has a karesansui (dry landscape) garden, but it’s more known as a shukubo (temple lodging). Booking is required and could be somewhat challenging unless you speak good Japanese. The Shunko-in temple (listed below) is more English-friendly.

Shunko-in Temple

Not open for public viewing. However, you can go in when you take their Zen meditation class in English (check details here). If you think your children can handle the quietness for 1.5hrs, it might be a “one of a kind” Kyoto experience. It was one of the Kyoto activities that I wanted to do, but I went on my own.

Shunko-in temple also has Shukubo (temple lodging). The rooms are small, clean and simple, but include wifi, bathroom/shower, and a communal kitchen. With an additional ¥500, you get a tour of the grounds and a short lesson on Zen meditation in English (I’ve done this one). They also offer Buddhist wedding services in English, regardless of faith or sexual orientation.

Ryoanji Temple

This UNESCO world heritage site is one of the most well-known temples in Kyoto and is part of the Myoshinji Zen school. This temple is NOT located in the huge complex, but about a 5-min walk from the complex. The zen rock garden here is often quite crowded, so expect more people here than in the complex itself.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

One of the most photogenic places in Japan, Fushimi Inari is one of the best temples in Kyoto to let the kids loose in. Be respectful, of course, but there is space to move and it’s fun walking up the hill and back. You can spend several hours here, walking under the bright orange torii (archways) on their pathways up and down the hillside. They simply beckon to be explored. Unlike some shrines and sacred spaces in Japan, Fushimi Inari doesn’t technically close, which makes it one of the best things to do in Kyoto at night, and one of the best temples to wander and photograph after dark.

Many of the kanji (Japanese characters) written on each tori are the names of whoever donated money to the shrine: the bigger/thicker the columns, the more money was donated. Some names on the poles are families or individuals, while other names are companies, restaurants, hair salons, etc. We all enjoyed making up stories for these names and there are hundreds upon hundreds of them.

If you plan to see the renowned thousand Torii (which you should!), be reminded that there are lots of stairs. Strollers are technically allowed, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Another thing worth noting is that Kyoto’s summer can be very humid and hot. When hiking up the mountain through torii, you will want to have a bottle of water or two.

Higashi Honganji 

If you’re at Kyoto Station and have limited time, this is one of the Japanese temples to visit. Higashi Honganji is huge and a short walk from Kyoto Station. It’s not one of the most famous Kyoto temples but perfectly located when time is limited before a shinkansen trip. More info on Higashi Honganji at my post about attractions and hotels near Kyoto Station.

Many More Temples in Kyoto

Of course, there are many, many more temples to visit in Kyoto with kids, but if time is tight, those are the main ones I’d recommend.

Related: MEGA Guide for Tokyo with Kids

Fun Walks in Kyoto 

One of the best things to do in Kyoto with or without kids is to go for a walk. It may be a stroll by the river or a hike up a hill. Heck, even trudging up or down a sidewalk to the next temple is often quite enjoyable for us. So below, I’m listing a few walking areas for your consideration.

The Philosopher’s Path

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

This lovely tree-lined path is enjoyable at any time of year and is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. The Philosopher’s Path is about two kilometers and has lots of little shrines, shops, and cafes along the way. To be clear, you don’t come here to have your mind blown. Instead, you come here just for a meandering stroll. But a word of warning to parents of little kids: much of the path follows a small canal and there is no guardrail (see above picture). It’s not treacherous or anything, but toddlers might want to be monitored near the edge.

Arashiyama

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

I like this area so much that I wrote an entire post about Arashiyama. Strolling through this beautiful part of the city is one of the most popular things to do in Kyoto, but there’s more to it than the famous Arashiyama bamboo grove here. In order to avoid the crowd in the bamboo, you need to get up early or come at dusk, but there are more people around dark nowadays. Many people recommend the Monkey Park up the hill, and that’s fine, but we are not fans.

Read Our Arashiyama Area Guide

The Kamogawa Riverbank

There’s a river that cuts through the city and it’s one of the best places in Kyoto to hang out. You’ll see lots of people here when it’s warm: families, first dates, and pensioners, as well as a few tipsy college students or a band busking for change. This place alone can occupy a few hours, especially if you walk north, where space opens up and there’s more grass to sprawl out on.

The river has plenty of ducks, And at certain times of the year, you’ll see lots of swooping kites — not the string-and-paper kind of kites but the birds. They look like small, scrappy hawks. Grabbing a snack or drink and just sitting near the riverside one of the best things to do in Kyoto in my opinion, but there are plenty of nice restaurants overlooking the water (see Pontocho Alley below) if you’re ready to eat/drink something more substantial.

Pontocho Alley

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

This narrow downtown road follows the Kamogawa River, and many restaurants along this alley have large Kawadoko (riverside seating) that face the river. Many are only open for dinner, but some offer lunch as well. This alley is a great place for food and a few pics or Kyoto at night. You may be lucky and spot some maiko (apprentice geisha) or geiko (fully-fledged geisha) walking to their appointments, especially in the hours just around dusk.

Shotengai: Japanese Shopping Streets

You can find shotengai (covered shopping streets) throughout Japan, but places like Kyoto and Osaka have loads of good ones. They’re great for shopping, a quick bite, and people watching. The two best-known shotengai in Kyoto are Teramachi Shotengai and Shinkyogoku Shotengai. They run parallel to each other near Karasuma and Kawaramachi Stations. 

Kyoto on a Rainy Day

Shotengai and the Nishiki Market (see below) are perfect rainy day options. They are covered and sheltered from the elements and have plenty of places to walk in, including small shrines. You will see many school groups in uniform wandering around because this is one of the places they go on school trips to Kyoto.

Other Fun Things to Do in Kyoto

Temples and shrines visited? Check. Taken a walk? Check. Now what? Don’t worry. There are many more things to do in Kyoto with kids and everyone else. When we’re in Kyoto with kids, we usually combine some of the activities below with any of the above-mentioned sightseeing.

Make Traditional Japanese Sweets

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

Japanese sweets are basically just rice, sugar and beans. And yet, for centuries, these little delicacies have been an art form that takes years to master. But you know what? They’re fun for us beginners to make, too. My kids and I have had taken a few lessons over the years, and it’s one of their favorite things to do in Kyoto. The best part is that no matter what the results look like, they still taste good! The classes are usually in group form, and the instructor is trying to keep many people on task, so keep that in mind if younger kids want to try. Some instructors move too fast, so if kiddo falls behind, help them catch up.

Kameya Yoshinaga: 5-min walk from the east exit of Omiya station on the Hankyu line. Classes are 70 minutes and start at 2:00 pm every day. More info on their English site.

Fight Samurai at Toei Uzumasa Eigamura

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

Over a hundred movies a year are filmed at this place, mostly sword-and-samurai period dramas that my mother-in-law grew up watching as a child. The Edo-era sets are fun, but the shows are what make the place worth the price of admission. They show how they film the sword fights and action stunts, as well as how the camera can trick the eye.

Don’t be like us and time your visit poorly. We showed up late, wandered around too long and missed the shows, and they’re included in the price of admission! We were stupid and paid for other minor attractions and ran out of time. See the shows, then use whatever time is left for everything else. Also: sorry, but everything is in Japanese.

Toei Edo Studio Park is located a 5-min walk from Uzumasa station on the JR Sagano line. Entrance is ¥2,200 yen for adults, ¥1,300 yen for 13-18 yrs, ¥1,000 for 3-12 yrs. Some attractions inside require additional fees.

Snack Away at Nishiki Market

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

This place serves more tourists than locals nowadays, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or appetizing. Fabulous displays of tea, sweets, and seafood stand side-by-side restaurants and other shops down a street sheltered by colored glass.

Lots of small snacks are readily available from stands all the way down the street. If you walk from the west end of the strip, you will end at Shin Kyogoku Shotengai shopping street (see above).

Sagano Romantic Train

One of the most scenic places in Kyoto is the Sagano Romantic Train from Arashiyama to Kameoka. This is an especially beautiful ride in spring (cherry blossoms) and fall (red autumn maples). Pick up tickets from this link at Kyoto Station.

Book Now: Sagano Railway Tickets

Relax at a Hot Spring and/or Ryokan

Most people traveling to Kyoto with kids have all of its temples and shrines on their bucket list. They are certainly worth visiting, but there is much more in Kyoto than old buildings! In my list, you’ll find sweets making classes, hiking trails, rafting, amusement parks, aquariums, and plenty of green space. | What to do in Kyoto | Arashiyama | Fushimi Inari | Nishiki Market| Hot Springs | Kurama | Where to stay in Kyoto | Kyoto Family Travel | Kyoto Aquarium |

Having a nice dip in a Kyoto onsen (hot spring) is super refreshing. If you have the budget for it, then you should definitely stay at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) as well. Few experiences are more Japanese than this, and it is much more than a bed and a night’s sleep. Arashiyama, where the bamboo grove mentioned above is located, is another great spot for hot springs, and there are several ryokan there. Traveling to Kyoto with kids is a treat itself, but staying at a nice onsen ryokan with your family is even better. First of all, dinner is usually included in the price (check to be sure).

Tips for Your Onsen Experience

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

Most importantly, at Kyoto hot springs and ryokan, you have relaxing tubs filled with hot mineral spring water to hang out in. It’s best to check in early enough in the evening to have a nice soak before dinner. Go ahead and change into the yukata (robe) provided, and walk to dinner in that. Trust me.

Most people will be doing the same, and it’s extremely relaxing. Don’t forget to have another soak before bed, and yet another in the morning before you check out. Be reminded, though, if you have any obvious tattoos, you will probably be asked not to get in the public tub.

Explore the Best Ryokan & Hotels in Kyoto

Ryokan & Hotels in Arashiyama

Soak in a Sento

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

If you’re on a budget, then just hit a sento, which are public bathhouses that just cost a few hundred yen. Some people get onsen and sento confused, so to clarify: an onsen is a natural hot spring, while a sento uses tap water as you’d use at home.

Most Kyoto sento are essentially no-frills bathhouses for the public, and kids can go with parents of either gender up to primary school age. They’re not fancy, but still, a cheap and fun way to relax (or if in the winter, to warm up) after a long day of walking around. As with onsens, make sure to wash completely at the shower stalls before getting in the tubs.

My favorite Kyoto bathhouse is Nishiki-yu (opened in 1927), just around the corner from the Nishiki Market, only 2 min from exit 13 or 14 of Karasuma station on the Hankyu line (see this map). If this one us too “local” for you, then try Public Bath House Yuu (Daiyokujo Yuu) on B3F in Kyoto Tower, or Funaoka Onsen (called an onsen but actually a sento opened in 1923), which is about a 20-min walk from Kinkaku-Ji Temple (see this map).

Go Whitewater Rafting

Most people traveling to Kyoto with kids have all of its temples and shrines on their bucket list. They are certainly worth visiting, but there is much more in Kyoto than old buildings! In my list, you’ll find sweets making classes, hiking trails, rafting, amusement parks, aquariums, and plenty of green space. | What to do in Kyoto | Arashiyama | Fushimi Inari | Nishiki Market| Hot Springs | Kurama | Where to stay in Kyoto | Kyoto Family Travel | Kyoto Aquarium |

Kyoto city is surrounded by mountains, so you can jump on a train downtown and be in a beautiful forest or by an ice-blue river in 30 minutes. If you and your brood are up for some action, then look into some of the rafting outlets.

We certainly enjoyed our time with Big Smile Rafting, and it was interesting to see so many non-Japanese raft guides (Brazilians, Nepalese, etc). You have to be at least 10 years old, but if you take responsibility, they might be flexible.

Visit the Kyoto Railway Museum

Promenade - Kyoto Railway Museum

You don’t have to be a trainspotter to enjoy this remarkably comprehensive museum. But if you or your little one like trains, then you’ll happily spend half a day here. There are trains from every era: from steam to shinkansen. Lots of hands-on activities and detailed explanations of the history and machinations of trains, as well. Unlike many museums in Kyoto and Japan in general, the Kyoto Railway Museum has plenty of English signage.

Turn a Page at the Kyoto Manga Museum

Kyoto Manga Museum - main gallery

If you’re in Kyoto with kids who love manga, then this place might be of significant interest. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is built inside a former elementary school and is four floors of manga. The name “Museum” is, in my opinion, a bit misleading. It’s more like a library only for manga. There are manga in a number of languages — including English — but the vast majority are in Japanese. They also have great kamishibai performances and other extras. More in the link below. 

Discuss Japanese Monsters on Yokai Street

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

This cute little diversion is not for everyone. Then again, if you’re in Kyoto with kids, like Japanese monsters, or enjoy a little local kitsch, then Yokai Street is for you. There’s not much to it: just a quiet shopping street with a dozen or so small makeshift statues (if that’s the right word) fitted onto traffic cones in front of shops. Most statues represent a yokai (monster) from Japanese lore.

Picnic in Maruyama Park

This is a nice big park that’s perfect for a stroll on the weekend or a picnic any day of the week. The maple trees here are stunning in autumn and cherry blossom trees exquisite in spring. The recommended picnic spot is near Yasaka Shrine. If you come during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, then expect huge crowds of partiers (young and old, night and day).

Use your hands at the Kyoto Handicraft Center

This place is mainly a large and (fairly) sophisticated souvenir shop, but if you sign up ahead of time, you can join a variety of workshops to make traditional objects, such as fans, bags, woodblock prints, and others.

Kyoto at Night

Kyoto At Night Potoncho Kimono Girls

When deciding what to do in Kyoto, there are obvious choices during the day: dozens of temples, classes, and Kyoto tours come to mind. But what about what to do in Kyoto at night? Here are a few of our suggestions.  

Gion

Our top pick for things to do in Kyoto at night is wandering around Gion. Have dinner in the area, and then prowl the streets with a camera. Of course, you could try Magical Trip’s night foodie tour, or simply head out on your own and see what you discover.

Temples to see in Kyoto at Night

Kyoto At Night Fushimi Inari

Many Kyoto temples and shrines close long before sunset. Yet some don’t, and they can be fun to visit after typical visiting hours. For example, Fushimi Inari Shrine technically never closes, and the bright orange gates take on a different look at night (see above). Yasaka shrine is also walkable in Kyoto at night. Unlike Fushimi Inari, it has lanterns lighting parts of it beautifully

The Kamo River & Potoncho Alley

This area is especially active in Kyoto at night. In fact, Potoncho Alley doesn’t look that special during daylight hours but seems magical after the sun goes down. The river is also a great place to wander at night during the warmer months. 

Hanatouro

Twice a year, the Kyoto night atmosphere gets even more dreamy when there is more light in the paths. During theHanatouro events, thousands of traditional lanterns are placed on the roads of specific areas of Kyoto after dark. The Arashiyama event usually happens in December, while Higashiyama lights up in Spring.

Kyoto Day Trips

Kuromon Market Osaka Daytrips from Kyoto

Once you’ve spent your time in the city what else is there to do? Are there any day trips from Kyoto worth considering? Yes, there are. The Kansai area of Japan is convenient for Japan travelers because there are lots of interesting places close together. This is even easier if you have a JR Rail Pass. In fact, many people base themselves in either Kyoto or Osaka for this reason. From Kyoto, you can easily visit many different places. Here are a few Kyoto day trips we’d recommend. 

Arashiyama – Day Trips From Kyoto 

Technically this is part of Kyoto and most people only go see the bamboo grove and then leave. Arashiyama has much more to offer than that. You could spend a day or two in the area. 

Nara – Kyoto Day Trips

Often outshined by Kyoto, Nara is an amazing place for a Japan day trip…or even more, Most people visit for the deer, there’s much more to this ancient and fascinating city. 

Osaka- Day Trips from Kyoto

I’ve been visiting Osaka since 1997 (my in-laws live there) and have been living here since 2019. Often accused of being grittier and more garish than the capital, it’s a place I love with all my heart. 

My Top Kyoto Day Trip: Kibune to Kurama Hike 

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

These two small villages are about an hour north of Kyoto Station. If the weather is good and you enjoy light-to-moderate hikes, I can’t recommend this enough. It’s easily one of my favorite things to do in Kyoto: on my own or with the kids. Kids as young as six or seven are capable of this hike, but it’s not stroller-friendly, as there are many steps as well as the occasional large tree roots to step over. My recommendation is to take the train to Kibune-Guchi station, eat lunch there (or bring your own), and then hike over to Kurama and plop down in the Kurama onsen. You’ll thank me later.

Lunch in Kibune

My favorite place for lunch in Kibune is Hirobun. It is one of many Kawadoko (“river floor”) restaurants in the area with generously priced Kaiseki lunch. When I say “river floor,” I mean you quite literally eat on platforms built next to or just above the river, which adds a refreshing breeze and natural beauty to your meal.

Between May and September, they have nagashi-somen (flowing noodle) service which is lots of fun. Or it might be frustrating, as you need to be able to use a pair of chopsticks well in order to catch the noodles as they slide past. Be warned you might need to wait for 1-2 hours or more unless you arrive before they open at 11:00 am. If you’d rather enjoy lunch peacefully (at a higher price), here are a few other Kawadoko restaurants.

Kurama Onsen

Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids or Without: Japan Family Travel Tips

At Kurama onsen, you get to choose to just dip yourself in the rotenburo (outdoor bath, towel rental NOT included) or utilize the whole facility (including towels, outdoor bath, indoor bath, and lounge for resting) for a bit more. I usually just buy a small towel and go to the outdoor bath. It feels so good to wash and then soak after a 1.5hr hike. The ride back to the city is so much more refreshing after a dip in the onsen. Just make sure you know how to use an onsen. Kyoto day trips like this aren’t that hard to plan on your own, but if you prefer to have a guide take you, look into this tour from Voyagin.

Book Now: Kurama Temple & Hot Spring Bath

Kyoto Travel Planning

Before you begin assembling your Kyoto itinerary, you may want to consider a few of the logistic points listed below. In addition to Kyoto hotels and other accommodation, we talk about Kyoto weather and transportation.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura Hongan-G ryokan near kyoto station

Kyoto offers lots of great accommodation options — from traditional ryokan to luxury suites to budget guesthouses. 

Kyoto Weather & Best Time to Visit Kyoto

You can visit Kyoto any time of year, but some times and seasons are better than others. You may have a set time for your visit, but if you have any wiggle room, then here are a few suggestions. 

Best Time to Visit Kyoto

We usually say that the best time to visit Kyoto is during Spring and Fall, but increasingly I’ve been suggesting Winter as well. Kyoto in Spring is gorgeous: first, you have the pink cherry blossoms around April, which give way to green leaves and mild temperatures. Kyoto in Autumn is a great time to see the hillsides explode in red maple leaves and the worst of summer’s heat dissipating. The reason I’ve started to recommend Kyoto in Winter as well as because the crowds are smaller. Besides, Kyoto doesn’t get very cold and snow/ice is rare. 

Worst Time to Visit Kyoto

I usually recommend people avoid Kyoto in Summer. It’s incredibly hot and humid and the crowds are immense since school is out. There are also a number of Japanese holidays I’d recommend scheduling your visit to avoid. There is Golden Week: April 29 to as late as  May 6th, depending on the weekend configuration. Then there is Silver Week, which is at the end of September. At both of these times, lots of local Japanese take holidays, which means even larger crowds and higher prices. 

Getting to Kyoto

Kyoto Station is a major hub in Japan’s mass transit system so it’s fairly simple to get there — especially if you have a JR Rail Pass. Here’s a rundown of the easiest routes. 

Tokyo to Kyoto <> Kyoto to Tokyo

Osaka to Kyoto <> Kyoto to Osaka

From Shin-Osaka Station, take the Hikari or Kodama Shinkansen to Kyoto Station. These are covered by the JR Rail Pass. But the pass does not cover Nozomi or Mizuho. Make sure to take Hikari or Kodama Shinkansen to/from Kyoto Station if using the JR Pass. Travel time is approx 15 minutes.

If you’re not using the JR Pass, then another way to go is taking the Hankyu-Kyoto Line from Osaka-Umeda Station to Kyoto Kawaramachi Station. Travel time approx 45 minutes. 

Nara to Kyoto <> Kyoto to Nara

This one’s easy: the Nara Line is a direct link from Nara Station to Kyoto Station. Travel time is approx. 50 minutes. If you want to go directly to Gion, then take the Nara Line to Tokufuji and transfer to the Keihan Main Line for Gion-Shijo Station. 

What’s on Your Kyoto Itinerary?

Kyoto is still one of my favorite cities in Japan. Of course, I haven’t covered everything to do in Kyoto with kids, but I hope you can find something you like here. If you have been to Kyoto with your family and want to share your best things to do in Kyoto with kids, please leave a comment below. Have questions? I would be happy to help with your trip to Japan!

Further Reading

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel in Kyoto using our links while you plan your trip to Kyoto with kids. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you find fun things to do in Kyoto with kids. Do you know of great things to do in Kyoto with children? Or do you have advice on things to do in Kyoto for solo travelers or couples travel? Let us know! We want this page to be a useful resource for Kyoto travel tips, so if you know of great things to do in Kyoto that aren’t on this list, let us know!

Photo Credits via Creative Commons CC BY or other Royalty-free image sites. Some images may have been altered slightly via cropping or color enhancement: #2, #4, #10, #13, #21, #25, #31, #32, #33, #36

 

Comments

  1. Wow, wow, wow – thank you for this excellently written and organized article!!! Planning a trip to Kyoto for February 2020 with one year old twin boys and this basically created our itinerary for us. Very grateful to you for sharing your wisdom!

  2. Brynne Burkhalter says

    My friend recommended your website, and I’m so glad she did! VERY useful!! My family of 4 (two kids 10 & 13) Will be staying for a week near Nagoya to visit my husband‘s relatives. The following week we will be staying in Tokyo. We will have a car while in Nagoya, and I was thinking we could drive to Kyoto for a LONG day trip. Am I crazy?? I know it’s a lengthy drive… But I am more concerned we won’t fit much into just one day. Our relatives say not to bother. But everyone loves Kyoto—I don’t want to miss out! Do you think it’s doable?

    • Hi Brynne

      It takes about 2 hours or so to drive from Nagoya to Kyoto. Not sure where you usually drive, but highways in Japan are unlike most of the ones in the US where I am from. Highways in Japan are not very scenic (through urban areas or have wall on both sides). Some are windy, often jammed, and then there are the tolls. I’m not sure where in Nagoya you will be driving from and where in Kyoto you want to go to, but driving within big cities often takes more time than using trains/subways. We lived in Tokyo for 13 years and never considered a car. Only rented one occasionally when we knew we’d be out on open roads (in Chiba, Izu, etc).

      If you don’t mind driving 4 or more hours (depending on traffic/holiday season) with all the stress of unfamiliar roads, it’s doable, but it would be a super long tiring day. I much prefer to take a train, and suggest you take a Shinkansen (30 min to Nagoya to Kyoto) or a highway bus service (3hrs, but much cheaper than Shinkansen) if you really want to go to Kyoto. Nagoya has many things to do as well if this is the first visit for your family.

      Either way, hope your visit to Japan is a memorable one. Enjoy!

  3. This is very useful and extensive list with wonderful explanations. I’d kindly recommend adding the Kyoto Samurai & ninja museum (https://mai-ko.com/samurai/) which is right around the corner of the Nishiki Market. It has very good reviews both on Tripadvisor and Google particularly from families with kids. At the same time I must admit I am affiliated with the museum. So people should check the internet and decide on their own.

  4. Hi Jason,

    Your website is fabulous. I am so glad I found it. I am leaving on the 22nd of August for 12 days with my husband and three kids aged 11, 11 and 6. We will spend 4 days in Tokyo,, 3 days in Kyoto and 2 days in Takayama and Shirakawa-go.
    In Kyoto, I really like your recommendations. I am concerned about the heat. Do you think the following itinerary is doable? Should I leave something out?
    Kiyomzu Dera, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Nijyojyo castle, Higashi Honganji Temple, Arashiyama Area, Bamboo Forest, Tenryu Temple,
    I love your idea of the hike between Kibune and Karama can this be combined or done with any of the above?
    We also wanted to go to Osaka one night for dinner. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

    • Hi Kelly,

      Glad to hear that our posts are helpful. And apologies for the late reply. Somehow it went in the wrong folder and I just found your comment! Hope you are enjoying Japan now. I know a typhoon is currently closing in on the Kansai area. Hope you avoid bad weather troubles and have a great time.

      Your itinerary in Kyoto sounds just about perfect to me. Are you aiming for two spots a day I suppose? It’s a good plan especially for kids who need rest and cool-down time more often than adults. Kibune and Kurama are, unfortunately, pretty far north of Kyoto city area so it can’t really be combined with any of your other ideas unless you are willing to have a very long day outing with an early start. I wouldn’t recommend that with kids.

      Osaka offers lots of good eats. One I recommend with younger kids is trying okonomiyaki. There are loads of places in Osaka and greater Kansai for this, but a fancier version that we like is the Chibo chain. There’s one in Dotonbori, and a few others, I think. If you need an idea of what to eat, check out our post on Japanese food. Have a wonderful time in Japan!

  5. Cynthia Yeiser says

    Hi Jason-
    Your website has been SO helpful as we plan our 11 day trip to Japan this summer with 3 kids ages 6,5 and 3 (!!!). Daunting to say the least. We are trying to decide upon a hiking backpack with either an umbrella stroller or jogging stroller (in which another kid could sit on the front). The jogging stroller is bigger, much easier to push and holds misc items underneath – pluses in my opinion.
    Second: do we need car seats or boosters for public taxis or rental cars? Is this something we can get there?
    Thank you

    • Hi Cynthia. Personally, we preferred a jogging stroller for the reasons you mentioned: carries more kids and stuff, plus they’re easier to get on/off train platforms. The downside is that when there aren’t elevators, you have to lug those things up the stairs yourself, and they’re big and heavy. Still worth it for us, but some people prefer umbrella strollers. As for car seats/boosters, I’m sure that you could get one there if you wanted. Stores like Akachan Honpo would be the place to look.

  6. Hi Jason
    We (3 adults) and 1 year old and a pair of 20 months twinswill be spending 11 days in Osaka and Kyoto in total in oct.
    We are thinking of renting a car as our mode of transportation. Is that recommended?
    How many days should I allocate to Osaka / Kyoto. And to get to Nara, I should just do a day trip out from Osaka?

    • Hi Angie,

      I understand why you’re thinking car rental (lots to carry with little ones!), but I usually recommend taxis and public transportation in the cities. If you go to Hokkaido or other rural parts of the country, then a car rental works because local transportation is limited, but in cities, public transportation works best. Besides, you’d need a larger car for the 6 of you. That would be at least US $120 per day before insurance, gas, highway fees, and parking. Most importantly, depending on the time of your travel, traffic on the highways can be bad (weekends, festival times, and such).

      As for time allotted in each city, I’d say around 4 days in Osaka and 7 days in Kyoto. Nara is easily accessed via train from either Osaka or Kyoto.
      I’m not sure exactly which dates you plan to be there, but in Kyoto, there’s the Jidai Matsuri in Oct. Enjoy!

  7. We are going to Japan in January and are going to be there for 14 days…is it too ambitious of me to plan 5 days in Tokyo – Disneyland, Harajuku, Imperial Palace (going to be there the one day they are open Jan 2nd), Legoland etc … then stay in Osaka for 5 days with a trip to Universal, Kyoto and Hiroshima (day trips) THEN back to Tokyo where we will go to a ski resort an hour train ride from Tokyo for a day or two (if we enjoy it ). Anything you would suggest I drop out of the plan because of time? Our kids are older 8 and 11 and being the first family trip we are bursting with excitement and want to do sooo much! THANKS for the info!

    • That’s a pretty ambitious schedule, Mariana! It’s certainly possible. Just depends on how you like to travel. Disneyland is an ALL-DAY thing. Harajuku and Imperial Palace can be done on the same day, although they’re in different parts of town. You may want to spend one entire day in Harajuku/Yoyogi/Omotesando area, but that’s up to you. Keep in mind that the Legoland in Tokyo is not a full-on amusement park like in California, Malaysia, etc. It’s an indoor space in Odaiba. But then again a day in Odaiba is recommended. A Kyoto day trip from Osaka is totally doable, but the Hiroshima day trip is a long one: about 2 hours one way on the Shinkansen if I remember correctly. Not impossible, but a LONG day with kids. You can do everything you’ve listed. Just depends if you want a full schedule with no “wander around” time.

  8. re: Toei Studio Park

    Due to your reminder, I grabbed an English map (with time table for shows) and caught nearly all the shows the kids would want to see, which translated to a 4+ hour that bushwacked my kids who love power rangers, ninjas and all things swords/anime. For us, getting off at Hanazono Park + a 600 yen cab ride seemed far quicker/less tiring than the Uzumasa station.

    Despite watching so many shows, I still ended up forking out 2400 yen for additional attraction. But hey, it’s sorta like Universal Studios: you go once every 10 years, do all the silly rides, buy all the silly souvenirs and won’t have to do it again til everyone turns 18

  9. I am traveling to Japan in a couple of weeks with my husband and 4 year old twin girls. I am so glad I “ran” into your blog.
    Thank you for the awesome information!!