Kyoto Culture & history

Our most recommended Kyoto Culture & history

Kyoto: Private Tour with Local Licensed Guide

1. Kyoto: Private Tour with Local Licensed Guide

Discover Kyoto’s historical sites, favorite local spots, and hidden gems on a private walking tour with a nationally licensed guide. Choose from a 6 or 4-hour tour, whose itinerary can be customized to fit your interests. See both the modern and traditional sides of this dynamic and ancient city as well as some of the best sightseeing areas, restaurants, and shops. Visit places like the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for the Torii Gate Corridor. Explore the filming location for the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, displaying a colorful crimson scenery with a mysterious atmosphere. Walk through the shrine’s corridors that were erected as a symbolic continuing gate from the current world to the world of the dead inhabited by the gods. Go to the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), which was given its name from the golden color of its reliquary hall. Admire its simple yet bold structure that features beautiful mountain views in the background. Enter the ancient Kiyomizu-dera temple to get panoramic city views from its large veranda. Walk from the path from the temple to Gion, to find many Kyoto-esque shops filled with unique souvenirs. Grab a snack or enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the many fine restaurants in the Gion district. Your guide will give you dining recommendations that are sure to delight your palate.

Kyoto: All-Inclusive 3-Hour Food and Culture Tour in Gion

2. Kyoto: All-Inclusive 3-Hour Food and Culture Tour in Gion

Explore the Gion district by night with an experienced English, German, French, or Spanish-speaking tour guide who knows everything there is to know about the area. The tour starts near Kamo river, where you’ll learn about how the tradition of Geishas came to be. After a short stroll along a busy commercial street, you’ll slip into a calm, quiet area to visit the Yasaka Jinja shrine. After that touch of education, it’s off to the Gion.   The Gion has secrets and history scattered across its narrow streets, but this is also a modern entertainment district—so it’s time for a deep dive into what goes on here. Your guide will keep it light and fun, and explain some of the more interesting cultural mores of these parts. Step into a restaurant and graze from a multitude of small plates at a sort of Japanese-style tapas experience. Enjoy a drink as well before continuing on.   Between restaurant stops, there will be an exploration of Kiyamachi, Ponto-cho, and some other commercial and nightlife streets. Your guide will show you both modern and historical Kyoto, painting a well-rounded picture that gives you a real sense of the place. This tour keeps the groups small and includes your food and drinks, so that you can have a carefree night like you’re simply hanging out with someone who knows the neighborhood. A delicious Kobe (or nearby sourced) Beef option is available on top of the usual food and drink. This option is for bookings at least 10 hours in advance.

Kyoto: Tea Ceremony Ju-An at Jotokuji Temple

3. Kyoto: Tea Ceremony Ju-An at Jotokuji Temple

Start your tea ceremony experience by entering through the main gates of the Jotoku-ji Temple. You will pass the entrance to the Grand Tearoom on your left and a shop next to it and meet at the nearby red benches where your guide awaits. Whilst walking through the temple you are free to admire the architecture and stand by the purification fountain. Weather permitting, you are free to sit at the red benches and for a break. In the event of rain you can stand outside under the gable of the shop or wait in the Grand Tearoom. Once you have finished perusing the temple or sitting on the red benches taking in the atmosphere you are able to enter the Grand Tearoom where your instructor waits for you.  Start your tour of the Temple with a traditional purification ritual, a completely unique and insightful experience for Western visitors. Afterwards you will remove your shoes at the entrance of the Grand Tearoom and in your group, proceed inside to take your seat. Get the chance to sample matcha tea at its best. The Tea Master will guide you throughout, showing and explaining every step of the way. Throughout the ceremony you will be taught the fine art of drinking matcha tea and learn about the importance of the ceremony.

Kyoto: 2-Hour Gion Geisha District Tour

4. Kyoto: 2-Hour Gion Geisha District Tour

Explore Gion, the centuries-old entertainment district of Kyoto, which truly comes alive at night. With your guide, learn about the customs of the geisha and the apprentice maiko. You may catch a glimpse of a few of the women in full costume.  Walk through the narrow streets with the lanterns flickering on the wooden buildings. Enjoy a night visit to a Shinto shrine, with a beautifully lit pagoda. Wander through the grounds of a Zen temple in the tranquil calm of the night. Learn more about the modern history of the entertainment district from your guide.

From Osaka: Kyoto Sightseeing Day Trip and Scenic Train Ride

5. From Osaka: Kyoto Sightseeing Day Trip and Scenic Train Ride

After pickup from one of 3 locations in Osaka, head towards Kyoto, once the former capital of Japan, on the island of Honshu. The first activity of the day is a scenic and romantic railway ride from Kameoka to Arashiyama. During the 23-minute journey, feel immersed in nature as you admire the beautiful blossom trees and breathtaking mountain views. Upon arrival at Arashiyama, enjoy a delicious buffet style lunch with soft drinks to prepare you for an afternoon of sightseeing. After lunch, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Kiyomizudera Temple, one of the most celebrated temples in Japan, founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. The tour continues onto Fushimi Inari, world-famous for the thousands of Torii gates that line the entrance to the Shinto Shrine. Spend some free time exploring the mountain trails and the shrine buildings themselves, and learn about the fascinating culture of Japan. The tour ends after your visit to Fushimi Inari, and you’ll be dropped-off to your original pickup location in Osaka.

Kyoto Nishiki Market Food Tour

6. Kyoto Nishiki Market Food Tour

Your experience will include stops at family owned stalls and shops which have stood the test of time. At a few of the stops sample specialty products like tsukemono (vegetables from the surrounding mountains preserved in vinegar), yuuba (the world’s smoothest sashimi tofu made from the world famous Kyoto mountain water), Kamaboko (seafood preserved in fish paste), Tako (Octopus with quail egg) and Macha Warabi Mochi (a special traditional sweet covered in ground tea leaves). During the tour learn detailed information about the ingredients of different Japanese dishes, how their food is prepared and what is used to eat it. Your experience will do more than just give you a chance to taste Kyoto’s delicious food but will also give you a sense the history and atmosphere of the Nishiki Market experienced by the Japanese for generations. You will be consumed with physical and visual stimuli every step of the way and enjoy stories from the past told directly from shopkeepers and families you will spend time with. After your market exploration walk to a nearby restaurant and have a course lunch featuring beautiful and delicious local dishes.

Kyoto: Sagano Train and Sightseeing Day Trip with Lunch

7. Kyoto: Sagano Train and Sightseeing Day Trip with Lunch

See some of Kyoto's highlights on this guided tour. Meet your expert guide and visit Arashiyama, where you can enjoy a delicious buffet style lunch with soft drinks to prepare you for an afternoon of sightseeing. After lunch, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Kiyomizudera Temple, one of the most celebrated temples in Japan, founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. The tour continues onto Fushimi Inari, world-famous for the thousands of Torii gates that line the entrance to the Shinto Shrine. Spend some free time exploring the mountain trails and the shrine buildings themselves, and learn about the fascinating culture of Japan. Beat the traffic and take the train with your professional guide from JR Kyoto Station to Arashiyama or Fushimi Inari Taisha (depending on the train schedule of that day). During the  journey, feel immersed in nature as you admire the beautiful blossom trees and breathtaking mountain views. The tour ends after your visit to Fushimi Inari. If the first sightseeing place is Fushimi Inari Taisha, the bus will drop you off at JR Kyoto Station. Otherwise, your expert guide will give you the train ticket at Fushimi Inari Taisha to get back to JR Kyoto Station. The meeting point is at near JR Ticket office 1F, JR central exit.

From Osaka: Kyoto Top Highlights Day Trip

8. From Osaka: Kyoto Top Highlights Day Trip

Visit some of Kyoto's most famous cultural sites on this day-long bus tour from Osaka. Hop aboard a comfortable coach and drive to Japan's ancient capital to see the brilliant torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the UNESCO-listed Kiyomizu-dera temple, and the golden pavilion of Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto is filled with ancient historic sites dating back to the 6th century. Get dropped off first at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, a Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Spend time wandering the brilliant paths before heading to your next destination. Arrive at Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most iconic temples in Japan. Take ample time to wander through the temple. Walk across the impressive wooden stage, which juts out from the hillside and was constructed without the use of a single nail. Next, stop at Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion due to the fact that it's covered in gold leaf. Wander through the immaculate gardens surrounding the temple, admiring the original Japanese designs that have been preserved since Ashikaga's time. Finish the day in Arashiyama, which has been a popular nature-viewing destination since the Heian Period. Take a stroll through the cool Sagano Bamboo Forest and listen to the distinct rustle of bamboo leaves as you walk. In the late afternoon, hop on the bus back to Osaka.

Kyoto: Cultural and Spiritual Tour with Zen Meditation

9. Kyoto: Cultural and Spiritual Tour with Zen Meditation

Stumble upon Nonomiya Shrine, a sacred site for the purification and preparation of the priestesses of the Ise Grand Shrine. Wander through pretty Kameyama Park and stop on Togetsukyo Bridge, from where you can admire the swooping cormorant birds. During the summer months, trained cormorants are used in a method of fishing called ukai, where the birds catch the fish for the fishermen. Continue your way up the ancient stone steps of Daihikaku Senkoji Temple, located on the side of a scenic mountain with panoramas of the Hozu River valley, Arashiyama area, and Kyoto City on the horizon. Here you will have the unique opportunity to engage in an authentic Zen meditation under the guidance of a resident monk. Partake in a traditional matcha green tea ceremony, one of the hallmarks of Zen Buddhist culture. Head back along the Hozu riverside to the lively main road of Arashiyama where your tour ends, outside the Randen Keifuku Arashiyama station. The station area provides an assortment of eating and shopping options for you to indulge in. There is also a glowing display of beautiful Kimono fabric patterns in transparent tubes, known as the Kimono forest. We also recommend the foot spa, where natural spring water can soothe your weary feet.

Kyoto: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Walking Food Tour

10. Kyoto: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Walking Food Tour

Start the tour from the JR Saga Arashiyama station. The Arashiyama district, located west of the Kyoto city center, has long been a scenic leisure spot. Many ancient aristocrats had their villas here 1000 years ago and enjoyed writing literature and poetry. Today, the area is one of the most popular tourist sites in Kyoto.  First, explore the Bamboo Forest and Okochi-sanso in quiet Sagano District, a peaceful neighborhood known for its beautiful maple trees. Then, visit Tenryu-ji temple which was built in 1339 by the Shogun Ashikaga in memory of the Emperor Go-Daigo and was a complex of more than 100 buildings. They were mostly destroyed by fires and civil wars over the years, but the traditional garden remains in its original form, designed by the monk Muso. Enjoy walking in the landscaped garden. During this tour, taste Matcha (japanese green tea), Negiyaki savory pancake, fried fish cake, and dango(japanese sweets). Then, head over to the Togetsukyo bridge which, as the area’s landmark, dates back to the 9th-century and provides a good photo taking spot for visitors today. At the end of this half-day tour, have a nice sweets. If you like, you can enjoy shopping around after the tour because the this tour finished in a district where you can find many souvenirs.

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Frequently asked questions about Kyoto

What top attractions are a must-see in Kyoto?

The must-see attractions in Kyoto are:

What are the best day trips and excursions from Kyoto?

The best day trips and excursions from Kyoto are:

Arashiyama

Other Sightseeing Options in Kyoto

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What people are saying about Kyoto

Overall rating

4.5 / 5

based on 1,019 reviews

Kazu Akiyama was our guide for a six hour walking and public transit tour that took us to three important shrines, two of which were UNESCO heritage sites. Kazu has lived in Kyoto for many years and taught us a lot about the Buddhist and Shinto shrines that we visited. He is very friendly and intelligent and obviously loves his city. He taught us about the public transit system and carefully guided us through it. We recommend this tour but be prepared for walking and stairs. We walked five miles which was fine for us. Just wear good walking shoes. He gave us some good restaurant recommendations. We tried Le Bouchon last night and had a very good experience with wonderful food and service. You will need a reservation if you go to this restaurant.

A tour worth taking! Mardi was our fantastic guide - so knowledgeable and personable. We came away from this feeling like we have a good overview of the local history and the food culture. The variety of dishes chosen for us to taste was excellent, and we enjoyed the locations where we ate - we couldn’t have had this experience without Mardi.

So fun. Do it! Our guide was very good, nice and knowledgeable. We had two other super nice people in our group which made it more fun. The food and sights were amazing. Go for the wagu beef option. Bring layers for warmth, and good walking shoes, of course.

This was a really great tour however I would skip the lunch and find someplace to eat intown. Be prepared to walk alit and climb up a lot of stairs when you go on this outing. Felt it was well worth the time and a good value. The train was really fun, too.

We had an awesome time. First our tea-master introduced us to some traditions of the temple. After she showed us how to prepare matcha tea everyone of us tried it themselves. I can highly recommend that! We are very happy and had a very good time!