City Guide for Family Trip: Must Do’s When Visiting Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is an easy city for young and old to fall in love with!  If you’re in the process of planning a family vacation, I suggest spending at least five to six days in the city. Being the Ancient capital of Japan, it is rich in history with popular attractions like Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha and Arashiyama and more. Here is our must do’s when visiting Kyoto on a family trip:

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Kiyomizu-Dera

One of the most celebrated temples in all Japan, Kiyomizu-Dera is located in the historical city center and a must visit. It was founded in 7800 and got its name from the Otowa Waterfall it was built upon. The wooden stage that’s just outside of the main hall of the shrine rests 13 meters above the hillside below and offers impressive views of the city. During the Edo-period, it was said if one survived the jump from the stage, one’s wish would be granted. In all 234 people are said to have jumped, surprisingly, 85% of people survived. You won’t find modern jumpers though as the practice is now prohibited.

Beyond the shrine, you can visit the waterfall, where you can catch and drink the water that is said to have wish-granting power. Be sure to take a break here in the hot summer weather, and order shaved ice while taking in the natural scenery.

There are a lot of stairs, so it’s best to babywear small children. We suggest taking a taxi to the highest point and after touring the site make your way down through the small historical streets with traditional shops and restaurants.

Gion District

Gion is the famous Geisha district located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. The Geisha in Kyoto are called Geiko and Maiko. The district is filled with Geisha houses, and ochaya establishments, where the geiko perform. While taking a leisurely stroll through the district, be sure to visit Tatsumi Bashi, the famous bridge from the movie Memories of a Geisha.

Matcha

If you’re a matcha lover you’ve come to right place! Kyoto makes the highest quality green tea, Uji matcha, in Japan. Besides tea, matcha can be found in a wide variety of decadent desserts at the plentiful tea houses. Some of our favorite desserts included matcha shaved ice, vanilla match ice cream, matcha jelly, and mochi. In summer it’s popular to drink cold matcha drinks and in winter latte matcha becomes the rage.

Nishiki Market

Besides matcha, Kyoto is also known for its incredible food, which can be sampled at the famous Nishiki Market. It is incredibly packed so be sure to babywear infants and keep a close watch on small children.  Be sure come with an empty stomach and to leave lots of time for this market that spans 400 meters.

We decided to book a tour with the tour agency, Japan Wonder Travel, that is known for their original FooDrink tour of Nishiki Market. Some Child-friendly foods to sample include, yuba, soymilk donuts, Omusubi, Hamo, Japanese omelet, and fish cakes. We loved the market so much we ventured back the following day to taste sushi, huge oysters and sea urchin.

Arashiyama

Arashiyama is not located in the center of the historical center of Kyoto but on the western outskirts of the city. Meaning, you must go by subway, hire a taxi or an organized tour. The district got its name from the mountain across the Oi River, which is the backdrop of the area. Arashiyama is full of sites to visit, which include, the famous Bamboo forest and its Monkey park, and Tenryū-ji temple with its beautiful zen garden.  We enjoyed our day here and it was a nice retreat from the city.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

No visit to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha! The site is famous for the 1000’s of bright orange torii gates that frame the various hiking trails leading up Mount Inari from the main shrine. The full hike to and from the summit takes 2-3 hours, so many people opt to complete the Senbon Torii trail and then head back. We explored the area on a rainy day, with lots of mosquitos, so we turned back after these parallel rows of gates.

Kinkaku-ji

Also referred to as the Golden Pavillion, this Zen temple is one of the most visited places in Japan. The current structure is not the original but was rebuilt 1955 after being burned down by a fire. The pavilion is notable for is beautiful gold-leaf coating. It’s set on a beautiful pond with 10 small islands with distinct formations that represent different Zen typologies.

We hope you enjoyed this Kyoto city guide! Have questions about Kyoto? Places to add to this list? Let us know in the comment section!

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