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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
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Things to do in Japan

How to spend a day in Kyoto, from frenetic markets to real-life geishas

Kyoto is a beautiful city – it’s the ancient capital of Japan, with history everywhere you look…

By Hiroko Wakayama
Kyoto Tour Guide

Kyoto is a beautiful city – it’s the ancient capital of Japan, so there’s history everywhere you look, with so many cultural sights to explore.

Start your day at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site set on the side of the mountain, with a veranda part-suspended in the air. It’s incredibly picturesque – I always say it’s the one picture visitors have to take in Kyoto, and it’s beautiful in every season.

Inside, the temple is equally impressive, and you can often see Buddhist monks here. In one bit there’s a metal walking stick weighing 90kg that legend says was used in training by a Japanese monk; you can try and lift it – it’s not easy!

Afterwards, wander round the streets of the surrounding area, Higashiyama, lined with local souvenir shops where you can find Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles and other local delicacies. Then head over to the nearby Nishiki Market, a busy street often referred to as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’ thanks to its many shops and restaurants. Kyoto boasts a wonderful food culture and if you want to try some authentic Japanese cuisine, this is the place to do it.

Later on, stop by Nijo Castle, another Unesco World Heritage Site, built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of the shogun during the Edo Period and split into two palaces. The castle is known for its ‘singing floor’ – this was designed with metal creaking pins to warn the shogun of intruders with its eery bird-like sound.

End your day in the Gion district, famous for its maikos – apprentice geishas – and geikos (the Kyoto term for a geisha). If you’re lucky, you might see one or two wandering the narrow alleys as they travel from one performance to another. The area is also home to many tea houses, so stop by for a traditional matcha tea ceremony, or attend a maiko show to see singing, dancing and other Japanese performances in an atmospheric setting. This is often one of the highlights for visitors coming to the city, and I always recommend my guests do it to round off their stay in a memorable way.


  • Culture
  • History

Available in these itineraries…

Alfred & Hiroko Wakayama

Hiroko has been a tour guide in Kyoto for seven years. She grew up in Tokyo before moving to Osaka, where she worked as an editor of a medical journal. She later decided to become a tour guide and share her love of travel with visitors from all over the world.  She has travelled in Europe as well as across Japan – but with more than 1,000 years of history, her favourite city is still Kyoto.

Plan your holiday withAlfred&

Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Richard, who's travelled extensively in Japan. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - the tea devotee who'll introduce you to the ceremony surrounding Japan's national drink, the noodle guru who'll teach you how to make the perfect bowl of soba and the ryokan owner who'll tutor you in the relaxing art of the onsen.

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