Things to do in Kyoto: A Guide for Art Lovers
by Delilah Romasanta
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is rich with tradition. Despite suffering damage from countless wars and disasters throughout the centuries, the city is home to a wealth of historical sites and precious art pieces. Travelers from around the globe flock to see these treasures.
In fact, Kyoto is one of the most visited cities in Japan and for good reason; artwork masterpieces found here capture the history of the extraordinary island nation. With over 1600 temples, you could visit hundreds of times and still discover new things to do in Kyoto. But if you only get to visit once, these are five treasures you need to see!
Kinkakuji Buddhist Temple
Better known among English speakers as the Golden Pavilion, this temple is exactly that. The upper two floors of the lakeside Kinkakuji are covered in gold. Kinkakuji’s architecture is an example of the wealthy Kitayama culture that was prevalent during the 14th century.
Each floor of the temple is built in a different architectural style: the ground floor is in the thousand-year old Shinden style, the second floor is in the Bukke style seen in samurai residences of the last few centuries, and the third floor has features of a Chinese Zen Hall.
Ryoanji Zen Temple
Ryoanji is a Buddhist temple located in the northern part of Kyoto, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First built in 1450, the property has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout the years. Its most famous feature is the karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden, which was built around 1499. The plot, which consists of 15 rocks surrounded by gravel that is raked daily into geometric patterns, is one of the world’s most studied gardens, and a prime example of Japanese zen design. Despite all the attention nobody knows for sure the exact significance of the garden’s features: what do you think it means?
Kyoto National Museum
For everything from archaeological relics to Heian handscrolls, visit the Kyoto National Museum! One of Japan’s four top-tier national museums, the Kyoto National Museum collects and preserves historic relics, and cultural artefacts. The permanent collection is housed in the modern Heisei Chishinkan building, while special exhibits can be found in the original redbrick building from 1895. A must see for art lovers looking for things to do in Kyoto!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Explore one of Japan’s grandest Shinto shrines on Mount Inari. Fushimi Inari pays respects to Inari, the god of rice, and is best known for its pathways of vermillion gates. Thousands of these red torii weave through the trees on various trails around the mountain. Dotted among the gates are countless fox statues - a distinguishing symbol of the deity. If you can, you should try to avoid weekends and holidays though, as the shrine can get exceedingly busy!
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
Another museum you should add to your itinerary is the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. For the twelve hundred years that Kyoto was home to the nation’s aristocracy, the city’s residents spent much of their time creating artworks and craft pieces to decorate temples and residences. Today, while no longer the capital, Kyoto remains one of Japan’s biggest producers of traditional crafts.
The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts displays traditional pottery and lacquerware, dolls, fans, textiles, and stone lanterns, among other works. They also offer immersive experiences such as demonstrations, performances, and workshops. This is a great one-stop museum to satisfy your craving for the best of Japanese crafts!
Still searching for more things to do in Kyoto? Arashiyama is another exceptional tourist spot in Kyoto. The beauty of this place is difficult to describe, but it is definitely very serene and inspiring. This is where the famous bamboo forest is located, while another highlight is Okuchi Sanso, a stunning traditional Japanese villa built by Japanese film star star Okochi Denjiro.
This great video of Arashiyama walking tour is created by the awesome Curated Kyoto! Founded by Sara Aiko, Curated Kyoto offers great tour guide services you should definitely check out. Find out more here!
Intrigued? Delighted? Questions? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!