Kyoto is Japan’s former imperial capital and a must see for any first (or second) time visitor to the Land of the Rising Sun. Kyoto is chock full of history, beautiful buildings, shrines and temples, and it’s one of the best places to see Japan’s traditional ways of life. We had an awesome time when we visited Kyoto with kids in December.
Read on for a 3 day Kyoto itinerary that you can use whether or not you’re visiting Kyoto with kids, as it will also be useful for first time visitors. It’s packed full of information on the best sights, tours and experiences in Kyoto for families and first timers!
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The best things to do in Kyoto with kids
Kyoto is a very different beast to Tokyo. We found more family friendly things to do in Tokyo but that’s not to say that you won’t find fun things to do with kids in Kyoto. Just don’t expect Tokyo levels of crazy and kawaii; Kyoto is altogether more muted.
As well as temples and shrines there are kid-friendly museums like the manga museum and the railway museum, and of course, Kyoto’s zoo. Don’t miss Nishiki market if your kids are into their food. Kids will also be enchanted in unlikely places – my children loved Fushimi Inari shrine and Arashiyama in particular so I’d advise you to get to these two sites if you possibly can!
We did find Kyoto extremely busy – more so than we were expecting. Be prepared for crowds, and lots of walking. But even the crowds can’t drown Kyoto’s beauty and history. It is an absolute must when you visit Japan!
A 3 day Kyoto itinerary
Three days is just about enough time to see the main sights in Kyoto, although you could spend longer if you want to explore its museums and other sights in more depth. You can also use Kyoto as a useful base to explore Osaka and Nara (more at the end of the post). Many of the best things to do in Japan are found in Kyoto.
As Kyoto’s attractions are fairly spread out, if you want to see the big hitters like Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu-dera you’re going to need at least three days.
In this three day Kyoto itinerary I’ll guide you through spending a day in each main area although the last day does see you skipping around a bit. But you can easily change this if you don’t like the suggestions.
After the itinerary I’ve got some more options if you have longer than three days in Kyoto or if you’re not bothered about seeing everything I’ve mentioned.
But whatever you end up seeing, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time!
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Day 1 in Kyoto with kids – ancient Eastern Kyoto
You’ll find most of Kyoto’s traditional sights and streets in Eastern Kyoto’s Higashiyama area. It’s best explored by just wandering around, especially through its historic streets. This area can be very busy with tourists but there are some lovely shops with beautiful souvenirs and you can easily lose several hours just browsing and agonising over what to purchase!
There are more shrines and temples than you can shake a stick at in this area, so I’ll just mention some of my favourites.
I’ve got two options for your first day as it’s quite full on and involves lots of walking. Option 1 is for older kids and adults. You can start in the Northern Higashiyama at Ginkaku-ji. From here walk down the Philosopher’s Path to Nanzen-ji temple and into the main part of Higashiyama. To get to the starting point at Ginkaku-ji take bus number 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station and alight at Ginkakuji-michi. It should take up to 45 minutes.
Option 2 is for families with small kids as seeing all of the above may be too much for little ones. This option starts in Southern Higashiyama and misses out the Silver Pavilion and the Philosopher’s Path, but you can add them to day 3 if you really want to see them. If you’re doing the reduced itinerary, start at Yasaka shrine near Higashiyama station. Take bus number 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station to Gion and you’ll arrive in about 15- 20 minutes.
Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion
The lovely Silver Pavilion is one of Kyoto’s finest zen temples. Ginkaku-ji is not, as you may think, silver – but it is beautiful nonetheless!
At the temple you can walk around the complex which has several buildings and stunning gardens, including a silvery dry sand garden with a large cone of sand as its focal point. There’s also a lovely moss garden.
You’ll have to admire the temple buildings from the outside as they’re not open to the public, but that’s not to say that the Silver Pavilion isn’t worth a visit.
There’s so much to see here it might be worth booking a tour of the Silver Pavilion so you don’t miss out on anything. Click here to book a Ginkakuji tour.
From the Silver Pavilion, you can walk along a pedestrianised path alongside a canal. This is the famous Philosopher’s Path, named for philosopher Nishida Kataro, who liked to do his thinking here! The walk is an easy, flat 2 km so it’s perfect for kids, although do keep small ones away from the water’s edge.
You’ll pass plenty of pretty little bridges crossing the river which make for good photos.
The Philosopher’s Path is especially lovely in spring when the cherry trees lining the river are in full bloom, and in autumn when their leaves turn gold and red.
Sights along the path include all sorts of boutique style shops, the pretty Honen-in temple with sand sculptures flanking its moss covered gates, and the super cute Otoyo shrine at the southern entrance.
Kids will love the mouse guardians at Otoyo shrine, which were decorated with acorns when we visited. At the shrine you can make a wish for good luck in relationships and bringing up your family!
You’ll find Nanzen-ji temple about 10 minutes walk from the end of the Philosopher’s Path. It’s one of Kyoto’s most important temples and like the Silver Pavilion, it’s a zen temple. You enter through an impressively large sanmon gate.
There’s a lot to see and do at Nanzen-ji; as well as the main temple buildings there are several other smaller temples nearby. There’s also a huge brick aqueduct which carries the same stream that flows alongside the Philosopher’s Path.
One of the main highlights is the lovely rock garden which is one of Kyoto’s best – although small children like mine will be sorely disappointed they can’t play in those carefully raked pebbles!
From here it’s not far to Yasaka Shrine; you can detour via the nearby Heian shrine to see it and its gardens which is especially recommended in cherry blossom season.
Yasaka shrine (Yasaka-jinja)
Yasaka shrine is one of the most historic shrines in Kyoto, dating back to 656. It’s situated on the edge of Maruyama Park, and if today’s full itinerary sounds like too much walking and too many temples for your family, then I’ll suggest that you start your day here.
Yasaka shrine has an important role all year round. It’s one of the main places to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and is equally important in the summer when it hosts the Gion Matsuri festival. As well as these festivities several other smaller celebrations are held throughout the year and it’s a popular cherry blossom spot too.
There are several buildings on the site including the central building with its paper lanterns which are lit at night. The gorgeously painted main gate is well worth seeing too.
Just out the back of Yasaka shrine you’ll find Maruyama Park.
Maruyama Park is a good place for lunch or for a break in between temples. If you’re lucky enough to visit in spring then the park is Kyoto’s most popular cherry blossom spots.
At other times this is a nice relaxing place where the kids can have a bit of freedom after the shrines! Walk along the paths alongside ponds and over bridges, and grab snacks and drinks from the stalls. It’s a pretty little place, and you can stop for your lunch here if you’ve brought a picnic.
There are several more shrines near the northern end of the park (Chionen-in and Shorenin temples) which you can stop in if you haven’t yet had your fill of religious buildings!
Once you’ve rested in Maruyama Park, go out of the south entrance to walk through the wonderfully atmospheric Southern Higashiyama area. Think narrow streets and wooden buildings; this is the Kyoto of old! Walk along Nene-no-michi street and you’ll soon see the entrance to the Kodaiji temple complex.
Kodaiji temple is one of the more interesting temples in this area as it’s made up of several different types of buildings, from large, ornate places of worship, to smaller, unique buildings like the Kaizando Hall and its bridge in the above photo.
The gardens around Kodaiji are stunning. As well as the Tsukiyama garden (pictured) there’s a lovely rock garden and a bamboo grove which is a little more peaceful than the more famous one out at Arashiyama.
From Kodaiji temple it’s a short walk to one of Kyoto’s top sights, Kiyomizudera-dera.
This wonderful temple is one of Kyoto’s best and an absolute must-see. Kids will love it as it’s so interactive and there are lots of little things to see and do. Make sure you get views over Kyoto from the pagoda on the right in the above photo, and then walk to the main temple building.
When we visited Kiyomizu-dera, the main building was being restored (this restoration is set to be completed in March 2020) and it’s covered in scaffolding and canvas. Happily this doesn’t stop you from visiting and from standing on the balcony, but you won’t get any nice photos of it until 2020!
Things to do at Kiyomizu-dera include walking between two stones with your eyes closed to see if you’ll be lucky in love; drinking water from three different springs; and enjoying the lovely grounds and views. You can also be “re-born” by entering a pitch black room underground – an interesting experience!
As there’s so much to do at Kiyomizu-dera, you might want to take a short guided tour of the temple. Click here for more details.
You can also take a guided tour of the southern Higashiyama area from Yasaka Shrine to Kiyomizu-dera temple. Click here to book the Higashiyama tour.
Shopping in Higashiyama’s historic streets
From Kiyomizu-dera, walk down the crowded streets lined with all sorts of souvenir and craft shops, and plenty of street food stalls too. There’s a lot to see here and almost everything sold is very tempting! We managed to escape with just a bag and some mochi balls so we got off lightly, but you could spend hundreds in the shops – you have been warned!
Don’t forget to walk past the wonderful pagoda at Yasaka shrine for one of Kyoto’s most iconic views; and once you’ve passed it pop into nearby Kongoji temple which has to be the most interesting temple in Kyoto for kids! The votives in this temple are multicoloured balls which hang on the buildings in a riot of colour. The sight of them is guaranteed to perk up tired children.
An evening walk through Gion and Ponto-cho
Walk through Gion and Ponto-cho in the evening to see Kyoto at its most atmospheric. The traditional streets lined with tea houses really are a step back in time and a world away from frenetic modern Japan.
There are five geisha districts in Kyoto; two in Gion and one each in Ponto-cho, Kamishichiken and Miyagawa-cho. If you walk through Gion and Ponto-cho in the early evening, around five or six o’clock, then you might get to see a geisha or a maiko (an apprentice geisha).
The maiko may be more formally dressed, with the famous white and red makeup and elaborate hair ornaments. A geisha might not be so obvious; she might wear a simpler kimono, Western makeup and a plain hairstyle. If you do see a maiko or a geisha then keep your distance and don’t get all up in her face – it’s super rude in Japan! Put a long lens on your camera and take photos from a distance.
The best way to see maiko is to take an evening walking tour in Gion – this maximises your chances of seeing maiko and geisha and also gives you more insight into their secretive world. Click here to book a night tour of Gion.
As an alternative to taking a night walking tour in Gion you could visit Gion Corner. Gion Corner showcases traditional Japanese arts, so as well as watching maiko dancing (above) you can also see a comical theatre skit, flower arranging and join in a tea ceremony.
Performances are only an hour or so long but they run at a fairly sedate pace and very small children may not appreciate them (so bring a quiet distraction)! Gion Corner is probably the best way to get a quick taste of Japanese arts.
If you want to do the night walk and visit Gion Corner then you can come back to Gion in the evening of day 3.
Day 2 in Kyoto with kids – historic Western Kyoto
Western Kyoto has some of Japan’s most unmissable and famous sights! I’m sure the Golden Pavilion and Arashiyama bamboo grove are on your Kyoto bucket list – you can hit them both today, among plenty of other things!
Start at the Golden Pavilion and then make your way over to Arashiyama where you can spend the rest of the day. There’s more than just a bamboo grove at Arashiyama.
Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)
Start your day by visiting the stunningly beautiful Golden Pavilion, or Kinkakuji. The temple dates from 1408 but unfortunately what you see today isn’t an original as the building has burned down several times – the most recent was in 1950 when a young monk deliberately set it on fire.
Original or not, this temple with its second two floors entirely coated in gold, is unmissable – it has to be one of the most breathtaking places in Kyoto. When you arrive and you’ve bought your ticket the temple itself is one of the first things you’ll see. The best viewpoint is from across the small lake although if you arrive later in the day you’ll have to jostle for position.
Once you’ve taken your photos, continue on through the gardens, which are a delight in any season. At the far end of the garden is a temple, a shop and a tea house where you can grab some snacks.
If you’d like to learn more about the Golden Pavilion then you could take a guided tour. Click here to book your Kinkakuji tour.
Kinkakuji opens at 9am so arrive early to beat the crowds. Take bus number 101 or 205 from Kyoto station (it will take about 45 minutes).
Ryoan-ji temple is just around the corner (well, 20 or 30 minutes on foot) from Kinkakuji and if you’re making good time, then it’s worth popping in quickly before you head to Arashiyama. Alternatively there’s a bus but it only runs every half hour.
Ryoan-ji is most famous for its lovely zen rock garden. It’s a masterpiece in Japanese understatement with fifteen rocks dotted about the garden for you to contemplate. Wherever you sit, at least one of the rocks will be hidden from view. What the rocks mean is up to you – there’s no official interpretation!
The grounds of Ryoan-ji are also worth looking around, especially the lovely lake.
From Ryoan-ji temple walk 10 minutes down the road to Ryoanji station where you can take the Keifuku Randen tram line to Arashiyama station for the bamboo grove. Alternatively take a taxi instead.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama bamboo grove is usually pretty high up on most people’s Kyoto bucket lists, so head here in the afternoon. There are two main stations; Arashiyama on the tram line mentioned above and Saga-Arashiyama which links to Kyoto station.
If you’re arriving into Arashiyama station turn right out of the exit, and the entrance to the bamboo forest will be a short walk up the street, on the left. This is one of the main streets in Arashiyama and so you can stop to grab lunch if you didn’t bring a picnic.
Unless you can arrive at dawn, the bamboo forest is likely to be pretty busy – we caught it on a very cold afternoon and it wasn’t as packed as it could have been!
While the bamboo grove is quite small, it’s still a magical place and one that my kids really enjoyed. It’s best visited on a slightly windy day so that the bamboo stalks clatter together in the wind – even more ethereal! The bamboo stems tower above you and meet even above the path so it’s like walking through a green tunnel.
While you’re here you can take a rickshaw ride if your legs are feeling tired! Click here to book a rickshaw tour of Arashiyama bamboo grove.
Tenryuji-ji temple is one of the most famous and important Zen temples in Arashiyama, and it’s a World Heritage Site. As you walk through the bamboo grove you’ll see the entrance so just backtrack when you’re done with the bamboo.
The buildings here are impressive, although they’re not the originals as like Kinkaku-ji the temples have burned down over the years. But I much prefer the gardens with the koi carp pond backed by mountains, and lots of little pathways that lead you through them. There’s lots of little statues for kids to hunt for in the gardens, and they’re lovely in any season, even winter when you can find camellias and plum blossoms.
Nearby is Okochi Sanso villa which is the former home of a famous actor and now a sort of museum, although you can’t actually go inside the buildings. You get a free matcha tea and a snack with your admission ticket so it might be a good place to pause for a rest, although I haven’t personally been here.
Arashiyama lake and Togetsukyo bridge
From Tenryuji-ji temple, walk back down the main street in Arashiyama, which leads you straight to Togetsukyo bridge, another famous landmark in Arashiyama. On the way stop off in some of the shopping arcades for snacks and souvenirs.
When you get to the bridge you can turn right and walk along the riverside until you reach the rowing boat rental jetty. Here you can rent boats and paddle about on the river! It was far too cold for us to do this when we were there in December so we skipped it. But if you’re in Arashiyama in spring, summer or autumn then this is an ideal activity for kids in Arashiyama!
Iwatayama Monkey Park
If you’re not going to be seeing the snow monkeys at Jigokudani, you might want to see Japanese macaques in Kyoto instead.
Cross the Togetsukyo bridge and turn right when you get to the far end. The walk up the mountain is just along from the bridge. It’s a steep 10 – 15 minute climb up to where you can see the monkeys roaming freely, and a great view over Kyoto too!
If you don’t fancy doing this all yourself then you can take a tour instead – click here to book your Arashiyama tour.
After all of this exertion you’re bound to be bone tired so you can get an evening meal in Arashiyama before you head back to your hotel for the night!
Day 3 in Kyoto with kids – highlights of South and Central Kyoto
Start your day at one of Kyoto’s most magnificent shrines – the Shinto Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine is a highlight for kids in Kyoto. We spent all morning here!
In the afternoon travel back into central Kyoto and take your pick from the many family friendly options here – perhaps a castle visit, the manga museum or shopping at Kyoto’s famous Nishiki Market. The choice is yours!
Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine
Fushimi Inari is a real treat. This shrine, dedicated to the fox-god Inari, needs no introduction! Thousands upon thousands of red torii gates line paths up to the top of Mount Inari in southern Kyoto.
Getting here is easy from Kyoto’s main train station. Trains to Fushimi Inari or Inari stations leave frequently, just make sure that the train you get on isn’t a fast one as it might not stop! From either train station it’s a short walk to the shrine.
The earlier you get to the shrine, the less crowded it will be, although visiting in the late afternoon or around sunset is also a nice time for photos. When you arrive there’s the usual set of shrine buildings, many of them guarded by a wicked-looking fox or two. The entrance to the paths up the mountain is signposted – or you could just follow the crowds!
Fushimi Inari Shrine was probably the place that interested our kids the most in Kyoto. The torii gates are purchased by individuals and companies for good luck, and it’s their names that are set in black on the gate posts. We hadn’t planned to, but we actually climbed the whole way up to the top of the mountain, and descended by a different path.
Of course, you can turn back at whatever point you want to, but I’d recommend going halfway at least as there’s a great view out over Kyoto from here.
You can take a tour of Fushimi Inari for more insight into the shrine’s meaning. Click here to book a Fushimi Inari tour.
Once you’re done at Fushimi Inari, take the train back to central Kyoto for the afternoon. What you get up to now is your choice; there’s plenty to do around Kyoto’s centre (see below) or you can choose to back track to visit anything you missed on the previous days.
Optional: Ginkakuji and Philosopher’s Path
If you don’t have time to fit this walk into Day 1 then you can get to Ginkaku-ji easily from Fushimi Inari. Take the Keihan mainline train up to Demachiyanagi and from here take Bus 102 to Ginkaku-ji. From here you can walk the Philosopher’s path and finish around Kyoto Zoo.
Nijo-jo and Ninomaru Palace
A worthwhile visit in Central Kyoto for the afternoon is Nijo castle and Ninomaru Palace. Nijo castle was built in the 17th century for the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (who is said to have unified modern Japan – there’s lots more about him in Osaka and Nikko).
The kanmon gate (pictured) is especially interesting as it’s in the Chinese style rather than Japanese. Once inside the complex the main attraction is Ninomaru Palace (a separate ticket is needed to enter).
You can go inside Ninomaru Palace in the castle grounds – look out for the nightingale floor – and explore the beautiful gardens. The gardens are especially beautiful in cherry blossom season.
If you don’t want to visit Nijo Castle, then go to Downtown Kyoto and visit Nishiki Market, the Manga Museum, or choose from the alternative suggestions below.
In the evening, you can return to Gion and do the walking tour or Gion Corner if you didn’t manage to fit them in on Day 1.
More things to do in Kyoto and surrounds
If the above itinerary is a little too focussed on temples for your taste and your kids need a bit more variety, then take a look at these offerings below. Perhaps they’ll be more up your alley! We just didn’t have enough time to fit them in on this visit – they’ll have to wait until next time.
Kyoto Zoo is in Higashiyama so you can always take a break from temples and shrines here. We don’t usually go to zoos and this one has mixed reviews, with some people complaining that while the zoo is very clean, the big cats are in very small enclosures. We haven’t been so we can’t say for sure, so do your research before visiting.
Entry costs ¥600 for adults; kids under 15 go free. Find out more about Kyoto Zoo here, and see if it’s for you.
Kyoto also has an aquarium – we didn’t bother visiting as we went to the enormous one in Osaka instead. It’s down near the Railway Museum so you could combine the two!
Nishiki Market and Shopping Arcades
Nishiki Market is a foodie heaven. All sorts of local produce can be found here and you can spend some time wandering around and trying to work out what some of the foods are!
While you’re in Nishiki market you might want to take a food tour. We’d recommend Arigato Japan – we took a family friendly food tour in Asakusa with them and they were great. They also operate in Kyoto – click here to book a Nishiki Market food tour with Arigato Japan.
Nearby are some shopping arcades at Shinkyogoku and Teramachi, which kids will probably love. My kids went crazy for anything kawaii (cute) in Japan and these arcades are full of cutesy shops and all sorts of things that kids are bound to enjoy looking at.
Kyoto Manga Museum
For fans of Japanese animation and art you can’t go wrong with a visit to Kyoto’s Manga Museum. At the museum you can see exhibitions on Japanese manga artwork, see the process of creating manga artwork, and even a performance or two. You can join in a creative workshop and get your own manga portrait done! There’s an extensive shop where manga fans can browse till their hearts’ content.
Entry costs ¥800 per adult, ¥350 for teens and ¥100 for primary school kids. Closed on Wednesdays. Find out more here.
Kyoto Railway Museum
Near to Kyoto’s main station is Kyoto Railway Museum – perfect for kids and adults who are into trains! This is a brand new museum with plenty of hands on things for kids to do. There’s a driving simulator, plenty of exhibits on the history and life of Japan’s railways, and a viewing platform where you can see Kyoto’s trains running past the museum. Outside there’s a huge display of steam locomotives.
Entry costs ¥1200 for adults, ¥500 for teens, ¥200 for kids 3+. Closed on Wednesdays. Find out more here.
Kyoto Imperial Palace and Gardens
Set within an enormous park in the centre of Kyoto, the Imperial Palace is now able to be visited by the public, although you can’t go inside any of the buildings. Children will enjoy the expansive park which also includes another palace (Sento Palace) and a number of shrines.
TOEI Kyoto Studio Park
I really wanted to get to Kyoto Studio Park but we were just out of time! This is a live set for Japan’s historical TV programmes and you can wander about a replica Edo-Era town. There’s tons to see and do here, although be aware that you have to pay extra for many activities and all the shows are in Japanese. Still it looks like a really fun day out and I wish we’d managed to make it there!
Tickets cost ¥2200 for adults, ¥1300 for teens, ¥1100 for younger kids. Open from 9am – 5pm every day with late openings most weekends. Find out more here.
Have a geisha or samurai makeover or rent a kimono
As you’re walking around Kyoto you’ll see plenty of men and women dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos or yukatas (summer kimonos). They’re certainly a beautiful sight, and happy days, you can rent a kimono for the day. Your rental includes time to be dressed (they’re impossible to put on by yourself) and women can also have their hair styled. Click here to rent a kimono.
You can also have a 3 hour maiko makeover with full makeup (I did this on my first visit to Japan and it was great fun). Click here to book the maiko experience.
It’s also possible to rent a samurai kimono and learn more about how these warriors lived and what they believed in. Click here to book the samurai experience.
Day trips from Kyoto
Kyoto is ideally placed for many day trips. If you don’t want to move around too much, why not base yourselves in Kyoto for longer than three days and take some day trips too? This is what we did and it worked well, especially as we had JR Passes.
However, if you’re staying in the Kansai region only (Kyoto & Western Honshu area) then you should get a cheaper Kansai Pass instead of a whole-country JR Pass. Click here to buy the Kansai Pass.
Some of the best Kyoto day trips include:
Day trip from Kyoto to Osaka
Osaka has plenty to do for families and we spent two days in this super fun city. We’d recommend visiting Osaka for its lovely castle (a replica), the amazing aquarium and the fantastic Dotonbori area famous for its neon lights and street food. We all loved Osaka.
That’s not to mention Universal Studios, home to Japan’s Hogsmeade! Potter with a Japanese twist? That’s got to be worth a look, right? Click here to buy your Universal Studios tickets.
Osaka is really easy to get to from Kyoto – several trains leave every hour from the main train station. You want to alight at Shin-Osaka station, and getting about is easy on Osaka’s metro system. You may need to buy a day travel card – we did as our Pasmo cards didn’t work in Osaka unfortunately.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming guide to Osaka with kids.
Day trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima
Perhaps one for slightly older kids, Hiroshima is well worth visiting. The sobering Peace Memorial Museum and the Peace Memorial Park should be your first stop. You can get a view out over the famous A-Bomb dome from the far end of the park.
After getting the local specialty, okonomiyaki, for lunch you can explore Hiroshima’s castle and the lovely Shukkeien gardens nearby in the afternoon.
Miyajima (or Deer Island) is a short hop away and if you plan your day really carefully you can get to both Miyajima and Hiroshima in one day. However it’ll be a bit of a killer and is probably too busy a day for small kids.
We chose not to take our small children to Hiroshima as we didn’t think they would understand or behave appropriately in the museum. It’s probably best for kids aged 7+ although be aware that some of the exhibits in the museum are pretty harrowing so if you have sensitive kids I also wouldn’t recommend taking them. I speak from personal experience – I’ve been to Hiroshima on a previous trip to Japan.
There are direct shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima although on the return journey you’ll have to go via Osaka.
Day trip from Kyoto to Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo)
One of Japan’s most famous and beautiful castles, Himeji-jo is only a short hop on the train from Kyoto. You can look all around the castle and its grounds, and it’s a less frenetic day trip from Kyoto than some of the others!
Take a look at our post on the best castles in Japan.
Day trip from Kyoto to Nara
Nara is less than an hour from Kyoto and has some of the best architecture and temples in Japan. But Nara is most famous for its herds of tame deer who roam the city. Buy specially made deer biscuits from any of the many vendors and spend some time with these lovely animals!
We had mixed success with this – while our daughter happily fed the deer, it was all too much for our 3 year old son who ran screaming from them. He was actually pretty scared of the deer. This wasn’t at all the effect we had hoped for, although it did amuse plenty of other tourists (not me though, the poor chap!).
Terrified son aside, we would recommend Nara for a day trip from Kyoto!
See here for some more off-beat destinations several of which are easily accessible from Kyoto.
Kyoto with kids: Know before you go
In this section you can find Kyoto hotel recommendations, as well as tips on getting around Kyoto on public transport and where to eat in Kyoto.
Where to stay in Kyoto with kids
Top tip: stay near Kyoto Station
I can’t stress how important it is to stay near Kyoto’s main train station. Kyoto’s bus network is extensive but it can be slow going. The main station is pretty central for all transport including trains for day trips, and for getting out to Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari.
The further you stay from the station, the longer you’re going to spend going to and fro between it and your accommodation.
Hotels in this area book up very quickly so book as far in advance as you can for the best options and prices.
We stayed pretty far from the station and while it was a great neighbourhood with direct bus links to the main station, it took up to an hour to get through the traffic. When you’ve been on your feet all day, or when you want to get to somewhere early, this was just too far from the train station.
Where we stayed in Kyoto
We were on a really tight budget for our trip to Japan and so we tried to find the best but cheapest accommodation we could find.
We stayed in the very affordable Guesthouse Hana Nishijin, up in Kamishichiken in north west Kyoto. This was a wonderful guesthouse in a lovely area with not another tourist in sight. We were able to walk to Kinkaku-ji, and right around the corner is one of Kyoto’s five geisha districts. Unfortunately the geisha were all on holiday when we visited and so we didn’t see any!
Our host, Chiyomi-san, was super helpful and friendly, and even took me around the local shrine on New Year’s Eve. If you want to stay in a non-touristy area and you don’t mind trekking about the city a bit, then we’d recommend staying here. Click here to book.
Budget hotels in Kyoto for families
No frills but clean and close to the main train station, try Family Inn Kei which has air conditioning and Wifi as well as free bikes to borrow. Super cheap but don’t expect much space in your room. Click here to book.
Only 5 minutes from Kyoto Station, Daiya Ryokan offers traditional Japanese lodgings. As with many ryokan (Japanese inns) bathrooms are shared. You can also hire bikes. Click here to book.
15 minutes from Kyoto Station, Home Inn Toji offers cheap and cheerful accommodation with bikes to hire as well. These apartments have self catering facilities, wifi and air con. Click here to book.
Mid range hotels in Kyoto for families
Modern Japanese rooms, self catering facilities and a pretty garden make Tomoya Residence a good choice. It’s well located in Downtown Kyoto close to the Nishiki Market, the Manga Museum and Nijo Castle. Family rooms with separate living areas can be booked making this ideal for travellers with kids.
Click here to book Tomoya Residence on booking.com or click the image to book on Agoda.
Mimaru Kyoto Station is a great option for families after good accommodation near the station. They’ve got family rooms, wifi and fridges in the rooms. Some of the units have a garden. Click here to book Mimaru Kyoto Station on booking.com, or click the image to book on Agoda.
Kyoto Kamanza Hotel is right in the centre of Kyoto’s downtown so it’s a bit further to the train station but still has a great location. All mod cons are included and the hotel has family rooms. Click here to book Kyoto Kamaza Hotel in booking.com or click the image to book on Agoda.
Luxury hotels in Kyoto for families
Beautiful and ultra modern, The Thousand Kyoto is near to Kyoto station and only a couple of miles from Downtown Kyoto and Higashiyama. Family rooms are available as well as Western and Japanese style suites. There’s a bar and restaurant onsite. Click here to book The Thousand Kyoto on booking.com or click the image to book on Agoda.
For the ultimate in luxury Japanese experiences try the Four Seasons right on the edge of Higashiyama. There’s everything and more you could wish for at this hotel which also boasts a luxury spa to soothe your aching legs after all that walking! Click here to book the Four Seasons on booking.com or click the image to book on Agoda.
Spacious rooms and a great location for sightseeing in Higashiyama make the Hyatt Regency Kyoto a good choice for families. As well as the luxurious rooms and on site bars and restaurants, there’s a spa and babysitting services available. Click here to book the Hyatt Regency Kyoto on booking.com or click the image to compare prices on Agoda.
Where to eat in Kyoto
There are thousands of restaurants in Kyoto and you can get just about any cuisine possible. It might be difficult if you’ve got small fussy kids or if you’re vegetarian (or both like us!) but do try to have local specialities if you can.
You could try Issen Yoshoku in central Gion for okonomiyaki; local to Kansai these are savoury pancakes with all sorts of toppings – making them suitable for veggies and probably fussy kids. The kids will be drawn in by the restaurant’s outside display, in any case!
Eating in Gion and Ponto-cho is also recommended in the evening as it’s a hugely atmospheric place and there is plenty of choice.
There are also food courts found at Kyoto Station and in the basements of department stores like Daimara and Takashimaya.
7-Eleven and Lawson
Each day we made sure that we stopped off at a 7-Eleven or Lawson to pick up a packed lunch. These two shops are found everywhere in Japan and sell cheap, filling snacks and lunches. If you’re trying to save money in Japan then I definitely recommend shopping in either of these stores. Just shop early as the most popular snacks sell out quickly.
The kids loved the inari sushi and onigiri plain rice balls, while I found veggie versions filled with sour plum. Of course there are meat and fish options too – go for a bento box if you aren’t vegetarian. You can pick up hot food from the counter such as steamed buns and seasonal oden (food cooked in broth).
I also really recommend the 7-Eleven egg salad sandwiches (Japanese mayo is way better than western versions!). There are also breads (many of them are sweet and filled), instant noodles, crisps/chips and chocolates. Even picky kids like mine won’t go hungry.
Just remember not to eat when walking – it’s really rude in Japan. Take a bag with you for your rubbish as there aren’t many bins in Japan.
How to get around Kyoto
Kyoto has a network of trains, buses and a metro to get around. It’s worth researching the quickest way to get around in advance and this depends on where you’re going! We recommend having a Pasmo card or other electronic pre paid card to make your life easier.
Although walking might sometimes be quicker if you’ve only got a mile or two to go!
Kyoto Bus and Metro network
This ended up being the main way we got around Kyoto as our hotel was way out in Kamishichiken. Buses are well organised, on time, and they cover a wide area of the city. The downside is that they are just quite slow especially at peak travel times.
You hop on the bus and pay your fare when you alight (unless you have a prepaid card). Save your change for the bus! We used the Pasmo cards we’d bought in Tokyo on Kyoto’s buses.
The metro covers many sites in the city centre and is less useful in the suburbs and wider Kyoto area.
Trains in Kyoto
You’ll probably use trains to get around a fair bit, down to Fushimi Inari or to Arashiyama, or out of the city on a day trip for example. If you’re using a JR Pass then the app from Hyperdia will come in super handy as it tells you train times, platforms and which routes are included in your JR Pass. Don’t download it until just before your trip as it’s only free for 30 days.
I hope this post has helped you to get a good idea of what you can expect to get up to in Kyoto with kids or if you’re a first time visitor to Kyoto. Kyoto is a truly awesome city and quiet pockets can be found among the crowds.
Have you been to Kyoto? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments!
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