Kyoto with Kids is great edutainment. Kyoto the ancient capital is filled with history and art, but has all the coolness of today. We recommend three days in Kyoto but if you only have one you can still accomplish so much! Here are is our recommended three days in Kyoto with Kids itinerary. We are recommending over 20 great locations in Kyoto in three main areas – east Kyoto, west Kyoto and north/central Kyoto.We also recommend spending one day in Nara if you have time. You can also enjoy Osaka with your Osaka with Kids guide here.
Three Days in Kyoto with Kids – Kyoto Curated for families
For the purpose of this three day guide we have divided Kyoto into three areas (a huge simplification but only way to explain simply). Standing at Kyoto station we segment the city into East, North/Central and West. I would recommend East for your 1st day, West for your second day and North/Central for your third. The famous Fushi Inari is south of the station but you an do any time so add one to an evening (it is open 24 hours, and we love how spooky it is at night). We have learned that if you make seeing Kyoto only about temples, gardens and museums you may have some very cranky kids so in each area we
have tried to add some of our favorite parks, zoos and play spots. For recommendations on where to stay see below.
1. Kyoto is spiraling and sites spread out. Wear comfortable shoes, backpacks, hats and layers for cold and hot fluctuations.
2. Make sure you have a suica or Pasmo card well charged for trains and buses.
3. Buy a temple book for your kids – each temple will stamp or write a blessing in the book for 300 yen. It will keep them motivated to move forward form temple to temple. Also makes a great souvenir.
4. Kyoto has great free wifi – info here.
Getting around Kyoto – We recommenced taking trains and buses to get around, especially the West area and Northern area. For the East walking is possible and advise but you can taxi in-between if little feet are tired. Bike rental is also popular but be advised the the East area can be rally hilly. You can rent bikes in the west area by the hour and day (bike rentals near the station). We rented bikes form J-cycle and had a great time.
Day 1 – EAST KYOTO
- Sanjusangendo Temple (open 8:30 – 4:30) -The word San-ju-san-gen-do means 33 halls (although this hall is just one huge hall). In this hall, originally built in 1266, are 1oo1 armed kannon and 28 standing attendants. You will be amazed that the magnitude of the facility and the beautiful carved sculptures. A great place to start your Kyoto too and be wowed! Adults 600円 – High School and Middle 400円, Elementary 300円
Walk 25 mins from Sanjusangendo to Kiyomizu-dera
2. Kiyomizu-dera Temple (open 6:00-18:00, shops do not open until around 10:00) – is a beautiful temple temple in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. The temple built in the 1600s is not undergoing a multi year renovation. The outside is oared with scaffolding but the inside is still very impressive and spiritually mazing. We recommend that you do visit. Also the road up to the temple is one of my kids forte with tins of seweet shapes and gift stores. The temple grounds have her 1,500 cherry trees and 1,000 foliage trees so both spring and fall are magnificent. Adults, High School, Middle 400円, Elementary and below 200円 Here is a great video from the temple two view before you visit.
3. Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka – Is a great slope area which runs from Kiyomizudera-dera down towards Gion district. There are wonderful restaurants and shops to enjoy along the way. Great place to pick-up and early lunch or coffee. Make sure to stop by Yasaka Koshin which is famous from their brightly colored “kukurizaru” balls which contain the wishes of worshippers.
Walk 20 mins from Kiyomizu-dera to Gion (this is if you walk without stopping in all the cute stores and cafes)
4. Gion (祇園, ぎおん) – Is one of the oldest area of Kyoto, know for its beautiful teahouse and stores and occasion Geisha Sightings. It is located near Yasaka Shrine in Maruyama Park.
Have lunch around Maruyama Park ( 円山公園, free open 24 hours) – Famous for the the beautiful cherry blossoms. A nice park to enjoy an bento lunch.
5. Kyoto City Zoo – (9:00- 4:30 ; closed Monday) – If you have little ones and they are worm out with temples, then have a one hour visit to the Kyoto Zoo – its free for kids. A small zoo but have elephants and giraffes, some small retro amusement rides. Good place to burn off some steam. Adults 620 yen, under 15 free.
Walk 10 mins from Kyoto City Zoo to Heian Jinja
6. Heian Jinja – (Open 8:30 – 17:00; free to view shrine, 600 yen to enter the garden) – A beautiful Shrine with bright orange structure, a large white stoned cost yard and lovely Japanese garden filled with weeping cherry trees and wisteria. It is a new shrine (by Kyoto standards) having been built in 1895. Heian name of Kyoto (before Kyoto), the shrine was built in celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation.
6 mins from Heian Jinja to Kyoto Handicraft Center
7. Kyoto Handicraft Center (11:00-19:00 everyday) – Great place to try Japannese crafts taught in English. Here is the link to see all classes. You can also reserve online (only in Japanese, but many pictures). Classes start three times a day – 10:30, 14:30 and 16:00. Most experiences take 30-90 mins and cost 1,800 – 4,000 yen. They also have a lovely gift shop to buy crafts and books. Address: 17 Shogoin Entomicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
Day 2 – WEST KYOTO
Wake up early and head out to Arashiyama – If you are staying near Kyoto station you can take the JR Train from Kyoto Station on the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station or take the cute little Ramden tram which runs east to west. If you are staying near Kyoto station or north of Kyoto station it will take you about 30-40 mins via train.
8. Tenryu-Ji Temple (8:30 – 17:30 open everyday) – This 14th century is one of the main attractions in Arashiyama. It has a beautiful garden. You can walk from the station and then view the garden and tea house before exiting the back exit which leads directly into the famous Bamboo Forest. Adults (high school and above) 500 yen, middle and elementary 300 yen. Temple website in English.
9. Bamboo Forest (open 24/7) – Definitely the most popular attraction in Arashiyama! The Bamboo forest is a long path through a thick and tall beautiful bamboo. Go early since it gets unbearably crowded from 10:00 – 14:00.
10. Take a Rickshaw Ride -My daughter absolutely wanted to take a ride on a rickshaw. The driver took her and a friend aroud the back streets of Kyoto. We had already visited the bamboo forest so the driver took them over the river and around some neighborhoods for 30 mins. Cost was about 10,000 yen for two. A bit of a splurge but a memory she still talks about. Rickshaws can be found around Arashiyama station.
11. Sagano Romantic Train (9:00 -16:00 everyday)
North of the Bamboo Forest is the departure location of the Sagano Romantic Train. This little train runs up the Hozugawa Gorge for a distance of 7.3km over 25 mins. within a span of around 25 minutes. The views are amazing and you can enjoy great foliage and blossoms throughout the year. Tickets can be reserved before hand or purchased on the day. Adults 630 yen and kids 310 yen. Reserve tickets here.
12. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama (9:00 – 16:00 everyday year round) – This monkey park is located on top of a Mt. Arashiyama on the far side of the the Oi River (main river that runs through Arashiyama). This commercial park has over 170 Japanese macaquemonkeys. The monkeys are wild and live on the mountain. You can purchase monkey food on the top of the mountain. Please do not take your own food and feed to the animals. My kids loved the monkeys. Adults are 550 and kids 250 yen. The hike to the top of the Mt. takes about 10-15 mins, but can be strenuous in the summer under the hot sun. Strollers not recommended.
13 . Lunch around river or station- There are many restaurants around the river and station area – with the station you can also find the trail of kimono pillars (near the Tulles’s coffee shop). A fun place to take photos.
14. Bus or Cab to Ryōan-ji –(open 8:00-17:00 everyday)- Take a 10 min cab ride from Arashiyama station area to the The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple which is most famous for the garden of rocks with beautiful patterns raked into white small pebbles (dry landscape). You can also walk around the temple which is also very beautiful. Take some time an relax on the veranda viewing the rocks. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. English website for Ryoan-ji. Price to enter is 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for kids.
15. Walk / Bus or Cab to Kinkakuji – From Ryōan-ji walk 20 mins or take a cab 5 mins to Kinrakuji (open 9:00 – 17:00) – Temple of the Golden Pavilion is the most famous Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It is a designated Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and a World Heritage Site. Plan to spend about one hour at Kinkakuji viewing the building, the gardens and then grabbing an ice cream on the way out. Here is a very cool virtual tour. Behind the golden building when walking uo the back trail there are some statues that kids love trying to get coins to stick to! They also have a very nice bathroom facility on entrance and exit. Learn all about Kinrakuji in English. Adults are 400 yen and kids 200 yen.
After visiting the Western side of Kyoto head above into central Kyoto to Nijujo. I would recommend splurging on a cab for speed and due to tired feet at the end of the day (bout 10-15 mins for 2,500-3,00o yen). But you also can take buses (about 30 mins)
16. Nijo Castle (8:45 – 17:00 (last entrance 16:00) – Nijo-jo Castle was the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns who rules for 260 years from 1603 to 1868. It is a stunning castle with a moat, huge stone walls and gates, and beautiful gardens. You take your shoes off to enter the castle villas which has polished wooden floors which squeak to warn of intruder and beautiful wall paintings. Your kids will enjoy the squeaky floors. Plan to spend an hour with kids. Adults 620 yen, HS and middle 300 yen and ES kids 200 yen. Nijojo English website.
Day 3 – NORTH / CENTRAL & BEYOND
17. Nishiki Market (9:00 – 17:30 daily) – Nishiki Market is covered market street in central Kyoto. You can buy all sorts of Japanese food to eat in or take out. Many vendors are selling cooked and raw seafood, pickles which are a kyoto specialty and sweets. There are also lovely gift shop of souvenirs and handmade higher end ceramics and metal works. A great place to spend 1-2 hours. It is located on a back street one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street. We recommend picking up some lunch items in the morning.
If you have an aspiring Ninja in your house, plan a visit to the Ninja Dojo and Store in Kyoto. The Ninja Store is a boutique that offers an extensive selection of Ninja tools from swords to other scary looking accessories. If you are a Ninja fan, you can shop and learn in the same place. We signed-up for the one hour Ninja skills lesson and now can walk silently, defend ourselves with chopsticks and escape into the darkness. We are now ready for anything. Lessons are offered for kids and adults in the centrally located Dojo near Shijo. Note: Reservations are required. Details here.
Bus is 40 mins from Nishiki Market/Shijo area to Ginkakuji- Take bus #3 from Shijo Takakura to Kami Ikedacho and then walk about 12 mins to Ginkakuji. Taxi will coast about 4,00 yen and take about 16 mins depending on traffic.
19. Ginkakuji (open 8:30-17:00) – Know as the temple of the Silver Pavilion, visitors are often surprised that the temple is brown wood. The plan was the cover it in silver leaf but the Orion War disrupted that plan. It is a stunning two story resting villa for the original samurai owner in 1460. The temple is build in the mountain landscape and the gardens are beautiful. Although on the northern rim of the city, it is worth the trek. On exiting you will be very close to the beginning of the Philosophers Path. Adults 500 yen, and kids 300 yen.
20. Philosophers Path – The Philosopher’s Walk in Japanese is Tetsugaku-no-michi. The 2 kilometer pedestrian path runs from Ginkakuji to Nanzen-ji, running by numerous beautiful temples along the hillside. The path is supposedly named after a Kyoto University professor who use to walk and meditate along the path. The path is very crowded during cherry blossom seasons, so go in the early morning if possible. There are lovely stores and cafes along the way so take your time. If you walk straight through it would take 30 mins so I recommend at least two hours.
A few stops on the train south of Kyoto station – great to go any early night or late evening.
21. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine (opne 24 hours) – We love the 1,000 gates that wind up Mt. Inari for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). Note it will take a few hours to climb up and down with ES and above kids. I think the best time to fo is night time when empty and kinds spooky! Inari has over 1,000 gates and 32,000 sub-srhines for the kami (God) of rie and agriculture. Free, but donations encouraged.
The JR West Kyoto Railway Museum (京都鉄道博物館), formerly the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, was expanded and modernized, and reopened in April 2016. It is the newest and largest railway museum in Japan surpassing JR East`s Omiya Railway museum in Saitama (30 minutes from Shinjuku Station) and JR Central`s SC Maglev and Railway Park in Nagoya. Adults are 1,200 yen, high school and university are 1,000 yen, elementary and MS students 500 yen and nursery 200 yen.
If you have a 2-3 hour window in Kyoto and kids than the modern Kyoto Aquarium is a great spot for some Edutainment. The Kyoto Aquarium is organized into nine zones featuring Japan GIANT salamanders to penguins. The Aquarium opened in 2012 is walking distance from Kyoto Station and is located in the huge Umekoji Park which has a fun playground and is the home to the Kyoto Railway Museum