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Kyoto, Japan- Anne

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Free Things to do in Kyoto

1.) A stroll in Arashiyama  and Togetsukyo Bridge

I love Arashiyama for its relaxing vibe. Its proximity to the river in addition to the surrounding forests and the rural surroundings make this area one my favourite places to visit in Kyoto. Can you believe  this lovely place is one of the free things to do in Kyoto? Yes, it can get awfully touristy but  visit early in the morning or just enjoy a stroll late at night, you will see the place’s serene side.

You can enjoy a picnic by the riverside. For a more active option, one can opt to cycle around Arashiyama and see the hidden gems of the area. Walk through the preserved district and you can also visit the two temples, each just a few minutes’ walk from the district.

Get in: Take the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station and walk for about 10 minutes.

2.) Enjoy the colourful path of Kimono Forest

Visit this forest cylindrical columns designed with kimonos for a truly aesthetic experience. You can find these colourful installations  in Randen Arashiyama station. See more than 30 textiles designs that range from mixture of geometric lines, floral and traditional patterns. The scenery is especially stunning at night!

Enjoy a quick photoshoot before you explore Arashiyama, the kimonos as your backdrop would surely add quirkiness to your photo.

Get in: Enter Randen Arashiyama Station to find the Kimono Forest. You will pass by the station before you reach Togetsukyo Bridge.

3.) Meditate in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

While it is one of the popular spots in Kyoto, it is still possible to meditate in this beautiful place. Head down to the grove before eight in the morning and you’ll have the area all to yourself. Stressed because of planning? Soak in the tranquil view as you meditate.

Get in: Take the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station and walk for about 10-15 minutes.

4.) See the houses at Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka

Go back in time as you stroll along traditional machiyas, shops and houses in Ninen-zaka and Sannenzaka. These narrow roads leading to Kiyomizu-dera is often packed with crowds during peak hours but come here early in the morning and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back to the Edo period.

Get in: It is a 50-minute walk from Kyoto Station or 20-minute walk from Gion. Alternatively, you can take bus number 100 or 206 and get off at Gojo-zaka bus top or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop.

5.) An evening walk in Gion

There is some overwhelming fascination with geishas which led to some poor ladies being chased down by photographers/tourists in many occasions. I would suggest participating in a walking tour to learn more about their lifestyle. You might see a maiko or geiko during a late-night stroll in Gion but remember to respect their personal space.

6.) Visit the ‘foxes’ at Fushimi Inari

You won’t find real foxes in Kyoto’s famous tori gates. Each of vermillion torii gates is donated by business organizations and individuals where the sponsor’s name and date of purchase is painted on the side. Inari, the god of rice and patron of business is enshrined in here.

Get in: Catch a train a JR Nara train from Kyoto Station and get off at JR Inari Station

7. ) Pay a visit to the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan- Ujigami Shrine

Uji is known for the quality of its green tea. Uji-gami shrine is considered as the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. Experts believe that Ujigami Shrine was first built by 1060. Architecture lovers might also be interested to know that the shrine has the oldest example of nagare-zukuri style of shrine architecture in Japan.

 8.) Enjoy Wazuka’s tea fields and a hike in Mt Jyubusan

This one is a little complex as this quite far from the city centre. In fact, it will be easier to reach Wazuka if you are coming from Nara. Wazuka-cho is known as one of the best tea producers in Japan because of the exceptional quality of its Sencha and matcha. My first visit was in a tea tour with Obubu but you could visit the town on your own. Keep in mind that it will be a bit trickier.

Stop by the Wazuka Cha café where you can browse through the local products and ask for directions. If you’re planning to hike, plan your route with Google maps. You will be going to residential areas to reach a part of the mountain. You are free to enter some fields, just remember to be respectful always.

Lastly, you could visit the town during its annual Teatopia Festival where the locals showcase their products and you can enjoy a variety of tea-related activities.

Get in:  Catch a JR Nara train and get off at Kizu Station. At Kizu, transfer to JR Yamatoji Line bound for Kamo. Once you reach Kamo, take a Nara Kotsu bus from and get off at Wazuka Yama-no-Ie . The Wazuka Cha Café is 3-minute walk from bus stop

9.) Learn more about Kimonos at Nishijin Textile Center

Who doesn’t admire the beauty and intricate details of kimonos? Head down to Nishijin Textile Center to catch a glimpse of different kinds of kimonos.  There is not much in the exhibition but stay tuned for the Kimono fashion show they have every hour.

Get in: It was a 40-min walk from Kinkakuji Temple. Alternatively, take bus number 9 at Kyoto Station and get off at Horikawa-Imadegawa Bus stop.

10.) Visit the grounds of Heian Shrine

I still remember this from one of my favorite scenes in  Lost in Translation . I replicated that pond scene in the gardens of Heian Shrine. There is a fee in entering the gardens though you are free to explore the shrine grounds. Heian Shrine is replica of the original Imperial Palace built in 794.

Get in: Take Kyoto City bus number 5 or 100 from Kyoto Station, get off Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae Bus Stop

11) Kamigamo & Shimogamo Shrine

The two shrines are not as well-known to the tourists hence they are perfect for those who prefer  quieter shrines. The shrines were like oasis in the middle of the city with lush trees surrounding the area.

Kamigamo shrine is known for Tatesuna, the conical sands which are used in purification rites in the shrine.  The beauty and serenity of shrine grounds in Shimogamo are further highlighted with a stroll at the Tadasu-no-Mori.

Get in:

Shimogamo Shrine is a 15 minute walk from Demachi-Yanagi Station on the Keihan Line.

Kamigamo Shrine can be reached in 30 minutes from Demachi-Yanagi Station or Shimogamo Shrine by Kyoto City Bus number 4.

12.) Experience the culinary kaleidoscope of Nishiki Market

One of my favorite places and free things to do in Kyoto. I’d never miss a chance to visit Nishiki market. Take in the sights and smells of gastronomic delights as you enter the market. You’d probably see some items that you’ve never seen before. I’m especially a huge fan of the tsukemono stalls (Japanese pickles) of the market.

Get in: Get off at Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (from Kyoto Station) or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line and follow the signs to the market.

This concludes my list of free things to do in Kyoto. I used the listed directions in my travels so feel free to check for alternatives. These are free things to do in Kyoto but do take note of the transport expenses. All the busy planning aside, don’t forget to enjoy and relax during your trip.


Where to stay:

Hostels are life-savers for many budget travellers. They are in central areas plus the social atmosphere is quite vibrant too, you get to meet fellow travellers and make friends. The hostels in Japan are expensive (Y2500-Y3000 for a bed in a dormitory) but their facilities/rooms are clean. Japanese hostels also have the cleanest bathrooms I've ever experienced in a hostel. Hostels also provide guests maps, their own cheap guide to Kyoto where you find recommendations for food, places, or events. You can also talk to the staff or ask them for some tips.


Assess which bus/subway pass will work for your itinerary A JR pass do not cover for the bus and subway system in Kyoto. If you haven’t activated your JR pass yet, I suggest you activate it later and opt for a bus/subway passes. It is also alright if your JR pass is already active though a bus/subway pass is much more convenient since JR trains are not as extensive in Kyoto. One subway or bus ride costs around Y210-Y250 so if you plan to use public transport, it will be worthwhile to use a pass. I have only used passes on one or two occasions since I prefer walking most of the time.


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