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There is a lot to see and do in Kyoto- there are heaps of Shrines and Temples to visit and it can get a bit overwhelming trying to pick and choose which ones to visit. And, while the historic sites are impressive, modern Japan is just as interesting. Often a trip to Kyoto will be combined with visits to Osaka, Nara, and possibly other parts of Japan, so how do you pack in everything in when you have little ones?
First of all, despite the pictures of ancient Kyoto, it’s also very much a modern city with great public transport.
Next, consider balance- it’s not necessary to visit every single temple and shrine. It’s impossible, so pick a few and enjoy them that way you can also enjoy other aspects of Kyoto.
Japan in the warmer months is very hot and humid and it involves a lot of walking. You may find the kids fading by mid-afternoon. However, there are plenty of places that offer great stops. The multi-story (air-conditioned) Takashimaya and Marui shopping centres offer both shopping, grocery and restaurants. The dining options are usually on the top floor with the food hall in the basement. The food hall does offer great take away items. Freshly made food is prepared on site and then packaged for takeaway. It’s great if you need to have dinner back at your accommodation and it’s a big step up from the convenience store bento boxes and sushi rolls.
Tenryu-Ji Temple & Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama is the name of the mountain in this area of Kyoto and has a heap of places to visit
Tenryu-ji temple is beautifully set with a pond and garden that you can wander around. You can also explore the temple itself. Just so you know, you will need to take your shoes off to go on inside, but it’s a great way to cool down. There are views of the garden from the temple.
Right next to Tenryu-ji temple is the famous Arashiyama bamboo grove. This beautiful walk takes you through tall bamboo and is peaceful - even when there are crowds of people. The walk is cool and shaded.
Arashiyama Monkey Park-- Iwatayama Monkey Park
The monkey park looks fantastic; however, we planned our trip to include it in the afternoon which ended up being when we were all a bit faded. We had underestimated the distance from Arashiyama bamboo grove to the park. We thought that they were quite close together, (they are) it’s only a kilometre apart but that doesn’t include the 20 minute (adult pace) climb up the mountain. Beforehand, it seemed super close; however when everyone is feeling hot, sticky, tired, and hungry it feels like the end of the earth. The uphill climb is a staircase, so I wouldn’t want the pram on that day.
If you want to see and feed the cute monkeys it’s definitely worth it, but I would start the day at the monkey park when everyone is still full of energy and then spend the rest of the time checking out Tenryu-Ji temple and Arashiyama Bamboo grove which are more laid back at your own pace activities.
Kinkaku-Ji Temple (google translate into English)
One of Kyoto’s iconic temples- this stunning golden temple sits in a lake surrounded by a beautiful forest. It’s quite a busy attraction, but worth it as it is very impressive and beautiful. The lake and surroundings gardens look so natural but are well positioned and maintained. There are koi in the lake, so keep a lookout for them. There is also a small man-made waterfall. It’s a peaceful walk as you are surrounded by bonsai trees and the sound of running water. However, there were a lot of mosquitos here, so I would spray the family with repellant- especially if your kids, like mine, react badly to mosquito bites.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is an important Shinto shrine and is dedicated to the God Inari (god of rice). It is actually the head shrine for over 40,000 Inari shrines. The complex sits on Mount Inari and you can walk through those famous vermillion gates up the mountain. There is a trail that continues to lead up the mountain, but it’s not necessary to go that far. You will see statues of foxes everywhere and that is because they are considered the messengers of the god Inari.
This was my favourite place to visit and it’s super popular with other tourists. The iconic red gates are simply an amazing site. Despite the crowds of tourists, it is not just a “tourist place,” but a place of worship with a head priest. Take time to explore the temples there as well.
Gion & Yasaka Shrine & Maruyama Park
You’ll want to make time to walk through the Gion district. This is where you will find the old tea houses and it’s famously known as the geisha district. Walking through this area will lead you to Yasaka Shrine which is most famous for its summer festival in July. It’s also next to Maruyama park which is Kyoto’s most famous spot for cherry blossom season with over 600 cherry trees. There is a large weeping cherry tree in the middle of the park that is lit up at night. If you manage to get here in cherry blossom season, it’ll be crowded but amazing. If you can’t make it in the spring, the park is a colorful wonderland in autumn.
Nishiki Market, Shinkyogoku, Teramachi
Nishiki market is a traditional food market in downtown Kyoto. It’s connected to Shinkyogoku and Teramachi markets. These markets are all covered and have a variety of shops from the expensive speciality items to tourists trinkets, restaurants, and some shrines. It’s downtown, so the markets intersect with laneways where you can find restaurants and other shops.
Kyoto International Manga Museum
Kids who are fans of manga will love a stop in this museum!
This temple is just outside Kyoto and is accessible with public transport. If you have time to visit, definitely add it to your list. It is a large complex, but it has a five-story pagoda (oldest in Kyoto) and a vermillion bridge and temple. It is famous as being a beautiful place for cherry blossom viewing thanks to its avenue of cherry trees. You will need to commit at least half a day to visit here.
Hope this top places list helps you sort out your trip to Kyoto with the kids!! If your visit includes time for Osaka click here for my advice on top places to visit and click here if you are planning on visiting Universal Studios Japan.