Top 5 Free Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto On a Budget

Things to Do | Travel | Kyoto | Japan

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こんにちは (Konnichiwa)!

Kyoto is easily one of our favorite city destinations in Japan due to its abundance of culture and history. This ancient city offers an incredible amount of things to do, see, and eat. If you’re traveling to Kyoto on a budget, it's definitely possible as there are plenty of free things to do in Kyoto. The former capital of Japan was one of the last cities on our month long Japan trip. By the end of our trip, our wallets were feeling the burn so we decided to stick exclusively to free attractions and activities in Kyoto.  

It was surprising to learn that a number of temples in Kyoto, including some of the most famous such as Kiyomizu-dera (¥400) and Kinkaku-ji (¥300), the Golden Pavilion, tacked on an entrance fee. These costs seem small but can easily add up, especially for families traveling to Kyoto. But not to worry, Kyoto is often called the City of Ten Thousand Shrines for a reason, there are plenty of free temples and shrines in Kyoto to enjoy. 

These are our top 5 free things to do in Kyoto, which include some of Kyoto’s top attractions. This list is by no means comprehensive, it’s only 5 things! We consider these essential things to do in Kyoto that are both memorable and unique to the city. 

Top 5 Free Things to Do in Kyoto

  1. Fushimi Inari Shrine 

  2. Nishiki Market

  3. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

  4. Kyoto Imperial Palace

  5. Gion District 

1. Walk through the thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

The most iconic attraction in Kyoto is without a doubt Fushimi Inari Shrine. This popular attraction in Kyoto tops our list for offering an incredibly unique experience in Kyoto, Japan. Thousands of vibrant vermillion torii gates line the pathway up Mount Inari, a sight unlike any other in the world. Fushimi Inari Shrine is THE best photography spot in Kyoto, we recommend going early to beat the other tourists and visitors! 

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi, Kyoto 612-0882, Japan
Hours: Open 24 hours, always open

2. Sample everything at Nishiki Market

Visit Kyoto’s Kitchen without spending a dime by sampling! Over 100 vendors line the 5 blocks that make up Nishiki Market in Kyoto and many of them offer free samples to try, making it the perfect place to try Kyoto delicacies. It’s best to visit Nishiki Market in the morning, it gets packed, we got full just from walking through the market sampling things! 

Address: Nakagyo, Kyoto 604-8054, Japan
Hours: Open daily 9:30AM - 6PM

3. Walk amongst giants at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest 

Arashiyama is located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, home to the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Forest that offers a beautiful pathway lined with bamboo on both sides. This stunning bamboo grove is one of the most tranquil spots in Kyoto. Head there early to take it all in without being interrupted. It's also a great photography spot in Kyoto. Check out the Kimono Forest installation (also free) at Arashiyama Station if you have time while in Arashiyama! 

12 Saganonomiyacho, Ukyo, Kyoto 616-8393, Japan
Hours: Open 24 hours, always open

4. Take a tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was home to Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868, before the capital and family moved to Tokyo. The palace sits in the Kyoto Imperial Park and allows free self-guided tours through the palace grounds. You are not allowed to enter the buildings, but it offers an exclusive peek into the history of Kyoto to learn how the Imperial Family once lived.

Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo, Kyoto 602-0881, Japan
Hours: Open daily

5. Catch a glimpse of a geisha in Gion 

Gion is Kyoto’s most famous entertainment district and where you’re most likely to spot a geisha in Kyoto. The Gion area is a great area to walk around in Kyoto, the old fashioned buildings transform you to another time period. Be sure to stop by Yasaka Shrine close by while you’re out in Gion. 

Address: Gionmachi, Higashiyama, Kyoto 605-0001, Japan
Hours: Open 24 hours, always open

Do you need a place to stay in Kyoto? 

We stayed at the Hotel Grocery Kyoto Sanjo located in downtown Kyoto. The hotel is part of the Teramachi shopping arcade and just 8 minutes from Sanjo Station, providing a convenient place to stay in Kyoto with plenty of things to do in the surrounding area. We highly recommend checking out this hotel when looking for a place to stay in Kyoto! 

Check out our full review of Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo 

Map of the 5 top free things to do in Kyoto

Which of these free things in Kyoto would you do first?

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