Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan, and it doesn’t disappoint. The city is not as crowded as Tokyo, is easy to explore on foot, and has a rich history. Kyoto is a destination that’s great for all ages, but teens are sure to love it. These are the best things to do in Kyoto with teenagers whether you have 2 days or 10!
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Our Favorite Things to do in Kyoto with Teenagers
1. City tour with WithLocals
Our teens will agree that one of the highlights of our trip to Japan was a tour with Shohei of WithLocals. Shohei grew up in Ohio, but now calls Kyoto home. We took a half day tour through the city, learning about the main attractions, neighborhoods, history, and food of this magical city.
Our tour started at the gorgeous Minimiza Theater, a famous Kabuki performance center that dates to the 1920s. The outside is stunning, and Shohei explained about the shows and the building’s decor.
From there we walked through the Gion district which was nice and quiet during the day. In the evening, this is the place to see Geisha they go to work in the teahouses.
Other highlights included the Yasaka Shrine, Kiomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple, Ninezaka and Sannenzaka streets, and eating local street food (still dreaming about those steamed pork buns).
We felt the tour gave us a great introduction to the city, and Shohei was fun and engaging. He even showed us some hidden gems in Kyoto. This was truly one of our favorite experiences in Japan! CLICK HERE TO BOOK A TOUR WITH SHOHEI
2. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto. It sits on a mountain, and a visit involves a moderate hike that takes 2 to 3 hours to complete.
The highlight of this Shinto shrine are the 10,000 bright orange torii gates that line the path and the city views along the way. There are food stands at the entrance if you want to grab snacks for the hike.
It’s easy to reach the shrine via public transport. Take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station and exit at JR Inari Station. The shrine is a quick 5 minute walk from the station.
Note: The shrine is open 24/7, so if you’re suffering from jet lag, this is a great place to go early in the morning or at night after the crowds have dispersed.
3. Gion District Day and Night
Teens might be underwhelmed exploring the Gion District (also known as the Geisha district) during the day, but it does offer some beautiful scenery, especially the Shirakawa area lined with traditional teahouses along a small river.
If there’s an Instagram or TikTok fan in the family, some photograph worthy spots are Tatsumi Bridge, Kenniji Temple (the oldest Zen Buddhism temple in Kyoto), the Yasaka Shrine, and Hanami Lane.
There are several shops in the area that offer kimono rentals if your teens want a unique experience. Let them learn about Japanese culture as the shop dresses them in traditional clothing and they set off to explore the city and take photos.
The Gion District has stunning cherry trees during the cherry blossom season (typically the end of March to mid-April) which provide an unforgettable backdrop for pictures.
In the evening, Gion is spectacular glowing with lanterns and low lighting. There are many restaurants, nightclubs, and tea houses, but it is still very family-friendly. This is the perfect place to see Geisha on their way to a tea house.
4. Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is a popular market located near Shijo station. There are over 100 market stalls selling a variety of goods. You’ll find everything from souvenir shops to produce and restaurants.
This is a great place to visit with teens for lunch as everyone can choose their favorite dish to sample. The market is only open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. so be sure to schedule a visit accordingly.
*If you want to book a market food tour, we recommend THIS ONE with Context Travel.
5. Visit temples and shrines
Kyoto might as well be called temple and shrine city due to the number of buildings found here. There are over 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. You can literally see them on just about every corner in the city. Some of the temples and shrines you don’t want to miss are below:
Dating to 1236 AD, this is one of the of the five Great Zen temples in the city. It is known for its beautiful gardens, especially the maple trees that turn a vibrant shade of red-orange in the fall.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
This is a gorgeous temple to visit in the north part of Kyoto. It was originally built as the home of a retiring Shogun, but converted to a temple upon his death. It was burned to the ground in 1950 by a disgruntled monk, but rebuilt in 1955.
The top two floors are covered in gold leaf, and it’s a lovely spot for photos as the gold reflects on the Mirror Pond below.
Tō-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its five story pagoda that was built in 826 AD. It is easy to see this from many parts of the city. On the 21st of each month, the temple hosts the Kobo-ichi Market, a flea market that is the largest of its kind in Kyoto.
Higashi Hongan-ji Temple
Not far from Kyoto’s main train station, this temple is known for its main hall, Goeido Hall, one of the largest wooden structures in the world. This is only one part of a two temple complex. The other one, Nishi Honganji Temple, is the main temple of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Buddhist religious order.
If you only have time to visit one temple in Kyoto, this is the one that packs the most punch. This temple was built on the site of a waterfall, and the name translates to “Pure Water Temple”. You will see visitors making a point to drink from the Otowa no Taki (Otowa waterfall) and even buy “pure bottled water” in hopes of long life, success, and a good love life.
This structure is truly a wonder. The temple was founded in 778 AD, but the existing main building dates to the 17th century. It sits on a hillside and is supported by 168 wooden pillars. The building was built entirely of wood, not a single nail was used. When you visit, take time to think about what that entailed.
Make time to explore the grounds. Highlights include the three-story Koyasu Pagoda, Sai-Mon gate, and a Buddha shrine that contains hundreds of small Buddha statues, some with bibs representing those who have lost a child. This is one place that is amazing to visit when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
If you have time, visit the temple in the early evening for the perfect lighting, and then stay for the after dark illuminations.
It’s hard to miss this 5-story pagoda in Higashiyama-ku between Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka-jinja shrine. This is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. Not necessarily for visiting, but there will be plenty of people trying to capture the perfect photo with the pagoda in the background.
6. Samurai and Ninja Museum
If anyone in your family wants to learn what it was like to be a samurai or ninja, this museum is worth visiting.
A basic ticket includes a guided tour, as well as Samurai and Ninja experiences. The guided tour will teach you about Japan’s history and stories of these famous Japanese warriors while going through the armor and weapons collection.
After the tour, try on some traditional Samurai armor, select a weapon, and take photos. Or try your hand at throwing ninja stars, using a ninja blowgun, and learning the secrets of the ninja.
7. Kyoto International Manga Museum
Manga is a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, and some teens find them very fascinating. If this appeals to your teens, head to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It features collections of famous artifacts and books, and frequently offers performances and workshops.
8. Tea ceremony
There are several companies in Kyoto that offer a chance to experience a Japanese tea ceremony. Many will give the option of dressing in a kimono and enjoying the traditional tea ritual. Some include Japanese sweets and time for photos afterwards.
If you want to learn more about geisha, some tea ceremonies include a geisha performance so keep an eye out if that is of interest.
A couple of tea ceremonies we recommend are:
- Traditional Tea Ceremony Wearing a Kimono with Viator
- Tea Ceremony Ju-An at Jotokuji Temple with Get Your Guide
9. Rent bicycles in Kyoto
I wouldn’t think of renting bicycles in Tokyo, but Kyoto has many excellent spots for exploring. Many of their roads are bicycle friendly and there’s a long path that runs alongside the Kamo River.
If your teens are tired of walking or navigating Japan’s transportation, this is a great way to see the city. There are also Kyoto bicycle tours available if you want a local to show you the best places for exploring.
10. Kyoto Samurai Experience
If you are looking for something more than the offerings at the museum, head to Kyoto Samurai House where teens can have a 2-hour samurai experience. Here they will learn the way of the warrior, the philosophies of Bushido, handle a real katana sword, and take part in a Zen meditation session. CLICK HERE TO BOOK
11. Walk and eat your way along Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets
One of our favorite places to explore in Kyoto was the historical district of Higashiyama. This is the home of Maruyama Park, Gion, Yasaka Pagoda, Kenniji Temple, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
These are some of the best spots in Kyoto, but you will have to walk through Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets to reach these historical sites. Along the way, you will find unique boutiques, charming cafés, ice cream shops, and crowds.
Go in the early morning if you want to avoid them, but this is a good place to grab a bite to eat or do some souvenir shopping any time of day.
Traditional foods to eat in Kyoto
While you are strolling through this area, there are some foods you will want to try:
- Green tea soft-serve ice cream
- Tofu balls (look like doughnuts on a stick)
- Ichigo ame – candied strawberries on a stick
- Yatsuhashi – looks like dumplings, usually filled with red bean paste
- Nikuman – steamed dumplings (like Chinese bao buns, my teens were seriously addicted)
- Starbucks – in case you need a fix, there’s one here, but it might be hard to find. Highly recommend the matcha doughnuts and checking out the tatami mat seating area upstairs.
12. Rickshaw Tour
After all that food and shopping, what better way to explore than via a rickshaw tour. Drivers line up throughout the area and can be booked to take you through this popular area and tell you their favorite spots along the way.
13. Head to Arashiyama
A quick 45-minute train ride from the city center, you will be transported to a different world. Arashiyama is known for its temples and shrines, but its natural beauty is by far the best attraction.
Our first stop was Iwatayama Monkey Park (also known as Arashiyama Monkey Park) where you can see dozens of snow monkeys (aka Japanese macaques). The entrance fee was about $5 USD per person.
After entering, it’s a “short walk” to the top of the mountain and the monkeys. However, it isn’t really that quick, taking about 30-minutes and a lot of lung power. There are plenty of stops along the way, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this with young children, unless you want to carry them most of the way.
Those who climb to the top will be rewarded not only with the monkeys, but with stunning views of Kyoto. The monkeys are truly free range and there are employees walking around to keep an eye on troublesome ones. They will often interject themselves if they see a fight brewing between monkey or a visitor in danger.
We spent about 20 minutes taking photos and enjoying the view before heading down the mountain.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The main attraction in this area is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, so we headed over the Togetsukyo Bridge that crosses the Katsura River. Side note: this is a popular place for photos, and there are boats available to rent if you want to go out on the river.
Walking through the main part of Arashiyama, you will find endless souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafés. We didn’t have time to stop, but there appeared to be some unique souvenirs and snacks, and a ton of green tea offerings.
The bamboo forest is about a 10-minute walk from the bridge, and it is signed fairly well so you won’t miss it. I will say, it was a huge disappointment. We were there on a Monday afternoon, and it was crowded, so photos were underwhelming. It was beautiful to see, but I don’t know if I would add it as a “must-see” on a trip to Japan.
Other spots to see in Arashiyama are: Tenryu-ji temple (known for its beautiful gardens), Kimono Forest (perfect for selfies), and Fufu-No-Yu for a traditional onsen (hot spring) experience.
14. Day trips
Kyoto has an enviable location that provides easy access to several must-visit areas in Japan. Depending on what your teens love to do, these could be great options:
Nara is about 45 minutes on the express train from Kyoto, making it a popular spot for day trippers. The highlight is Nara Deer Park, home to free-roaming deer that are very docile and allow people to approach them. Many will even allow you to pet and feed them. It is quite an unusual encounter, and perfect for any animal loving teen.
Other highlights in Nara are Kōfuku-ji Temple, Nandaimon Gate, and Tōdai-ji Temple.
There are a variety of trains that run between Kyoto and Osaka, and most take between 30 minutes and an hour. If you are short on time (and have a JR Rail Pass), you can take the Shinkansen bullet train and be in Osaka in 15 minutes.
There are plenty of things to do in Osaka with kids, but some of the highlights are Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Castle, and Umeda Sky.
If you are visiting Japan with teens who love history, Hiroshima has to be included in the itinerary. For the most efficient use of your time, you will want to take the bullet train that will take you door-to-door in around 1 hour and 40 minutes.
While in Hiroshima don’t miss the Peace Memorial Museum, Atomic Bomb Dome, Shukkei-en Garden, and Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park.
15. Make Travel Memories with a Family Photoshoot
Every couple of years I convince my family to indulge me with a family photoshoot. We used Flytographer for the fourth time, and once again, we were not disappointed. You can book a Flytographer photo shoot HERE.
Where to stay in Kyoto with Teenagers
Mimaru Suites Kyoto Shijo
This property is located 20 minutes from Kyoto Station, and 5 minutes from Karasuma Station. Our family of 5 booked the three-bedroom Japanese suite that had two traditional bedrooms, a Japanese style room with futons, two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, and washer/dryer.
This was the perfect place for our family and the staff was lovely. The location is easy walking distance to shops, restaurants, and public transportation. One of our favorite things was the evening happy hour where adults could sample local craft beers and sake. CHECK RATES HERE
Park Hyatt Kyoto
Located in the Higashiyama area, this property offers easy access to restaurants, shopping, and attractions. Accommodations include rooms and suites, some with amazing views and even private gardens.
Their signature restaurant has views of Yasaka Pagoda or you can enjoy Japanese kaiseki cuisine at Kyoyamato, their Michelin Star restaurant. CHECK RATES HERE
Hyatt Place Kyoto
This property is close to the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. Rooms are fairly spacious and some rooms allow for an additional bed (for children under 12). There is a breakfast bar and a grab-n-go shop in the lobby that is super convenient for families. CHECK RATES HERE