Templed Out in Kyoto: Alternative Attractions

With 2000 temples and shrines in Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto it’s quite possible that you’ll get templed out at some point in your stay. Luckily there are plenty of other interesting attractions in and around the city. These are our picks.

Uzuki Cooking Class

Uzuki Japanese Cooking Class Meal

The meal we cooked at Uzuki cooking class

Japanese cuisine is fascinating and a cooking class is a great way to learn more about it and get beyond sushi and tempura. The classes at Uzuki are small and held in Emi Hirayama’s kitchen in her home, so they can be tailored to your needs. Emi was happy to teach us to cook vegetarian dishes as Kyoto has a long tradition of shojin ryori or Zen Buddhist temple cuisine.

Cost: 4000 yen (US$ 52) per person.

Nishiki Market

Pickled vegetables, Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Pickled vegetables at Nishiki Market

Once you’ve learnt miso from mirin you can delve into Kyoto’s foodie culture some more with a visit to the Nishiki Market. Here you’ll find all the ingredients essential for Japanese cooking including an array of pickled vegetables, fish, tofu, giant miso smothered aubergine, sweets, and other snacks. There are plenty of opportunities to try free samples or to buy a snack to take with you. We liked the sweet black beans and the chilli coated rice cakes.

Aubergines smothered in miso

Aubergines smothered in miso

Cost: Browsing is free.

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Monkey Park Kyoto

Here the humans are in cages.

For monkey fans this park high up in the hills of Arashiyama is a must. You can enjoy expansive views of the city while getting up close to the 130 Japanese monkeys, including many very cute babies. Watching them play is fascinating enough but you can also feed the monkeys from within the “rest room”. It’s a wonderful role reversal where the monkeys roam free and the humans are behind bars holding out food for the monkeys. We got here just after opening and had the monkeys all to ourselves for half an hour.

Monkey Park, Kyoto

Cost: 550 yen (US$ 7) plus an extra 100 yen  (US$1.30) for monkey food.

Kyoto International Manga Museum

We couldn’t leave Japan without exploring manga (comics) culture. This manga museum has a small exhibition looking at the role manga has played in Japanese culture, but mostly there are just lots and lots of manga books. The collection houses 300,000 in fact and although they are mostly in Japanese they have translations into many other languages too. Throughout the museum you’ll find towering bookshelves and geeky kids quietly reading. If you are interesed in manga it would be the ideal place on a rainy day.

Cost: 800 yen (US$10.40).

Nishijin Textile Centre

Nishijin Textile Centre, Kyoto

Kimono fashion show at Nishijin Textile Centre

The Nishijin textile centre is worth a look if you are interested in textiles. It’s mostly just a huge shop but you can also watch the crafts people at work weaving and hand painting the kimono. You can learn about the process of making silk and even see live silk worms. The main attraction is the kimono fashion show that takes place at set times throughout the day. It’s kind of cheesy (accompanied by a muzak version of Smells Like Teen Spirit – what on earth?!) but a good opportunity to see beautiful kimono up close.

Cost: Free

Wander Around Gion

Lanterns at Yasaka Shrine, Gion

Lanterns at Yasaka Shrine, Gion

Most people think of geisha when they think of Kyoto so a visit to the old geisha quarter is an essential stop. Although many of Gion’s streets are busy and modernised now it’s still possible to find quiet, traditional lanes lined with teahouses – try Hanami-koji and Shirakawa-Minami dori. The highlight of our atmospheric night time stroll in the neighbourhood was seeing a geisha slip into a teahouse. These elusive women are hard to see these days, and your experience could be ruined by crowds of insensitive tourists desperate to get a photo, so we felt very lucky for our fleeting glimpse on a quiet street.

Cost: Free

Kyoto Botanical Gardens

Kyoto Botanical GardensA pleasant place for a stroll, these gardens are extensive, featuring a range of trees and flowers, a turtle and carp filled pond and a huge greenhouse with plants from different climatic zones. We were there in summer but it must be particularly lovely with the cherry blossoms and flowers in bloom during the spring and the red leaves of autumn.

Cost: 200 yen (US$ 2.60)

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto Train Station

It’s worth taking the time to have a good look around Kyoto’s futuristic train station. The modern, bold design of steel and glass with wide open spaces is very striking, and the patterns and reflections are ideal for photographers. Take a trip up the long escalators for a different perspective and to walk along the aerial skywalk. Carry on up to the observation deck for views of the city and a calming, plant filled space to relax while waiting for a train.

Cost: Free

Kibune to Kurama Walk

Kibune to Kurama walk

The walk from Kibune to Kurama

A lovely half day trip from Kyoto is to the villages of Kibune and Kurama up in the mountains a 30 minute train ride north of the city. We started at Kibune and walked through the forest up a steep path up and over the mountain to Kurama-dera (I know, a temple, but it’s a great one with fantastic views). It only took 35 minutes but it felt like longer as it’s uphill most of the way. It’s a peaceful walk over root covered trails surrounded by tall trees with a number of small shrines along the way. The only sounds are the lawnmower like cicadas in the trees. It feels very far away from the traffic and crowds of central Kyoto.

Kurama-dera temple

Kids enjoying Kurama-dera

The village of Kurama is about 15 minutes further on (downhill!) where we had a tasty vegetarian lunch at Yoshuji. In the winter you could have a soak in the onsen, but with 30 C temperatures we skipped that.

Cost: Free (Kurama-dera entrance 200 yen (US$ 2.60), if you are honest and pay on the way out).

Relax on the Kamo River

Kamo river, Kyoto

Kamo river, Kyoto

We stayed a few minutes away from the Kamo River that cuts through the city. It’s a great spot for a walk or bike ride, especially in spring when the banks are lined with cherry blossom trees. In the evenings head to the Sanjo bridge where you’ll often find bands playing and young people hanging out and drinking – a much cheaper night out than paying bar prices.

Cost: Free

Eat

Vegetarian meal at Mikoan, Kyoto

Vegetarian meal at Mikoan, Kyoto

One of the best ways to deal with temple burnout is immerse yourself in Japan’s fascinating food culture and work your way around the city’s many restaurants – from cheap noodle shops to gourmet kaiseki multi-dish meals. It’s a particularly great place to eat for vegetarians with many vegetarian restaurants and temples serving up delicious meat-free meals. See our favourite places to eat in Kyoto: Part 1 and Part 2.

Cost: From 1000 yen (US$ 13) for a budget meal up to 3000 -10,000 yen (US$ 39 -130) for kaiseki.

Trail Wallet

What are your favourite non-temple things to do in Kyoto? Leave a comment and share your tips.

27 thoughts on Templed Out in Kyoto: Alternative Attractions

  1. Looks like Kyoto has a lot to offer other than temples… I wanna make it out there one day. Don’t know if it ill be on this trip, but one day I will. I’m curious to see how they preserve the old and mix it up with the new.

  2. Such a well written post! Thank you for sharing the photos of the barrels of pickled and miso’d foods. I had never been to any of the areas of Kyoto that you showed!

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  9. My name is Santiago from Barcelona,

    I’m doing a guidebook of Japan without any profit because I will not publish it, maybe one day I’ll put it on the network so it can be seen by other people and so help if traveling to Japan.

    My request is: I can use photo from Kyoto Botanical garden from you. Of course, in the title of the picture will show the source

    I’ve seen your photos and really are very nice.

    Thank you very much

    Best Regards

    Santi

  10. Fairbairn & Erin,

    G’day. Thank you for your post regarding Kyoto. My wife and I travel a great deal as well and it’s a pleasure to read of fellow travelers, respectively.

    We TRY to avoid destinations where it can be either too hot and/ or cold.

    Travel to the Med/ Southern Europe in the Spring and Northern Europe during the Summer.

    My wife and I are winding down our Kyoto holiday and since we’ve a spare day I’d made a search of Kyoto’s Botanical Garden for an R&R-like day. Thus happening upon your blog, information provided.

    We’ll make a go of it.

    Thanks again.

    The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page – St. Augustine

    ~Cheers

  11. Your comments are really useful, concise and get the right balance of emotional response vs facts. Thanks, we’ll be using this over the next few days!

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  17. “Templed out” is just how I felt after planning a trip to Kyoto! Thanks for the list of alternative attractions and all the other useful Japan stories on this site.

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