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Kyoto with kids

5 Memorable Things to do in Kyoto with Kids

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Kyoto was old-world Japan and was its former imperial capital. With over 2,000 temples and shrines, could it actually be kid-friendly? There were many attractions to choose from but these were the things to do in Kyoto that we decided on based on their locations and our schedule. Come along with us on a memorable day trip to Kyoto.

We were in Nagoya for a stopover last summer on our way to Guam and decided to take the 80-mile, 35-minute bullet train or shinkasen to Kyoto. Kyoto Station was a bustling hub, but the visitor’s center located there was a great first stop. The staff were very helpful and recommended the daily bus pass. The city buses were the best way to get around. They were easy-to-use, even for non-Japanese speakers due to their color-coding and numbering systems. The stops were also clearly displayed and announced.

Golden Pavilion

Our first stop in Kyoto was this UNESCO World Heritage site also known as Kinkaku-ji. The Golden Pavilion was a postcard setting of Zen. Its two top floors were completely covered with gold leaf and the pavilion stood on a mirror pond amidst a beautiful garden. This was once a shogun’s retirement villa. The Golden Pavilion burnt down several times, with the latest impressive reconstruction done in 1955. There was a one-way trail that led to a tea house, gardens, shrines and souvenir stalls. It was a very popular place for tourists and school field trips.

Things to do in Kyoto Japan - Golden Temple, Kinkaku-ji

The Golden Temple in Kyoto, also known as Kinkaku-ji, is the very picture of Zen.

Yasaka Shrine

Our next stop was the Yasaka Shrine complex, also known as Gion Shrine, that had many interesting structures for kids to explore. It was a wonderful place to learn about religious culture and customs by studying the various symbols, entering small shrines and observing people worship.

Things to do Kyoto Japan - Yasawa Shrine Main Hall

This was the dance stage of the Yasaka Shrine complex surrounded with hundreds of lanterns with names of local businesses that have donated them.

The nearby Muruyama-koen Park provided a tranquil setting to rest. This park is a popular spot for picnics during the cherry blossom season. But, it was also great for families with its duck ponds and streams.

Higashiyama District

We then explored the Higashiyama District, one of Kyoto’s best-preserved historic areas that is best explored on foot. It felt like we were transported back in time. Traditional wooden buildings and narrow streets were filled with restaurants and shops selling some of the most unique toys and souvenirs. Children will love exploring the stores here. We caught glimpses of private gardens and more private shrines along the way. My kids loved the popular shaved ice (kakigori) with condensed milk and a variety of syrup choices on a humid day.

After our delicious traditional lunch that included tempura and ramen, we walked uphill to a crowded street of more souvenir shops. Many stores offered samples of Kyoto’s popular cinnamon cookies and yatsuhashi, rice flour treats filled with bean paste or fruit preserves sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Delicious desserts!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The glorious, hilltop UNESCO World Heritage complex of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple had many beautiful temples and shrines. The lush hillside explodes in color during spring and fall. The star attraction here was the main hall. The temple sat on a cliff with a veranda on wooden stilts that provided panoramic city views. No nails were used during its construction.

Things to do in Kyoto Japan - Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most popular things to do in Kyoto, Japan. The temple sits on a hill overlooking the city with a platform that juts out.

This temple was founded in 780 AD at the Otowa Waterfall’s site hence, its name, which means “Pure Water Temple.” Visitors could drink from any one of the three different streams said to ensure longevity, school success or luck in love. The line for the streams was too long so we passed.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

We made our way back to Kyoto Station and took the next train stop to the impressive and important Fushimi Inari Shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of rice (Inari). While there were many beautiful buildings here, the highlight was the thousands of red torii gates that covered a 2 1/2-mile round trip hiking trail through a forest and to Mount Inari. The torii gates were inscribed with names of companies and individuals who donated them.

We wanted to be a bit adventurous so we hiked to the mountaintop in hot and humid weather which was thousands of steps. I’m not really sure what we were thinking. The kids actually fared well with many things to explore along the way in a peaceful forest setting. We found plenty of fox statues along the way since foxes were Inari’s messengers. Though, it was a bit disappointing not to see spectacular views when we reached the top.

Things to do in Kyoto Japan - Fushimi Inari torii gates

Fushimi Inari Shrine has thousands of red torii gates that cover the forest trails in Kyoto, Japan.

We had a relaxing ride on the bullet train back to Nagoya while eating our bento box dinners. It was a fitting end to a day filled of history, culture and religion that the whole family enjoyed.

We stayed at Hilton Nagoya, which had excellent customer service and was conveniently located near the subway.

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Mary lives in San Diego, California with her husband, 13 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son. She was born in the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. territory…

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