Sightseeing History & Culture city guide city tour tours Japan > kyoto

Share The Intimacy Of Kyoto: Top 6 Unique Experiences In The City - Updated 2019

Megan
Updated Apr 11, 2019

Also known as the thousand-year capital, Kyoto is well-loved for being the traditional heart of Japan. Even with the world’s globalisation and modernisation, there is a certain quality retained in the city that is irreplaceable - one that calms and nurtures the soul. Many flock from all around the world to visit the famous attractions like the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Shinto Shrines. But if you know where to look, Kyoto brings you a legion of opportunities to be an esteemed guest. From dressing in a Kimono to having dinner with a Maiko, here are the top 6 unique experiences in Kyoto you mustn’t miss.

1. Wear a Kimono and tour Kyoto

Source: iStock

Donning the traditional Japanese garment is a fitting activity in the old capital of Kyoto. Experience the ephemeral excitement of dressing up with the assistance of professional kimono dressers, there are at least 12 separate pieces to be worn, matched and secured in a prescribed manner after all. Choose your favourite among the hundreds of beautifully-patterned fabrics, and opt to get your hair done in a Wagami style to complete the look.

Make a sweeping entrance with your full-length robes at the Gion, the famous Geisha district. The traditional entertainment precinct that lies at the north and south of Shijo Street, stretches from the Kamo-gawa River in the west to the Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the east. This itinerary is easily a wonderful opportunity for sightseeing and creating picture-perfect memories.

Don’t forget to check out the Gion Festival if you are here in the month of July. One of the most famous festivals in Japan; revel in the culture of the place and colour the air with your Kimono in style.

Other than the immersive experience of travelling like a local, the other highlight of wearing a kimono in Kyoto is undoubtedly the “Kyoto Kimono Passport”.

Retrievable from the Kyoto Tourist Information Centre in Kyoto Station, the passport offers a wide range of promotions when – you guessed it – visit in a kimono. From small gifts like a postcard or a hair ornament to free admission to popular attractions like the Nijo Castle, Heian Jingu Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu Temple’s Sanctuary and the Kyoto Zoo, Kyoto sure delights in making your trip the greatest possible.

To know how to do this Kyoto tour in traditional kimono check

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

2. Rediscover elegance with a tea ceremony

Source: iStock

Among the Shinto Shrines and traditional temples, enrich your stay in Kyoto by attending a tea ceremony. In a city well-known for its peace and tranquility, the traditional nature of Kyoto is the best place to rediscover the meaning of time.

Pay a visit to the home of Japanese green tea in Uji, South of Kyoto. While you surround yourself with the city’s beautiful landscapes, including the likes of Uji River and the Ujigami Shrine; enthrall yourself in an intimate experience with Kyoto by attending a tea ceremony.

Practised since the Kamakura period and heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, this Japanese tradition is rich historically and culturally. Also called the Way of Tea, tea ceremonies originated from Kyoto and involves the ceremonial performance and presentation of the Matcha powdered green tea.

The captivating form is an art in itself and reminds you of Kyoto’s timeless beauty, epitomised by the singular act of serving tea – boiled down to perfection and absolute elegance.

See how you can have your own Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

3. Renew your mind with a Zen meditation experience

Source: iStock

Bring your trip to the next level by enriching your spiritual wellness as you learn the basics of Zen meditation in a scenic temple.

Some temples, which have been established since 1590, offer Zen meditation classes for people trying to learn more about their own spiritual wellness and well-being. These historic temples of Kyoto also played a crucial role in spreading Japanese Zen Buddhism in the early 20th century, and provides you with a no-frills, stripped-down, honest telling of Zen meditation.

Having also influenced Japanese culture, this experience will allow you to come closer to understanding the Japanese frame of mind and bring added meaning to your trip in Kyoto.

The first step of learning may be unlearning as the Reverend separates you from the preconceptions of meditation. No, one doesn’t need to sit in a half-lotus position in the temple for hours on end.

Knowledgeable and helpful, the Reverend guides you through the proper process of renewing your sense of self and state of mind. Remember, the main objective of mediation is to enhance your life.

Bask in the wisdom of the Reverend as well, as he shares his refreshing perspective on many things in life that will make you feel as if you’ve grown wiser.

Indulge in a Zen Meditation and discover Kyoto’s most beautiful temples

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

4. Dinner with Maiko

Source: iStock

The home of traditional Japanese cuisine, Kyoto’s cuisine absolutely doesn’t disappoint. However, add a unique twist to your dining experience by having dinner with a Maiko.

A Maiko is an apprentice geiko in Kyoto who is a performer of song and dance for visitors during festivals. Usually aged between 15-20 years old, Maiko are masters of the traditional kyomai dances and shamisen instruments. They even speak the Kyō-kotoba, a dialect of Kyoto.

Arrange for dinner with a Maiko, and enjoy your time sharing stories and having great food. Be captivated by their traditional performances after, and take pictures to commemorate the event. Choose to take a walk in Gion later in the night and learn the history of the representative areas of geiko.

Have a wonderful dinner with a Maiko

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

5. Enjoy Japanese rice wine with a Sake experience tour

Source: iStock

The national beverage of Japan, Sake is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Often served during special occasions, sake is commonly gently warmed in a small earthenware or porcelain bottle called a tokkuri and sipped from a small porcelain cup called a sakazuki.

Opt for a sake experience tour where you can enjoy the smooth sake from a multitude of sake breweries and Fushimi, Kyoto’s sake district. A famous centre for sake production, Fushimi boasts of the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, and clear springs which are renowned to be the best for sake production.

Try the sake in little taste sets, and complement it with the Kyoto cuisine served. If you find yourself becoming a fan of sake, you can always bring one home from the souvenir shops conveniently located nearby.

Go on your own Sake Experience tour

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

6. Join a Kyoto night foodie tour (from 110 USD)

Source: Magical Trip

Want to make the most of your Kyoto trip without being too “touristy”? This 3-hour long foodie night tour easily satisfies this requirement by taking you into some of the most intimate foodie hideouts that are not common for tourists. So, expect to get local…and fun! Walk around the Gion area and head to the first bar. Along the way, you’ll see Kyoto-style buildings so don’t forget to take pictures! Once you reach the first bar, you’ll enjoy Kyoto vegetables with simple seasonings that enhance its natural flavors. After that, enjoy savory tempura skewers paired with green tea drinks. A right way to end off this foodie tour is to enjoy a toast of sake or other non-alcoholic drinks if preferred. Whether you’re a solo traveler or traveling with friends or family, this trip is definitely for everyone.

Kyoto night foodie tour

Duration: around 3 hours required.

Price: from 110 USD

See our full list of recommended Hotels in kyoto and also compare the prices with airbnbs in kyoto

Kyoto – up close and personal

Wherever your travel destination, chances are that you’ll always be reminded that you’re a tourist. However, Kyoto takes pride in going the extra mile to enrich you with experiences the locals have for themselves. Learn the true meaning of travel as you not only “visit”, but immerse yourself in the culture of Kyoto.

This article was originally published on Jun 16, 2016
Still Need Travel Insurance?

You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101

*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.

Megan is an ardent writer, eater and sleeper. Studying communication studies at Nanyang Technological University, she is rewarded with learning every day in school and at work. She believes...Read more

Top 3 activities to book in kyoto

Have a question? Ask fellow travellers and travel experts here.
Explore kyoto
Good things are meant to be shared!