If you’re traveling to Japan, visiting Kyoto should be at the top of your list. You could think of Kyoto as a charming window into Japan’s traditional past. It lets you experience a glimpse of what Japan was like hundreds of years ago. You can expect a world of magical zen gardens, Buddhist temples, cherry blossom trees, and wonderfully dressed geishas. Traveling with children to Kyoto is probably one of the best trips you could do in Japan! As you may expect, Kyoto is a widely loved and visited city, with an overwhelming amount of things to see. Because of this, you’ll find this ultimate kid-friendly itinerary and travel guide for Kyoto helpful. Everything you need to know about the best times to visit, things to do in Kyoto with kids, the best areas to stay in what to eat and how to best navigate, is right here.
Best time to visit Kyoto
In terms of weather, Kyoto has rather shifting temperatures according to the seasons that are taking place at the moment. We’re going to mention what Kyoto is like during different seasons, but we think the best times to visit Kyoto are either during the fall or spring.
Winter – December January and February
During winter Kyoto can be too cold to walk in the outdoors. Temperatures don’t tend to go lower than 1°C (33.8°F) but for children, this can be quite the challenge. Packing enough warm clothes for the kids and for yourselves can be quite a hassle … but having the chance to see Kyoto with snow-covered ceilings is a beautiful scenery that is difficult to surpass! Also, the Arashiyama Hanatoro is an incredible festival that takes place in mid December. Thousands of landers and lit up and placed along the bamboo grove in Arashiyama, with traditional flower arrangements decorating the entire area.
Summer – June, July and August
It’s true that in the summer most of us have more of an opportunity to travel. On the other hand, this means that its when most tourists concentrate in the city, it’s also during the months of the year when Kyoto is the hottest and most humid; with temperatures rising up to 31°C (87.8°F). Although hot weather can sound great, kids often tend to get a little fussy with the weather because they become more tired and overheated. In July, the Gion Masturi is Kyoto’s largest event; where locals parade through the streets wearing colorful traditional robes while enjoying Japanese street delicacies.
Spring – March, April and May
Spring is hands-down one of the best times to visit Kyoto. At this time of year, the weather is starting to get warmer, and it is blooming season for Japan’s iconic cherry blossom trees and plum orchids. There are also a few famous festivals that take place in spring. For example, the Aoi Matsuri, the Southern Higashiyama Temple Illuminations and the Miyako Odori Geisha Dance performances in Gion.
Fall – September, October and November
We feel that Fall is tied with Spring in being the best time to visit Kyoto. Since the city is surrounded by dense green forests and trees, seeing the leaves turn all kinds of colors makes the city look beautiful. We went to Kyoto during the fall, and could not recommend it enough. The temperatures during these months are very pleasurable since they do not go lower than 7°C (44.6°F). For the rest of the season, the average temperature outside is around 21°C (69.8°F), so being outdoors is not a problem at all.
Best places to stay in Kyoto
Of course, every corner in Kyoto has something special and worth seeing and staying at. However, this just makes it harder for you to decide where to base yourself. To help you out, here is a list of the best areas to stay in Kyoto with your family. Depending on what you intend to see, activities you want to do and the age of your children, you’ll be able to choose the right neighborhood for you.
For each area, we have also included some of the best things to see, as well as some of the things you may want to consider before you make any bookings.
Downtown Kyoto is probably the most common place to stay in Kyoto. It is found on the left side of the Kamo River, and like Gion, also includes a famous Geisha district called Ponto-Cho. You won’t get tired of seeing new restaurants, shops, entertainment and bars here; you probably won’t finish seeing all of them! The famous Nishiki Market is another popular thing to do while in Kyoto; full of colors, smells, and textures that you kids, as well as yourself, may find joy in walking through. This area is especially good if you and your family are ones to enjoy trying new food or wishing to explore traditional Japanese cuisine. You simply won’t get enough! The concept of Geishas is also something that kids are quite fond of, and you can be sure that they will have great memories about them.
There are many great options for accommodation here; of all types of budgets and styles. The area in itself is rather small so it’s easy to go around it by foot or stroller if you need one. In case there is rainy or cold weather, there are also plenty of indoor attractions such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum or the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades; both great idea of things to do with kids in Kyoto.
Gion and Southern Higashiyama
One of the most popular places to stay in Kyoto with your family is the world-famous Geisha district. It is hands down the area with the most concentrated and well-preserved historical and cultural heritage. You’ll find many streets, including the well-known streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka with countless amounts of restaurants, shops and tea houses. This area is also full of important temples, zen gardens, parks shrines ready for your family to discover.
Among the many gems you’ll see in Southern Higashiyama, these are some examples of the one’s you’ll run into. The most known and famous temple in Kyoto, Kiyomuzu-dera Temple, is incredible in itself; but don’t forget to take a look at how the city looks from up there! For a taste of Kyoto’s ancient past, walk down the Ishibei-koji Lane, with amazing small wooden houses and shops. Of course, in the notable Gion district make sure to look out for Geishas. Definitely take the time to taste the traditional Kyo-ryori and attend a tea tasting ceremony as well.
The only downside to staying at Gion and Southern Higashiyama is that it can be quite expensive and crowded since it is a highly demanded area to stay in.
One of the best reasons to stay in the Kyoto Station (or Shimogyo) is for its proximity to the train station. You won’t have any trouble finding affordable and diversified accommodation here, since it is a very popular place for tourists to stay in.
Having the train so close to your hotel will allow you to have the maximum mobility around Kyoto, but also to the outskirts where you can find incredible attractions such as Nara and Fushimi Inari shrine. Speaking of Nara, we strongly recommend doing a day trip there. Nara is an incredible city just outside of Kyoto packed with cultural attractions like temples and gardens; but its most famous attraction is definitely the Nara-koen Park. Kids will find it amusing how deer will come up to them asking for crackers (available at the park).
You can also reach downtown Kyoto very easily using their bus lines, which welcome strollers without any problems. This way, you won’t have to limit your visit to Kyoto at just the city itself, but also get the chance to go on some day trips a little farther away. Otherwise, the train station in itself is an incredible example of modern Japanese architecture. Make sure to visit its 15th floor, where you’ll be able to see an amazing view of the city. The Higashi Honan-ji Temple is also found in this area and is worth visiting.
Perhaps the largest zone in Kyoto is its central area. Here, you’ll be able to see a perfect blend of old and modern architecture and culture. It may sound confusing, but besides the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Nijo-ji Castle, there aren’t many attractions located directly in this area. On the other hand, these are among the most important things to see in Kyoto, so if they’re on top of your list, staying in Central Kyoto.
There are excellent hotels to stay in Central Kyoto, and you won’t find it difficult to travel to and from popular attractions. If you plan on taking a stroller, the paths can be easily navigated as they are most often smooth and flat.
In Northern Higashiyama you can find several important historical and cultural sites such as The Silver Pavilion, the Heian Shrine, and the Nanzen-ji. In this area, you can also find The Path of Philosophy; an ancient pedestrian path incredibly decorated with flowers and blooming cherry trees. Although it is a beautiful neighborhood and great to stay in, there aren’t many tourists that opt to stay here. If you’re interested in staying at a rather toned down and quiet area, fewer crowds may be appealing to you. There is a nice selection of restaurants and entertainment, although not nearly as much as in the city center. However, the center is only a short ride away and makes coming home away from all the buzz very pleasurable.
Also, check out our post on the best kid-friendly hotels in Kyoto.
How to get around Kyoto
Kyoto is a very easy city to get around by using public transport. If your kid is at the age of using a stroller, you have nothing to worry about. Getting off and on transport is doable and practical.
Subways and trains are probably the form of transport you’ll use the most. Most of the lines have been designed to reach all of the most popular tourist attractions. Make sure to buy a Japan Rail Pass. It’s going to save you a lot of money and make hopping on and off from one place to another a lot faster.
There are three lines that are probably going to use the most:
JR Nara Line: Taking you from Kyoto Station to Nara; a wonderful place to go to just outside of Kyoto with kids. Pretty much as you get off the train station, there are beautiful deer waiting to be hand-fed. For animal-loving kids, this is often considered the highlight of the trip. It also takes you to the World Heritage Site of Uji.
JR Tokaido-Sanyo (Main Line): For day trips, this is the best line to take. Departing from Kyoto Station, this line takes you to Kobe, Himeji and Osaka in not much time at all.
JR Sagano Line: To go to Arashiyama, this is the line you’ll be taking. It also stops at the Nijo Castle; another one of Kyoto’s great things to see.
A curious fact about Kyoto is that although there are working bus services, they are not well-liked. It can be quite stressful to get on and off them with the stroller, are quite narrow and tight, and are not comfortable enough to be carrying all the equipment you know you need when traveling with kids.
How much time to stay in Kyoto
There are many attractions and beautiful historical sites to see in Kyoto, which means that you would probably want to stay for a lot longer than you wished for. But on realistic terms, if you are planning a trip with your family, spending from three to four days in Kyoto should give you just enough time to really embed yourself in the culture and take in the beauty that Kyoto is known for.
Most importantly, you shouldn’t worry about your kids getting bored about being here – kid-friendly activities in Kyoto are everywhere and are pretty much the same as the ones you could enjoy.
In other words, you won’t be required to go out of your way to plan kid-friendly activities in Kyoto, since you can be sure that the majority of things you choose to do will be largely enjoyed by both you and your kids.
Things to do in Kyoto with kids
So…where should you start? Don’t worry – there is a world of things to do in Kyoto with kids. But with so much out there to see, it can be overwhelming to pick what to do first with such little time.
Here is what we picked as the best 12 things to do in Kyoto. Hopefully, this will guide will help you build a strong itinerary that will make your trip the most memorable.
Also known as the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto’s central park is an ideal thing to do with children. On a nice day, this is the perfect place for children to play in with endless cherry blossoms decorating the view. Make sure you take your time to explore the Imperial Gardens. They probably look entirely different from any other park your children have seen, and will, of course, love it.
There is a pond in which carp and turtles live in, and there is a playground your kids will enjoy spending time in. If you’re looking for something different to do for lunch, pack a picnic and enjoy it under the cherry trees.
Webiste: Kyoto Gyoen
Tea ceremony inside the Jotokuji Temple
One of the most-do things in Kyoto are to participate in a tea ceremony. You can probably tell by now that tea is very important to Japanese culture; so participating in a tea ceremony is one of the top to-do things in Kyoto. Learning about the cultural and historical value of tea in such a great activity to experience as a family! When we went to Kyoto, we to a late afternoon tea ceremony after visiting Nijo-jo castle. It’s definitely among the top things to do in Kyoto with kids we recommend doing.
The tea ceremony in the Jotokuji Temple is rather special because the temple in itself is beautiful. The guides to include a tour of the courtyard and engaging and detailed explanations about the tea you’re drinking.
Website: Tea Ceremony at Jotokuji Temple
Found a short train ride away from the city center, Arashiyama is a popular district of Kyoto. Its landmarks include the Togetsukyo Bridge, the Tenryuji Temple, and an enchanting bamboo garden. This is one of the best things to do in Kyoto with kids! Besides showing them an incredible side of Japan, it will tire them out for sure.
The boats available for rent at the Hozu River are also a favorite activity among children. They are a great way to see the landscape in a fun way without too much walking or running around. It is a great idea to visit the bamboo groves in December to witness the amazing lantern spectacle for the Hanatoro illumination.
Monkey Park Iwatayama is also a great thing to do with kids in Kyoto. If your kid is an animal lover, this is the perfect way to treat them. You can find it south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. After walking for around 10 minutes, you’ll start seeing monkeys jump around and roam freely
Samurai Experience and Samurai Ninja Museum
Located in the Gion area, the samurai and ninja museum is one of Kyoto’s most visit-worthy attractions. The museum will take you back to times where disappearing ninjas and legendary heroes wandered around the streets of Kyoto.
Inside the museum, you can find all kinds of real and traditional ninja armors, weapons such as swords, and even the ancient ninja dojos, homes and villages of praised samurais. There is also a historical part of the museum where you can dig deeper into learning about martial arts and about the most famous samurais in Kyoto. Families will particularly enjoy the samurai and ninja experience activities that are included in the visit – dress up in a Samurai armor, learn how to work a ninja blowgun, and through some ninja stars around. You will also be able to sit through an exciting samurai show where they demonstrate how a samurai battle would take place in the olden times. Although this is one of the best things to do in Kyoto with kids, adults also find it a very interesting and insightful visit.
Website: Samurai and Ninja Museum
In comparison to other temples and historical sites in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one you can be sure that your kids will find very entertaining. The reason for this is that it includes a bunch of interactive and engaging activities that children can spend time playing around in. For example, there are bells to ring, hopping from one “love stone” to the next for good luck, and even having the chance to drink holy water. During springtime when the cherry trees are just starting to blossom, the temple organizes light ups during the night. It’s a beautiful and fun way for kids to see the temple, and is something you definitely shouldn’t miss.
Website: Kiyomuzu-dera Temple
Mt. Kurama and Hot Springs
Once in Kyoto, it’s a must to visit one of their amazing ‘onsen’ – otherwise known as hot springs. The Kurama Onsen is at a beautiful location; only 30 minutes away from the city. Surrounded by a stunning green and forest surroundings, this is the place in Kyoto to relax and take a breath from sightseeing and the vibrant, exciting city. There are both indoor and outdoor pools where you can relax and take time for yourself – but the outdoor pool is definitely the one you will want to spend most of your time in. This is a very good example of the kinds of things to do in Kyoto with kids; it keeps them entertained while giving you an opportunity to space to relax.
The hot springs are an ideal place to come to after hiking through Mt. Kurama. The Kurama-dera Mountain Temple is found at the top of a small mountain village covered in traditional Japanese thatched-roof houses. For a more challenging walking trip, it’s recommended to walk all the way up to the temple and descend the mountain by passing through the village of Kibune. The entire landscape of these attractions is very different from what you may see in the city of Kyoto; what seems to be endless kilometers of forested mountains with a wonderful view of the neon city down below.
Website: Mt Kurama and Hot Springs
Inside the Higashiyama district, the Kodai-ji Temple is one of Japan’s most iconic places to visit. Its impressive gardens have been carefully designed according to the famous Japanese tsukiyama style. There are ponds, maple and pine trees that make up a beautiful scenery – especially during fall when the leaves of the trees turn all kinds of different colors. One of the most noteworthy characteristics of this temple is that it belongs to the Zen Buddhism sect. Because of this, its gardens are also decorated according to zen requirements and standards. Make sure you take some notes to design your own zen garden back home!
Further up from the temple you can find two tea houses; you can find the way towards them walking through a great bamboo grove.
Website: Kodai-ji Temple
Katsura Imperial Villa
In a few words, the Katsura Imperial Villa gives you the opportunity to see how ancient imperial families used to live like back in the day. The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden with several walking trails you can take to see the landscape from different viewpoints. Every perspective shows you the house from a whole new angle, which we can be sure you won’t get tired of. If you’re interested in Japanese architecture and landscapes this is probably one of the best places you can come to in Kyoto. Previous visitors have described it as enchanting and totally worth the visit! There are also English tours available which we recommend so you can fully experience as a guest invited by royalty.
Website: Katsura Imperial Villa
Stroll through the Gion District
Of course, you can’t miss out on taking your time walking through the Gion district. Kyoto’s most famous geisha district is packed with entertainment, bars, and restaurants serving traditional Japanese cuisine. If your family enjoys discovering new food and experiencing traditional cooking styles, we recommend for you to take your time to discover all kinds of Japanese dishes; we’re sure you won’t get tired of them!
We recommend taking an entire day to discover Gion. You could opt for a rickshaw ride (Ebisuya) to explore the town like a local or take a free walking tour all the way to the Kodai-ji temple. We tend to take a lot of free walking tours; with good reason. You can also keep walking up to the Maruyama-koen Park; a great park full of cherry blossom trees to sit and have a picnic in. In Gion, you could rent or purchase kimonos for the family. Natasha got her own! It’s one of the best things to do in Kyoto with kids – it’s something they’ll never forget.
In the evening, the lanterns become lit up, and the geishas begin to appear. Pointing out geishas is always a fun activity to keep kids busy and alert when walking through these lively streets. The Minamiza Kabuki Theater is a legendary thing to do in Kyoto with kids. The kauki performances that normally in the theater are pretty bizarre but are great fun to interpret as a family. They are lively, loud and very entertaining dramatic spectacles full of beautiful Japanese traditional costumes, makeup and music.
Another of the greatest things to do in Kyoto with kids is to visit the Kamo-gawa Riverside. It is a wonderful park full of greenery and of course, a riverbank that runs along the Kyoto Prefecture. You can, of course, walk along the riverside, but at certain points, there are stepping stones you can use to get to the other side. Children love the stepping stones and can spend hours playing on them. When the river divides into the Kamo-gawa and Takano-gawa branch, it is highly recommended for you to opt to walk through the Kamo-gawa. Some say it is the best place to see cherry blossom trees in the city – and it’s a scenery that your whole family is likely to enjoy.
In the warmer months, it is a great place to set up a picnic and sit on one of their builds in seats along the river. On warm summer nights, it is a great idea to come from a stroll after dinner and the Kamogawa Yuka; a series of beautiful terraces and riverside dinner platforms. It is lit up with lanterns, and it is a good way for your kid to wind down while riding in the stroller.
Being the second most visited attraction in Kyoto the Golden Pavilion or Kunkaku-ji Temple must be at the top of your list for things to do in Kyoto. Resting on top of a large pond in northern Kyoto, this impressive pavilion is covered in gold leaf; a very extravagant gesture that is quite different from the rest of Kyoto’s notable landmarks. Besides seeing it from a distance, you can have access to the former priest’s headquarters from the outside, as well as the temple’s gardens. The Anmitaku Pond is known for people throwing coins in for good luck; something that kids can also find quite fun and exciting. We came here on our last day in Kyoto, and was the perfect way to end the trip!
Website: Kinkaku-ji Temple
The Nijo-jo Castle is one of the most imposing and historically valuable buildings to visit in Kyoto. There are two primary areas you can see in the castle; the Honmaru and the Ninomaru. The Honmaru is the main circle of defense, while the Ninomaru is the second circle of defense. It’s worth spending some time in both places, but the star of the show, the Ninomaru Palace, is found in the Ninomaru area as you have probably guessed.
The Ninomaru Palace used to be the place where the shogun (a Japanese supreme military leader) stayed when visiting Kyoto; so you can expect to see what ultimate elegance used to be like back in pre-modern period Japan. Kids normally enjoy seeing and imagining the luxurious lives important historical figures used to live. Coming to this castle is not only a very enriching thing to do in Kyoto with kids, but it will have the same effect for all members of the family.
Of course, no palace can be incomplete without a Japanese garden. Besides the beautiful pond and garden that lies outside the Ninomaru Palace, the castle is surrounded by wonderful cherry trees and plum orchards. Cherry trees normally look their best between March and the end of April, and the plum orchards a little earlier; from February to March.
Website: Ninjo-jo Castle
What to eat in Kyoto
Once in Kyoto, you might want to not waste any time in trying the most delicious dishes and food you can find. Here are a few ideas on what to eat in Kyoto – most restaurants are excellent, but we’ll also give you a list of the restaurants we think are the best options for dishes and specific types of Kyoto cuisine. Finding new places to eat is actually quite a fun thing to do in Kyoto with kids! It’s a great way to keep them excited and involved throughout the whole trip.
Ramen is also one of the most iconic things to eat in Kyoto. Kids love it, and you will too. You can probably find ramen restaurants all over Kyoto, but some of the best places to find it are at Men baka Ichidai, Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion or Ichrian.
Eating at the Men Baka Ichidai in specific will be an exciting once in a lifetime experience for your kids, as all their ramen dishes are presented with an entertaining fire topping! Fussy eaters won’t have a problem eating at Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion, because all of their dishes are made with chicken; which is a widely liked type of meat among children.
You’ve probably heard of tofu before, but did you know it originally comes from Kyoto? If you’re looking for a vegetarian option in Kyoto, make sure to try this Kyoto specialty.
For one of the best tofu experiences, we recommend paying Tosuiro a visit. Tofu is prepared and presented in an artisanal form; otherwise known as tofu kaiseki. In the summer, make sure to reserve a table on their terrace that overlooks the Kamo-gawa River. It’s definitely on the more expensive side of restaurants but is definitely worth the splurge if you’re celebrating something in particular, or simply want to treat your family to a memorable meal.
Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku)
One of our personal favorite was the Japanese BBQ. What makes Japanese BBQ so special is the type of meat that they grill – it’s a lot tender and they use special sweet and savory spices to play with the flavor. We had Kobe beef and it was definitely one of the best experiences while in Kyoto.
Yakiniku is actually considered an art and a delicacy – it takes years of practice and craftsmanship to be able to nail it. But don’t worry, most Japanese chefs in Kyoto and you’ll be able to find incredible Yakiniku dishes anywhere. To get you a head start, you should probably try getting a table at either Gion Karoku, Kyoto Kaiseki Yakiniku HIRO Yasaka-Tei or the Tendan Gion. It is also very easy to get your kids to try it and even love it; the smell is too tempting not to give it a go.
In simple terms, okonomiyaki is mostly known as a traditional Japanese pizza, or savory pancake, often prepared and grilled at your table. In some restaurant’s you’ll be able to pick the ingredients yourself, while in others you’ll have to trust the talented chefs to prepare a meal of a lifetime.
Some of the best places to eat okonomiyaki include Gion Tanto, Issen Yoshoku and Nishiki Warai. We suggest eating okonomiyaki for lunch a rainy afternoon since it is a hot dish and will leave you feeling full, warm and satisfied. Chibo is another great okonomiyaki restaurant that includes kid’s menus.
Even though you can eat amazing sushi pretty much anywhere in Japan, eating such an iconic Japanese dish in a legendary city such as Kyoto really ties everything together.
Ganko Sushi and Den Shichi are excellent sushi restaurants in Kyoto if you’re looking for something more casual, affordable, kid-friendly and accessible. Why accessible? Well, so it happens that the best sushi restaurants in Kyoto are often reserved for locals only, and remain quite secret. If you want to visit them, you’ll most likely have to get introduced to them by a local and regular client.
Look out for sushi with conveyor belts, kids will find this concept very amusing, and will keep them entertained for the entire meal.
Kyoto-style Kaisei Ryori
This is a typical way to try Kyoto’s best dishes – it is a multi-course meal that is designed according to the season. It is full of surprises, fun, and combinations of flavours you have likely never tried before.
This is a must-do in Kyoto for families with older children who are used to travelling and enjoy Asian cuisine, but might be too much for toddlers. Nevertheless, it is a great way for parents to enjoy Kyoto cuisine, and you are always welcome to bring kid-friendly snacks and meals along while you enjoy the experience.
To find places to eat in Kyoto, check out our article on the best family friendly restaurants in Kyoto.
We hope that our Kyoto travel guide will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. We hope you enjoy Kyoto just as much as we did! Let us know in the comments below on what you thought about Kyoto or if you have any questions we can answer.