Free Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

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Are you planning a trip to Kyoto, Japan on a budget? This guide covers my recommendations for the top free things to do in Kyoto!

Kyoto is a beautiful, historic city in Japan’s Kansai region. It’s one of Japan’s most visited cities for a good reason: there’s so much to do! When I’m traveling on a budget, I always try to seek out free things to do in order to save money. There are tons of free things to do in Kyoto – in fact, many of the city’s top attractions are free!

If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto on a budget, make sure to add some of these free things to do to your itinerary. From beautiful temples to free tours, there’s a ton of free things to do in Kyoto that will make your trip memorable.

Keep reading for a guide to some of the best free things to do in Kyoto, Japan!

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Free Things to do in Kyoto: Free Walking Tour

When I’m visiting a new city, the first thing I do is take a free walking tour. On these tours, locals will take you around to some of the city’s top sights and tell you all about the history of the city. Best of all, the tours are completely free! While the tours are free, you should give a tip to your guide at the end of the tour to thank them for showing you around.

Walking around Kyoto - free things to do in Kyoto

The Kyoto Free Walking Tour is one of the top-rated free things to do in Kyoto. This tour lasts 2.5 hours and takes you through Kyoto’s Gion and Higashiyama districts. All tours are led in English. If you’d like to reserve a spot on a tour, all you have to do is click “Going” on the tour’s Facebook event page. Click here to see all upcoming tours.

Fushimi Inari Shrine – One of the top free things to do in Kyoto

If you’ve seen any pictures of Kyoto, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen one of Fushimi Inari Shrine. This Shinto shrine, located in the southern part of Kyoto, is one of the most visited shrines in the city and is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto. This shrine is famous for its vermillion torii gates. There are thousands of them, and they make for wonderful photos!

vermillion torii gates at Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of the top free things to do in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Shrine is located at the base of a mountain, and you can follow the trails up the mountain for gorgeous views of Kyoto.

Admission to the shrine is free and it is open 24/7. Since Fushimi Inari is so popular, the shrine can get extremely crowded at mid-day. If you want to get there before the crowds, head to the shrine early in the morning (8 a.m. or earlier). You’ll get an added bonus of being able to see a beautiful sunrise over Kyoto!

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama, a district in the western outskirts of Kyoto, is home to the frequently-Instagrammed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking through this sprawling bamboo grove is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto and is one of the most bucket list-worthy experiences in Japan. Like Fushimi Inari, the forest can get very busy. Head to the forest the first thing in the morning to beat the crowds!

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, located nearby Kyoto

After paying a visit to Arashiyama Bamboo forest, head to some of Arashiyama’s other top things to do. Some of my favorites were Tenryu-ji Temple and the Monkey Park Iwatayama. These attractions aren’t free, but they’re definitely worth a visit!

Nishiki Market – Free things to do in Kyoto for Foodies

Walking around local markets is a great, free way to experience a city. Nishiki Market, also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, is a 400-year-old, five-blocks long shopping street located in the center of Kyoto’s downtown. Here, you can find delicious local foods, fresh produce, delicious desserts, fun souvenirs, and much more.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto - free things to do in Kyoto for foodies

Walking along Nishiki Market is free, but you’ll definitely want to have some yen on-hand to pick up some goodies. Some of the stalls will even hand out samples! Nishiki Market is typically open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM; however, these hours may vary between merchants.

Walk along the Kamogawa River

Kamogawa River at Night - Kyoto

Taking a walk along the Kamogawa River is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto. There are scenic paths along the river that are perfect for people watching. The walk is also especially beautiful at nighttime! If you’re visiting Kyoto during cherry blossom season, strolling along the river is something you won’t want to miss – you can even stop and have a picnic alongside the river with beautiful cherry blossom views!

The Philosopher’s Path – Free Things to do in Kyoto

Walking along the Philosopher’s Path is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto. This beautiful stone path runs along a canal and is lined with shops, cafes, and hundreds of cherry trees that come to life during cherry blossom season.

Even if you’re not visiting Kyoto during cherry blossom season, taking a walk along the Philosopher’s Path is still a worthwhile activity. The walkway is beautiful at all times throughout the year.

Walk around Gion at Night

Walking around Kyoto’s Gion district is one of the top things to do while visiting Kyoto. Gion is best known for being Kyoto’s most famous geisha district and is one of the best places to experience geisha culture in Japan.

Geisha spotting in Gion, Kyoto, Japan - top free things to do in Kyoto

Gion is full of traditional buildings; when you’re walking through, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine! Gion is one of the best places to see geiko (the word for geisha in Kyoto) and maiko (geisha in training) in Kyoto. Geisha are traditional entertainers who are trained in various forms of Japanese art.

The best time to see geisha in Kyoto’s Gion district is during the early evening, especially on weekends. Spotting a geisha is a big bucket-list item while visiting Kyoto, but it is important to always be respectful of them. If you see a geisha, remember that she is most likely reporting for work. Do not block their way or approach them for a photo; rather, photograph them from afar.

Check out this list of some of the best books about Japan, including Memoirs of a Geisha

Pay a visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the residence of the Japanese Imperial Family until 1868, when Japan’s capital was moved from Tokyo. Today, the grounds of the Palace are open to the public and guided tours are given of the grounds for free nearly every day!

Guided tours of the Palace grounds are not given on Mondays or on national holidays. No tickets are needed – you can just show up shortly before a tour starts to join a tour. For more information on how to tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace, click here.

Stroll through Kimono Forest

Kimono Forest in Arashiyama near Kyoto, Japan

After you explore Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest, make sure to check out the Kimono Forest! The Arashiyama Kimono Forest is located just outside of Arashiyama Station. There, you’ll find pillars featuring different patterns of kimono textiles. The pillars are illuminated with light at night, making the Kimono Forest the perfect stop before heading back to Kyoto after exploring the sights of Arashiyama.


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Free Things to Do in Kyoto

There are plenty of free things to do in Kyoto to keep your trip budget-friendly.  There are also several wonderful hostels in Kyoto, perfect for keeping your accommodation costs down.

No matter which sights you choose to add to your itinerary, you’re sure to have a great time exploring beautiful Kyoto!

Have you been to Kyoto, Japan?

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48 thoughts on “Free Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

  1. Julie says:

    This seriously is major bucket list for me! I’m dreaming of the bamboo forest, geisha district, and Fushimi Shrine! Would you consider Kyoto to be child friendly?

  2. Jen Ambrose says:

    Wow, Kyoto looks like such an amazing city! And I only ever hear about how expensive it is, I’m so glad to see some free options!

  3. Jenn - The Solivagant Soul says:

    I dont know why I have always thought that the Fushimi Inari Shrine was not free! I am shocked to hear that it can be visited without paying. I have considered going to Japan many times but going on a budget seems quite a challenge. Thank you very much for listing possible things to do for free in Kyoto. Thanks!

    • Sydney says:

      With it being one of the top things to do it is surprising that it is free! I was actually shocked on how it was relatively easy to keep my Japan trip budget friendly. I’ll have more posts on budget-friendly Japan coming soon so stay tuned!

  4. Francesca says:

    This is such a great and lovely post! Japan is always seen as an expensive country to visit but it’s great to know that there are a lot of free enriching and cultural experiences to do which definitely helps if you’re on a budget.

  5. Pansy says:

    ohh I really want to go back to Kyoto now! I visited for just a few hours once years ago and didn’t get to see many of the things on your list! Thank you for this very helpful article!

  6. Jacquie says:

    Great to know there are so many free things to do in Kyoto. We haven’t been to Japan yet and were always under the impression it would be quite an expensive trip. You have some lovely photos.

    • Sydney says:

      Thanks Jacquie! I found Japan to be much less expensive than I thought it would be. Accommodation can be a little pricey, but there are cheaper options like business hotels or capsule hotels. Delicious food can be found for very cheap and there are a lot of free and affordable things to do!

  7. Alissa says:

    I love finding cheap or free ways to explore a new city and this list will be super helpful if I ever travel to Japan. Great ideas on here!

  8. Amy Tull says:

    Thanks for this post. We are planning a visit to Japan soon. Question: how do you manage to get a picture of the torii gates without other people in the picture?

    • Sydney says:

      A lot of people recommend getting there super early (like 5-6am) to beat the crowds. My boyfriend and I are NOT early risers and we ended up going around 2-3 PM. It was definitely crowded, but the further up you go into the shrine the crowds begin to thin. We walked up a little bit and I just waited around until there was no one in my shot!

  9. Val says:

    Iโ€™d love to go to Japan ! What a lovely place ! Love your post and the pics !

    I made it abroad last Oct for first time to Italy – so Asia hopefully soon!

    • Sydney says:

      I hope you’re able to make it to Japan this year! Japan is definitely pricier than some countries but it wasn’t as expensive as I expected. A lot of food is both delicious and cheap!

  10. Linnea Jordan says:

    Wow! I had no idea there were so many free things to do. Fushimi Inari Shrine has always been on my list and I’ve heard it’s good to get there bright and early to avoid the crowds. All the Kimonos are so beautiful too!

    • Sydney says:

      I am not an early riser and went to Fushimi Inari around 2-3pm. It was definitely crowded, but I was still able to snag some photos without anyone in them!

  11. Josy A says:

    I love Kyoto. You chose loads of the good things to do. I agree that many of the most fun things are wandering around and exploring the area. The kimono forest looks stunning, but it’s the Fushimi inari shrine will always be my favourite spot.

  12. Umiko says:

    Kimono Forest caught my attention right away. It’s so pretty! Is it new? I wonder why I’ve never seen pictures from this ‘forest’ from my families and friends who travel to Japan. Your guide of free things to do in Kyoto is a keeper.

    • Sydney says:

      Thanks Umiko! I did some research and the kimono forest was installed in 2013. It is sort of hidden behind a train station, so I could see how it could be easily missed!

  13. Louise says:

    Wow, I’ve never heard of a Kimono Forest! haha, I would love to see it ๐Ÿ™‚ I love kimonos – they are so pretty. Thanks for sharing this awesome list of all free things to do!

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