Family Vacations to Kyoto, Japan

Cherry blossoms by a shrine in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry blossoms at a shrine in Kyoto, Japan (Grant Faint/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

Kyoto Family Travel Tips

  • If you are only in Kyoto for a few days, don't try and visit all of its UNESCO World Heritage sights. Cramming in 17 historical monuments in a couple of days will exhaust the kids. The Golden Pavilion and Nijo Castle are good places to start.
  • Impress the kids with your knowledge by telling them that the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) is officially called the Deer Park Temple (Rokuon-ji).
  • The Gion Corner theatre is a great way to introduce the kids to traditional Japanese performance arts.

Kyoto may not be the Japanese capital, but there is no doubt that it is the country's cultural beating heart. Visitors should make a beeline for this spiritual and artistic oasis. The "City of Shadows" opens a window into the very soul of the nation and offers families an experience more enriching than a quick visit to a thrills and spills theme park.

First impressions for some visitors of the city—a city that for a thousand years, right up until 1868, was the seat of the mighty emperors—may be of concrete, neon, and vaulting modern buildings. These images are, of course, typical of Japan today. Delve below this super modern façade and another very different city emerges, one of ornate Buddhist temples, sumptuous palaces, and geisha girls flitting in and out of the shadows of old wooden houses. Craftsmen in the city still build timber houses and weave delicate traditional kimonos. In scenes unchanged for centuries, they work using traditional methods that sadly have been lost forever in many parts of the world.

Indeed, Kyoto's cultural and historical attractions are greatly appreciated by the Japanese. Laws to limit the height of new buildings and to cut down on excess gaudy advertising signage were established in 2007. The city boasts no fewer then 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 400 Shinto temples, and over 1,500 Buddhist temples, with the vast majority being open to families.

Many of the most alluring sights lie right in the center of the city. This makes sightseeing easy, though there are two efficient subway lines on hand for venturing further afield. In the center of Kyoto you will find the stunning Nijo Castle, a fairytale fortress nestled within its own moat, as well as the stately Imperial Palace and the idyllic Palace Gardens. The Kyoto Tower boasts two levels with viewing platforms (one free) so you can orient yourself to many sights in the city.

Other key attractions for families include the Golden Pavilion, a stunning temple with bonsai trees and soothing water laced grounds, and the Pure Water Temple, which boasts sweeping views to go with its revered spiritual status. The famous, or some would say infamous, Gion, the ‘geisha district', like the modern and traditional city that is wrapped around it, actually has something for all the family: musical performances, dancing, puppet shows, and comic plays grace the stage at Gion Corner.

Published: 25 Jun 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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