For broke traveler like me Kyoto is heaven. However to find the free and cheap things under all the expensive ones can be tiresome. To safe you from this task here is my free tips to Kyoto. This free things to do in Kyoto, Japan list includes some of my favorite destinations in Japan and maybe in whole world. I even left some out of this list because I would talk endlessly about Kyoto. Still after almost two years I keep naming this city as my favorite travel destination.
(I will add some photos to this post later today or tomorrow… Sorry!)
14. Heian Shrine
White sand, bright red buildings and tourists with cameras. There is 600 yen admission fee to get in the garden but at least for me the free front area was enough. And you should not forget to walk a little farther away from the shrine to see the huge Torii gate and beautiful red bridge next to it. If you want to take photos without other tourists interrupting you, go just after the opening in 6 am. Because I am not morning person I almost visited this shrine too late. It closes already at 5 pm.
13. Kiyomizudera Temple
The temple itself isn’t free but the area around it is enough to keep you occupied for a while. There is souvenir shops, free food samples, smaller temples, pagodas, old buildings and a lot of people. It’s easy to get lost here but you will definitely found something interesting on every alley. I recommend this for those wanting to free samples of local sweets because you can find those from almost all of the souvenir shops. Also if you are kpop, kdrama or Korean beauty product fan, there is interesting shops for you.
12. Nishiki Market
Maybe not place to do shopping if you are short of money but still forth of visiting. Nishiki market is street full of fish, sweet and food sellers. Some even have free samples. Opening hours depend on store but I recommend visiting either on morning between 9am to 11am or on afternoon between 2pm and 4pm. Most of the stores are open at that time and they have a lot of free samples. But if you are on budget and trying to find sales go just before closing time at 6pm.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing Keishas and Maikos? At Gion it may be possible! It may be hard to spot them and requires some getting lost in smaller streets of Gion. However even lazier traveler may be able to see normal Japanese girls and boys wearing their kimonos. Just don’t be rude and ask before taking photo.
This is place to take pretty selfies and admire the architecture. If you are hungry -and out of money like me- just visit the shops on Shijo dori (from Kamo river to Yasaka shrine). There you can find free samples to try.
10. Philosopher’s Path
Beautiful walk starts from Ginkakuji and runs two kilometers along the river until Nanzenji neighborhood. Philosopher’s Path belongs to my free things to do in Kyoto list because it is one of the most beautiful places in Kyoto around the year. However I have two recommendations: spring and autumn… I visited during colorful fall and it was perfect. The trees surrounding this path are cherry trees so during spring and hanami this is perfect cherry blossom viewing spot.
This walk got its name because it is told that one of Japan’s most famous philosophers used to meditate and walk this path. Don’t settle for only walking! There is many pretty shops, cafes and restaurants that you can visit. Also many small temples and shrines welcome visitors.
9. Umekoji Park
Around Kyoto aquarium and Railway museum is located Umekoji park. Even if you don’t have money to those two attractions is just enjoying the park nice experience. When I visited there many locals were playing football and walking their dogs. Stop by to buy hot drink from vending machine and took small break from your day. This may not be the most interesting free attraction in Kyoto but good spot to relax for a while. Also the neighborhood around this park is beautiful. There is many small ponds and idyllic forest.
8. Nishi Honganji & Higashi Honganji
Two huge (and free) temples in the center Kyoto. If you want to take look to older Japan and Buddhism, I recommend to visit these two. At some parts it’s prohibited to wear shoes so prepare pair that is easy to take off an put on. I didn’t want to include too many temples and shrines on this free things to do in Kyoto list but Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji are close to everything and easy to access. Also if I should recommend places for day trip in Kyoto, these two would be on my list.
7. Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace is free to visit and offers wide look to Japanese history. There is free English tours but you have to reserve place for one beforehand. A few years ago Imperial Palace was only accessed by guided tours that were hard to book but fortunately nowadays anyone can access the palace’s grounds. This makes it one of my favorite destinations in free things to do in Kyoto list. (I had so many problems booking that free tour during my Kyoto visit two years ago…)
In addition to the palace I recommend walking around the Imperial Park that has many smaller attractions. Also the neighborhood around park is interesting and has many things to see. For example river next to Horikawa Dori is worth of seeing.
6. Kamo River
Join in the locals sitting on the bends of Kamo river. In Kyoto I lived right next to Kamo river so it has reserved its special spot in my heart. There is not many things to see when you first visit and you may even ask why would I include this normal river to my free things to do in Kyoto list. However if you sit down and look around, this is the best place to see local life and Kyoto’s true side. Fishers, families playing around, couples walking around, young adults drinking and having fun.
One of the best things is that Kamo river runs along the whole city and past some of the major attractions. You can walk from Fushimi Inari to Gion and back. If you have bike and time, try day trip out of the town. One man told me about his trip while I was staying in hostel and apparently if you follow the river you can see some amazing and beautiful Japanese views.
Arashiyama is huge area in west Kyoto. There is many things to see and most of them are free so it is good addition to our free things to do in Kyoto list. Firstly, just walking around the area is interesting experience. Remember to take good shoes because I totally destroyed mine here. Walk bends of the river towards the forest and you will see beautiful photographic spots. Not so many people go there but it is definitely worth it.
Then secondly be part of the tourist masses and visit souvenir shops you can find from the main street of this area. They have tasty free food samples. And thirdly go to bamboo forest (read below) and Kameyama Park. Kameyama Park is extremely beautiful during fall when you can admire the colorful mountains and river from its observation spots. It is accessible from Bamboo forest but not so many tourists visit here.
4. Bamboo Forest
This major attraction from Arashiyama deserves its own spot on my free things to do in Kyoto list. Why? It is one of the most popular destinations in Kyoto and maybe in whole Japan. If you have seen beautiful bamboo photos when looking up Japan, I bet those are taken in Kyoto’s Bamboo forest. If you want to have photos without huge tourist crowds, go super early. Also good tip is to walk and walk and walk. Most of the people just visit the beginning of this path in bamboo forest so if you walk more than them you will also find spot with not as many people.
3. Kyoto Station
Almost everyone visiting Kyoto will walk around station at some point. I recommend it as the place to start your trip whatever you are seeking for free things to do in Kyoto or want to use as much money as possible. It is a little hard to find but Kyoto station has tourist information with free maps, flyers and helpful staff members. It may sound touristy but there is no better place to start your trip.
When you walk up the stairs of station (often decorated with light show or other decorations) you will find observation deck that is often forgotten. This is good alternative for Kyoto Tower if you don’t want to spend money. If you want to see the station from high, find free Skyway path that walk above the station. Kyoto station has also three shopping malls and even if you don’t want to buy anything it is fun to just walk around. Also find food section and they usually serve free samples.
And the last but not least thing to see in Kyoto Station is just outside the front doors. Aqua Fantasy Musical Fountain Show has amazing name but it describes perfectly what this is about. Colorful lights, water and of course music amaze people on evenings.
2. Yasaka Shrine
Known also as Gion temple this shrine is next to Gion area and in the end of Shijo street. It’s big area with people constantly passing by. You can buy food and crafts from small stalls. One of the free and main shrines worth of visiting. At weekends you may see locals wearing pretty kimonos and visiting the shrine. Don’t just visit the main shrine but walk past it and wander around the whole area.
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha
My ultimate favorite place in Kyoto, Japan and maybe whole world. I don’t even know why I have so utterly fallen in love with this mountain full of torii gates. It is perfect for everyone from photographers to travelers seeking for free adventure in Kyoto. Definitely one of the best free things to do in Kyoto.
Hike to the top and back requires good health (or many breaks) because it takes about two hours. Fortunately there is many break points and several vending machines. Just remember to take coins with you. In addition to admiring the red torii gates taking over all of the paths you should look for the amazing views to the city. Sunset from mount Inari is breathtaking. If you have more than enough time, try the not so popular paths and you may find secrets… For those interested I have written story from my trip to Fushimi Inari.
These were my favorite free things to do in Kyoto. Do you have any additional tips? Or maybe favorite places in Kyoto? All comments are welcome like always. Also if you are interested I wrote this short text about my home country Finland. Or if you are interested to read more about Kyoto, here is my top 10 things to do in Kyoto list.
I hope you are having an amazing day!