Planning to visit Kyoto but don’t want to break your budget? I am here to help you discover the best free things to do in Kyoto and share some useful tips and tricks to save money in Japan.
Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan with old wooden houses, unique temples, hidden gardens, and some breathtaking locations that you won’t find anywhere else. It is a tourist hotspot, however, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Especially with the right planning and knowledge. This is where I step in!
In this article, we will cover the best free things to do in Kyoto and more Kyoto budget tips. This means that you will be able to see the beauty of Kyoto and experience the essence of the city without spending a lot of money.
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Is Japan expensive?
Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and it could be expensive for some products and experiences. The good news is that if you plan your experiences smartly, you can save a lot of money (and time).
I will help you find the best free things to do in Kyoto and I will give you more tips for your meals, and how to move around. Following these Kyoto budget tips, you won’t squander your money and you will have an amazing time.
At the end of the article, you will also find some additional Kyoto budget tips.
Best free things to do in Kyoto
Our list of the best free things to do in Kyoto starts with one of the most iconic places in Kyoto and all of Japan. Fushimi Inari is dedicated to Inari, who is the Shinto God of Rice. And since the foxes are considered the Inari messengers you will find plenty of foxes statues all around the complex.
We can all agree that Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the epic Kyoto spots. It is one of the most famous and iconic shrines in Japan, known for its thousands of torii gates that line the paths leading up the mountain.
And obviously, this comes with a price, since it is one of the most crowded spots in Kyoto at any time of the day. So I recommend getting there early to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere and snap some iconic photos with the gates.
The Shrine is actually massive and most of the tourists leave after visiting the main spot, so if you decide to hike up, you can find a place all to yourself. Visiting the temple and climbing can easily take all morning and you will need a train ride to get back to central Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari is a free temple to visit in Kyoto and is open 24/7.
Another cool free thing to do in Kyoto is visit Yasaka Shrine. Yasaka Shrine is known also as Gion Shrine and it is a Shinto shrine built in 656 A.D.
However, during the cherry blossom season, the temple becomes particularly busy. You will find many food stalls around and you will have the chance to make a picnic. Or sit at a table under a cherry tree with locals and try local street food. It’s a fantastic experience when you travel to Kyoto you can’t miss.
The complex is open 24/7 and there is no admission fee, so it is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto.
The Nishiki Market is another iconic place to visit in Kyoto. Since it’s a market it’s a free place to visit, however, you will need to pay to sample food or purchase souvenirs. On the other hand, this is a perfect place to find cheap, quality bites for less than 500 yen.
Here you can find pieces of crafts, food stalls, and small boutiques. You will also have the chance to try some free samples. This is a wonderful way to dive into Japanese culture and the experience of the Nishiki Market is one of the fun things to do in Kyoto, so you don’t want to miss it.
Another iconic place and one of the top things to do in Kyoto is the famous Bamboo Forest.
This picturesque place is located on the Northwest side of the city at the foot of the “Storm Mountains”. I recommend you get there using the JR line (Saga Arashiyama station) or the bus.
This natural bamboo forest covers an area of roughly 16 square kilometers and contains thousands of bamboo plants that tower over visitors, creating a sense of tranquility.
When you explore the forest don’t forget to pay a visit to the Okochi Sanso Garden and the other parks around. There is no admission fee to visit the Bamboo Forest and it is open 24/7. Finding the beginning of the path could be confusing, so here is the exact location that you should put on Google Maps.
Find geishas in Gion
One of the main reasons that bring tourists to Kyoto is the Geisha culture and the unique history behind it. Gion is considered the main district of geishas, so exploring this area of Kyoto is a must. You might even spot a maiko! And all this won’t cost you a penny.
Here you will find countless “machiya” merchant houses. They usually host traditional restaurants and shops, making Gion one of Japan’s most picturesque districts.
Gion is the perfect spot where to rent or maybe even buy a Kimono and be part of the Japanese culture. Find Hanami-koji Street to find some unique boutiques, or see the river flowing in Shinbashi-dori.
Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design
Looking for free museums in Kyoto? Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design is the perfect place to understand better Japanese traditions and history and it is completely free to visit.
Kyoto was the birthplace of many famous Japanese traditions. The tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Noh and Kyogen theatres. Local artisans developed materials and skills and have continued to use them from generation to generation. Craftsmanship was an essential part of the development of Kyoto and an indissoluble part of its culture.
During the weekend there are free demonstrations where you can see the artisans at work. I really recommend you attend one of these demonstrations, it will be one of the highlights of your trip to Kyoto.
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
The Philosopher Path is a place you don’t want to miss if you are searching for unique and free things to do in Kyoto. This pedestrian path is a perfect way to relax and enjoy a walk in nature.
Along the canal, you can find a number of temples that are free to visit. If you want you can also stop for a drink or a bite in one of the bars along your way.
The Philosopher Path looks incredible during the cherry blossoms and it is one of the best things to do in Kyoto in spring. On the other hand, it can be a little busy, especially during the rush hour.
Keiryu Bridge and Jikkokubune Canal
Kyoto is a city where water is an omnipresent element and you will see several canals that cross the city. One of the best free things to do in Kyoto is to take a walk along the canal, find picturesque bridges, and snap unique photos with the unique wooden boats.
My favorite Keiryu Bridge is on the Okazaki Canal, which is close to the famous Heian Shrine, which is another free attraction to visit in Kyoto and Okazaki Park.
Alternatively, head south to take a walk along the Jikkokubune canal, which looks absolutely stunning in spring. In the area, you can also find a number of Japanese houses, bars, and restaurants.
For a few yen, you can take a traditional wooden boat, which is one of the most romantic things to do in Kyoto.
I already mentioned this temple in the previous paragraph as one of the most popular free things to do in Kyoto, so what makes this place so special?
Heian Shrine is an important cultural and religious site in Kyoto and attracts visitors from around the world. It is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese history, architecture, and culture.
The main buildings of the shrine are painted in vibrant vermilion and are surrounded by beautiful gardens and ponds. One of the most notable features of Heian Shrine is its massive torii gate, which stands over 24 meters tall and is made of steel. Daigoku-den is also impressive, with its ornate decorations and intricate woodwork.
During the school break, you can see several free performances of dances from the students right in front of Heian Shrine.
Chionin is the main head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism and another must-add to your trip to Kyoto. The beauty of its temple starts with its majestic and elegant wooden Sanmon Gate, which is 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide.
Once you pass the gate you’ll find a wide set of stairs that will lead you to the main temple. In the complex, you will find the Amidado Hall, which hosts the most relevant Buddha in the Jodo sect, and the huge Miedo Hall which is the main temple of the complex. Behind the Miedo Hall don’t miss the beautiful Japanese gardens, which were designed by a monk in 1600.
The Chion-In Temple is open every day from 9 am to 4.30 pm with the last entry at 4 pm. During the cherry blossoms time, there are some special night openings.
Okazaki Jinja Shrine
This is probably one of the cutest hidden gems in Kyoto, in fact, you won’t find the Okazaki Jinja Shrine in many other Kyoto travel guides. We discovered it almost by mistake and turned out to be one of the cool free things to do in Kyoto.
This Shinto Shrine is one of the oldest in Kyoto and it was built to guarantee protection for the Emperor and the city. Nowadays, the temple is famous to be the “rabbit temple”, where you can see countless statues of rabbits. These animals representfertility and safe childbirth.
What I liked the most is the atmosphere, since the place is located in a quiet neighborhood and there are mostly locals. Also, the temple is accessible to wheelchairs or strollers and it’s a nice thing to do in Kyoto with kids.
Nanzen-ji is a wonderful temple and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Kyoto for free. It stands at the feet of the Higashiyama Mountains and it is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan.
Here you can find a school sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism, the complex also includes multiple temples and worshipping locations. Nanzen-Ji is also famous for its Roman-style brick aqueduct which is still operative and provides water to many areas in Kyoto.
Nanzenji’s central temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, but separate fees apply for entering temple buildings and sub-temples.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace was the Imperial Family’s residence until 1868 and it’s one of the most amazing things in Kyoto. The palace stands in the majestic Kyoto Imperial Park, which is one of the biggest parks in the city.
Once, the palace was only accessible on guided tours that required advance reservations, but now you can enter without joining a tour and without any prior reservation, so don’t miss the chance. Keep in mind that you can visit the palace buildings and gardens, but you can’t enter any of the other buildings.
The Imperial Palace is open at the following times:
- 9 am to 5 pm from April to August,
- 9 am to 4.30 pm from September to March,
- 9 am to 4 pm from October to February.
The Palace closes on Mondays. The last admission is 40 minutes before closure.
The old town of Kyoto
This is probably the most famous area in the city and one of the top things to do in Kyoto. The old town of Kyoto preserved all the charm of the Japanese architecture of the feudal era. Here you will find a great number of wooden buildings and narrow lanes that will make you travel back in time.
I recommend getting to Sanneizaka early and seeing the city waking up. Exploring the neighborhood is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. You will find several cafes, souvenir shops, and historical landmarks. Ninezaka is another famous street in Kyoto that will give you the chance to snap an iconic postcard of the city.
Find your way through some hidden gardens like Seiryu-en. From what I have seen, it looks absolutely amazing during the fall, however, it is worth a stop all year round. Especially if you want to escape the crowds in the old town of Kyoto.
Yasaka Koshindo is probably the most colorful temple in Japan and it is located in Higashiyama-ku. What makes it special is the colorful kukurizaru, which are small colorful balls containing the wishes of worshippers and the typical orange shrine waiting for you at the entrance.
The temple is relatively small but it definitely deserves a visit. It can be a great photo spot and you won’t find many people around. The temple is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
This is one of the non-touristy things to do in Kyoto and you will notice it when you visit Kitano Tenmangu. Despite being a popular temple among the locals, tourists tend to miss this shrine. Since the temple is associated with the Shinto god of education, the temple is popular among students.
This is one of the best temples to visit in Kyoto during the autumn when hundreds of maple trees turn red or spring season when the plum trees blossom.
Also, if you happen to be in Kyoto on the 25th of every month, don’t miss the flea market to hunt for some treasures. Visiting the market was one of the most authentic and relaxing things to do in Kyoto.
The temple opens every day from 5 am to 6 pm from April to September and from 5.30 am to 5.30 pm from October to March.
The Kimono Forest is almost as popular as the Bamboo Forest, located less than a kilometer away. Kimono Forest is a collection of magnificent cylinder-shaped pillars. The pillars are 2 meters tall and consist of several pieces of textile displays dyed in the Kyo-yuzen style.
This installation was studied to give a fresh touch to the Arashiyama station while keeping an eye on the tradition. During the night the path framed by the pillars is lightened up and it looks absolutely impressive.
And it is one of the best free things to do in Kyoto!
Free festivals in Kyoto
Festivals are part of Japanese life and traditions, they are unique, and fun and will allow you to dive deep into the local culture. Since Kyoto is one of the most cultural cities in Japan, it flourishes with festivals and events all year long.
Here is a little list:
- Gion Festival: every year from the beginning to the end of July
- Kyoto Jidai Festival: every 22nd of October
- Aoi Festival: every 15th of May
- Baika-sai: every 25th of February.
For all the other events and festivals in Kyoto and all of Japan, check this page. There are some festivals that have an entrance fee, but scroll around and you will find many free activities in Kyoto and you might be lucky if these events match with your travel schedule.
More Kyoto budget tips
And while there are many free things to do in Kyoto, there are some essential expenses that you can’t avoid – like food, accommodation, and transport. However, I will share some Kyoto budget tips in order to save money and still enjoy your vacation.
The best way to save money in Kyoto is to plan your itinerary in advance and purchase daily passes when needed. It is essential to choose the right pass, so here are some things that you should know before.
One-day passes for the buses and metro costs 1100 yen, while the bus only will be 700 yen. These passes can be purchased at the Kyoto station. You can buy multiple passes and activate them on the day that you need.
The Kansai Thru Pass gives you access to all the metro lines, busses, and trains (excluding JR trains) to move around the Kansai region. it is the most affordable choice and it will give you the chance to reach other places like Nara or Osaka. It can be purchased here.
If you are a group of 3 or 4 people and you need to cover a short distance (around 5km), Uber might be the best option. Yes, you read that right! Unless you need a taxi during rush hour, you can actually save some money. Download the app and check it once in a while to get the estimate.
Are you wondering where to find cheap restaurants in Kyoto? Despite being a very tourist city, it is still possible to find delicious affordable meals in Kyoto.
Near the temples and markets, you can find food stalls selling different kinds of goods. Street food is delicious in Japan and you have to try specialties like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, doryaki, and more. One sure thing is that “food hopping” is one the most fun of the cheap things to do in Kyoto.
Cheap restaurants in Kyoto
- Kegura Fresh Fish is a famous fish stall in the Nishiki Market, where sashimi and sushi are affordable and delicious.
- Okonomiyaki Kiraku: try some delicious okonomiyaki and Tompeiyaki (pork wrapped in eggs) dishes that start from 600 yen.
- Sarashina is a famous soba restaurant which is more than 100 years old. Dishes start from 500 yen.
- Honke Daiichi-Asahi is a real institution in the city and is located near Kyoto station. You can’t leave without trying this ramen. A bowl can cost you less than 1000 yen and keep you full for a long time.
- 鉄板酒場ひろし: a typical Izakaya restaurant. A pleasant surprise for the quality of the food and price. It is located near Toji Temple. Dishes start from 400 yen.
If you are looking for some snacks or quick and cheap bites during your trip to Kyoto, head to one of the convenience stores. 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart are spread all around the city and they are the perfect locations to find snacks or even meal sets.
Some of the must-try are Onigiri, sandwiches, desserts, or even sushi sets. Some Kombini also gives you the chance to get a smoothie juice. And some locations include a small seating area where you can sit down and enjoy your meal.
Affordable hotels in Kyoto
The hotel is going to be your biggest splurge during your Kyoto trip, especially if you are visiting during the peak season. However, I don’t want you to break your budget or give up your comfort, so here are some budget hotels in Kyoto.
If you are on a budget but still want to have quality accommodation in a great location this is your place to go. The hotel is located a few minutes away from the metro station and it is perfectly connected to the best attractions in Kyoto. The rooms are essential, but modern and with an en-suite bathroom.
Smile Hotel Kyoto Shijo is another great idea if you are looking for good accommodation on a budget in Kyoto. It offers basic and compact rooms, yet all the comforts and amenities are provided. It is perfectly connected to the Kyoto heritage and has multiple public transport connections.
Located in the heart of central Kyoto, Kiyamachi Guesthouse is probably the cheapest accommodation you can get in town. You can choose between a bed in a dorm or a private room, depending on your needs. The accommodations are very essential but the location and price are unbeatable.
Further reading for the best free things to do in Kyoto
Travel tips for Kyoto:
- Complete Kyoto Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Kyoto
- 13 Best Ryokan in Kyoto with Private Onsen That Will Blow Your Mind
- Where to stay in Kyoto? Hotel Review of Mimaru Kyoto Nijo Castle
Travel tips for Osaka:
- 15 Best Photo Spots in Osaka That You Can’t Miss
- Osaka Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Osaka
- 10 Best Food Tours in Osaka for Foodies
- How to Plan a Day Trip to Himeji: Travel Tips and Things to Know Before Visiting
Travel tips for Tokyo:
Other useful tips for visiting Japan
🏠 Need a place to stay? Browse Booking or Agoda
💃 How about fun experiences? GetYourGuide, Viator, and Klook have it all
🚗 Considering renting a car in Japan? Use Rentalcars
🚂 If you need transfers, bus or train tickets, check 12Go
🔒 Don’t forget about travel insurance from HeyMondo
This is the end of the free things to do in Kyoto and I hope you enjoyed these Kyoto budget tips. I know many people dream about Japan but might be hesitant considering the reputation of being an expensive country. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Especially if you plan in advance, know how to save money, and visit during the low season.
I would love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any feedback or additional tips, leave a comment below. Also, check out my Instagram for regular travel videos and travel inspiration. Or explore other destinations on this travel blog.