There are some cities that just get you, and you just get them. You feel a certain kinship with them. They become a little part of you. Kyoto was like this for me. So it’s not surprise that my first Japan post is about what to do and eat in Kyoto.
Kyoto was the third city we visited on our honeymoon, and we immediately felt like we should have spent more time there. It wasn’t as quiet as Takayama (a town we visited in the mountains) and it wasn’t as bright and loud as Tokyo’s most popular areas – it was just the right mix of bustling and relaxing.
This city is great for those who like to stroll through charming shops, experience local history, relax in beautiful cafes, and immerse themselves in an incredible culinary scene. Whether you’re walking the path of thousands of torii at the Fushimi-inari shrine, eating the best ramen of your life, or taking part in a traditional matcha tea ceremony, Kyoto will quickly become a favourite of yours, too.
Here are all our favourite things we did and ate in Kyoto.
Engine Ramen for the best vegan ramen
As a vegetarian, I was admittedly worried about visiting my first ramen restaurant as most dishes are pork based. Thankfully, a quick search introduced us to Engine Ramen, which boasted the best ramen for all dietary needs.
Upon arriving at Engine, we were instantly happy with our decision – it had a cool vibe and was filled with both young locals and tourists. We ordered our dishes via vending machine; Alex got a traditional ramen and I opted for the vegan (which was creamy with a bean base). It was so good that, at one point, Alex looked at my bowl and asked if it was smaller than his – I literally couldn’t stop eating it. Thank goodness for the complimentary aprons! Alex also ordered the frozen sake, which was delivered in a fun glass that you could take home as a souvenir.
Koé Donuts for donuts that aren’t sweet but are totally decadent
We happened to stumble upon Koé Donuts and were totally drawn in by it’s large minimalist space and colourful display of donuts. I’m not a big donut lover, mainly because I find them too sweet, but I will likely dream about these particular donuts forever.
The lack of sweetness doesn’t compromise their flavour; if anything, it makes their interesting flavours taste even more decadent. We tried the matcha donut and the chocolate financier donut. Both packed with beautiful and true flavours – nothing artificial here.
A Happy Pancake for the ultimate Japanese pancake experience
One of our food goals while in Japan was to try Japanese pancakes. There are two kinds: savory pancakes (okonomiyaki) and the big + fluffy kind you’d devour for breakfast. We chose the latter.
At A Happy Pancake, I ordered the hot chocolate + granola and Alex ordered the tiramisu. Each plate came with three huge pancakes and a generous amount of toppings. They were so light, fluffy, and moist, and way better than American pancakes, in my opinion! I don’t know if I could have handled them a second time (they’re so filling!) but I’m happy we were able to cross this dish off our culinary bucket-list!
School Bus Coffee Stop for the most incredible iced tea
We happened across this coffee shop as we were walking back to our hotel one evening. It was one of the trendier cafés we visited, and was home to the best café au lait and iced tea we’ve had in a long time. I don’t even know what kind of tea I had but I finished it in one, continuous sip. The staff was super cool and it was a great place to relax for a bit with a quality bevvie.
Experience a Japanese matcha tea ceremony
One of our favourite activities of our whole trip was learning about a traditional matcha tea ceremony with Tea Ceremony Kyoto Maikoya. This was a great way to experience a long-standing Japanese cultural activity. We loved learning about why you have to “slurp” the last sip of your tea, and why matcha bowls are so important. Our guide was excellent at explaining each part of the process (even though no one is allowed to speak in an actual ceremony!)
Play with bengal cats at a cat café
Animal cafés are scattered all across the urban areas of Japan – mainly because many homes are too small for people to own pets. We spent half an hour at a bengal cat café one rainy afternoon, and we loved it so much, especially because we were missing our own fur babies at home!
Not too fond of cats? They also have owl café in the same facility.
Walk through the Fushimi-inari Taisha shrine
You’ve likely seen photos of the Fushimi-inari shrine on Instagram because it is too spectacular to miss. When we walked through the path of thousands of torii, we felt like we’d been transported to a totally different place – especially since it’s on a busy street lined with food vendors and commotion.
There are various turn-around points along the path. But if you want to get to the top of the shrine, it will take you about 2-3 hours. We wish we knew this so we could have prepared, but we still got far enough to see an amazing view of Kyoto.
Stop for lunch or tea (or both) on your way down (we really liked Vermillion café!)
Take a trip to the Kyoto Imperial Palace
Even if you don’t enter the palace (you have to pre-reserve a ticket) I recommend walking around it’s vast grounds. It’s surrounded with ponds, trees, and benches. We loved sitting and admiring the architecture. It’s truly a beautiful place to take a leisurely walk and learn about the history of the palace.
Hotel Resol Kyoto
Central to just about everything, the Kyoto Resol hotel was a quick favourite of ours. Though it’s tucked against a busy street, it’s a serene spot with a covered walkway that feels spa-like. The hotel staff is kind and courteous, the rooms are beautiful, and the amenity packages were the best we’ve seen. Above all, we were so happy to stay in an accessible and central spot. It made it so easy to explore everything Kyoto has to offer.
Is Kyoto on your list of places to visit? If you’ve been before, what are some of your favourite things to do and eat? Comment below so I can add them to my list for next time!
Pin this guide!