When we first began planning our two week itinerary in Japan, we had originally planned to split our time equally between Tokyo and Kyoto. As we did more research, we were surprised to learn how many incredible hikes in Kyoto there were, so we eagerly allocated more time in our Japan itinerary to Kyoto.
We love the outdoors and try hard to incorporate outdoor activities in our travel in hopes our children will also learn to love the beauty of our world. But, travelling with kids is all about balance and we needed to be sure to include activities which are both entertaining and developmental.
So, with two kids in backpack carriers and no stroller, here is what we did with our kids in Kyoto:
What to do in Kyoto with Kids
- 1 Day 1
- 2 Day 2
- 3 Day 3
- 4 Day 4
- 5 Day 5
- 6 Day 6
- 7 Day 7
Hiking the Fushimi Inari Shrine with Children
Despite being our fifth full day of being in Japan, our baby was still suffering from jet lag. He was up from 3:30 am and showing no signs of going back to sleep. Given that we were all up at 6 am, it was the perfect day to visit the most popular attraction in town and hopefully beat the crowds.
Always open and with no admission fee, Fushimi Inari Shrine is not only the most important shrine in Kyoto but it is also one of the top sites to visit in all of Japan. With thousands of brilliant orange and black torii gates lining the trail up the Inari mountain, this is an outing your kids will not forget!
We arrived by subway shortly after 8 am and were amazed to see the crowds were already starting to arrive. After passing the main temple buildings, we started our journey through the torii gates. The trail started with stairs – oh so many, many stairs….
Even with a somewhat early start, we didn’t break away from the pack until we passed the Yotsutsuji intersection. This intersection offers some nice views of Kyoto and a place to rest while enjoying some ice cream. This is also the point where most people turn back. If you need to stop and feed your baby, this is an excellent place to stop as most of the small shrines along the way have signs that say no sitting on steps or curbs.
The rest of the hike is a loop through the trees and is worth the effort. There aren’t any views at the top, but you’ll enjoy a peaceful, beautiful hike. Well, maybe it will be peaceful depending on your baby; our little guy decided to throw a tantrum near the top, but a nice woman from a nearby teashop invited us in and cheered him right up! This is typical of the hospitality the Japanese people offered our little ones throughout our trip…
When we arrived back down from our hike, we saw the extent of how busy the Fushimi Inari Shrine can get. We’re glad we made the effort to come so early! Not including transit time on the subway, we were able to complete our 3.3mi / 5.4km hike in 2.5 hours.
On our way home we grabbed some take-away sushi from Ganko Sanjo Honten (a few minutes west of the Sanjo bridge). We went back to the bridge and walked down to the riverside park for a quick sushi picnic before heading back to the apartment for the kid’s nap.
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A Walking Tour of Kyoto
Many of Kyoto’s top attractions are found in a tight cluster on the map. We spent a pleasant, but active morning walking between them.
Today we had a pretty aggressive plan to visit some of the top temples around Kyoto. The kids woke early, so we got an early start to our outing. We started our day with a walk down Shinbashi Dori, which some claim is the most attractive street in all of Asia. Not having visited every street in Asia, we can’t confirm if that’s true but we could easily imagine how beautiful it would look during the cherry blossom season. Getting to experience it in the quiet hours of the morning was a treat as well – thank you jet lag!
Gion – The Geisha District
Next we walked through Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district via Hanamikoiji Dori. Knowing we likely wouldn’t be able to experience it in the evening and get to see a geisha (due to overtired little ones and early bedtime), we were content to walk through it at a time when we had it pretty much to ourselves (look how empty the street was!). We have accepted the fact that we won’t be able to experience everything when travelling with small children – but we don’t mind, knowing we will likely return someday! Plus, avoiding the huge crowds is a big bonus!
Next up was Kiyomizu-dera, one of Kyoto’s most popular temples. We wanted to walk there through the temple-filled park which begins at Hiroshiyama Temple. The walk began nicely enough, but halfway up we were forced to turn back due to a recent landslide in the area (be sure to check if it has reopened before going this way).
Kiyomizu-dera’s biggest attraction is its wooden stage, which offers stunning views of cherry blossoms or maple trees (depending on the season) plus views of Kyoto. Behind the main hall are other shrines and the Otowa Waterfall. Around the entrance of the main hall are many other structures, like Sanjunoto Tower (the three storied pagoda below). With the delay from the unexpected detour, we opted to admire the temple from the outside, but we didn’t actually go in as we’d be too rushed.
Turning back towards home, we walked down the charming, but busy paths of the Higashiyama District. The narrow lanes of the Higashiyama District give a feel for traditional Kyoto and are filled with wooden building, shops and cafes.
Exploring Maruyama Park
Maruyama Park is one of the most popular spots in Kyoto for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. It’s a beautiful park where little kids can burn off some energy chasing pigeons and watching the carp in the pond. There are plenty of spots to stop for a snack or feed your baby.
Our next stop was the Chion-in Temple, but after a few pictures we headed on our way. The kids were getting pretty tired by this point, so we opted to take a break from our temple hopping and give them a nap.
The walking path we took from Shimbashi Dori to the Chion-in Temple was about 4.6mi / 7.5km and took us about 3.25 hours.
A Walk Through the Shoren-in Temple
After the kid’s well deserved nap, we walked back to the Shoren-in Temple. The temple was a two-part tour: one part was indoors where you had to take your shoes off and one was through the garden. The garden had a small trail to follow through it, including a modest bamboo forest. This is a wonderful spot for a family-friendly walk. Kids will love using the battering ram on a rope to ring the very large big bell at the end of the garden walk (with their parent’s help of course!).
We finished up our day by giving the kids some time to play at a playground near the Heinan shrine.
Hike from Kurama to Kibune
On the agenda today was the hike from Kurama to Kibune. Getting to Kurama is half the fun! Taking the Eizan Railway from the Demachiyanagi subway station to Kurama is an interesting train ride through the northern suburbs of Kyoto, which in turn becomes a beautiful trip up a mountain valley.
Once at the Kurama station, we entered the Buddhist Temple complex to begin our hike. The hike to the main temple Kurama-dera was very steep upwards – way too steep for small kids without assistance. We were grateful for our backpack carriers! The hike is through dense, old growth forest and is really beautiful. Thankfully, there are many small temple buildings and shrines along the way which give you an excuse to stop and rest.
Kibune is a charming little mountain town where you then have the option of hiking back up the mountain and down to Kurama station, or you can take a bus to Kibuneguchi Station, where you hop back on the Eizan Railway back to Kyoto.
The hike from Kurama to Kibune was just over 2mi / 3.2km and took us around 2 hours to complete (including stops).
A Walk Through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Our first stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – an easy, flat walk through a dense bamboo grove. The eastern side of the walk wasn’t that great, as the bamboo wasn’t deep enough and you could see through to the other side (which kind of ruins the effect). But the western side was awesome – really a special place. This is an easy family walk which is stroller accessible.
A Walk Through Arashiyama Park
Most people turn back when the bamboo path ends, but we continued south into Arashiyama Park. There is an amazing viewpoint of the Katsura River running through the mountain valley. The park also has little covered areas with benches and a large kid’s play area.
At the southern-most end of the park you meet up with a beautiful, stroller friendly river walk. The river itself is stunning with its blue color and the maple covered mountain on the opposite side. Once at the end of the river we walked across the bridge, we stopped for lunch in a covered seating area. There are plenty of places to stop for lunch on the little island.
A Hike up to Monkey Park Iwatayama
Next we took the steep 20 minute walk up to the Monkey Park Iwatayama. This is not a stroller accessible walk and in fact, they make you park your stroller before heading up. At the top there is a small enclosed area where you can feed the monkeys from inside a building with fenced windows. Outside of the enclosed area, the staff monitor the monkeys and chase the aggressive ones away. We don`t normally like attractions where you feed wildlife, but sometimes we make compromises to entertain our kids and teach them about nature.
There is a playground near the top of the hike, so if your kids don’t want to leave the monkeys, you can use the playground as bait.
A Hike up Daimonji
Today we hopped on a bus and headed for the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) Zen temple which was modeled after the Golden Pavilion. Despite getting there before it opened, there were already several hundred of school kids in line waiting to get in, so we elected to do the Daimonji hike first. Behind the temple is a 40 minute hike up Diamoniyama to a viewpoint (2.5 mi / 4km return). The hike was, as we have found throughout Kyoto, really enjoyable with dense trees and bird sounds the whole way. Depending on the day, you can get some pretty incredible views from the top!
A Walk Through Ginkakuji
After our hike, Ginkakuji was still just as busy as before. The best feature of this temple was the sand cone at the beginning of the walk. The monks maintain a perfectly sculpted cone of sand meant to symbolize Mt Fuji. It was approximately 5 feet tall and not a single grain of sand was out of place! The gardens are amongst the most beautiful we’ve seen in Kyoto and even the hordes of school groups couldn’t ruin the zen-like feeling. The gardens are visited by following a dedicated path which goes up into the trees. Note, this path is not stroller friendly.
A Walk Along the Philosopher’s Path
Following our visit to Ginkakuji, we stopped for some matcha (green tea) ice cream, a popular Japanese flavor, then took a short walk to the Philosopher’s Path. This path is so named as it was used by Japan’s most famous philosopher to meditate during his daily commute. The Philosopher’s Path is a large stone path which takes approximately 30 minutes to walk and can be accessed easily from Ginkakuji. This path follows a canal and is a perfect family-friendly walk. Alongside the canal are trees that would make it stunning during cherry blossom viewing or when the fall colors are in full swing.
The plan for this morning was to hike up to the temple complex on the mountain behind the Daigoji Buddist temple. The trail was definitely a workout. It starts out as mostly steps then turns into switchbacks. There were plenty of benches (or fallen over trees) to stop at along the way for a rest.
The temple complex was fun to explore and we found some benches to stop at for a snack. There was a great view at the highest temple and we were fortunate to see many maple trees just starting to turn their fall colors.
Visiting the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)
As is often the case travelling with small children, both of ours fell asleep unexpectedly during the hike, which forced us to change our plans for the rest of the day. We knew that small nap in the backpack carriers would make it unlikely they would have a midday nap. Given it was a warm sunny day, we felt it was the perfect day to add the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) to our plans.
Sometimes things work out for the best. With the bright blue skies, it was a perfect day to see the Golden Pavilion. It was incredibly busy, so we were happy to take our pictures, do the quick stroll through the gardens and make our way home. We were glad we made the trip, but we were also happy we hadn’t planned an entire day around it.
Near the entrance (and exit) of the Golden Pavilion, there are toilets and benches to give the kids a snack. The path through the grounds is not great for strollers because of the stairs and crowds, but if you do bring one make sure it is a lightweight one.
Given how quick our visit was, we still made it back to give our kids a late day nap.
Shopping at the Nishiki Market
No hiking for today! The forecast was for rain today and truthfully, after carrying our kids around so much our legs were in need of a break. We decided to take it a little easier this morning and give the kids some extra time to play before heading to the covered Nishiki Market. On our walk to the market, we crossed the Kamo River by using the path of stepping stones, found just north of the Nijo bridge – our kids loved it and yours will too!
The market was so much fun. It was a mix of everything from delicious food stalls, to vegetable stores, to stores selling souvenirs to stalls with live fish, octopus, etc. It is stroller friendly, aside from dealing with the crowds.
Playtime at Kodomo Mirai Kan
We pushed our kids pretty hard the previous two days, so after the market we headed back for lunch and a nap. After their nap, we treated them to an indoor play area, which is a great option for a day when it’s pouring rain! We struggled to find outdoor play spaces suitable for a crawling 14 month old, so we were very excited to discover Kodomo Mirai Kan – a free indoor play place for kids 6 and under. Our kids were the only foreigners there, but they were welcomed and had fun playing with the local kids.
As you can see, we loved our time in Kyoto. It’s a great city for families who love culture and the outdoors. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
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