Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan and there are plenty of great options for rainy days’ sightseeing that will keep you dry as well. Kyoto Tower, Nishiki Market, Ancient Temples, and much more are completely rainy-day friendly and waiting to be explored.
Though many of Kyoto’s famous sights such as Fushimi Inari, or Nara Park, are outside and rather inaccessible in case of bad weather you don’t need to get the rainy-day blues. In this guide we will give you our top picks for our best indoor (and even some outdoor) activities.
Cultural Attractions for a Rainy Day: From World Heritage Sites to Unique Performances
― Saihoji: Koke-Dera, the Moss Temple
Enter a lush green realm complemented by dark wooden buildings and stormy skies at Saihoji: Koke-Dera, the Moss Temple. At over 1200 years old, Saihoji has served as a model for later temples such as Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji (the gold and silver temples). This World Heritage Site is a functioning Zen Temple, where people come for prayer and reflection.
In order to protect this atmosphere, reservations are needed in advance. Check the official website for more information!
If you’re unable to get a reservation to Saihoji, no worries! Kyoto has no shortage of Temples and Shrines. For a similar mossy ambiance, we recommend Tofuku-ji Temple and Giou-ji Temple.
― Sanjusangendo (Forest of Buddha Statues)
Our next recommendation is Sanjusangendo (Forest of Buddha Statues), home to 1,001 incredible statues. Inside Japan’s longest wooden structure waits Kannon, The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. With crystal eyes she bears witness to our suffering and with her numerous arms seeks to help us. Behind her you will spot two imposing giants, Fujin, the god of wind, and Raijin, the god of thunder.
Flanking the hall are 1,000 statues of the goddess and every face is unique (crafted by around 70 different sculptors over a period of 100 years).
These statues are made of Japanese Cypress but painted with gold leaf, which gives the temple a golden illusion. An ancient legend says that if you have someone you would like to meet, you will find their face among the statues. There is no photography allowed in the temple so sit and marvel at the beauty and enjoy the sounds of the rain on the roof.
― Kenninji Temple
Also not to be missed is Kenninji Temple, the oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto. This beautiful temple is accessible without getting wet by taking the arcade from the Gion Shijo Station . Sip tea inside, enjoy the atmosphere of the temple, the views of Chouontei Garden and the impressive Dragon painting on the ceiling within.
― Kyoto Butoh-Kan
Born in the 1950s, Butoh is a type of avant-garde Japanese dance.Kyoto happens to have the first theater in the world specializing in this kind of performance and you can witness it in a historical building, an Edo-period Kura, or storehouse. The performances are extremely intimate, with only 9 people in the audience at a time. We highly recommend this one-of-a-kind blend of traditional Japanese music, including a Shamisen, eccentric costumes, and unique dancing.
There are three different types of shows that occur on different days so be sure to check the website before you go!
- 蓮華王院 三十三間堂
Traditional, Modern, and Authentically Japanese; take a stroll through Kyoto’s Museums
― Kyoto National Museum
Depending on your interests there are a variety of museums in Kyoto. When it comes to history and art, with several buildings and a large outside space, the Kyoto National Museum is definitely one of the top four museums in Japan. They have a permanent collection which includes not only paintings and sculptures but also spectacular period costumes. Also available are constantly changing special exhibitions of rare and interesting relics.
When you’re feeling tired head over to the Tea House to sip Matcha, eat Wagashi (Japanese Sweets), and reflect on what you saw.
Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
― Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
If walking through the museum has made you thirsty, we recommend the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum as your next stop. This special museum features a fusion of the past and the present. Built in an old Sake brewery from 1909, you can learn about the old-fashioned way of making Sake and see the tools they used on display.
After that, step into the modern brewery to view the Sake in various stages of maturation. The most important part? Definitely the Sake tasting at the end. You can choose from a few different types of Sake and even a plum wine known as Umeshu in Japanese.
Kyoto International Manga Museum
Kyoto International Manga Museum
― Kyoto International Manga Museum
If you want to learn more about Manga, Japanese comics, we recommend the Kyoto International Manga Museum. For something more contemporary check out The National Museum of Modern Art or learn more about the culture of this beautiful city at The Museum of Kyoto.
Get the full Samurai and Ninja Experience
― Ninja VR Kyoto
If you’re looking for an interactive cultural experience that your whole family can enjoy, you have to try Ninja VR Kyoto. You can live out your Ninja fantasies using a combination of innovative VR Technology and real-life practice.
Take a Ninja exam using a Shuriken (throwing star) or a Katana (Japanese sword), if that’s more your style. At the end you can all dress up in Ninja gear and take a photo, creating a fun and precious memory that will last for a lifetime.
― Samurai & Ninja Museum
The fun goes on at the innovative Samurai & Ninja Museum. View a variety of Samurai Armor and Swords that belonged to the Nobility and learn about their history and craftsmanship. Then take the extra step by dressing up in armor and doing a sword lesson with a master. This museum is also well-known for its Samurai show, so check the website ahead of time so you don’t miss it!
Stay dry while Dining, Drinking, and Dancing Outside
Just a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station is a village of elevated street food (some stalls even have a Michelin nod) at Sujin-Shinmachi.
Enjoy Japanese classics such as Yakitori and Oden or opt for a more international vibe with hot dogs and hamburgers.
All of the stalls have clear plastic tents with a seating area so that you can stay out of the rain and enjoy the atmosphere. This tiny town really comes alive at night with a campfire, paper lanterns, and neon lights, so grab a Kyoto craft beer and make some friends. It’s a limited event, only until the end of summer 2020, so don’t miss out!
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Kyoto Tower Sando
― Kyoto Tower
Turns out you don’t need to walk around in the rain to get your Souvenir shopping done. Our first stop is the iconic Kyoto Tower. Symbolizing a lighthouse, the Kyoto Tower Sando is the tallest structure in the city.
Don’t let the weather keep you from the best views, head to the Observation deck for a panorama view of the city. Once you get hungry, go to the basement for a variety of delicious and inexpensive food.
Before you head out check out the shopping on the first floor. It’s a great chance to buy authentic Kyoto-made souvenirs.
― Kyoto Station Building
Our next stop is likely the very place you arrived, Kyoto Station itself. Visitors will find theKyoto Tower Sando to be a futuristic contrast to this highly historical city.
Designed by renowned Japanese architect, Hara Hiroshi, this structure features crisscrossing metal beams gleaming far above your head. The best view is definitely The Skyway on the 11th floor where you can walk above the central hall.
If you’re trapped here by the weather and looking to do some shopping, you should check out the two gigantic Department Stores. The Isetan Department store takes up an entire 13 stories, including a restaurant floor. In the basement you’ll find The Cube Shopping Mall which has a nice selection of fresh food.
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Finally head over to Porta, this Underground Shopping mall connects to Kyoto Station and is broken up into two areas. The West area is where all of the fashion boutiques showcasing the latest Japanese fashions are.
Head East if you’re looking for souvenirs and food. Our recommendations? Fukujuen Tea (producing authentic Green Tea since 1790!) and Nishiri Pickles, which is a Kyoto brand of a standard Japanese side dish (they usually have some samples out if you’re an adventurous eater).
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― Nishiki Market
It’s very likely that you’ve heard of Nishiki Market, but did you know that it is also called Kyoto’s Kitchen? Fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, and even Japanese sweets such as Rakugan (fine sugar spun into adorable shapes) are available for your browsing pleasure.
Nishiki Market is also several centuries old, so many of the stores you see have likely been in the same family for generations. With its nice local atmosphere, it’s a pleasant place to put your finger on the pulse of the city.
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― Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades
Located just a few streets over from Nishiki, feel free to make the Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades your next stop. Shinkyogoku is a busy shopping arcade with a number of cafes and specialty stores. This is another prime location to search for souvenirs like a nice pair of wooden Hashi (chopsticks).
For some entertainment (and to see what the local kids are up to) head into a Japanese Game Center, or Arcade.