Recently, I went to Kyoto with my family and was absolutely delighted with what this great Japanese city has to offer to kids. My boys had a blast, and when we got home they immediately started asking me when we could go there again. Here are the things they liked the most, our little list of top 10 Kyoto attractions to visit with kids, in no particular order.
Become a family of ninjas or samurai
The Ninja and Samurai Museum in Kyoto is an absolutely perfect destination for the whole family. The adults can learn about the history of these illustrious warriors and the important place they hold in Japanese culture, while the children will have loads of fun dressing up like real ninjas and learning the most basic ninja skills. The museum provides the costumes and some ninja tools, such as blow guns. You will also have the opportunity to try on real samurai armour, so before the visit is over you will have loads of unique and interesting pictures! Without a doubt, visiting this great place is a must, not to mention that you will also learn to handle a katana while here.
Explore the Manga Museum
This one is for the fans of Japanese comics and cartoons. The Manga Museum in Kyoto features an incredible amount of manga, both from Japan and from all over the world, so if your kids are old enough and like manga, bring them here. There are several floors to explore with quite literally thousands of exhibits. Adults will love it too – my husband was absolutely fascinated by the whole thing and we had to drag him away from the building. So yeah, a great way to enjoy an art form characteristic of Japan while keeping the kids happy and occupied at the same time.
Let them loose at a shopping arcade
If your kids are old enough, give them some pocket money and let them explore the shops at any of the big shopping arcades in Kyoto. Meanwhile, you and your spouse can take a breather and maybe even get a couple of minutes to yourself. We went to the Teramachi arcade and the boys immediately started oohing and ahhing when they saw all the colorful shops. The Japanese sure know how to shop, no doubt about that. Since our boys are 12, we allowed them to explore things on their own a little while we were sipping coffee and enjoying the fact that we are in Japan. They loved it and we could easily keep an eye on them.
Admire Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera is perhaps the best temple in Kyoto for children and a classic amongst Kyoto attractions. This is because they are allowed to freely touch and explore the things there. Therefore, if you have a kid from somewhere about four years old to about eight, they will enjoy running around, ringing bells, touching the so-called love stones and much more.
Yes, there is nothing preventing them from roaming around here, so you can check out this beautiful temple while they vent some of their energy and have a lot of fun. Everybody wins. On top of that, the temple also has a secret room called Tainai Meguri, and discovering what it has to offer is a nice little adventure, provided that your kids are not afraid of the dark because it gets pitch-black for a few minutes there. Why? Well, just go and find out.
Visit the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park
What child wouldn’t like to see real monkeys? Iwatayama Monkey Park is the perfect place for that: you can see these fascinating creatures just roaming around completely free. They are all Japanese macaques, a breed native to this beautiful country, and you may have already seen them on pictures where they swim in hot springs when the snow covers this pretty little hill (the view from the top is breathtaking).
Tourists are able to feed the monkeys from a safe and enclosed area, but maybe rather let grown-ups do it. These are still wild animals, after all. Don’t leave your kids unsupervised and don’t let them try to touch the monkeys. Note that it is a steep, 30-minute walk up the hill!
Meet the deer
Nara Deer Park is packed with these beautiful creatures that have become completely accustomed to humans, so you can get in real close. Be respectful, though. Like the monkeys, these are still free animals (although these are not as wild as the monkeys) and some deer have been known to become a tiny bit aggressive. So, once again you may want to keep smaller children at a distance, although you can buy some crackers and feed the animals. They are so used to this that they actually expect it.
A day trip to Universal Studios in Osaka
Since we were in Kyoto for more than two weeks, we had plenty of time to make a day trip. Although not strictly one of the Kyoto attractions, we chose to go to Osaka’s Universal Studios theme park for several reasons. First of all, Osaka is really close, you can get there in less than an hour (less than half an hour if you take the train and exactly 11 minutes via bullet train). Also, we wanted a day of pure unadulterated fun, plus the kids are big fans of some of Universal Studios’ franchises. The theme park has everything you’d expect and more – the whole world of Harry Potter is there, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Sesame Street… the lot! Our boys were particularly delighted when we got to the Minions section as they have seen all Despicable Me movies several times (at this point, we know them by heart, honestly).
The park also has special events which feature some of the most popular Japanese cartoons like Sailor Moon or Attack on Titan, so if your kids are into that that’s another big plus. The place seems to be extremely popular, and I could see why.
Enjoy a festival in Kyoto
It’s really fascinating how many festivals there are in this city. You have several of them every month, plus things like monthly flea markets and many smaller events all over the city, which really makes the whole place feel alive and vibrant. It seems like people here love to just get out and hang out. What your kids will like about this is the array of snacks and sweets that accompany these kinds of things, and some festivals and events will even have various games set up for everyone to enjoy. Just keep the little ones close to you because it can get pretty crowded in the street. You can check Kyoto festival calendar here.
Visit the zoo and the aquarium
They really do like their animals here in Kyoto. The city zoo is not very big, so the kids won’t grow tired of it, and it was renovated just a few years ago. They even have a petting zoo here, which will certainly make the little ones happy. Obviously, species like lions and tigers are also there, but you can also see some animals native to Japan. With a restaurant and a snack bar on the premises, this is a relaxing visit. Check the recent reviews here.
As for the aquarium, it is also relatively small and offers several different thematic areas you can explore, one of which represents the unique environment of Kyoto’s rivers. Apart from that, they have seals, jellyfish and even penguins, so there is plenty to see. Honestly, the price of more than 2000 yen for a ticket was a bit expensive, but hey – you can’t penny pinch on a trip like this.
Go to Hirakata Amusement Park
Once again, we get back to Osaka to visit Hirakata, which is your typical amusement park. You have a ton of rides, most of them suited for children of all ages, so it’s really a great place for kids. The waiting times are minuscule compared to larger theme parks, which is a huge advantage if your kids are small and too impatient to wait in line for a few minutes of excitement. Even here, you will find some animals you can see, plus the tickets are really not very expensive (1400 yen for adults, 800 for children). Given that Osaka has the aforementioned Universal Studios theme park, many people miss out on coming here – don’t make that mistake!
Tips for visiting Kyoto with kids:
Before we wrap things up, here are a few tips you may find useful when visiting Kyoto:
- If your child is very young, you can ask the hotel you’re staying at for a cot bed. Most of them will accommodate you if you ask in advance.
- Problems with food allergies? Ask the receptionist or some other member of the staff to write that down in Japanese for you to show in restaurants.
- Summer can get quite hot. It’s a good idea to carry some water with you and make sure you keep the kids hydrated.
- Visit Japan Rail Pass website to download a map of Kyoto’s subway and train systems in English.
- Some restaurants may have special rules if you’re coming with small kids. For example, you may need to get a private room or section, so check things out thoroughly before deciding on a place to eat.
Anca is the founder and chief editor of One Day Itinerary, a travel blog dedicated to those who want to make the most of their time in a new city, even if they only have only one day there. Thanks to the fact that she has traveled literally all over the world, she can tell you the dos and don’ts of pretty much every major city in the world.