Japan is a delightful, safe place for travel with kids in general, and Kyoto is no exception. Its spectacular temples, fascinating foods, interesting culture and beautiful places for imaginations to run wild create opportunities for tons of fun for little ones of all ages.

Is Kyoto good for kids?

If you've been worried that Kyoto won't be a great spot to take your family, think again: Japanese culture loves kids, and chances are you'll be showered with gifts, treats and smiles during your entire stay. Kyoto is full of fun, interesting things to see and do, so you may find that the hardest part is realizing no matter how long you stay, you still may have to leave some stones unturned. There's a magic in many of the Kyoto sights that even toddlers will enjoy: the colors reflecting off an iris-dotted koi pool, a maple tree with its tiny helicopter-like seeds, or the brilliant sunlight illuminating a temple that's been there for hundreds of years. The chance to watch noodles being hand-stretched, thinner and thinner; the yummy rice ball sweets; the exquisite foods (so much more than sushi!) that can only be enjoyed in Japan…your kids are going to love it here.

Practicalities of getting around

One key aspect you'll want to prepare for is crowds. Mitigate this by planning your most popular sites and attractions at times when there's less traffic, such as early morning or on weekdays. It's also never a bad idea to arrange a "meeting point" with your kids if you get lost or separated, or if that phone battery dies. For the really little ones, those combo backpacks with leashes are a wise idea (and some are darn cute, too!).

What kind of things to bring with you (such as strollers) will depend as much on your needs as the landscape of Kyoto, but if you forget something important, you may be able to get a loaner at your hotel, or buy or rent if needed once you're there. Japan has become more accessible over recent decades, but you'll still need to plan for stairways and cobblestones, particularly in the off-the-beaten-path spots. You may want to opt for a lighter, more portable stroller if you bring one at all. Lugging around a stroller the size of a tank might prove more trouble than it's worth. All subways will have elevators and escalators, but many temples, shrines and parks will expect you to walk.

Facilities for babies and toddlers

If you've got toddlers, be mindful that Japanese safety standards may not equal your own. A high chair, for example, may be more tippy and/or built decades ago to different safety standards, and a path may have an unfenced drop that a wandering tot could fall from – that sort of thing.

Breastfeeding moms will be glad to know that many sights have lockable family restrooms where you can feed your little one or change a diaper without interruption. Open breastfeeding is uncommon and may draw unwanted attention; feeding inconspicuously beneath a shawl on a park bench, plane seat or lobby is less common than in the West, but not impossible.

Saving on travel

If you're mostly just in Kyoto, skip the expensive JR Pass and opt instead for bus and transport passes that offer discounts for the day or the week. You'll find many places offer discounts for kids under five, under 12 and for students with ID.

A Japanese family of a father and mother in their 40s and their seven-year-old daughter enjoying autumn foliage at the corridor of Hojo (the living quarters of the head priest) of Tofuku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
Kyoto is full of kid-friendly spaces, from parks to temples © MagicFlute002 / Getty Images

Where is best in Kyoto for kids?

Kids – even young ones – can enjoy visiting many of the classic Kyoto temples, such as Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), and Ryōan-ji, the famous Zen garden made of stones. They'll also love walking around the alley that leads to Kiyomizu-dera, where there are women wearing kimonos, beautiful stores and all kinds of tasty things to eat. But some less iconic places are great, too, like the Museum of Manga (what kid doesn't like a comic book?) and the Kyoto Railway Museum (any budding engineers?). There's also a lot of fun to be had just by renting a bike and enjoying a ride along the pretty riverside.

Best things to do in Kyoto with babies and toddlers

Kyoto City Zoo

Babies and toddlers love animals, and a trip to the Kyoto City Zoo will give tots a chance to see many unique Japanese animals up close, such as raccoon dogs (tanuki), Japanese badgers, moon bears, red pandas and Japanese flying squirrels. There are even guinea pigs by the dozen.

Feed the fish

You can also get a lot of mileage out of feeding koi or goldfish – or even just looking at them – while the other parent ducks away to experience a temple. Kyoto's beautiful Golden Pavilion or the Silver Pavilion have lovely ponds with fish and turtles to look for, and near the latter you'll find Hakusa-sonsō, another spot with a pond and garden.

A smiling child takes a bite of green shaved ice in Kyoto
Kids can explore all sorts of delicious flavors in Kyoto's restaurants and food courts © Eujarim Photography / Getty Images

Best things to do in Kyoto with kids

Dive into delicious food

Why not change things up a bit by heading to the giant AEON mall in Kyoto Station to taste some of the vast array of foods available in the massive food court? Pick up your entrées and head back to your hotel for a relaxing evening with the kiddos.

Head to kid-friendly temples and parks

Making great memories is easy in Kyoto, and kids between five and 12 tend to love places that really feel different from home. Take them to the gorgeous bamboo groves of Arashiyama, where they'll be awed and inspired by the towering, solemn stalks. If they're into photography, they'll like it even more.

Snag some interesting souvenirs

Shopping is always fun in Kyoto, too, so consider some souvenir hunting on the long ascent to Kiyomizu-dera, or visit one of the many covered shopping streets (known as arcades).

Say "hi" to Pokémon and friends

Pokémon fans will love the chance to visit the Pokémon Center Kyoto, where the iconic yellow Pikachu can be seen, played with, learned about, and of course, purchased…along with numerous other Pokémon pals.

A woman feeding a wild deer some grass in the park at Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, on a sunny day.
Feeding the deer at Nara Park is a great activity for families with older kids © PRImageFactory / Getty Images

Best things to do in Kyoto with teenagers and tweenagers

Tweens and teens in Kyoto have the whole gamut of things to do, and many will find just as much excitement visiting the temples and shrines as a parent will, as well as any of the activities mentioned above – they may be fun for tots, but most work great for teens, too.

Hit up the theme park

Since a teen's easily able to hop on the shinkansen (bullet train) with only the minimum of wrangling, consider a zip to nearby Osaka and the incredible Universal Studios, which opened in 2001 and has a fantastic Harry Potter section that even muggles will enjoy.

Feed Kyoto's iconic deer 

Also nearby is Nara and the resident deer in Nara Park, an unforgettable and iconic Kyoto-area experience. Despite the Bambi resemblances, this experience isn't recommended for younger kids or toddlers. Why? The cute, placid deer can be aggressive, and young children may not be able to read the signals quickly enough (or get out of the way) when a young bull or hungry cow decides to go for the whole food cup rather than take a friendly nibble. Teens will find it super fun to take selfies with the relatively tame animals, but even then, watch out, especially if you've got food in your hand.

Planning tips

  • Getting your train tickets in advance at a JR "Midori no Madoguchi" (ticket window at stations) will help if you're on a long train ride – reserved seats make it that much easier, especially at peak travel times like Japan's Golden Week in late April/early May. 
  • Some museums offer entry-fee-free evenings, so it's worth checking in advance if you've got a flexible schedule.
  • Japanese people generally make their reservations months in advance, and are on time for them. If you wait to reserve, or expect to get an opening on the day, you may be out of luck. Don't assume you'll be able to just show up at the door of a popular venue; even if you can, you may not enjoy waiting an hour or more with the kids in tow. And if you have to miss something (even a hotel reservation), be sure to close the loop with the establishment rather than just being a no-show.

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