20 Fun And Free Things To Do In Kyoto and Osaka, Japan

Looking to explore the popular cities of Kyoto and Osaka without breaking the bank?

Contrary to popular belief, you can soak in the rich culture and beauty of these Japanese cities without constantly reaching for your wallet. From the historic allure of Osaka Castle Park to the natural splendor of Minoo Falls, Osaka offers a plethora of cost-free attractions.

Meanwhile, Kyoto beckons with its traditionally preserved streets and the bustling Nishiki Market, where you can get a taste of local life without spending a yen. Join me as we uncover the best free experiences these cities have to offer!

By prioritizing these free activities in your Kyoto/Osaka itinerary, you’ll have more yen to savor the local cuisine and splurge on cushy accommodations!

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Exploring the Higashiyama district, Kyoto

Nestled near Gion, the Higashiyama district boasts a similar nostalgic charm, flanked by lush hillsides and filled with traditional vibes. Wander along the enchanting Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets, lined with quaint eateries, souvenir boutiques, and traditional confectionery shops.

This picturesque stroll culminates at the renowned Kiyomizu-dera temple, a must in our book, even if there is a small admission fee!

You can actually go up the temple steps and pass through the initial doors without a fee. From there, take in the pagoda’s splendor and soak in panoramic vistas of the city! It’s especially pretty at sunset (though do note that the temple closes around 6pm).

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Preserved Streets, Kyoto

Steps away from Kiyomizudera, you’ll find a set of traditionally preserved streets that are both charming and relaxing to stroll through. They are by far Kyoto’s most attractive streets, in my opinion!

These pedestrian-only streets are lined with beautifully restored wooden-facade cafes, teahouses, and shops selling locally made crafts and souvenirs. The traditional atmosphere makes for one of the most peaceful strolls in the entire city.

The shops and restaurants tend to open around 10 am and close around 5 or 6 pm.

Pro Tip: If you’re not interested in shopping or eating, it would be a much less-crowded experience to go early in the morning. You’ll be able to get that perfect shot of the empty, tranquil streets without crowds of tourists everywhere.

Walk along Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

If you enjoy being among nature, one must-do in Kyoto is walking along Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku No Michi). This pedestrian path is lined with cherry trees and leads to one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples, Nanzen-ji.

The path got its name from the philosopher Nishida Kitaro who was known to take walks along this very path to think and reflect on life.

The best time to visit is during cherry blossom season when the trees are in full bloom. Best of all, it’s completely free to enjoy!

Stroll through Miyagawa-chō, Kyoto

Miyagawa-chō is one of the hanamachi or geisha districts in Kyoto. This large entertainment district on the banks of the Kamo River is almost as large as Gion.

For first-time visitors, the Miyagawa-cho district is a great place to begin. This charming neighborhood is located just east of Kyoto Station and is known for its traditional shops and restaurants.

You can stroll down cobbled streets lined with traditional Japanese houses, or browse the wares of local artisans. There are also several temples in the area, including the picturesque Sanjusangen-do temple, which is home to 1,001 statues of Buddhist deities.

There are several ochaya (teahouses) and oikya (geisha houses) here. If you are here between the hours of 5:30 and 6:00pm, you might catch a glimpse of the maiko (geisha in-training) and the geiko (geishas) walking from their homes to their place of work!

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto

Arashiyama Kyoto Japan

Everyone who’s done even 2 minutes of research on Kyoto knows about Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It needs no introduction!

With green stalks in every direction, this famous bamboo grove is like stepping into a historic woodcut. It’s most atmospheric on the approach to Okōchi Sanso villa, the garden-ringed home of Samurai-movie actor Ökōchi Denjirō.

If you want to actually enjoy the bamboo grove instead of being fixated on and distracted by the massive crowds that flock here on a daily basis, arrive as early as possible.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Fushimi Inari-Taisha is another one of those instantly recognizable landmarks of Kyoto.

With endless amounts of torii (shrine gates) spread across a mountain, this shrine complex is a world unto itself. The whole area is free to explore, with the access pathway climbing the slopes of Inari-san.

Along the way, you can veer off the main path to find little areas lined with sub-shrines too!

Again, this attraction gets quite crowded during the day. If you’re up for a little hike, I urge you to keep walking — the further up you get, the thinner the crowds!

Töfuku-ji, Kyoto

Home to a garden dotted with pavilions, Tofuku-ji is the living image of Japanese spirituality. This Buddhist temple complex includes 24 sub-temples, and the gardens offer views to the Tsuten-kyō (Bridge to Heaven).

Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto is not entirely free to visit. While the temple grounds and some areas are accessible without charge, there are specific parts of the temple complex that require an admission fee.

The general temple grounds, including the outer areas, can be explored without a fee.

However, the main hall and the surrounding gardens, known for their beautiful autumn foliage, have a small entrance fee. The famous Tsutenkyo Bridge, offering epic views of the temple’s maple trees, also requires an entrance fee.

Enjoying a seasonal matsuri (festival), Kyoto

Attending a matsuri (traditional festival) is a great way to discover Kyoto and Japanese traditions in general. This kind of event is always free because it’s held in the street, often with parades of floats and people in costumes.

In Kyoto, the most famous and best-known matsuri are Gion Matsuri in July, Aoi Matsuri in May, Setsubun (Spring Festival) in February, and the Jidai Matsuri, a costume parade held in October.

Biking or picnic along the Kamogawa River, Kyoto

Kamo River Kyoto Japan

Biking along the Kamogawa River offers a serene way to explore Kyoto’s natural scenery (which a lot of people miss because they’re too distracted with temples and shrines).

With dedicated paths for pedestrians and cyclists along its tranquil shores, the shallow waters of the Kamogawa River are beloved by locals. Opt for a leisurely ride from south to north, spanning from the Shijo-Kawaramachi Bridge to the Demachiyanagi fork in the north.

Along this route, you’ll be rewarded with scenic views of wooden restaurant terraces (kawadoko) during the summer months. Take a break with a visit to a nearby konbini to grab a refreshing drink and bask in the sunshine by the river’s edge!

The area near Pontocho Alley (by Gion Shijo Station) is especially popular for its pretty sunset views, creating a perfect backdrop for a relaxed evening before dinner!

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Nishiki Fish Market Japan

For a taste of local life and culinary delights, head to Nishiki Market. This 400-meter-long arcade is a mecca for Japanese food enthusiasts.

Nishiki Market is where you go for all things food-related, spanning from knives and cookware to fresh produce and seafood. Trust me, your senses will be awakened after a visit here!

Explore the array of seafood stalls, fresh produce, tea, spices, sweets, and kitchenware.

It’s a great place to pick up some sweets, dried seafood, picked goods, and even sushi. Some of the shops will give out samples and some of the food stands will sell small dishes and skewers meant to be eaten right then and there.

If you’re looking to discover Kyoto’s gastronomic specialties and culinary delights, definitely don’t miss this market.

Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. It is famous for its ornate architecture, and for being one of the most popular sites for hosting traditional Japanese festivals.

This shrine is well known for its summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, which is celebrated every July and is quite possibly the most famous festival in all of Japan.

In front of the shrine sits a stage decorated with hundreds of lanterns that get lit up in the evenings. Admission is free so be sure to stop by to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere here!

You can explore the shrine grounds while marveling at the intricate architecture, or take part in traditional activities like writing wishes on ema prayer boards. During the day you’ll also find some food vendors and locals selling other crafts on the temple grounds.

Osaka Castle Park, Osaka

Osaka Castle

While there is an admission fee to enter Osaka Castle itself, the surrounding Osaka Castle Park offers plenty of free activities to enjoy. And personally speaking, Osaka Castle is so much more beautiful from the outside!

I’d recommend skipping a visit inside the Main Tower of Osaka Castle (has entrance fee), unless you’re really passionate about learning more about the castle and Osaka history through self-guided exhibits. Instead, take a stroll through the park’s expansive grounds and enjoy the fresh air and pretty views!

The parks surrounding the castle are dotted with lush gardens, historical gates and turrets, and photo ops of the castle. 

Osaka Castle Park Japan
Views of the moat around one of Osaka Castle’s turrets.

Notable stops with good views of the castle include the Gokurakubashi Bridge and the Japanese Garden. You can also opt for a paid 20-minute cruise in the inner moat of the castle on the Osaka Castle Gozabune Boat.

Pack a picnic and find a peaceful spot to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the park. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the iconic castle against the backdrop of the park’s green landscapes!

👉 Pro Tip: Don’t miss Nishinomaru Garden during cherry blossom season! In spring, there are about 300 cherry trees in full bloom, making this a famous cherry-blossom viewing spot. You can enjoy a super scenic view of the Main Tower from the wide-open lawn.

For shops and restaurants within Osaka Castle Park, there’s JO-TERRACE OSAKA and MIRAIZA OSAKA-JO (home to the new Kaiyodo Figure Museum).

Kuromon Ichiba Market, Osaka

Kuromon Ichiba Market - Osaka, Japan

Known as “Osaka’s Kitchen,” this market offers over 150 stalls of fresh seafood, fruits, and local delicacies, perfect for food lovers and culinary explorers. Not only is it a place to see the locals living their lives, but it’s also a cultural experience that won’t cost you a dime to explore.

As you wander through its bustling aisles, you’ll encounter a treasure trove of fresh seafood, local produce, and traditional Japanese delicacies.

If you want more guidance here, you can opt for this best-selling guided food tour that includes tons of food samples and insightful local guide knowledge.

Abeno Harukas, Osaka

Abeno Harukas in Osaka offers a fantastic free activity on its 16th floor observatory, providing visitors with a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Kansai’s streets. The observatory is located in Japan’s tallest building, standing at an impressive 300 meters tall with 60 stories.

While the 16th-floor observatory is free, visitors also have the option to pay for access to the top-level Harukas 300 observation deck for an even more spectacular view. If you’re on a budget, just save your money and check out the 16th floor observatory. Both offer a bird’s eye view of Kansai’s streets.

Exploring all the shopping arcades, Osaka

Shopping Arcades In Osaka

Taking time to stroll through all the shopping arcades in Osaka offers a super fun and budget-friendly experience, as all of them are free to roam! These arcades are not only a shopper’s paradise but also a way to immerse yourself culturally in the local life of Osaka.

Here are some shopping arcades to get you started:

Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street: Known for housing all sorts of shops, from high-end boutiques to wacky gift shops to trendy fashion outlets.

Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street: One of the longest shopping streets in Japan, featuring a mix of traditional Japanese items, souvenirs, and local snacks.

Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street: Specializes in kitchenware and cooking utensils, making it a haven for food enthusiasts and home cooks.

Shitennoji Flea Market, Osaka

Shitennoji Flea Market Osaka -The Ultimate 2 Week Japan Itinerary

This flea market takes place on the 21st + 22nd of every month in Shitennoji, allowing you to get in some shopping while also exploring one of the most impressive temples in Osaka. If you’re in town during these dates and enjoy treasure hunting, definitely check it out!

I saw so many gorgeous kimonos for sale, as well as wooden sculpture antiques, porcelain, and many other goods splayed out on tables (many that wouldn’t have fit in my luggage, sadly).

It was a lot of fun to peruse the isles of treasures and you can find things there for bargain prices!

Be sure to head to the food stalls when you get hungry. Now’s your chance to get your first taste of regional specialties such as takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).

National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka

The National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, known as Minpaku, opened to the public in 1977. Its goals are to conduct cultural anthropological and ethnological research and to increase awareness and understanding of societies and cultures around the world based on that research.

The museum showcases a diverse range of cultural artifacts, including traditional masks, Ghanaian barbershop signs, Bollywood movie posters, and even a Filipino jeepney bus. One of the highlights is the music room, where visitors can experience street performances from around the world using a touchpanel. 

The Museum is closed on Wednesdays.

Minoo Falls, Osaka

Minoh Falls Osaka

Minoo Falls (or Minoh Falls) offers a shockingly tranquil escape from the city life, given that it’s so close to Osaka. Starting around Minoo Station, this scenic hiking trail is filled with lush greenery and ultimately leads to Minoo Falls.

For those of you who like immersing yourself in the serene beauty of forests, this is the chance you’ve been waiting for to enjoy the Japanese art of forest bathing!

During the fall months, the area becomes even more enchanting as the colorful autumn foliage adorns the landscape, attracting hikers and photographers alike to witness the changing colors.

Nipponbashi Denden Town, Osaka

Nipponbashi Denden Town

Nipponbashi Denden Town is a unique district in Osaka known for its electronics, anime, and manga stores. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the otaku culture and explore a wide range of electronic gadgets, video games, and anime merchandise.

For a leisurely visit in Nipponbashi Denden Town, start by browsing the various shops and arcades to discover the latest electronic gadgets, retro video games, and unique anime collectibles.

Take some time to explore the themed cafes and enjoy a snack or beverage while surrounded by anime-themed decor. If you’re a fan of cosplay, you may even find specialty stores offering costumes and accessories. 

Cup Noodles Museum, Osaka

The Cup Noodles Museum is a fascinating and interactive memorial hall located in the birthplace of the world’s first instant ramen. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a super interesting journey through the history of ramen, featuring engaging theaters and quizzes that provide in-depth insights into the evolution of this beloved dish.

One of the highlights is the ramen tunnel, where approximately 800 different types of ramen packages are on display!

While the museum itself offers a wealth of knowledge and entertainment for free, the paid experience corner is a must-visit for those looking for a hands-on activity. You can actually create your very own original cup noodles! 100% worth the money!

The museum shop is also a lot of fun to explore.

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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