For travelers that want to sightsee in Kyoto without spending money, here are some spots where you can do just that. Please use this as a guide during your Kyoto trip.
1. Most shrines are free!
Traveling to Kyoto means seeing Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Many of Japan's most representative shrines like Fushimi Inari Taisha, Heian Jingu Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine, and Shimogamo Shrine are in Kyoto, but even though all of these are very historical and traditionally important shrines, you can enter most other shrines without paying an admission fee.
Unlike temples, the reason you can enter most shrines without paying a fee is the difference in praying styles between temples and shrines. In most temples, you enter the building to pray, while in shrines you pray outside. However, even shrines with free admission may require a fee to enter the shrine sanctuary or other areas, so please be careful when you go around the grounds.
2. Traditional Weaving at the Nishijin Textile Center
It's not just shrines that you can visit for free. Nishijin Textile Center is a place where you can learn about a traditional Kyoto craft for free. Textiles from Nishijin are famous in Kyoto, and among their products it's said that their obi for kimono are the most expensive. At Nishijin Textile Center, you can learn about the charms of textiles and of kimono. You don't just learn about the history and the production of Nishijin textiles, but 7 times a day there is a 10 minute kimono show and you can also watch craftsmen weaving by hand as well as see them perform the highly-prized Nishijin Tsumekakihon Tsudureori technique. This technique is a traditional handicraft style certified by the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and the craftsman uses their nails to weave. The museum where exquisite kimono are on display is a must-see.
3. Enjoy a wide variety of handicrafts at the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
For people who really want to experience the beauty of traditional Kyoto crafts, the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts is definitely one place to go. At the museum there is not only Nishijin textiles and Kyo-Yuzen dyed textiles, but also Kyoto dolls, Buddhist ritual implements, handicrafts, and more. There are 500 pieces of 74 different categories! There are also videos explaining the crafting techniques, so you can learn how the pieces on display were made. If you really want to condense your experiences with Kyoto crafts, you can spend the whole day in the museum without getting tired.
*The photo is for illustration purposes only.
4. If you want to learn about sake, go to Kizakura Kappa Country
Sake is a big part of Japanese food culture, and at Kizakura Kappa Country you can learn about sake for free. They're famous for their refined sake brand Kizakura. They're known for their commercials where a Japanese mythological creature called a kappa appears, and in their museum you can learn not just about the sake-making process and history, but also the origins and legends of kappas. You can enter the museum for free. There is also a refined sake factory where you can taste freshly-made sake, a restaurant that serves beer, and a souvenir shop, so please stop by.
5. Enjoy the rooftop garden on Kyoto Station, Oozora Hiroba
Kyoto Station, the doorway to Kyoto, isn't just a place to ride trains and buy souvenirs. If you have some time, please explore all of its nooks and crannies. One of its recommended areas is the Oozora Hiroba rooftop garden. It's at the very top of all the stairs and escalators. It's a gorgeous spot from which you can look out over all of Kyoto. It's perfect for a quick breather away from the hustle and bustle of Kyoto Station. At night you can enjoy the beautiful view of the Kyoto city lights, and it's a great spot for couples.
6. You might be able to enjoy free art at Eki Kyoto
Another spot within Kyoto Station that is little-known is the art gallery Eki Kyoto. It's on the 7th floor of the JR Kyoto Isetan building, and it's an exhibition space where many art pieces are available for viewing. They have exhibitions based on many genres including paintings, photography, crafts, anime, fashion, and more, and depending on the exhibition you can enter for free. If you have time to kill before your train, definitely stop by. While you can easily enter, please act as though you are in a regular museum. Food and drinks and photography are prohibited, and please don't speak loudly.
*The photo is for illustration purposes.
There are many spots in Kyoto where you can sightsee for free. Even though they're free, the quality of the exhibitions available are quite high. Being able to learn about Kyoto for free is quite a great opportunity.
*While most of these places are free of admission, depending on the exhibition or event there may actually an admission fee, so please be aware.