Kyoto Vs Kanazawa: Comparing Two Exquisite Japanese Tourist Destinations

05 June 2024Shopify API

Can’t decide between Kyoto Vs Kanazawa for your Japan trip? We compared the both to find out!

When it comes to exploring the cultural and historical wonders of Japan, the cities of Kyoto and Kanazawa often top the list of must-visit destinations. Both cities offer a unique blend of traditional charm and modern attractions, making them a delight for any traveler. 

In this article, we will compare Kyoto and Kanazawa in terms of their tourist appeal and help you determine which city might be the better choice for your visit.

Kyoto Vs Kanazawa

Cultural Heritage

Kyoto: Kyoto's cultural heritage is deeply rooted in its history as the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years. 

The city is home to an impressive collection of temples, shrines, and traditional gardens, many of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One of Kyoto's most iconic landmarks is Kiyomizu-dera, a stunning wooden temple famous for its panoramic views of the city. 

The temple's wooden veranda, built without the use of any nails, is a testament to traditional Japanese craftsmanship. 

Another highlight is Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, which showcases exquisite Zen Buddhist architecture adorned in gold leaf.

Fushimi Inari-taisha is another renowned shrine in Kyoto, famous for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates that wind through the forested slopes of Mount Inari. 

Exploring the winding paths and climbing to the summit of the mountain provides a unique and spiritual experience.

Kyoto's historic districts, such as Gion and Arashiyama, offer glimpses into the city's traditional culture. 

Gion is known for its preserved machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) and is often associated with geisha and maiko culture. 

Arashiyama, on the other hand, captivates visitors with its enchanting bamboo grove and the tranquil beauty of the Tenryu-ji Temple.

Kanazawa: Kanazawa's cultural heritage is deeply influenced by its history as a castle town and a center of samurai culture during the Edo period. 

The city boasts several well-preserved districts that transport visitors back in time.

Kenrokuen Garden, often considered one of the top three traditional gardens in Japan, is the epitome of Kanazawa's cultural heritage. 

This expansive garden features meticulously designed landscapes, including ponds, bridges, teahouses, and seasonal flora, creating a picturesque and serene atmosphere.

Kanazawa Castle, located adjacent to Kenrokuen Garden, is a symbol of the city's samurai past. 

Although partially destroyed over the centuries, the castle has been reconstructed to showcase its original grandeur. Visitors can explore the castle's various gates, turrets, and surrounding gardens.

The Nagamachi Samurai District offers a glimpse into the life of the samurai during the Edo period. 

Walking through its narrow streets, visitors can observe well-preserved samurai residences, traditional tea houses, and the Nomura-ke Samurai House, which is open to the public.

The Higashi Chaya District is another highlight of Kanazawa, known for its geisha culture. This historic district features traditional wooden teahouses where geisha performances and tea ceremonies still take place today.


  • Both Kyoto and Kanazawa offer rich cultural heritage. Kyoto's abundance of temples, shrines, and historic districts, including iconic landmarks like Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji, make it a treasure trove of traditional Japanese architecture and spirituality.
  • Kanazawa, with its Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, and well-preserved samurai and geisha districts, presents a glimpse into the city's historical past. 
  • Both cities provide unique cultural experiences that captivate visitors and offer a deeper appreciation for Japan's rich cultural heritage.

Natural Beauty

Kyoto: Kyoto is blessed with a diverse range of natural landscapes that complement its cultural heritage. 

The city is surrounded by mountains, offering breathtaking views and opportunities for outdoor exploration.

One of the most iconic natural spots in Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This enchanting bamboo forest creates a serene and otherworldly atmosphere, particularly when sunlight filters through the tall bamboo stalks. Taking a stroll through the grove is a truly unique and immersive experience.

The Philosopher's Path is another natural gem in Kyoto. This picturesque stone pathway runs alongside a canal and is lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees. 

During spring, the path transforms into a tunnel of delicate pink blossoms, creating a captivating and romantic ambiance.

For those seeking a more active outdoor experience, Kyoto offers fantastic hiking opportunities. 

Fushimi Inari-taisha, with its network of hiking trails, allows visitors to explore the vibrant forested slopes of Mount Inari while passing through thousands of torii gates. The hike rewards hikers with panoramic views of the city and a sense of tranquility.

Additionally, Kyoto is in proximity to Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake. The lake offers various recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, and lakeside picnics. 

The nearby village of Ohara is also worth a visit for its scenic rural landscapes, temples, and peaceful countryside.

Kanazawa: While Kanazawa may not have the mountains that surround Kyoto, it compensates with its own unique natural beauty, particularly along the coastal areas.

The Noto Peninsula, located near Kanazawa, is renowned for its rugged coastline and picturesque fishing villages. Traveling along the coastal roads of the peninsula offers stunning vistas of cliffs, rocky shores, and the vastness of the Sea of Japan. 

Visitors can also explore remote beaches, hike scenic trails, and discover hidden coves along the peninsula.

Hakusan National Park, situated near Kanazawa, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The park is characterized by its majestic mountains, dense forests, and pristine rivers. It offers opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing, and birdwatching. 

Mount Hakusan, the park's centerpiece, is a popular destination for outdoor activities and rewards hikers with panoramic views from its summit.

While Kanazawa's natural beauty is often associated with its coastal and mountainous landscapes, the city itself also features pockets of greenery.

The Kenrokuen Garden, mentioned earlier for its cultural significance, is not only a masterpiece of traditional gardening but also a place where visitors can immerse themselves in nature's tranquility.


  • Kyoto's natural beauty lies in its mix of lush mountains, bamboo forests, and cherry blossom-lined pathways.
  • The city offers a balance between cultural attractions and serene natural landscapes. Kanazawa, while lacking mountains, showcases the coastal charm of the Noto Peninsula and provides access to the rugged beauty of Hakusan National Park. 
  • Both cities offer their own unique natural experiences, allowing visitors to appreciate the diverse beauty of Japan's landscapes.

Art and Crafts

Kyoto: Kyoto is known for its rich tradition of arts and crafts, stemming from its historical significance as a cultural and artistic center. 

The city offers a wide range of traditional crafts that have been passed down through generations.

One of Kyoto's renowned crafts is pottery. The Kiyomizu Pottery District is a hub for pottery enthusiasts, where visitors can find a variety of ceramic works, ranging from traditional tea ceremony utensils to modern artistic creations. 

Many pottery workshops in the district allow visitors to try their hand at pottery-making and experience the intricate process of crafting ceramics.

Textile production is another significant craft in Kyoto. The Nishijin Textile Center showcases the city's tradition of weaving exquisite fabrics, including kimono textiles. 

Visitors can witness the intricate weaving techniques and patterns that have been preserved for centuries. It is also possible to participate in weaving workshops and create small textile souvenirs.

Lacquerware is yet another traditional craft for which Kyoto is renowned. The city's lacquerware artists create intricate designs using layers of lacquer, often embellished with gold leaf or other decorative elements. 

Visitors can explore lacquerware shops and galleries, witnessing the meticulous craftsmanship and purchasing unique lacquerware pieces as souvenirs.

Additionally, Kyoto is known for its paper crafts, calligraphy, and traditional doll-making. 

The city offers various workshops where visitors can learn these traditional crafts firsthand and create their own pieces under the guidance of skilled artisans.

Kanazawa: Kanazawa has its own distinctive art and craft traditions that have flourished in the city for centuries. One of the most prominent crafts associated with Kanazawa is gold leaf production.

The city is renowned as a center for gold leaf production, with nearly 99% of Japan's gold leaf originating from Kanazawa. 

Visitors can explore gold leaf shops and studios to witness the intricate process of gold leaf production. 

The Hakuza Gold Leaf Shop and the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum provide insights into the history and artistry of gold leaf-making. One can also try their hand at applying gold leaf during workshops, creating their own gold leaf crafts.

Kanazawa is also famous for its Kutani ware, a style of pottery characterized by its vibrant colors and intricate designs. Kutani ware ceramics often feature bold brushwork, intricate patterns, and rich color schemes. 

Visitors can visit Kutani pottery studios, witness the craftsmen at work, and even try their hand at painting their own Kutani ware under expert guidance.

In addition to gold leaf production and Kutani ware, Kanazawa is known for its traditional dyeing techniques. Kaga Yuzen, a traditional dyeing method, is used to create stunning designs on kimono fabrics. 

Visitors can explore textile workshops and witness the intricate dyeing process or even try their hand at creating their own dyed fabric.


  • Both Kyoto and Kanazawa boast a rich heritage of art and crafts, offering visitors a chance to witness and participate in traditional artistic practices.
  • Kyoto's specialties include pottery, textiles, lacquerware, and paper crafts, while Kanazawa excels in gold leaf production, Kutani ware, and traditional dyeing techniques. 
  • Both cities provide ample opportunities for visitors to appreciate the craftsmanship and create their own unique pieces, making them a haven for art enthusiasts and those seeking hands-on cultural experiences.

Tourist Crowds

Kyoto: As one of Japan's most popular tourist destinations, Kyoto attracts a significant number of visitors throughout the year. 

The city's historical sites, cultural attractions, and natural beauty make it a top choice for tourists from around the world. Consequently, certain areas of Kyoto can become crowded, especially during peak seasons.

Popular attractions such as Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari-taisha, and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove can experience heavy foot traffic, particularly during cherry blossom season in spring and autumn foliage season. 

Navigating through the crowds may require some patience and careful planning to fully enjoy the experience.

However, Kyoto's large size and the presence of numerous temples, shrines, and gardens mean that there are also plenty of off-the-beaten-path destinations and hidden gems where you can escape the crowds. 

Exploring lesser-known temples or venturing into residential neighborhoods can provide a more tranquil and authentic experience of Kyoto.

Kanazawa: Compared to Kyoto, Kanazawa generally sees fewer tourist crowds. While the city has gained popularity in recent years, it still retains a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. 

Kanazawa's charm lies in its smaller size and a slower pace of life, which allows visitors to explore its attractions without feeling overwhelmed by crowds.

Kanazawa's main tourist sites, such as Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, and the geisha districts, do attract visitors, especially during peak seasons like cherry blossom and autumn foliage. However, the crowds are generally more manageable compared to larger cities like Kyoto or Tokyo.

The advantage of Kanazawa's fewer crowds is that visitors can fully appreciate the beauty of its attractions and have a more intimate experience. 

Exploring the city's narrow streets, engaging with locals, and enjoying the local cuisine can be done at a leisurely pace without feeling rushed or overcrowded.


  • In terms of tourist crowds, Kanazawa offers a more relaxed and less crowded experience compared to Kyoto
  • While Kyoto attracts a larger number of tourists due to its popularity and larger size, Kanazawa's smaller scale and quieter ambiance make it a preferred choice for travelers seeking a more tranquil and intimate experience.
  • However, it's worth noting that both cities can experience higher tourist numbers during peak seasons, so planning your visit accordingly and exploring off-the-beaten-path locations can enhance your experience in either city.
  • Ultimately, your preference for tourist crowds depends on your personal travel style. If you enjoy a more bustling atmosphere and don't mind larger crowds, Kyoto's diverse offerings may be a better fit. 
  • On the other hand, if you prefer a more relaxed and intimate environment, Kanazawa's quieter charm may be the ideal choice.

Food and Culinary Delights

Kyoto: Kyoto is renowned for its traditional and refined cuisine, which reflects the city's rich cultural heritage. 

The city offers a wide range of culinary delights that are deeply rooted in Japanese traditions.

Kaiseki Ryori, a multi-course meal that showcases seasonal and meticulously prepared dishes, is a must-try in Kyoto. Kaiseki Ryori exemplifies the art of Japanese cuisine, combining flavors, textures, and aesthetics. 

Many traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) in Kyoto offer Kaiseki Ryori meals, allowing visitors to experience this culinary masterpiece.

Kyoto is also famous for its vegetarian Buddhist cuisine known as Shojin Ryori. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, Shojin Ryori focuses on simplicity, harmony, and the use of seasonal ingredients. 

The emphasis on fresh vegetables, tofu, and soy-based products makes it a healthy and flavorful culinary experience.

The city is also known for its tea culture, and a visit to Kyoto would be incomplete without trying matcha (powdered green tea) and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). 

You can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony experience in tea houses scattered throughout the city, where you can savor the delicate flavors and elegant presentation of matcha and wagashi.

Kanazawa: Kanazawa's culinary scene is equally enticing, offering its own unique flavors and specialties. The city is known for its fresh seafood, thanks to its proximity to the Sea of Japan.

Kaisen-don, a bowl of rice topped with a variety of fresh seafood, is a popular and must-try dish in Kanazawa. 

The city's seafood market, Omicho Market, is a vibrant hub where visitors can sample and purchase a wide array of fresh seafood, including crab, shrimp, scallops, and more.

Another specialty of Kanazawa is the local style of sushi known as Noto-maezushi. This style features vinegared rice topped with various types of seafood, meticulously prepared and presented. Noto-maezushi showcases the quality and freshness of the region's seafood.

Kanazawa is also known for its gold leaf production, and the edible gold leaf is often used to embellish desserts and confectioneries. 

Trying gold leaf ice cream or gold leaf-covered sweets is a unique and luxurious culinary experience in Kanazawa.

Additionally, the city offers a variety of traditional Japanese dishes, including ramen, soba, and yakitori. 

Exploring the local restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) allows visitors to indulge in authentic flavors and savor the regional specialties.


  • Both Kyoto and Kanazawa offer exceptional culinary experiences, each with its own distinct flavors and specialties.
  • Kyoto excels in refined and traditional cuisine, with its kaiseki ryori and shojin ryori, while Kanazawa showcases the freshness and variety of its seafood, along with specialties like Noto-maezushi.
  • The choice between the two cities' culinary scenes depends on personal preferences. If you appreciate the artistry and intricacy of Japanese cuisine, Kyoto's traditional and refined dishes will captivate your taste buds. 
  • On the other hand, if you are a seafood lover or wish to explore regional flavors, Kanazawa's fresh seafood and local specialties will delight your palate.
  • In either city, exploring local markets, dining in traditional restaurants, and indulging in regional delicacies will provide a memorable and delicious culinary journey.

Accessibility and Transportation

Kyoto: Kyoto is a highly accessible city with well-developed transportation infrastructure, making it easy for tourists to navigate and explore its various attractions.

  • By air

Kyoto does not have its own airport. However, it is conveniently located near Osaka, which is serviced by two major airports: Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport). From either airport, travelers can easily reach Kyoto via train or bus.

  • By train

Kyoto is well-connected to other major cities in Japan by an extensive train network. 

The JR Kyoto Station serves as a major transportation hub, offering both Shinkansen (bullet train) and local train services. 

The Shinkansen provides high-speed connections to Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and other major cities. 

Within Kyoto, travelers can use the city's efficient subway and bus systems to access various attractions.

  • By bus: 

Kyoto has an extensive bus network that covers most of the city's attractions. The buses are a convenient mode of transportation for getting around Kyoto, especially for visiting temples, shrines, and other cultural sites. 

The Kyoto City Bus offers unlimited day passes that provide cost-effective transportation options for tourists.

On foot or bicycle: Kyoto's compact size and pedestrian-friendly streets make it an ideal city for exploring on foot or by bicycle. 

Many of Kyoto's attractions are within walking distance of each other, allowing visitors to enjoy the city's charm at a leisurely pace.

Kanazawa: Kanazawa is also well-connected and easily accessible, allowing visitors to explore its attractions with relative ease.

  • By air: 

Kanazawa has its own airport, Komatsu Airport (KMQ), which offers domestic and limited international flights. From Komatsu Airport, visitors can take a bus or train to reach Kanazawa city center. 

The airport provides convenient access for travelers coming from other parts of Japan.

  • By train

Kanazawa is served by the Hokuriku Shinkansen, connecting it to Tokyo, Nagano, and other cities along the Hokuriku region. 

The JR Kanazawa Station is a central transportation hub, offering convenient connections to various destinations within Kanazawa and neighboring areas.

  • By bus

Kanazawa has a comprehensive bus network that allows visitors to explore the city and its surroundings. The buses are a convenient option for reaching popular attractions, such as Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle. 

The Hokuriku Highway Bus also provides direct connections to other cities in the region, making it an accessible mode of transportation for travelers.

On foot or bicycle: Kanazawa is a compact city that can be easily explored on foot. Many of the major attractions, including the geisha districts and the samurai district, are within walking distance of each other. 

Renting a bicycle is another popular option for getting around Kanazawa, as the city offers bicycle rental services and has well-maintained cycling paths.


  • Both Kyoto and Kanazawa have excellent accessibility and transportation options for tourists. Kyoto's well-developed train, subway, and bus systems make it easy to navigate the city and reach its various attractions. 
  • Additionally, Kyoto's walkability and bike-friendliness provide alternative and enjoyable ways to explore the city.
  • Similarly, Kanazawa offers convenient transportation options, including its own airport and access to the Hokuriku Shinkansen. 
  • The city's bus network and compact size make it easy to get around, and exploring on foot or by bicycle is a pleasant and practical option.
  • Overall, both cities provide tourists with efficient and accessible transportation systems, allowing for seamless exploration of their respective attractions. 
  • The choice between the two cities in terms of accessibility and transportation depends on your travel plans and preferences.

Modern Attractions and Entertainment

Kyoto: While Kyoto is renowned for its rich historical and cultural heritage, the city also offers a range of modern attractions and entertainment options to cater to diverse visitor interests.

  • Shopping

Kyoto boasts a vibrant shopping scene, with various shopping districts and malls offering a mix of traditional and contemporary goods. 

The Shijo Kawaramachi area is a bustling shopping district, lined with department stores, fashion boutiques, and specialty shops. 

The Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades are popular destinations for souvenir shopping, featuring a wide range of local crafts, textiles, and traditional items.

  • Museums and Galleries

Kyoto is home to several museums and galleries that showcase contemporary art and culture.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is a must-visit for manga enthusiasts, displaying a vast collection of manga and hosting special exhibitions. 

The Kyoto National Museum showcases a diverse range of art and artifacts, including traditional and contemporary works. 

The Museum of Kyoto and the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art are other notable venues for experiencing modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

  • Cafes and Restaurants

Kyoto offers a vibrant dining scene, with a mix of traditional and modern establishments. In recent years, the city has seen an emergence of trendy cafes, stylish restaurants, and international cuisine options. 

Kyoto's cafe culture is thriving, with numerous cozy and unique cafes offering a range of beverages and treats. 

Visitors can also enjoy dining at contemporary restaurants that blend modern culinary techniques with traditional flavors.

  • Nightlife

While Kyoto is not as renowned for its nightlife as cities like Tokyo or Osaka, it still offers a variety of entertainment options. 

Pontocho Alley is a popular nightlife spot, known for its atmospheric narrow streets lined with traditional teahouses, bars, and restaurants. 

Gion Corner, located in the geisha district, provides cultural performances showcasing traditional arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and traditional music. 

The city also has a selection of bars, jazz clubs, and live music venues that cater to different tastes.

Kanazawa: Kanazawa may be known for its historical charm, but it also offers modern attractions and entertainment options that add to its appeal.

  • Contemporary Architecture

Kanazawa features several architectural gems that blend traditional and modern elements. 

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa is an iconic structure that houses a diverse collection of contemporary artworks and installations. 

The museum's unique design and interactive exhibits make it a fascinating destination for art lovers. 

The Kanazawa Station, designed by renowned architect Hiroshi Hara, is another architectural marvel that seamlessly merges modern aesthetics with traditional Japanese design.

  • Shopping and Entertainment Complexes

Kanazawa has a range of shopping and entertainment complexes that offer a mix of retail, dining, and leisure options. 

The Kanazawa Hyakubangai Shopping Center, located within Kanazawa Station, is a bustling hub with shops, restaurants, and a cinema. 

The Forus Shopping Mall and Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel are other popular destinations for shopping and entertainment in the city.

  • Music and Performing Arts

Kanazawa has a vibrant music and performing arts scene. 

The Kanazawa Theater and Ishikawa Ongakudo Concert Hall host a variety of performances, including classical music concerts, theater productions, and dance performances. 

Visitors can also enjoy traditional Japanese performing arts such as Noh and Bunraku at venues like Kanazawa Noh Museum and Kanazawa Bunraku Theater.

  • Nightlife

Kanazawa offers a more relaxed and intimate nightlife experience compared to larger cities. 

The Higashi Chaya District and Kazuemachi District are known for their traditional teahouses, where visitors can enjoy live performances of traditional music and dance while savoring local delicacies. 

The Katamachi area is another popular spot with its collection of bars, izakayas, and entertainment venues, providing a laid-back atmosphere for socializing and enjoying the local nightlife.


  • Both Kyoto and Kanazawa offer modern attractions and entertainment options to complement their historical and cultural offerings.
  • Kyoto's shopping districts, museums, cafes, and diverse dining scene cater to modern tastes while preserving the city's traditional charm. 
  • Kanazawa's contemporary architecture, shopping complexes, music and performing arts venues, and intimate nightlife spots provide a balance between the old and the new.
  • The choice between the two cities in terms of modern attractions and entertainment depends on personal preferences and interests. If you enjoy a bustling shopping scene, a wide range of museums, and a diverse dining experience, Kyoto may be a better fit. 
  • On the other hand, if you appreciate contemporary architecture, intimate cultural performances, and a more relaxed nightlife atmosphere, Kanazawa offers a unique and appealing experience.
  • Ultimately, both cities provide a mix of traditional and modern attractions, ensuring there is something for every visitor to enjoy.


In conclusion, both Kyoto and Kanazawa have their unique appeal as tourist destinations. 

Kyoto stands out for its extensive cultural heritage, natural beauty, and refined cuisine, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a quintessential Japanese experience. 

Kanazawa, on the other hand, offers a more relaxed atmosphere, coastal charm, and a chance to explore traditional crafts and regional cuisine. 

Consider your preferences, interests, and the experiences you prioritize when making a decision. Either way, both cities guarantee an enriching journey through Japan's cultural tapestry.

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