As the ancient capital city of Japan, Kyoto is home to some of the country’s most important historical and cultural sites. There are more than 2,000 temples and shrines within the city, 13 of those are UNESCO World Heritage listed. So, do you go to Kyoto just to see temples? The answer is no.

Yes, they are an important part of the culture, and a few should be on your must-do list, but the city has plenty of other experiences to offer too.

Here’s our top five cool experiences for a visit to Kyoto:

A feast for your senses

Japanese food can be as simple as a streetside Yakitori chicken skewer and as complex as a beautiful nine course degustation. Go in with a broad mind and a hungry stomach. If you’re after a crash course in Japanese fresh produce, make a beeline for the Nishiki Ichiba markets. Hundreds of years old, these covered markets stretch along 400 metres and are jam packed with stalls selling anything and everything. You’ll find seaweed in every shape and form, dried fish and live fish, fruit and vegetables, even dog biscuits. The tofu donuts right in the middle of the markets have a strong foodie following, and at 300 yen for 13, are a bargain.

While in Kyoto, make sure you try the soft serve ice cream – green tea is the most popular flavour, but you’ll also find cherry blossom and chocolate. The windy streets of Higashiyama district leading up to the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple are filled with ice cream stores.

Don’t forget to try tempura, lightly battered and fried vegetables, and shabu shabu, a dish where the eater drops thinly sliced pieces of beef and noodles into a boiling pot of broth, before eating.

Animal Cafés

Many Japanese apartment buildings don’t allow pets, so what do you do if you’re a dog or cat lover and you can’t keep one? You go to an animal café. Cat Café Nekokaigi is one of the well-known animal cafes in the city. Follow the signs – from the tiny cat sticker on the elevator to the waving welcome kittens on the front door – to enter another world, where the cat is king.

Cat Café Nekokaigi is essentially a large room in the middle of an apartment building. There are scratching posts and day beds all over the place, along with plenty of space for humans to settle in for a drink.

Admission fees are charged for the first hour and every half hour after; you can order coffee, tea, soft drinks, and then it’s time to meet the cats. There are rules though – no smoking, no camera flash, no touching sleeping cats, no feeding of cats and no kids under 13.

At the appropriately named Dog Café, patrons are encouraged to bring their own pooches to have a bite to eat. There are plenty of dog treats and toys for sale.