Kyoto is one of Japan’s most popular cities and it’s not hard to see why. Ancient history and culture lives alongside modern advancements in a truly magical city. This is Kyoto.
As with every Japanese city, the trains are the easiest way to get around. You can also get around on foot for the most part which is what David and I did.
If you’re visiting in cherry blossom season like we were, walk along the beautiful and peaceful Kamo River or popular Philosopher’s Path beneath a canopy of pink blooms. The Philosopher’s Path leads you to Gion Corner where you can spot geishas going about their daily business. At the end of the main street in Gion, Hanamikoji Dori, sits Kennin-ji, a Buddhist temple surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden.
Continue walking up hill along Shijo Dori to Yasaka Shrine where Shinto shrines are scattered throughout Maruyama Park. The park is one of the best spots in Kyoto to celebrate hanami, a traditional Japanese picnic beneath the cherry blossom tress. From here you can explore multiple Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the complex.
On the opposite side of Kyoto is Nijo Castle, an historic wooden castle with beautiful Japanese gardens. Nearby is the impressive Kyoto Imperial Palace with lush Japanese gardens and a natural park filled with cherry blossoms. The complex is free to enter.
And of course, arguable the most famous attraction in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha. You’ll need to catch a train to Inari. From there it’s a short walk to the start of the thousands of bright orange torii gates. Be prepared to battle your way through the gates with loads of tourists!
Catch the train to Arashiyama and venture to the popular Arashiyama bamboo forest. This is another popular spot with tourists so try and get there early to beat the crowds. A short walk from the forest is Arashiyama Monkey Park, a mountaintop park where cheeky macaque monkeys run wild. The walk to the top of the mountain takes roughly 20 minutes so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
Shopping and food
There are lots of streets lined with shops and restaurants throughout Kyoto which include Shijo Dori and Karasuma Dori. Be sure to visit a 100 Yen store and stock up on Japanese treats and chocolate. Kyoto is famous for its matcha and there are plenty of cafes which serve everything from matcha ice cream and matcha cake to matcha shaved ice and matcha tiramisu. You can also try a traditional tea ceremony where locals prepare matcha green tea using ancient methods and processes. Be sure to book in advance as many sell out quickly!
One of the most popular restaurants in Kyoto is Fire Ramen where the owner and head chef lights a bowl of ramen on fire right in front of you. It’s a great touristy experience but it’s also very popular and you’ll have to wait in line if you’re visiting during peak lunch and dinner times. We arrived at 1pm and didn’t get a seat until 2pm. There are also plenty of Japanese BBQ restaurants throughout the city where you can cook your own cuts of meat and vegetables.
There are a couple of live music houses in Kyoto. We saw The Wasurete Motels and they were great! You can drink and smoke inside the live house venues, as well as order food, however the menus are limited so eat beforehand.
What do you love most about Kyoto? Let me know in the comments below!