The picture above describes Kyoto so beautifully. Running into a Maiko (apprentice Geisha) on your afternoon coffee run can be quite surprising and exciting. It is a beautiful, soulful city, rich in history, nature, and culture. The food ideology in the ancient capital is based on simplicity and elaborate work at the same time. Here you can also find yourself surrounded by thousands of Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples. We had 3 days to explore the city, but one thing that we can assure you is that you will not be bored!
Where Did We ?
Our Top 5 Experiences
Monkey Park Iwatayama
While in Kyoto, make sure to pay a visit to Arashiyama and Sagano. There is a beautiful Bamboo Forest, I'm sure you know about, but it is not a very well known fact that there is a monkey park on the other side of Togetsu Bridge. There is a small hike to the top of the mountain about 20 minutes, but it is totally worth it. You can observe the monkeys in their natural habitat and even feed them! A touching experience, suitable for anyone for kids to adults.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
In the Western part of Kyoto, you can experience this enchanting grove. It is precisely what you could expect from the name and much more. Beautiful sun rays slipping through the green stalks of the Bamboo plant. This place is magical in every aspect, and it doesn’t escape the tourist crowds. Best time to visit would be early in the morning or late at night. There is no admission fee to enter the forest, and it is open 24/7.
Sanjusangen- do Temple
The official name of Sanjusangen-do is actually Rengeo- in Temple. 1001 statues of Buddhist deity are housed in the Temple hall. The statue placed in the center between the other 1000 figures is gigantic and proclaimed Japanese National Treasure. The statues are made of Japanese cypress, and they are quite elaborate and imposing. 124 of them were formed in the 12th century when the temple was founded, and the remaining 876 were made in the 13th century when the temple was renovated.
Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion
Kinkaku or most commonly known as the Golden Pavilion is a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha. The pavilion is part of the temple that is formally named Rokuon- ji Temple. The garden and buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion, were said to represent Pure Land of Buddha in this World. The whole complex is fascinating with all the trees, flower gardens and lake. Gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of the Kinkaku, and a shining golden phoenix stands on top of the shingled roof. Quite an impressive place, It is worth your visit!
Ceremony is a proper way of describing the process of preparation and presentation of powdered green tea (Matcha), it is also known as the Way of Tea. The act of preparing and drinking the tea in the ceremony is a choreographed art requiring many years of study to master. We were asked to enter the room through a small wall cut out with a door. We were told that it is because in the old times to enter the tea ceremony room even the Samurai were required to take their swords off before enjoying this ceremony.
Other SEEs and DOs worth mentioning
(Click on the title to expand)
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the “head,” most important shrine to the god of rice and fertility Inari. The Shrine sits on a mountain which is also called Inari and the fascinating 10000 torii (or gates) are gently leading you on a two and a half mile journey to the top. Merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business that’s why this shrine is so essential. It is a beautiful hike. I highly recommend that you do it early in the morning and then breakfast in front of the temple and head to Vermillion coffee, just a few blocks from there.
Kyoto Gosho was the residence of the Japanese emperors until 1869 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The Palace is built around the late 8th century. The palace has been reconstructed several times due to fires. The present structure was restored in 1855. The Palace is located in Kyoto Gyoen National Garden and can easily be accessed with the Karasuma Line and Kyoto City Subway.
This is a magnificent temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in eastern Kyoto. The temple was founded in 778, and its current buildings were constructed in 1633. Kiyomizu means clear, pure water. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex. The most impressive fact is that there is not a single nail that is used in the whole construction. On the grounds of the temple, there is also a huge pagoda. From the temple, you can go down the streets and enjoy Kyoto’s crafts like pottery and wagashi (sweets) making.
Another shrine, again in a remote forested valley in northern Kyoto, in the town of Kibune. It takes a little bit of time and navigation expertise to get to here, but once you do, you know it was worth it. You have to take the train and two busses. It all takes about an hour and ten minutes. The Shrine is dedicated to the god of water and rain. Here you can draw a unique type of omikuji, it reveals its message once dipped in water.
This place is also known as Hokan- Ji Temple. It is a 46-meter tall pagoda with graceful, sloping roofs on each tier, which lies in the middle of an old Kyoto neighborhood, between Kiyomizu-Dera Temple and Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. Nearby you can enjoy the crafts and wagashi stores at Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets. Here you can also find a “Japanese Starbucks” the building that houses the famous coffee shop is old Kyoto style house.
Staying close to nature is what Kyoto seems to be all about, and we absolutely love it. Mountain shrines, Bamboo Forest, Monkey park and now… an Owl cafe in the center of the city, a block away from Shijo Dori (in a way the main street, full of life and buzz). The Cafe has around 15 birds at different ages, training levels, and types. The best part- you can actually touch the birds! It is fascinating!
This is a Japanese sophisticated dining style adopted and further developed by the Zen Buddhist monks in the temples. A traditional Shojin Ryori meal is centered around soybean-based foods like tofu along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, which are believed to bring balance to the body and spirit. Even if you are not Vegan or Vegetarian, it is a meal that is definitely worth trying!
Arashiyama is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Kyoto. The reason- the Worldwide known Bamboo Grove or forest. Thousands of people line up to see this enchanting place every day. But how do we get a more private experience? There are two ways, wake up really early and go to the forest and early morning, meaning around 5-6 am or take a personalized Rickshaw ride as they go on a designated private path through the forest. There are different routes and ride times you can choose from. The shortest trip is only 12 minutes and costs 4000 Yen for 2 people. The Company is called Ebisuya, and you can find the rickshaws at the entrance of Tenryu-ji Temple.
This is Kyoto’s central train station which will most likely be the embarkment point for your travels to other cities or back to Tokyo/ Narita if you are flying out from there. The Station is gigantic as there are also 2 hotels on both sides of the main building. The lobby is very spacious and open. A good word to describe the station is Grand. Beautiful roof letting sunlight goes through into the terminal. We loved hanging out there before our departure especially having lunch at one of the cafes or just picking up food from Isetan department store. Remember Department stores are amazing in Japan!
Gion is a beautiful district developed around Shijo Dori and spanning from Yasaka Shrine to the Kamo river. It is the central “Maiko and Geiko” district. The whole area is full of small little craft/ food and tea stores. You can find anything from pickled veggies to high-quality tea and wagashi. Trendy places in Gion are the centers, where Maiko and Geiko entertain, called ochaya and the famous Gion Corner theater. Performances at Gion Corner are every day at 6pmand 7pm, and tickets start at 3150 yen.
This is another hidden gem in Kyoto near Gion district. It is located in the Pontocho area around the Kamo river. You can very quickly find it with Google maps, when you get there and struggling to find the entrance, just push gently the alcohol bottles display wall. We loved the bar because there was a wide variety of high-quality alcohol from all over the world and from Japan (especially whiskey and sake). Make sure you try the Yamasaki lemon sour, it is fantastic. Another reason why we are happy to recommend the bar to anyone is the excellent customer service! You will not be disappointed here.
If you are visiting the above mentioned Fushimi Inari Taisha, the shrine to the god of rice, and you are into sake, make sure you save some time to take a quick detour to the Sake brewing district. If you are into sake, you can enjoy sake tasting in a lot of them and see first hand how the famous drink is made. They are located around the Uji- Gawa river. As a local would say: For good Sake, you need good water!
Shojin Ryori @ Shigetsu
This is a Japanese style of cuisine adopted and further developed by the monks in temples. The Shigetsu restaurant located in the grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama is one of the best places in the country to try Shojin Ryori. Even if you are not Vegan or Vegetarian, it is a meal that is definitely worth trying!
A very cozy little restaurant tucked away from the craziness on Shijo Dori but still very close to the "action." A fantastic menu featuring tastebud challenging dishes like Funa sushi (a fermented type of sushi) and Mentai Shiso. Make sure you try the grilled items, the Yakitori and the Chef's sake!
Mountain Soba @ Kifune Shrine
We were starving as we just came back from Nagoya castle and head straight to Kifune shrine. As we were getting closer to the shrine and were about to get on the last bus up the mountain, we thought we are not going to find a place to eat, but we were wrong. There were so many beautiful little family-style traditional restaurants in Kibune right underneath the shrine. We stopped at a Soba house, the set menu with the deep fried tofu with miso and the mountain vegetables soba was fantastic! So refreshing after the long way to here.
Casual Lunch @ Department store
Pretty much the title says it all, but I am sure, what you are thinking is: "Seriously? Food Court?
Let me just say, this is not the regular food court you will find in a typical shopping mall. The food is just as good as the Gucci bags sold on the floor above! Make sure you try it! There is no such Department store in other countries!
Wagashi @ Tsuruya Yoshinobu
Kyoto and Wagashi...Two symbols of Japan that go together like hand in hand. Kyoto is a center of Wagashi production with traditions and history. Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections. There are many types of Wagashi, but my favorite is the elaborate art of creating Namagashi. They are sweets made served traditionally at tea ceremonies, and they are beautiful and Oishi (delicious).
Travel Tips and Resources
We have put together original articles to further help you with your travel planning! In the links below, you can find information about transportation, lodging, insurance, planning and booking tips and tricks that we use to make our trip ideas come to life.
Book Your Trip Now!
Because we have experienced the challenges you could face booking hotel, airfare and insurance ourselves, we
wanted to give you a ticket to one destination- Wonder Backpack. Here you can book the travel journey of your
dreams straight from our page.