If you’re looking for traditional Japan, look no further than Kyoto. At each turn, you’ll find another massive temple, award winning soba restaurant, or quirky local attraction. I’m not exaggerating, there are thousands of things you could do it Kyoto.
On my recent trip, I set aside two days to explore the entire city. Looking back, I could have taken a few more days to get everything in I wanted to see. Ah well, c’est la vie. I’ve compiled a good set of things to do that will get you all around Kyoto.
Kyoto (and a vast majority of Japan, for that matter) has a well developed rail line. I suggest you stay close to the Kyoto Train Station. It takes a bit of figuring out, between the JR Line and the normal railway, but there are enough English speaking employees to help you out. While waiting for your train, you can shop the huge selection of green tea products. I still have insane green tea cravings from that trip.
Taxis or Uber are another good option. The base rate is normally 600 Yen for the first 5 km, then a fare for each km after. The price is about what you would pay in any large American city. I found this was useful at the end of the day, when we were too tired to try and use the rail system.
After a good breakfast, put on your best walking shoes and head over to the Arashiyama bamboo groves. A path winds into a huge forest of towering bamboo plants. Good pictures are almost impossible. A camera can’t capture the majesty, plus the bamboo blocks all the good light.
Near the top of the path, you will find the Tenryuji Temple. The entrance fee is 500 Yen, and another 100 to enter the temple. I didn’t pay the extra fee, since you could easily look inside of it. Good ole Grace bein’ a penny pincer.
The temple itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the buildings were originally from the 14th century, they have since been rebuilt, most recently in the 1900’s. The gardens, however, have survived and flourished since they were designed.
After you are done at the temple, the bamboo path will lead you right back to the main town. The main street is lined with shops, restaurants, and even places that will rent traditional Geisha gowns! We settled at a soba restaurant on the river called Arashiyama Yoshimura, which was suggested by an English speaking rickshaw. Let’s face it, after walking around in the rain for a few hours, your soul just needs some soba. It’s pretty high up there in price, but man oh man was it worth it.
Weird optional side trip: Across the river, there is a free range monkey park. It’s at the very top of a mountain. I.E. it’s at the very top of a long, steep hike. Benches are conveniently placed so you can contemplate how out of out of shape you are every thousand feet for so.
On your ticket, you are advised not to feed, get close, or even make eye contact with the monkeys. Yikes. I must admit, the little suckers are cute. If you’re on a budget, it’s a pass, but if you have some cash to burn go for it.
From here, head to one of Japan’s most visited sites Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion. The entire temple is covered in gold leaf, and surrounded by a lake. It’s breathtaking even in the incessant rain. Take some time to wander around the gardens. I find this is particularly enjoyable with a green tea ice cream, but that’s just me. 😉
Dinner is best found in the more metropolitan areas. Shin Kyoguko is a covered shopping area with food stands and lets out on a major street. Pick whatever strikes your fancy, whether it be sushi, udon or McDonald’s. I’m not judging.
The Geisha district isn’t too far. You know you’ve found it when the mild claustrophobia sets in. You really have to cozy up to the buildings to make it through. Lanterns and cobblestones add to the aura of ancient mystery, and if you get lucky you may see a geisha. Adventurous Kate perfectly explains what it feels like to spot these women.
By this time, exhaustion will compel you to head back to your hotel. You’ve earned it dude.
Are you ready for more hiking? If not, today might not be for you. In fact, this trip may not be for you. But if you’ve got this far, don’t give up now! The next place is totally worth it.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is debatably the most recognizable place is Japan. The entrance is marked with a huge red torii. Traditional houses dot the area approaching the temples, while school groups excitedly ring the prayer bells. Take in the Shinto architecture like a true art snob.
The main attraction is set after the many buildings. The tunnel of family shrines goes all the way up the mountain, with breaks small breaks. The hike takes about two hours up and down. If you’re not up for that, you can come back at any time. They also have a beautiful garden, which seems to be the reoccuring theme.
Afterwards, wander around the little food stalls and shops. There was some awesome kabob style steak, but the little pulverized oranges aren’t worth the 500 Yen.
Place I missed, but you shouldn’t: the Toji Temple. If you’re looking for a great traditional Japanese photo op this is it. If you end up going there, PLEASE send me pictures!
What place are you dying to go to in Kyoto? Leave a comment below!