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Let’s Go To Kyoto
Is It Worth Seeing While In Japan?
Don’t make the mistake of visiting Japan and skipping out on its gorgeous former capital city. Unlike Tokyo’s ultra modern appeal, Kyoto has a special charm that you can’t find anywhere else. Walking through this city you are able to experience what life was like in Japan thousands of years ago with countless temples and endless nature. Kyoto is a great place to find some zen during your trip, and prices are also a fraction of the cost of Tokyo. People call Kyoto the spiritual heart of Japan because there are so many temples and cultural experiences to soak in here. Rather you’re looking to stay for a while or just make a stop along your trip, below you’ll find the hacks to the ins and outs of the city.
(Via JR RAIL.PASS Japan)
How To Get To Kyoto
The Shinkansen is Japan’s famous bullet train that will take you directly from Tokyo to Kyoto in around an impressive 2 hours. This train is an awesome experience with several classes to choose from and extremely comfortable cars. This train does often get completely sold out so I highly recommend booking tickets in advance. Despite being public transportation, tickets on the bullet train can actually rival airline prices with one way starting at around $160 USD during tourist seasons.
Bookings Link: https://global.jr-central.co.jp/en/onlinebooking/
If you’re looking to fly, you can usually get a really good deal by booking in advance. This can be helpful if you’re ending your trip in Kyoto but flying out of Tokyo. I recommend comparing prices flying out of both Narita and Haneda Airports to get the best deal.
How To Get Around In Kyoto
The most affordable and often efficient mode of transport in Kyoto will be trains and buses. Similar to Tokyo, taxis are extremely expensive here. During your time in Kyoto I suggest purchasing the KANSAI ONE PASS, this will allow you to easily access all of the train and bus lines in not only Kyoto but Osaka and Kobe as well. The KANSAI ONE PASS can be refilled easily at train stations and convenience stores. You are able to select between 2 day or 1 week variations depending on your trip. Having one of these is crucial and will save you tons of time trying to figure out how to get around.
Bookings Link: https://kansaionepass.com/en/
Temples You Don’t Want To Miss
(Via Official Kinkakuji Website)
The Golden Temple is one of the most famous temples in all of Japan and you can’t miss it during your time in Kyoto. Try to go during a weekday when it just opens or closes for the best photos, and don’t miss out on the adorable tea house near the pond where you can enjoy matcha and sweets. The Temple is open from 9am – 5pm and costs 500 yen to enter.
Remember that during your visit to temples it is expected to dress modestly (no revealing clothing or crop tops) and remove shoes upon entrance. Comfortable socks are a must have when in Kyoto because you will be walking around a lot in them during temple visits.
Despite the name this temple is not actually covered in silver, however it is completely worth going to for the amazing surrounding garden. If you are looking for a serene experience I suggest going closer to closing time to have the gardens all to yourself. The temple does change its hours so be sure to check before you go, admission is 500 yen.
(Via Kiyomizu Dera Official Site)
This temple is not only beautiful in itself, but offers an incredible view of Kyoto. I highly recommend beating the crowds and getting there at 6am to experience sunrise. Alternatively sunset at this temple is also spectacular. Admission costs 400 yen.
(Via Official Fushimi Inari Website)
This temple is where you will find the famous Torii orange gates that Kyoto is often known for. Although there are thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, this is considered to be the main one. To experience the entirety of this shrine take part in the hike (usually 2-3 hours) through the Torii gates. The Shrine is completely free and open 24 hours a day. It is a really popular tourist attraction and best experienced in the morning or at night if you feel adventurous!
Main Areas To Explore
(Via Official Kyoto Tourism Guide)
Walking through the bamboo forest truly feels like you are entering an enchanted anime movie. To maximize your experience here come on a week day on the earlier sides and you should be able to beat the crowds. The forest is open 24 hours a day and completely free. It can be fun to bring a picnic to enjoy here.
Located close to the bamboo forest, the monkey park is not your typical zoo. The monkeys freely roam this park and you have the option to feed and interact with them if you wish. The park itself is also gorgeous and fun to explore. It’s open daily from 9am – 4:30pm.
(Higashiyama Starbucks, Via Starbucks Official Website)
A walk through Higashiyama will let you have a peak of what Japan used to look like before its rapid development. Although this district is a bit touristy, it’s free of telephone wires and full of architecture that make it well worth exploring. Due to the amount of attractions in this area (Kiyomizu temple, Maruyama Park, & more) you will likely find yourself here at some point during your time in Kyoto. I suggest spending an evening here wandering the historical streets, sampling matches, and checking out the shops. You’ll encounter some really fun art galleries in this area, be mindful of the shops with no photos signs. It’s easy to find things to see here but if you get the chance check out the Starbucks, not for the best coffee, but to see a gorgeous restored machiya (traditional wooden Japanese building).
Gion is a little area within Higashiyama that is famous for Geisha. I suggest starting off in the intersection of Hanamikoji Street and Shijo Street where during the evenings you will find Geisha walking the streets on their way to evening dance performances. It is customary to show respect and not photograph or approach Geisha’s in the street. However if you would like to experience a traditional Geisha dance I have linked the best site for bookings below.
Geisha Experience Booking:
Maiko Geisha Experience Gion: https://mai-ko.com/geisha/
(Nishiki Market Via Kyoto Tourism Association)
Once an open air fish market Nishiki Market has transformed into the ultimate foodie haven. If you’re looking to sample a wide range of Japanese food or bring back some fun snacks this is the place for you. The market consists of about 130 vendors all within narrow passageways. The layout can make this market overwhelming during peak hours so I suggest showing up around 11am. Yuba (tofu variant), Uji green tea, and soy milk donuts are the local foods you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
Takase River Canals
The Takase River Walk is so beautiful and one of the best ways to walk the city. This River was originally created for the transportation of rice but now is an amazing footpath to explore different parts of the city. You can walk this during the day around the Hankyu Kyoto-kawaramachi Station to take in nature and cute cafes or take a walk at night near the Kiyamachi Area to see Kyoto’s nightlife. Day or nighttime a walk along this canal will lead you to endless shops and restaurants.
(Via yokaitoons shop on Instagram)
Also known as “monster street”, this is one of those things you can only find in Japan. Yokai are mythical Japanese creatures with a reputation for mischief. Along this street you will find an assortment of handmade Yokai and their spooky shops! This isn’t a must do by any means but a very unique experience to have.
Other Experiences to Check Out:
This company offers sake tastings as well as tours that are extremely well done and a must for any sake lover! They will give you insight into all the local breweries and sake processes. Be warned you may turn into a sake snob after this experience.
(Via Tenzan No Yu Official Website)
An Onsen is a traditional Japanese bath house experience where males and females are typically separated to soak in hot baths and enjoy spa amenities. After a long day of sightseeing, an Onsen is the perfect way to refresh yourself. Kyoto has an assortment of amazing Onsen’s I have listed below. Due to the all nude nature of Onsens, if you have tattoos you may be turned away. Be sure to check their individual policies before going. This is honestly one of my favorite things to do in Japan.
Top Onsen Picks In Kyoto:
(Via Official Nara Park Website)
Day trip to Nara
Although not technically in Kyoto, you don’t want to skip out on the magic of Nara. Nara is famous for its adorable deer. You can use your train pass to take a trip from Kyoto to Nara easily for a day or afternoon. Take The JR Nara line for an easy 45 minute ride. Located walking distance from the station, you will find Nara Park. Nara is home to the free roaming deer population. Purchase some deer crackers from nearby vendors. Feeding them is not necessary but was one of my favorite experiences here.
Nara Park Website: https://www3.pref.nara.jp/park/
My Top Food Picks:
Hirobun is an immersive nagashi somen experience where noodles arrive via waterslide. A visit here requires a reservation in advance so be sure to plan ahead. This destination can be a bit difficult to reach via public transport so be sure to plan ahead and note that the waterslides operation can vary by season.
Gyoza Hohei -$
The Garlic Gyoza here is the perfect way to fuel up after a long day of exploring. It’s located in the middle of the Geisha district so you may spot a “Geiko” on your way there!
Kikunoi Roan – $$
This is an amazing spot to experience Kaiseki, a traditional multi course Japanese meal. This restaurant is midrange in terms of prices but has a higher end sister restaurant called Kukunoi that is extremely high end if you’re looking for a truly decadent experience. Both restaurants source amazing ingredients daily.
(Via Cenci Kyoto Website)
Cenci Kyoto – $$$
Italian food in Japan might sound crazy but Cenci uses local Kyoto produce to make some incredible dishes. Not only is the attention to detail here so impressive but the restaurant itself is beautiful as well.
Anzukko – $$$
A traditional izakaya with an amazing range of dumpling options and great prices. Izakaya culture is best experienced in the evening and this spot is amazing for a quick bite if you are hungry! This place can fill up fast so make sure you arrive right when it opens or you may not get in.
Ramen Muraji -$$
This spot can be a bit hard to miss as it has no formal sign, but don’t be discouraged this is one of the best bowls of ramen in the city. It does tend to have a line outside but it is well worth the wait.
OMEN Udon – $
Omen has affordable Udon noodle options and broths that you’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Yakiniku no Bunya – $$
This restaurant is affordable and offers amazing premium Japanese beef selections like their “Thickly Cut Deluxe Galbi” also highly suggest their 3 hour slow cooked pork.
Yakiniku Yazawa – $$$
If you are looking for a really nice steak dinner, this is the place. They have a wide variety of different cuts of meat, and the menu is translated in English.
Bars & Nightlife
This is the area to be if you want to bar hop or check out local Izakayas in Tokyo. Some businesses aren’t open to foreigners so prepare yourself to be turned away in some cases. If this seems an overwhelming task to take on, Airbnb offers great bar tours of this area.
This is known as a local date spot and an amazing place to go grab a drink during summer months. I loved the people watching here.
(Via Kyoto Beer Lab)
If you love beer, or a good happy hour this spot is so fun. They have a wide selection of unique flavors from different breweries and are always offering cool specials!
Though it’s not quite on the moon, this bar has an awesome view and fabulous cocktails.
(Via World Club Kyoto)
This club is so fun and features artists from all over the world (check their instagram before going). You can party with locals here or meet other tourists. The venue itself is also very cool, located in a church basement.
It’s no secret Japan has some of the best whiskey. The Liquor Museum prides itself on having a huge assortment of aged bottles. This is a really cool place to pick up a nice bottle to bring home, and an overall amazing whiskey tasting experience.
Written By: Tara Katims for Abroadeez