I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and interestingly, I noticed that each prefecture and city in Japan gives off a different vibe. Kyoto, for instance, is more of a cultural destination because many of its historically significant sites are still left intact. Many of the prehistorical buildings are still preserved even until today and some were even designated as UNESCO World Heritage site.
It was also once the capital city of Japan where the Imperial emperor used to live. Thus, Kyoto is one of the major tourist destinations in Japan. In fact, most tourists would stopover at Kyoto for a few days if they are visiting Tokyo or Osaka.
My trip to Kyoto
This city is indeed beautiful. And it is one of the places which I wouldn’t mind visiting again and again. The place is perfectly clean and way less populated than other cities in Japan like Osaka. There are plenty of scenic spots in the region, dotted with many quaint traditional Japanese houses and majestic-looking Shinto shrines and temples. If you need a break from your city life, Kyoto is the place to be.
After covering Kyoto for four days, I would highly recommend you to include these 5 attractions into your Kyoto itinerary. These places form the highlights of my recent trip to Japan which I’ll never forget.
1.Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)
I hope you aren’t planning to go there solely just to take a photo of yourself with the thousands of vermilion torii gates as the backdrop. The rows of the infamous torii gates are actually housed at Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is an important Shinto shrine which is dedicated to the Inari, the Shinto god of rice.
If you have time to spare, I would recommend that you complete the torii-gate covered hiking trail. It will lead you through the wooded forest and eventually to the summit of the sacred Mount Inari. From there, you will get to enjoy a nice view of Kyoto. I reckon that the hike will probably take about 2 hours or so. And after the hike, do check out some of the cafes as you make a descent. We stopped over for a cup of hot matcha latte at KAFE INARI and it was so good.
Admission to the temple grounds and hiking trail is free. So it is one of the must-visit places in Kyoto even if you’re travelling on a budget.
This popular tourist attraction site is highly accessible. It is a 10 to 15-minute walk from JR Inari station. I would recommend you to visit this site early in the morning on an empty stomach. That is because there are so many street food stalls and restaurants offering delicious Japanese street food that lined the path leading to the shrine. Do try some Taiyaki (fish-shaped red bean pancake) or Mitarashi Dango (sweet glutinous rice balls).
2. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
The second highlight of our trip is the Kiyomizu-Dera temple which is about a 15-minute walk from our accommodation in Gion district. It costs us about 400 yen to enter the main temple grounds and I would say it is worth visiting the temple even though part of the temple is undergoing some restoration works.
This temple was founded in 778 and was reconstructed in 1633. What’s truly amazing about this temple is that not a single nail is used in this entire structure. Within the temple complex, there is also a small waterfall which runs off the nearby hills. That’s how this temple got its name because Kiyomizu simply means clear or pure water.
Like all the other popular attractions in Kyoto, I would recommend you to visit temples early in the morning so that it is not too crowded and you can capture better photographs too. This temple would be a lot nicer once the restoration works are done. So if you are planning a trip to Kyoto, it would be best to visit after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
After checking on the temple, you might want to drop by Starbucks Coffee Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya along Ninenzaka street. This is the world’s first Starbucks outlet with tatami seating and I love how they have woven traditional Japanese culture with modern-day elements together. We had some cheese tarts with Matcha latte.
3. Nishiki Market
Nishiki market is where you get to taste some of the freshest seafood and delicious Japanese street food all in one place. Albeit touristy, you can still find quality local produce and Kyoto-based specialities which are reasonably priced.
This market is over 400-years-old and it is definitely worth checking this place out to taste some of the local delicacies and produce.
To enjoy the best deals, it is best to scout the whole market and check out all the stores before making your purchase. For instance, some of the vendors offer this baby octopus with a quail’s egg embedded into its head at various prices. The price ranges from 200 to 450 Yen. We bought one for 200 Yen to try but my fiancé gulped the whole thing down. As expected, some of these stalls might jack up the prices to make profits from tourist.
Nonetheless, you should at least try a couple of Japanese street food like mochi, Senbei and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette).
Do you know that it is a crime to be eating and walking at the same time while you are at Nishikin market? This is because Nishikin market is often very jam-packed with tourists and locals so people are advised not to eat and walk as it would impede the flow of the people streaming in and out of the narrow walkway at Nishiki market.
Besides, the food there can be pretty expensive. Thus, I would advise you to just walk along with the stores and try out small food samples. Then check out the other food vendors, cafes and restaurants along the shopping district which is just right beside Nishikin Market. The prices of street food outside Nishikin market are much cheaper.
4. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
This is another memorable attraction for us because we’ve never been to a bamboo forest which is surrounded by tall bamboo trees looming over us. I also thwarted my fiancé’s proposal plan too. We are supposed to visit the bamboo grove on 22 December where there’s a light festival called Kyoto Hanatouro illumination at the bamboo grove. But I changed the itinerary and we ended up visiting the bamboo grove on 23 December. As such, we missed the illumination show and we also didn’t get to take good photographs of the forest as we arrived there late in the evening and it was already pitch dark.
So we came the next morning on 24 December and this time I get to admire the natural beauty of this place. The air was fresh and it was nice talking a leisure stroll in the bamboo forest. You can even hike up to the observatory deck and walk over to Tenryū-ji Temple or Togetsu-kyō Bridge.
It was a pity that we did not get to explore much of the bamboo forest as we had to catch a train to Osaka.
Almost every attraction we’ve been to are lined with many restaurants and food stalls. You can definitely settle your meals there or grab a quick bite before heading to the bamboo forest. If you are planning to take the Sagano Romantic train (which is close to the bamboo forest), it is best to take it in the evening where there are fewer people waiting in line. You can get express tickets from Klook but it is actually cheaper to buy tickets directly at the Sagano Scenic Railway ticketing counter. Not everything on Klook is worth the buy.
Nevertheless, do not expect much because the train ride is actually very short. To make it more worthwhile, it is best to combine this train ride with a trip back to Arashimanya via the Hozugawa River Cruise. During this 2-hour boat ride, you will get to enjoy the unparalleled views of the Hozu river.
5. Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Temple)
I wasn’t very sure whether I should include this temple under my list of must-visit places in Kyoto. That’s because there isn’t much to see at the temple except for the golden pavilion. Visitors are not allowed to enter the golden pavilion so you can only admire this structure – covered with gold leaf – from the outside. There aren’t many shops outside the temple as well. It is also quite far off from the city area. But nonetheless, this place still holds its beauty. The golden pavilion actually glistens beautifully under the sun. It is also a World Heritage site.
After a walk around the temple, you can drop by this matcha ice cream shop for some really smooth and creamy matcha soft-serve. You can order the soft serve that comes with gold flakes too. When you’re in Kyoto, eat as much Matcha ice cream and drink as many cups of matcha latte as you want. After all, Kyoto is one of the matcha capitals in Japan.
Besides visiting all these attractions, we also tried many Japanese delicacies in Kyoto. In the next blog post, I will be writing about what to eat in Kyoto.
You might also want to check out our 7-day itinerary to Kyoto and Osaka too.