Formerly the capital of Japan, Kyoto was the center of the Tokugawa Dynasty for a thousand years, and continues to attract travelers looking to catch a glimpse of Japan's once great empire. This is a list to help you navigate the best that this city has to offer. Without further ado, here are my top 10 things to do, for Kyoto, Japan.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA
Also known as the "shrine of a thousand gates", this shrine is dedicated to the god of rice and sake. The path starts at the bottom of Inari mountain, and winds it way up to the top, where you can get a fantastic 360 degree view of the city. Thousands of Tori gates can be seen covering the entirety of the path, all the way to the top. Each gate is a donation from a company or individual and cost upwards of 500,000 - 1,000,000 yen per gate.
The hike to the top takes about 2 hours but it only takes about 30min to reach the first vantage point of the city. To get there, just take the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station) to JR Inari Station. The start of the shrine is just a few paces from the station.
Hours: Always Open
Address: Japan, 〒612-0882 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Fushimi Ward, Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, ６８
2. SAGANO BAMBOO FOREST (Arashiyama)
Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama is very peaceful and a great place to hangout for a couple hours. There's a small outdoor market there, where you can go gift shopping, some great hiking spots along the river and, of course, the bamboo forest.
I recommend hanging out in the main town for a while, and then up up north, where it becomes less touristy and a bit more rural. You can do this by renting a bicycle for 600 yen in town, which gives you the freedom to explore the surrounding area.
Price: 500 JPY ($4.40 USD)
Hours: The Sagano Bamboo Forest never closes and is open 24/7.
Tenryu-ji Temple is open daily, 8:30 am. – 5:30 pm.
Address: Japan, 〒616-8375 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamachō, 嵯峨天龍寺立石町1-1−13
3. NISHIKI MARKET (“Kyoto’s Kitchen”)
This open air market is five blocks long, and specializes in food related products. Popular with both tourists and locals, this lively market is a great place to spend an afternoon taste testing some exotic Japanese snacks.
Many of the shops are family owned, and have been passed down from generation to generation. A great look at an authentic Japanese street market, Nishiki Market isn't one to pass up. That being said, many of the restaurants that have opened up are geared more for tourists, so if you're trying to avoid a pricey meal, maybe wait for something outside the market.
Hours: Daily 9:00am - 6:00pm
Address: Japan, 〒604-8054 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 富小路通四条上る西大文字町609番地
Ryoan-Ji is a zen buddhist temple northwest of Kyoto. It's most prominently known for its "rock" garden (that's a lot cooler than it sounds!). The peaceful setting, combined with the chaotic yet somehow organized gardens, makes it a very spiritual experience.
Founded in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto, the site was originally a Fujiwara family estate, however it was burned down during subsequent wars with rival clans. It was reconstructed in 1488, when the famed rock garden was added.
Price: 500 JPY
Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (March to November)
8:30 to 16:30 (December to February)
Address: Japan, 〒616-8001 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, １３
5. YAMAZAKI WHISKEY DISTILLERY
For hundreds of years, scotch was widely considered the best of single malt whiskey's. However in 1923, Japan decided they would put that name to test and opened the country's first whiskey distillery (The Yamazaki Distillery). Since then, Japanese whiskey has catapulted to the top of the charts and is widely considered to be some of the best whiskey in the world.
Yamazaki offers tours of its facility, which includes a look at its warehouses, distilling process, and a complimentary tasting (provided your over 20 years old)). I wasn't all that interested in whiskey before going, but after seeing the immense thought and care put into each bottle, I have a newfound respect for the craft.
Price: 1000 YPY (Cash only)
Hours: See website
Address: Japan, 〒618-0001 Osaka Prefecture, Mishima District, 島本町Yamazaki, ５−２−１
6. KINKAKU-JI (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
Probably the most popular attraction in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is another zen buddhist temple, this one in northern Kyoto. Unfortunately the building was burnt down several times (including once in 1950, when it was set on fire by a fanatical monk), and the current structure was built in 1955.
In addition to the temple itself, there are various gardens and tea houses that are spread out around the premises. The path you are taken on goes counterclockwise around the lake and there are plenty of opportunities for pictures (don't stop and wait to get one at the beginning as this is where everyone groups together and it makes the otherwise peaceful temple grounds feel like you're at Grand Central Station).
Price: 400 yen
Hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Address: 1 Kinkakuji-cho Kita-ku, Kyoto City, Japan
7. PHILOSOPHER'S WALK (Ginkakuji)
The Philosopher's walk is a narrow stone path the winds it's way through Kyoto's Higashiyama district. The real draw of the walk are the hundreds of cherry trees that line the path from start to finish. The best time to visit in is April, when the trees start to bloom. There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.
The path starts at the Silver pavilion (Ginkakuii) and ends 2km down the way in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. It's a great spot to sit down and have lunch as you admire the beauty and tranquillity of this unique place.
Hours: Always open
Address: 2 Ginkakujichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 606-8402, Japan (the Silver Pavilion, the path's beginning is close by)
8. IMPERIAL PALACE
The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the residence of the Emperor of Japan up until 1869. However even after the new Palace was built in Tokyo, successive emperors would still hold their enthronement ceremonies in Kyoto.
The site itself is impressive, 1,300 metres (4,300 ft) north to south and 700 metres (2,300 ft) east to west situated in the center of the city. Surrounding the Palace are the Kyoto-gyoen gardens, which are just as interesting as the palace itself in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, the architecture is amazing and the history fascinating, but at the end of the day, it's just a cool looking building. It may sound strange, but if you had to skip one thing on this list, the Imperial Palace is it.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (April to August)
9:00 to 16:30 (September and March)
9:00 to 16:00 (October to February)
Admission ends 40 minutes before closure.
Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881, Japan
9. NIJO CASTLE
Built in 1603, the Nijo Castle is an impressive compound surrounded by various moats and stone walls that covers over 2,960,000 sq ft! It was originally the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867) and was donated to the city sometime in the 1800's.
There are three sections of the castle, the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and various gardens surrounding those. You can expect to spend about 1hr 30min here and I recommend picking up and audio guide for 550 yen.
Price: 510 yen ($4.50USD)
Hours: 8:45 to 5:00 (admission until 4:00), entry to Ninomaru from 9:00 to 4:00
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan
Personally, I thought the food in Kyoto blew anything in Tokyo away. Every restaurant I went to had an authentic, local vibe, and the food was insane! First on the list is Ramen.
There were a few restaurants that stood out for some of the best ramen I've ever had. Number one is 博多長浜ラーメン みよし (Hakata Nagahama). You can't go wrong with anything you order here and I would just order whatever the locals are having (they do speak some english). Number two on the list is Taiho ramen of which the thing to try (in addition to the ramen), is the fried gyoza. Lastly place to stop by is ラーメン 藤 五条店 (no english translation, always a good sign!).
Check out my food map for all my favorite restaurants and street food throughout the world!
Price: Varies, average 1500 yen per bowl
Hours: I'll refer you to my map where I talk a bit more about each place (click here)
WHERE TO STAY?
I stayed just a minutes walk from the Karasuma Oike station, which is pretty much dead center of all the places you'll visit. There are several bike rental places nearby as well, which make getting around the city extremely easy. Alternatively you can stay in Gion or Southern Higashiyama, which are a bit more touristy but have a ton of good food and attractions nearby.
Airbnb, as usual, is my first choice for finding lodging while travelling. Right now, it's the best, and in many cases the cheapest, way to see a city. With the added benefit of putting you in touch with a local who can give you some hidden secrets about the city, what more could you ask for?
If anyone is interested, this is the exact airbnb that I stayed in: