A former capital city of Japan, filled with temples, traditions, bamboo forests, shrines and geishas, Kyoto should not be missed. I'd recommend at least 5 days to make the most of what it has to offer because there are so many things to do in Kyoto. Read on to discover the 10 things you must not miss in Kyoto, Japan.
Things to do in Kyoto
1. Feel tiny at the Sagano Bamboo Forest
The bamboo forest is one of my favourite places to visit in Kyoto. You'll find the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, a short train ride away from Kyoto Station. There are many things to do in Arashiyama, so be sure to check out the monkey forest and Tenryuji Temple while you're there!
If you want the place to yourself you'll want to head there just after sunrise. We went in the middle of the day and it was pretty busy. The narrow paths are gorgeous to stroll down, it's incredibly peaceful, even when there are crowds around. Or if you'd rather take relax and soak up the atmosphere without the walk, why not ride in a rickshaw. No matter how you experience the forest, the 35-meter high bamboo shoots towering over you is incredibly sobering.
2. Find out if you're destined for love at the Kiyomizudera Temple
Located just above the main hall at the Kiyomizudera temple is you'll find the Jishu shrine. The shrine is dedicated to the goddess of love and matchmaking. At the shrine, you'll find two stones, 18 meters apart. The legend says that if you can get from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you'll find true love. Apparently, I'm not destined for true love! If you're there in the middle of the day, be sure to have someone with you to stop you bumping into people! At the shrine, you'll find many people praying for true love, as well lucky charms to help you on your love journey.
While you're there, it's definitely worth visiting the rest of the Kiyomizudera temple. The main hall is undergoing renovation on its roof until 2020, but you're still able to enter, the impressive building was built without the use of a single nail in its construction! You'll also get fantastic views of the city and surrounding hills.
3. Visit the Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park
If you love animals, you can't miss the monkey park in Arashiyama. There's a 30-40 minute hike up to the park, but be aware you may still see a few monkeys on the way up. The hike wasn't too challenging, but make sure you bring some water, particularly in the summer! The views from the top of the park are beautiful, spanning the Kyoto mountains and river Hozugawa. If you want to feed the monkeys, you can enter the feeding house, which is enclosed allowing the monkeys to stay outside and roam freely. Although the monkeys are very tame and used to humans, remember they're still wild animals, so don't get too close, don't try to pet them and don't carry food!
4. Wander up the breathtaking Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
One of the most famous sites of Kyoto, Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine cannot be missed. I'm sure you've seen the famous orange Torii gates. The gates lead you up the Inari mountain, winding over 2.5 miles and it takes around two hours to walk the whole trail. It is so picturesque, and you'll often see people dressed in kimonos trying to get the perfect shot.
The gates vary between old and new, with the oldest ones dating back to the 8th century. All of the gates have been donated, and people still donate them today. The black writing on each of the gates is the name of the person or people that donated the gate and the date of donation. Anyone can donate, as you walk through them you'll even see a few English inscriptions. The size of the gate depends on the donation, but prices start at ¥175,000.Top tip - When visiting the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, don't waste time at the bottom trying to get the perfect photo, head straight up and you'll have countless opportunities without all the crowds!Click To Tweet
5. Try some new foods at Nishiki Market
Kyoto has endless food options, from expensive luxury dining to cheap market stalls. The Nishiki Market is a fantastic way to try the authentic local taste of Kyoto. The market has a great atmosphere, packed with locals and tourists. The market is down a narrow street near Shijo Station. You'll find hundreds of food stalls, offering traditional Japanese specialties, including baby octopus stuffed with a quails egg, fermented beans, pickled vegetables and tofu donuts. Make sure you visit many stalls and try something new at each one! Some stalls give out free samples, so be sure to make the most of that!! Nishiki Market is not only for food lovers, you'll also find many shops selling ceramics, local crafts, and traditional Japanese knives. Make sure you've got small cash on you!
6. Admire the photogenic views of Kinkakuji Temple
There are over 1600 temples in Kyoto, but the Kinkakuji temple is by far one of the most popular. Inside you'll find the Golden Pavilion, the highlight of the temple. The stunning gold-leaf is truly breathtaking. Throughout history, the pavilion has been rebuilt due to fires resulting from the civil war. The pavilion you see today is less than 100 years old, as unfortunately the previous one was destroyed by a fire set by a schizophrenic monk. No matter what time of day you visit, you're guaranteed to get the perfect shot as the beautiful lake keeps the crowds at bay and provides a stunning reflection of the pavilion. Be sure to stroll through the gardens to let the beauty of the surrounding area soak in.
7. Wander through the streets of Gion
The best time to visit Gion is in the early evening when the place comes alive with tourists and locals visiting the many restaurants, bars, and teahouses. You'll find beautiful traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, many of which are now trendy restaurants.
Many tourists visit Gion hoping to spot a Geisha. Geisha are an important part of Japanese culture, and if you're lucky enough to see one, remember to be respectful. They are people, and they're usually on their way to work.
8. Participate in a traditional tea ceremony
Whether or not you're a fan of matcha tea, a Japanese tea ceremony is worth experiencing. The ceremony is incredibly spiritual and many would consider it an art. The ceremony is very much a ritual, where every action is planned and deliberate. The tea is prepared using matcha powder, which is ground down from tea leaves.
9. Take a romantic train ride down the Sagano Scenic Railway
The Sagano Railway winds down the Hozugawa River. The journey has been considered the most romantic train ride in Japan. But don't worry, whether you're a couple, a family, a group of friends or a solo traveller, the journey is well worth doing. The old-fashioned train has large open windows to ensure you can make the most of the picturesque views. It's supposed to be beautiful all times of the year, we visited in summer, but I've heard that it is breathtaking in autumn as the leaves change colour and I imagine in spring with the cherry blossom it's absolutely incredible. You can either take the train back, or take a boat down the Hozugawa River, where you'll travel down the river with the help of guides using bamboo shoots. The journey takes around two hours, and it's relatively calm, with a few small rapids.
10. Rent a kimono
As you wander around Kyoto, you'll see many people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. It's very popular with both tourists and locals. You can rent a kimono for the day and explore the sites of Kyoto. The Kimonos are absolutely beautiful, and you'll look picture perfect for all your Instagram shots! You'll find many places where you can rent a kimono, and most places will even do your hair in beautiful updos.
So there's my top ten things to do in Kyoto!
Where would you like to visit most?
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