CURRENCY: Japanese Yen
ETIQUETTE: Do your homework on proper etiquette. The Japanese are very respectful and disciplined people. Do not eat while walking down the street. Quiet on public transportation. Take your shoes off when entering someone’s home.
RESTAURANTS: Teppan Tavern, The Sodoh, Nichiki Market, Lawson Station for an egg sandwich, Iecha Department Store ramen bars
POINTS OF INTEREST: Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Kiyomizu-dera, Nishiki Market, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nijo Castle.
For over a thousand years, Kyoto served as the Imperial capital of Japan and the city’s rich history and beauty make it an important stop in any trip to Japan. Largely spared from bombing during WWII, Kyoto has an abundance of traditional style architecture, machiya and is filled with beautiful shrines and temples. There is so much to see and explore in the city, it is hard to narrow down your options! Follow our recommended guide to hit all the city highlights and find inspiration in some of our favorite stops in Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Kiyomizu-dera, Nishiki Market, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nijo Castle.
*New photography regulations have been put into place since our visit to Kyoto and photography is not allowed or limited in many of the UNESCO sites as well as the Gion district. Please make sure you are respecting established guidelines.
Begin your first day becoming acquainted with the city. Spend your morning exploring the Higashiyama district, the historic center of the city. Comprised of narrow walking streets, the area is lined with traditional merchant shops and wooden buildings centered around Yasaka Pagoda. Stop for pictures on Ishibei-kojr and Ninenzaka street for the best photo opportunities.
These quaint streets lead up to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. Walked up Matsubara-dori in the Higashiyama district towards the temple and you will be greeted by the colorful gate and pagoda at the entrance of the temple complex. Continue on to the main temple with sweeping views of the city.
Bring your appetite to Nishiki market and taste your way through the food stalls. A great spot for lunch, think of the market as a large tapas restaurant and snack your way from end to end. Hungry for duck on a stick? Check. Fresh sushi rolls? Check. Mini powdered donuts? Check. Octopus stuffed with a quail egg? Check. Matcha ice cream? Check.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at Nijo Castle. The walled palace has sparwling grounds with a semi-staged palace in the middle. You will be asked to remove your shoes while touring the palace and photography and videography are not allowed inside.
After your palace tour, walk the grounds and find the traditional Japanese style cafe located in the gardens. Here you can sample all things macha. Try the macha frozen ice for a sweet treat.
For dinner, make a reservation in advance at this mom and pop restaurant, Teppan Tavern Gion Tenamonya for the one of the best dinners you will have in Japan! Cooked Habachi style in this basement restaurant, make sure to order the waggu beef, a local speciality.
To start your second full day in the city, make a stop at Kinkaku-ji also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Located around 30 minutes from our hotel in the Gion area of Kyoto, it was necessary to arrange transportation to and from the temple. Although a stop here is highly recommended, we did not spend too much time here before heading to Arashiyama Bamboo Forrest. These are very popular tourist spots in Kyoto. Arrive early to avoid the crowds.
As you walk the trails through the bamboo forest, take in the beautiful scenes of nature surrounding you. Once the forest has been explored, there is more to explore in the area. Follow the paved path up through the monkey forest and if you are lucky, you may spot one!
The trail will wind you up to a scenic view of the gorge and river below and then wind you down to walk along the riverside. The water is a gorgeous color of blue! If you are hungry, there are restaurants along the water to grab lunch with a view.
Next stop, Fushimi Inari Shrine and our personal favorite stop in Kyoto. Easily reconizable by the iconic red torri gates, the shrine is dedicated to Inari, Shinto god of rice, and each gate is an individual donation to the shrine. Thousands of torri gates wind peacefully up Mount Inari through the forest. This is a trek to complete the 2.5 mile loop up Mount Inari. Allocate several hours to complete the whole loop and make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
*Tip: Fushimi Inari will be busy all hours of the day as it is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. However, the further up the trail you venture, the fewer people you will find. There were times when we were the only people walknig under the gates.
For dinner, indulge in a ramen noodle bowl. The Kyoto train station was a gold mine for shopping and eating. Located on the 10th floor of the Iecha Department store of the train station, you will find the ramen bars. There is a raman bar to represent each region of Japan and the different regional style of ramen. Order from the vending machine and enjoy your noodles in the quaint restaurants. Try Masutani, our personal favorite.
Hitting many of the city’s main attractions, this quick guide is a great start to getting to know Kyoto.