Kyoto

Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto has plenty of gardens, Buddhist temples, shrines, traditional buildings and imperial palaces to explore. The city's rich history also offers plenty of traditional dining options, and the opportunity to see a geisha, who are often walk through the Gion district.

How to get there: 

Kyoto has a pretty well connected airport to most of Asia and the Pacific, but the best way to reach Kyoto if you are already in Japan is via the bullet train (especially if you have a JR pass!)

How to get around:

If you you are only in Kyoto for one day, you can use a bus pass to do a whirlwind circuit of the major sites in northern Kyoto such as Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), and Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) before heading south to take in the scenic Higashiyama district and Kiyomizudera Temple. To travel between Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji use Kyoto City Bus 204. To travel between Ginkakuji and Kiyomizudera use Kyoto City Bus 100. Use the Kyoto City Bus Travel Map to plan your routes. Most bus fares are 230 yen. Hop on and pay when you exit. 

 

If you're in Kyoto for longer, and you have a Japan Rail Pass, the train will be your best option to watch your budget.

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Where to stay:

There are plenty of hotels and hostels in Kyoto, so your best bet is to choose accommodation near Kyoto Station or a train station - especially if you have a rail pass. This will make getting home after a full day of sight seeing easy.  Hotel Excellence Enmachi Ekimae is located a 5 minute walk from Emmachi Station, and prices are around 4800 yen a night.

A note about size:

Just make sure you manage your expectations about accommodation sizes. Japan famously has tiny digs, with  99% of new apartments in Tokyo under 100sqm, but that being said they are pretty ingenious with their use of space.

Where to eat:

Supermarket Sushi

If you’ve read my Tokyo guide then you’ll know how I feel about Japanese Supermarkets, and in particular, Supermarket Sushi: Fresh, perfectly prepared and half the price of a restaurant. 

 

Convenience Stores (7/11, Lawson’s, Family Mart etc)

Most coffee shops will charge upwards of 500 for a latte, but the corner convince stores cups go for less than half that. Their sandwiches, ice creams, rice balls and passriceey treats are also all delicious and easy on the wallet. 

 

 

Pontocho Alley

This tiny alleyway is filled with a wide range of restaurants and bars. You also will have a good chance of spotting geishas in this area! But instead of choosing one of the more expensive options in the alley, head just over the bridge to Menkuikinya for delicious home made Udon and tempura. 

 

Adachi

Possibly the best example of Japanese hospitality can be found at Adachi. The host here is 5th generation running the restaurant, and possibly the nicest lady I met during my time in Japan. You choose a main dish (pork, fish, chicken etc) and five or six small side tasting dishes will accompany. These are great for sampling authentic cuisine and perfect if you’re not a fussy eater. 

 

Ramen Muga Vol 2

With less than 10 seats inside, there is almost always a line up but it’s definitely worth the wait. The pork is tender, noodles are perfectly al dente, oh and have a piece of their 100 yen fried chicken. It’s amazing. 

The shop is located across the road from Emmachi station making it easy if you have a JR pass!

An idea of costs:

¥6700 per day
- Hotel: ¥4800

- Train tickets to Bamboo Forest: Included with Rail Pass
- Sandwich & Ice Coffee from 7/11: ¥200
- Entry to Nijo Castle: ¥600
- Rice balls & snacks for lunch: ¥300
- Dinner at Ramen Muga Vol 2: ¥800

How long to spend here:

We spent 4 nights in Kyoto which felt like the perfect amount - there's plenty to see in the city, and towns like Hiroshima and Osaka are just a small train ride away.  

What to see and do in Kyoto:

Fushimi Inari Taisha

This is truely a sight to see. Endless rows of red-orange pillars surrounded by lush forest... this is a must to visit very early or late in the evening. 

The stairs and shrines are open 24/7, and are majestically quiet at 6am (with perfect light filtering through the trees). It’s also thought that the area is haunted at night so you won’t find many people around after dusk. 

It’s an hour climb to the top with plenty of photo stops - bring water and wear comfortable shoes. 

The train station “Inari” is directly at the start of the shrine.

Bamboo Forest

Another sight to see first thing in the morning. The path joins temples and gardens in the area, and though the temples aren’t open until 8.30am you can walk the path any time. 

I’ve read a few people being disappointed about the so called Forest so I’ll manage your expectations: This is literally just a path, about 5 minutes long. But it’s very serene and beautiful and I don’t think it was disappointing or a waste of time at all. 

The closest train station is Saga-Arashiyama, a 15 minute walk from the forest. 

 

Hokanji Temple

This 5 story pagoda dates back to the Asuka period (538 - 710). The streets around the temple are also beautiful to walk through, especially at dusk when all the souvenir shops have closed and sightseers have gone back to their hotels.

Gion-Shijo station is a 15 minute walk away from the pagoda, otherwise buses 207 and 85 pass by the main street near the pagoda.

Golden Temple

Yes it’s beautiful - was it worth the ¥400 entry? Considering it’s just the temple and a very small garden filled with jostling tourists pushing for a picture... also you are only able to move clockwise around the grounds (ie once you leave the golden temple and pond you cannot walk back to have another look... I would say... if you’re pressed for time, this is one to skip. 

Access by bus 101, 205 or Nijo- Kinkakuji Express #2 from Kyoto Station.

Shigeharu

Not exactly a sight to see, but a cool souvenir you mightn’t have thought of is a handmade, hand carved Japanese pocket knife. Shigeharu is a traditional ancient shop that is “senzen" or “before the war”, refering to the Onin War (1467-1477). In the knife making industry in Kyoto, it is the only one that can claim this. It was founded back during the Kamakura period (1190-1329) and used to make swords for Samurais.

Just remember - it’s considered bad superstition to give a knife as a gift to a friend so may not be the best souvenir for someone else!

Nijo Castle

This Castle and grounds dates back to 1601, with lush gardens, impressive gates and palaces. The Ninomaru Palace is one of the most impressive, consisting of five buildings, 33 rooms and 800 tatami mats and countless murals. If you’re visiting in spring, the grounds are home to many orchards, from cherry blossoms blooming March through April, to plum trees blooming February to March. Many areas are also filled with maple, ginko and other autumnal trees which turn bright red, orange and yellow in November.

General admission costs ¥600

From Kyoto Station, take City Bus Routes 9, 50 and 101to Nijōjō-mae Bus Stop

Day trip to Hiroshima 

On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. 

Bullet trains leave from Kyoto to Hiroshima regularly throughout the day.

Day trip to Osaka

Osaka truely needs more than a day but if you’re pressed for time, Kyoto makes a great base to explore Osaka.

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