Musings of a Little Girl in the Big City

Travel Guide to Kyoto

Kyoto is a special place for all Japanese. The former capital of Japan is filled with sublime gardens, tranquil temples and streets that are filled with old world charm. Tak and I stayed for three days and two nights in Kyoto and had so much fun visiting this beautiful city.

One disclaimer is we of course couldn’t see everything in three days, so this list is by no means comprehensive, but it felt like we did so much! We prioritized the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Inari, and let everything else fall into place. Keep reading to find out more about Kyoto and the places we visited!

Day 1

  1. Illumination at Eikando, Zenrinji Temple

Tip: Get there early to avoid long lines

After getting in from the Tokyo on the bullet train and settling into our hotel at the Westin, it was late afternoon and we knew we wanted to explore to make the most of our short stay. I had read about a temple nearby where they illuminate the trees at night during foliage season so we headed there because we figured most temples close after daylight and I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never seen lit-up trees that aren’t for Christmas in the States so I was curious to say the least!

If you’re lucky enough to go during fall as we were, I definitely suggest checking it out. Right from the entrance, the temple was definitely a beautiful sight. Also be sure to go there early because the line to gets really long!

Eikando at Zenrinji

 

Another thing I found out was that Kyoto gets very cold, especially at night! After waiting in line and walking through the garden, I felt like I couldn’t feel my legs so dress warm!

Day 2

Arashiyama in Sagano

Tip: Get there early in the morning to avoid the crowd

2. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

The next morning, we got up bright and early to head to Sagano, home of the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

While the bamboo forest is beautifully eerie, Arashiyama has much more to offer than just the bamboo forest. Also, Arashiyama is in the outskirts of Kyoto and will take some time to get there (about an hour if you’re coming from the center of the city). So you definitely want to add other stops to make your time out in Arashiyama worth it.

Although I did some research beforehand, luckily there are maps everywhere on the sidewalks, so we kind of just winged it when we got there. And because Kyoto is a walking city, part of the beauty is discovering your own path. Below are the stops we made in Sagano.

3. Nonomiya Shrine

Nonomiya Shrine Arashiyama
A shrine that appears in the Tale of Genji, which is said to be the first novel written in history.

4. Jyojakkoji

Jyojakkoji

Jyojakkoji Temple
Hike to the top of the hill to get sweeping views of Kyoto with the Pagoda

5. Hozu river

Hozu River

6. Tenryuji

Tenryuji Temple
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, this place gets crazy with tourists so I suggest getting there early

7. Monkey Park

When I was doing research on Arashiyama and learned about a habitat for Japanese monkeys, I was really intrigued. Japanese monkeys are not something you see everyday.

One thing I wasn’t aware of was that you have to hike the mountain to get to the monkeys, and this was after walking everywhere all morning. Oh my legs! But when we finally got there 20 minutes later, my eyes lit up at the site of the furry, red-faced monkeys. They were everywhere!

Iwatayama Monkey Park
We even got to feed a baby monkey from a caged structure. It was amazing.

 

Day 2 at night

8. Gion

We took the train into the Gion district and walked by the river. I love the weeping willow trees because they remind me of a time from a bygone era in Japan and walking by the river at night was beautiful.

Gion

9. Pontocho

Another historical alley, it’s known for restaurants and bars. I wish I took a picture but I got too busy admiring the wooden facade of the place, but it’s definitely a nice spot to go especially at night with the alleyway lit up.

Day 3

10. Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari map
Map of the temple

After we took pictures at Fushimi Inari, I was hoping to make it to Starbucks in Ninenzaka (sans the crowd) so we hurried our way back to the Eastern part of the city (Higashiyama). To our surprise, we came across so many pretty streets and there was no line at the Starbucks, which was amazing because I had read has become a popular tourist spot! Below are our stops on our last day in Eastern Kyoto!

11. Hanamikoji Dori

Hanamikoji Dori

12. Yayoi Kusama Forever Museum of Contemporary Art

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin Exhibit Outside

13.Yasaka Pagoda

Hokanji

14. Starbucks at Ninenzaka

Kyoto Starbucks Ninenzaka

Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka

15. Ishibe Alley

Ichibe Koji

Ichibe Koji

Picturesque Alley way, with a beautifully preserved wooden facade

16. Nene no Michi

Nene no Michi
Found this street by chance through a tiny alleyway. I loved how everything was connected in this area with so many beautiful streets. Every turn surprised us in the best way possible!

Our last day/morning in Kyoto was everything we had hoped for and more. We somehow managed to dodge most of the tourists which felt like a godsend given all the crowd we dealt with prior. My advice no matter where you go in Kyoto is to get your day started early! Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel, did a late check out so we can rest up before heading back to the station to take the bullet train!

Food

I know I cannot complete this post without a list of the food we ate! To be honest, we actually didn’t eat all too much because we had a light dinner at the hotel lounge on one of the nights which was amazing and in the mornings, our stay came with an fabulous Japanese breakfast buffet which kept us going for a good part of the day. Westin Miyako will always have a special place in my heart (#pointsforthewin thanks to Tak!). But without further ado, here is what we did eat outside of the hotel:

  1. Hourandou Arashiyama

Hourandou
Traditional sweets (warabi mochi) in three flavors – regular, green tea, black sesame

2.Rice Ball with Bonito Flake, Arashiyama Main Road

Yakionigiri in Kyoto

3. Lunch at Okutan

Okutan Kyoto
Tatami style seating at Okutan

Kyoto is known for hot tofu so we had to get this checked off our list. My mom suggested a restaurant near our hotel called Okutan (the site is in Japanese). Funny thing is, I’ve actually stayed at the same hotel with my family when I was much younger, so my mom remembered this restaurant near by!

For about 3,000 yen or roughly $30 we had a nice tofu course lunch but I loved the traditional atmosphere more than anything. If you are a vegetarian, this is a great choice, but Tak and I were ready for some meat after this meal!

4. Hiro Yakiniku BBQ at Shijo Takakura

Hiro Shijo Takakura Yakiniku

http://www.yakiniku-hiro.com/english/

And there you have it! I hope this guide was helpful. What are some places you’ve visited in Kyoto that we may have missed? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Kyoto Travel Guide