In my opinion, Kyoto, Japan is the most awesome place on earth! I don’t think I could ever grow discontented in this beautiful city of heritage and culture, that also has the latest technology, at the same time. Kyoto was the easiest place in the country for English speaking foreigners to get around on public transportation. Today I’m sharing 10 of my favourite places to visit in the city.
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If you don’t fly into Japan, most likely your first step into the city will be from Kyoto Eki (the Japan Rail Train Station). You might not think a train station is worthy of a destination, but I love the modern architecture of the building with its graceful arches and hardened lines. If you’re hungry after your journey, you will find a multitude of places to eat within the station (I even tried out the cooked frozen fries from a vending machine on the platform, once), or in one of the shopping tunnels below the station. You can learn more about eki in this post.
On my second trip to Kyoto with Michelle, we were there during the o-bon festival and our hotel, the Hotel Rich, allowed guests to go up to their roof to watch the Daimonji (大文字) festival, where 5 enormous fires are lit on the hills surrounding the city in different formations. We could see 4 of the 5, and although they were in the distance, it was worth seeing in person!
My favourite temple in Kyoto, Japan is Kyomizu Dera, which is perched on the side of Mt. Otowa in the east of the city. The views down to the city and from one area of the complex to the other are spectacular. Don’t forget to stop by the 3 waterfalls that are said to grand the wishes of a long life, beauty, and success; have a drink from one or two…but never all three, as that’s considered greedy and you will offend the gods.
For something a little different, visit Sanjusangendo Temple, where you will see 1,001 kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Wooden statues lacquered in a bronze colour. It isn’t far from Kyoto Eki and easy to fit in between other activities.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is quite famous in Kyoto as it’s both beautiful and accessible by public transportation. You may happen upon it simply by walking from one tourist location to another. As you can see, you don’t wander through it, and it isn’t that large, but it is beautiful! The sound of a breeze or snow falling from the tops of bamboo trees are so calming.
Tofukuji Temple is one of my favourites as the complex houses several buildings and gardens, each with their own style. The Northern Garden with its checker board pattern of stone and moss that fades out to an irregular pattern is one that has always stayed in my mind, and was recently brought back to light while watching Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens on BBC.
One of the top destinations in Kyoto must be Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Palace. The work that was done to gold leaf the exterior of the palace must have been painstaking, but the result is like nothing you’ll see elsewhere in Japan.
Often, one of the most sought-after locations in Kyoto is Gion, the Geisha District, with hopes of seeing a Maiko or Geiko tottering down the street between tea houses and appointments. This is no doubt a beautiful area with lots of history, however, with the decline of Geisha in Japan, you may be more likely to see tourists (both Japanese and foreign) dressed in kimono and the make up of Geiko for a few hours, just for the experience.
Just a short train ride outside of Kyoto is Nara, home of the largest wooden structure in the world, Todai-ji temple. as well as the largest cast Buddha, which happens to reside in said structure.
One very interesting experience I had was to stay a night in a temple! It wasn’t a big elaborate temple, like you may expect, but a smaller temple owned by a hospitable family and run a little bit like a youth hostel. I had a room under the eaves for the night, using small electric space heaters to try to keep warm during the cold of January. Breakfast was with the owners and all of the guests who stayed in different buildings throughout the complex.
I love Kyoto, and would go back there in a moment! Although I was disappointed I couldn’t have lived closer to this cultural capital, I think that perhaps made me enjoy it so much more when I was able to visit (and meant that I was also able to appreciate the place I did reside and the countless places I travelled to). If you ever have the chance to go to Kyoto, Japan, absolutely do it! If you have been before, tell me about it in the comments!
If you’d like to do some armchair travelling, then I’d recommend The Little Book of Kyoto (read our review). And if you’d like to know more about my time in Japan, check out my A-Z of Japan series.