Known as the old capital of Japan, Kyoto is full of amazing shrines, beautiful gardens and impressive temples. As it is so full of history it was protected during World War 2, which is why so many of the historical structures still survive today. This makes it an incredibly popular destination for tourists and was one of my favourite places that we visited on our trip.
Day 1 – Arriving in Kyoto
After our stay in Mount Koya (read my post about it here), we travelled towards Kyoto, stopping off at Osaka to pick up our suitcases in Namba. We then got on the bullet train (this journey was included with our JR Pass) and made our way towards Kyoto. The bullet train journey only took 15 minutes, so we were there in no time.
We had booked another Airbnb for this part of our trip too. This time it was a traditional Japanese house in a quiet street in Eikando. (You can view a walkthrough of the house here, although I can’t seem to find a link to stay there) It had tatami mats and the shoji screens throughout and was just a short walk from the Philosophers Path – a walk that connected many of the famous temples in Kyoto, including the silver Pavillion.
As it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at the house, we decided to just walk down to the nearest convenience store (about 10 minutes walk away) and just get dinner from there, stopping off at one of the beer vending machines on our way back!
Day 2 – Arashiyama, Bamboo Forest and the Golden Temple
A popular place to visit in Kyoto is Arashiyama, where the bamboo forest is, as well as lots of cute traditional shops and teahouses. It’s known for being a great place to see both the cherry blossoms and autumn colours. Our Airbnb host recommended a few day trips for us and this was a place she suggested we go.
The buses in Kyoto were really easy to use and really reliable, so we hopped on one near our Airbnb and made our way to Arashiyama.
Once off the bus you can walk down the main street towards the central landmark, the Togetsukyo bridge. We were incredibly lucky with the weather the whole trip and Arashiyama looked amazing in the sunshine, especially by the river.
On the other side of the bridge was a trail going up the side of the mountain. Here you can find the monkey park (which we didn’t end up going to) and also a temple at the top of the hill. If you weren’t a fan of walking then boats were available to take you along the river and there was a scenic railway that runs adjacent to the river.
Once at the end of the trail we saw the temple, Daihikaku Temple. A tiny temple with a viewing deck where you could see across Arashiyama. The trees on the mountainside were just starting to turn orange and red which was really pretty to see.
After exploring the temple we walked back down towards the bridge. There were vendors selling things like shaved ice and traditional Japanese sweets. For October it was really warm, so I bought myself a matcha shaved ice to enjoy looking over the river. Next on our visit was Okochi Sanso Villa and the Bamboo forest.
The gardens of Okochi Sansa Villa were pristine with not a stone or leaf out of place. There were actually people tending to the gardens whilst we were there. There were a variety of different plants and you could walk around the outside deck of the villa. Once you walked out of the back you came to the bamboo forest, a path surrounded by towering bamboo shoots. People were queued up at the entrance just to get a photo, but once past the entrance it was relatively quiet and tranquil and a lovely walk.
After walking the path through the forest you are brought out near the main street in Arashiyama. From here we got in a taxi and headed toward Kinkakuji, the Golden temple. Around 15-20 minutes away.
Surrounded by trees and overlooking a large pond, Kinkakuji is covered in gold leaf meaning it glistens in the sun, making it look fit for royalty. It has been burnt down many times throughout history, with the current version being rebuilt in 1955.
Even the walk up to the temple was swarming with people, and once you got to the temple it was really busy and quite difficult to get close to get a photo.
Regardless of the crowds, Kinkakuji, was such an impressive building to see and definitely worth the trip.
Past the temple is a path that takes you around the grounds, going past other smaller buildings, none of which you are able to go inside. At the exit are souvenir shops and stalls where you can buy green tea and Japanese sweets to eat in the garden.
After walking around the grounds of Kinkakuji, we hopped onto a bus to head towards our Airbnb, stopping on the way back to get a late lunch at the convenience store. I went for my favourite, a tonkatsu sandwich with a salmon onigiri and a beer!
After a rest we headed out to get dinner in Gion. Gion is famous for being a geisha district where you can spot them walking down the street from teahouse to teahouse. It’s traditional wooden buildings and streets and alleys attract a lot of tourists so it’s a popular area to go.
We had a late lunch so weren’t too hungry so decided on a restaurant that did a variety of Japanese dishes like sashimi, which is what I had.
Day 3 – Nara & the Fushimi Inari Shrine
On our third day in Kyoto, we got up early to catch the train to Nara. Our Airbnb host had recommended a day trip to Nara and then said to stop at the Fushimi Inari Shrine on our way back in the evening. At this time it wasmuch quieter and you can get a night time view over Kyoto at the top, so that is what we did.
It was really simple to get the train from Nara to the train station near the Fushimi Inari Shrine, especially as we had our portable Wifi and Google to help us navigate the train system, but even without this, the trains are pretty easy to work out.
The shrine was a short walk from the train station and very easy to find.
Fushimi Inari is most known for its many torii gates that lead up the mountain and you are greeted with a large torii as you get to the entrance. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought of as the messengers for Inari, the god of rice, and that is why you can see many fox statues around the shrine. We even saw a real fox as it was night time.
Admission is free and it is open all the time, so you can visit any time of day or night throughout the year.
Before getting to the torii gate trail you will see the main hall where you can pray and pay respects. It’s a large traditional building with crimson red features to match the torii gates.
Behind this are the torii gates. There are two rows of gates, each leading up to the same point and getting right to the top takes about 2 or 3 hours, but we didn’t go all the way.
I definitely recommend going early evening, not only was it really quiet, we didn’t come across too many other people and the lighting was really nice (although I didn’t quite manage to capture that in my photos!).
Around halfway up was a lookout point with a view across Kyoto.
Next, we went to find some dinner, so on our way back, we stopped at Kyoto Station. A lot of the bigger stations in Japan often have shops and restaurants in the basement level, kind of like mini-malls. The restaurant we went to didn’t have an English menu so what we were going to have was kind of a mystery, but it all tasted great!
Day 4 – The Philosophers Path & Kiyomizudera Temple
For day 4 we decided to walk along the Philosophers Path, which we could join just behind the street the Airbnb was on.
Along the path was many different shrines and temples, some big and some really tiny! The path follows alongside a river which has a few bridges so you can cross over and there was also some little shops and stalls. The main temple on this path is Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavillion. Unlike the Golden temple, this one wasn’t silver, but it had really lovely gardens that you could walk around.
Next we hopped in a taxi to head towards Kiyomizudera Temple and the surrounding area. Unfortunately the temple was under construction but we could still go to the viewing deck.
The area of Higashiyama that leads up to the temple had loads of shops selling traditional sweets, food, drink and souvenirs.
For dinner we ended up at a small restaurant in Higashiyama where we had a set meal of fish and fish heads. Then back to our Airbnb to get ready to leave early in the morning for Tokyo.
Have you ever visited Kyoto?