Kyoto is by far one of the highlights of Japan. We loved its temples, beautiful gardens, colorful shrines and the savory food we tasted at local restaurants and the Nishiki market. Furthermore, there’s this special ambiance you sense in the old quarters which throws you back to Japan’s ancient times.
Let us share with you the beautiful sights we visited in Kyoto, from a colorful market to impressive shrines and lively quarters with gorgeous Japanese handicraft. Enjoy our blog!
OUR FAVORITE SPOTS IN KYOTO
Tasting culinary delights at Nishiki Market
This beautiful and colorful market has a vibrant atmosphere and therefore visited by many tourists and locals in Kyoto. We absolutely enjoyed trying typical bites and snacks such as baby octopus on a stick, Matcha ice-cream and a matcha drink (both made of green tea extractions), sweets and fried vegetables. There are around 130 stands where you can try the best bites of Kyoto.
Around the market, you’ll find several alleys with shopping facilities, boutiques, shrines and food stands.
Location: Shijo Station
Japanese boutiques at Sanjo-dori Street and surrounding area
While staying in Kyoto, we booked two different accommodations located close to Sanjo Dori street. The streets surrounding Sanjo Dori (from Karasuma dori street till Kamo River) are bulking with nice shops, boutiques, specialty stores, Japanese and European style restaurants… We really enjoyed the atmosphere both during the day and at night in this are.
Some cool shops we liked:
Urban Research Doors for clothing, books and Japanese design | Website: www.urdoors.com
Festivin – Beer & Wine at a nice terrace, we ordered a lovely wine from the menu!
Gion – Explore the Geisha district
When exploring Kyoto, you can’t miss experiencing the typical Kyoto atmosphere at the streets of Gion where the ‘Maiko-san’ are often seen walking by. Although you may think that all the geisha’s in Kyoto (and Gion in particular) are the authentic ones, you’ll be a bit disappointed. After arriving in Kyoto, we soon found out that Japanese girls (tourists) love to dress up like geishas when visiting Kyoto. They take selfies with their selfie sticks to show off their traditional costumes. There are various shops and places where you can rent traditional kimonos (both for men and women). Girls can even get there hair and make-up done like the geishas do.
Nevertheless, while walking down Gion you might be lucky and spot an actual lady geisha, or even a Maiko-san.
Get a close up view of Maiko dance performances in Gion at Yasaka Hall Gion Corner:
Japanese handicrafts and design at Higashiyama
Follow the river in Higashimaya area and you’ll find several nice shops while enjoying some beautiful architecture of traditional Japanese houses.
Dedegumo – Handmade watches and accessories
Geerard was very impressed by this shop selling handcrafted watches and accessories. The designs are quite unique and therefore perfect as a gift to yourself or your beloved ones. The interior of the shop is attractive as well. So even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth a quick look.
Pass the Baton
This stylish shop is located along the river selling beautiful garments, design and other must haves. There’s a nice tea house adjacent to the store where you can relax and taste some local delicacies accompanied with your tea.
Location: Shirakawa Minami-Dori street
Takamuka – home decoration and jewelry shop
I really loved this shop! Takamuka owns a bamboo forest in Takano Chikko in Nagaokakyo City (known as one of the mayor producers of quality bamboo in Japan). The bamboo gets cut and various products are made after several processes necessary for bamboo. Craftsmen working at the atelier of Takamuka produce beautiful products, from tea ceremony utensils to exotic and stylish earrings ( i bought myself a pair), plates and cups. Everything in this shop is made out of bamboo, even the exterior!
The shop is definitely worth a visit, not only for its eye-catching exterior design, but also because of its unique products and the nice staff which tells you everything about the production of these beautiful pieces of art.
Location: 238-1 Nakanocho, Higashiyama-Ward, Kyoto
Note: there are many antique and boutiques located in Nakanocho street. Take your time to stroll down the lane.
Ponto-cho Dori street – A culinary experience in traditional setting
A vey charming and lively street just one block away from Kamo River. We absolutely liked walking through this street at night since there are so many restaurants and
eating establishments. Some of them have a terrace overlooking the river. Although Ponto-cho dori street is one of the most touristic areas in Kyoto, it’s definitely worth a stroll. There are several restaurants that offer expensive menu’s, yet if you take your time you’ll find plenty of eateries that are affordable (don’t skip the small alleys, they are full of suprises!).
Kamo River – charming walk along the banks
Area between Gion St. and Oike Dori Street
Kamo River divides the new and old part of Kyoto and is a great place to have a walk. There are promenades on both sides of the river. While we stayed in Kyoto, we bought some drinks and food to enjoy on the banks of Kamo River. It’s nice to watch people walking by, especially between the bridges located at Gion Sanjo station and Keihan Gion-Shijo station.
Rido Street at Kyoto Station
When arriving in Kyoto, you most probably get off central station. If you’re craving for a good and quick meal, it’s not necessary to go to other areas. Take a 5 minute walk towards Rido Street where the locals go. Get a good bite at one of the many tiny ‘izakaya’ pubs where no more than 10 people are crammed together. Rido street offers teppanyaki restaurants as well so there’s plenty of choice!
Tip: order a Beta Yaki, an egg and wheat flour savory pancake, topped with cabbage, meat or other toppings. Ot try ‘Okonomiyaki’, a layered pancake baked on a hot plate.
5 TEMPLES YOU HAVE TO VISIT IN KYOTO
Kyoto has many precious state of the art temples housing impressive relics, statues and historical Japanese artifacts. The temples are often surrounded by eye-catching buildings, parks and Japanese gardens. Although you often lack the time to visit all these beautiful religious places, these are the temples worth to spend your time in Kyoto:
To-ji Temple | Five-Storied Pagoda
This construction is known as the highest pagoda in Japan, measuring 55m. At clear days you can see the Pagoda from a distance, decorating the skyline of Kyoto.The site surrounding the pagoda is quite nice to visit.
Although you can’t enter the Pagoda itself, the surrounding halls are worth seeing. I loved the Main Hall (Kondo) where you can admire some Buddhist statues. Then, there’s the Kodo (Lecture Hall) with 21 fascinating statues in gold. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the buildings, unfortunately.
Close to Kyoto JR Central Station – you can take a bus if you don’t like to walk (15 min).
The Yasaka Shrine is seen as a symbol of Gion, offering protection and prosperous business ventures to its visitors. Visit the site and you’ll be surprised by the beautiful shrine and architecture.
This shrine (pagoda) in located on a hill and offers a nice view on the city. The very steep stairs take you to a plaza where you can visit the shrine and surrounding green areas.
This temple is surrounded by fresh green trees with cherry blossoms in spring and foliage in autumn. The main shrine is built on a mountain slope and the stage of the shrine sticks out over a cliff giving you a spectacular view over the city.
Keihan Line – Kiyomizo-gojo Station
Next to the Kyoto National Museum, there’s a very special place where you can visit the 1001 full-size “ Kannon” Statues. Think of something similar to the Terra Cotta Army in X’ian – China. The statues surrounding the altar in the temple are breathtaking!
TOP SITES JUST OUTSIDE THE CITY CENTRE
This is a very popular destination with attractions such as Togetsukyo bridge and a bamboo forest. Inside the forest you’ll find a path which leads you through a 100m tunnel of bamboo vegetation.
Fushimi inary-taisha Shrine in Kyoto
We had heard of the thousand torii shrine in Kyoto and the unique hiking trails up the mountain. So we took the subway from Sanjo St. in the early morning, packed with a camera, bottles of water and two home made sandwiches with fried eggs.
The Fushimi inary-taisha Shrine is known to be the head shrine of some 30.000 Inari-shrines throughout Japan. You can certainly tell by the huge crowds of people visiting this place. The shrine was established in the year 711 and has one of the longest histories of shrines and temples in Kyoto.
The shrine itself is beautiful yet what really gets your attention is the long succession of wooden red torii gates behind the shrine. After paying a visit to the main shrine, we walked towards the entrance of the gates and climbed up and around the Inari-yama Mountain. We were amazed by the large quantity of mini-shrines with stone foxes (messengers of the Inari shrine deities) located at several stops and at almost each intersection with torii gates. While walking up hill, you’ll get a splendid view of the surroundings and the city of Kyoto.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes when visiting!
Note: the Japanese custom to dedicate torii (gates) to a shrine is an expression of prayer and gratitude. The gates Inari-taisha Shrine in Kyoto are sponsored by individuals and companies. Their names are graved in the torii.
Location: Keihan Line – Fusjimi-Inari Station
Sake tasting in Fushimi – Kyoto
The Fushimi area of Kyoto is not only known for the popular Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine. This region is also known as one of the leading areas for Japanese Sake! We visited the area for we were curious about the story behind the traditional Japanese drink.
The Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
At the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, we learned everything there’s to know about the production of Sake. Although the museum is a bit small, it was worth a visit. There are many Sake breweries in the area and the village of Fushimi is nice to visit.
Notice the round objects hanging from the edges of the eaves as you walk around Fushimi town. These indicate that a new batch of sake is completed by ‘kurabito’, the workers of the brewery.
In the museum we found out about Fushimi’s high quality and quantity of ground water (which you can taste both at the museum and at some places in Fushimi village). We knew about the main ingredient to produce sake, which is rice. Yet, at the museum we learned about the complicated and intensive process of converting the rice into a delicious sake. We could also taste different sakes at the end of our tour. Kampai!
Location: 247 Minamihama-cho, afushimi-ku, Kyoto
Admission: only 300 yen
Read more about the production and history of sake in Fushimi: www.fushimi.or.jp/sake_guide
WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO
Kyoto was a true highlight of our trip through Japan. Looking back at our itinerary and overall experiences in Japan, we are very glad we eventually decided to stay in Kyoto for 5 days. Geerard did some good research where to lodge in the city (location, prices, quality) and booked a stay at two outstanding accommodations which we can absolutely recommend:
Piece Sanjo Hostel
This hostel opened up recently (2015) and has already received excellent reviews! The reviews didn’t lie for we really enjoyed all the facilities the hostel offers to its guests. The hostel has actually changed our perception about staying in hostels!
We believe this place is perfectly suitable for both people who don’t want to pay too much for a room yet have a bit of luxury. We’d call it a Backpack PLUS accommodation. You can also book private rooms if you travel with a friend or partner.
We booked a double room with private bathroom at 50 euro’s a night. The room was very small, yet cozy, clean and with a cool design. There’s a nice public area and kitchen in Piece Sanjo Hostel; our hangout during the evenings and mornings. We only used the room for sleeping.
The kitchen is ultra modern and we could cook our own meals (pots, pans and spices are free to use). Breakfast was included which is a big plus!
After our visits to shrines and long strolls through Kyoto city, we went back to Sanjo and relaxed in the common area. Wifi worked perfectly well so we could watch series on Netflix and work on our blogs.
Guesthouse Sanjyotakakura Hibiki
Before staying at Piece Sanjo, we stayed in a private apartment in Sanjo Dori street. The location was great and the apartment was fully equipped with a washing machine which was perfect to do our laundry. It was a pity though that there wasn’t any cooking gear or bowls/cutlery to prepare your own food.
> More info
One of the best websites to consult for insider tips of Kyoto:
Kyoto Cycling Tours: http://www.kctp.net/en/
Set meals always cost less than ordering a la carte. Learning the words “teishoku” (set meal) and “higawari teishoku” (daily special) will save you a lot of money in Japan!http://www.insidekyoto.com/kyoto-cheap-eats
Kyoto districts: http://www.insidekyoto.com/kyoto-districts