When we first stepped off the bullet train in Kyoto last spring, it felt as if we were entering a completely different world.
Providing a striking contrast to the chaotic, neon-lit and modernistic mega city of Tokyo, Kyoto felt like the fairytale version of Japan. Think tranquil temples, lush gardens, striking shrines and mysterious geishas, where history has come alive and time has stood perfectly still.
Therein lies the magic of Kyoto and is reason enough to add this captivating city to your bucket list STAT. If you need a little more convincing though, here are seven more reasons why we loved Kyoto and why it belongs on any Japan travel itinerary!
1. Gion District
The oldest district in Kyoto, Gion is the epicentre of geisha culture. Here you’ll find a winding maze of alleyways, a myriad of teahouses, incredible shopping, delectable cuisine and night time entertainment. It’s an incredible place to wander and you’ll more than likely spot a geisha or two disappear down the winding streets at dusk on their way to work.
2. Bamboo Forest
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of Kyoto’s most striking and well-known sights, and for good reason. Standing amid towering stalks of bamboo is a moment of pure magic, and one not to be missed on a trip to Kyoto.
3. Stay in a traditional ryokan (guesthouse)
While there are plenty of Western-style accommodation options in Kyoto, there’s nothing like embracing traditional Japanese culture and staying in a ryokan. Ryokans can be anything from small and family-run to really large accommodation houses, but the hospitality is second to none. Our ryokan was run by a mother and son and our stay there was a highlight of our time in Kyoto.
4. Wander Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Sitting at the base of a thickly wooded mountain, the seemingly endless passageway of brilliant orange gates is one of the most recognised sights in all of Japan. In reality, there are thousands of orange gates leading all the way up Mount Inari and this is perhaps one of the most impressive religious sites I’ve visited to date. Definitely not one to miss!
5. Devour sushi, tempura and teppanyaki!
No explanation necessary, right?
6. Visit Tenryuji Temple
Kyoto is home to hundreds of exquisite temples but if you visit just one during your time in the city, make it Tenryuji. It is located right by the Bamboo forest so chances are you’ll be going there anyway, but with its stunning gardens, large pond and sweeping mountain views, it’s well worth the visit in its own right.
7. Indulge in some incredible shopping
No trip to Japan would be complete without a little shopping and Shijo Street in the heart of central Kyoto is a shopper’s paradise. Here you’ll find everything you can imagine, and then a little bit more! Not far from Shijo Street is the famous Nishiki Market – an incredible marketplace of more than one hundred shops and restaurants, and downtown Gion is well worth a wander too.
8. Admire the beautiful kimonos
While the traditional kimono is generally only worn during special occasions, you will see them any day of the week in Kyoto, particularly in the Gion district. Most are donned by tourists who have decided to dress up for the day, but they are still spectacular and warrant much admiring!
9. Visit a traditional teahouse in Kyoto
Japanese green tea is said to have originated in a town 14km south of Kyoto and you can find traditional teahouses dotted all over the city. Join in a traditional tea-making ceremony or sip a cuppa before buying some leaves to take home.