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With the entire city being a UNESCO heritage site, it goes without saying that Kyoto is one of a kind. As the original capital of Japan, it is a huge and modern city that has still maintained its rich, historical culture.
This remarkable city will cater to almost anyone either looking for a buzzy city-break or for an educational, enlightening retreat. If you’re looking for some initial guidance on where to go and what to see, I’ve curated my top three: places to see, foods to eat, and tips for staying in Kyoto to start you off.
Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji Temple)
The Golden Pavilion, also known as the Kinkaku-ji Temple, is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. The name derives from the fact that the top two floors are completely coated in gold leaf, which reflects beautifully on the pond it overlooks. The temple used to be a retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. It’s magical to think about the fact that someone lived in the peaceful grounds.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Famous for the thousands of Vermilion Torii Gates, Fushimi Inari Shrine is a popular tourist attraction for good reason. The unusual gates lead you up Mount Inari and end in a peaceful wooded forest. On the way to the top there are many picture opportunities of the gates, and beautiful panoramic views of Kyoto.
Kiyomizu Temple is a cultural must-do. The row of restored buildings leading up to the temple feels like old Kyoto, all housing quaint cafes and gift shops. Glamorous Geishas can always be seen wandering around here as well,which only accentuates the authentic, historical feel. The beautiful, Buddhist temple sits amongst a wooded hill, looking out onto views of Kyoto.
If you are looking for tofu cooked to perfection, here is the restaurant you’re looking for. Seike Nishijin is a foodies paradise. Serving multi-course, local meals that are true to Kyoto, in an authentic Japanese restaurant. One of the unique delicacies worth trying is the fresh Yuba, which is basically tofu skin and a Japanese kitchen staple.
Reservations are recommended and if you are vegetarian or vegan, let them know in the booking.
A familiar, hearty bowl of ramen is essential on a trip to Kyoto, where ramen is historically loved by the Japanese. There certainly is no shortage of ramen bars in Kyoto, so for something a little more intriguing, try No Name Ramen. This small, trendy, anonymous ramen bar is not particularly easy to find as there is no signage on the exterior (luckily Google Maps is a thing!) but the interior is particularly aesthetically pleasing, and of course the ramen is delicious.
Matcha lovers are spoilt for choice in Kyoto, but Kyocafe Chacha really takes the cake. Serving up Waffle Lollipops dipped in Matcha and, of course, some delicious Matcha ice cream. This café is also conveniently close to Kiyomizu Temple so make sure to keep this in mind for a sweet pick me up when you visit.
Stay in a hotel near the station – Kyoto station is essentially the central hub of the city. It is a 15-story building with many amazing restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels all under one roof. It also means you can travel about easily and wherever you go there will always be an easy and direct route back to your hotel.
Map out your trip – Kyoto is a vast city, and many attractions are a train or bus ride away. So, make sure you get your bearings. Playing it by ear doesn’t bode so well in a city like this! Also, bring comfortable shoes and prepare for lots of walking and even some hiking.
Mix it up – It’s easy to get caught up ticking cultural spots off your bucket list, so avoid temple overdose as much as you can and catch up with the modern culture in downtown Kyoto.
There are, of course, so many more places to see, foods to eat and experiences to be had in Kyoto but hopefully this pocket guide provides some clarity on what should be on the top of your list. From here, there is plenty of room to explore the many other things Kyoto has to offer at your own pace and desire.