How to spend a day in Kyoto

Kyoto was actually the capital of Japan between 794 and 1868, and it is one of the ten largest cities in Japan. The City is also known as the cultural and historic heart of Japan, due to the number of beautiful shrines and temples found here, along with historic districts, and places of interest. Kyoto is located in the Kansai region of Japan, just 30 miles away from Osaka, and most famously known for the vivid red/orange tori gates of Fushimi Inari-Taisha, and the glorious bamboo forest of Arashiyama.

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Important Notes

    • Visa – As a British National I was exempt from requiring a visa to visit Japan for less than 90 days, however, some nationalities will require a visa. For the most up to date information visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
    • Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
    • Safety – Just like London, Kyoto is a very safe place to visit. You should use usual common sense, around protecting valuables to avoid pick-pocketers, and staying safe at night.
    • Currency – Japanese Yen
    • Language – Japanese

Getting there

I was based in Osaka for this part of my trip and visiting Kyoto as a day trip. It is really quite straight forward to get to Kyoto from Osaka and ideal if you already have a JR Pass. I just used the Shinkansen train and was there in around 30 minutes. Kyoto has excellent transport links though so it’s likely that you will be able to use the Japanese Rail to travel there from wherever you are in Japan.



Accommodation

For my week-long stay in this region, it was a toss-up between staying in Kyoto and Osaka. I chose Osaka in the end as probably because it’s not as beautiful and rich with history as Kyoto, it is quite a bit cheaper, and as it’s so easy to access by train it was a no-brainer. However, if you did wish to stay in Kyoto there are several options such as traditional ryokans, boutique hotels, or if you’re like me and travelling on a budget – hostels! I always scan through booking.com to try and find the best rates available.



Booking.com

Getting Around

Train

I used the train to firstly gain access to Inari station from Osaka, to visit the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, which is located conveniently just outside. I also used the JR line to travel from the Inari-Taisha shrine north-west to the Tenryu-Ji Temple. There is also a subway available which can transport passengers north to south and east to west in Kyoto, which I didn’t end up using, and relied mainly on the JR Line, walking and buses.



Bus

On a couple of occasions, I took advantage of the bus, where using the JR line may have been too complicated and walking would have been too far, or time-consuming. The buses are very straight forward to use in Japan. Simply board at the back of the bus, and then once you are ready to get off, have your fare ready and pay the driver as you exit at the front of the bus.



Walking

Kyoto is a beautiful city to wander around, and I especially enjoyed the walk along the Philosophers path after visiting Kinkakuji Temple, as the beginning of the walkway starts right here. There are also several temples along the walk-way to visit if you have time – unfortunately I was walking along here around 4pm when a lot of the temples and shrines are starting to close for the day. I followed it most of the way down and then caught a bus to the Gion district, then walking on further found Nishiki Market.


Fushimi Inari-Taisha Torii Gates

The Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine is probably more famous for its Torii gates than it is for the actual shrine itself. It draws attention from tourists worldwide and is one of the most iconic tourist spots in Japan. It’s not just the beauty of the tori gates its the sheer number of them at this particular shrine which attracts attention with over 10,000 gates in this complex, it’s quite an impressive place to wander through, and of course try to capture the perfect photo, in between all of the other tourists aiming for the exact same thing!

The total area including the tori gates and the shrine itself covers over 870,000 square meters, so you can get lost in this complex for hours! So why are there just so many of the tori gates in the first place? Well, during the Edo period (1603–1868), it became common practice to erect a new Torii gate in gratitude for answered prayers. Many of the gates have been are dedicated by companies and organisations, however, it is possible for individual Torii gates to be built if you have a spare ¥175,000 to ¥1,302,000 (equivalent of £1,200 – £9,500).

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine

The Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine was believed to have been built during the Nara period (710-794). It is the head shrine for 30,000 shrines nationwide dedicated to Inari, the fertility deity. The main hall is located at the foot of the Inariyama hill, and the whole of Inariyama is considered sacred ground.



Tenryu-Ji Temple

Jumping back on the JR Nara line towards Kyoto Station and then changing to board the San-In Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station, I arrived just a short walk away from Tenryuji-Ji Temple. This Temple although not as popular for tourists as Fushimi-Inari, is the most important Temple in Kyoto. It was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples and is now registered as a world heritage site. It is also the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.

Much like a lot of the temples and historical buildings in Japan, Tenryu-Ji temple was destroyed by fire and war several times since it was constructed in 1339. One of the most spectacular features of the temple, and which also remained undamaged throughout the years is the magnificent garden, designed by the famous gardener Muso Soseki. The beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains.



 

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Bamboo Grove is located just next to the Tenryu-Ji Temple so it makes sense to join these two sights together in one. Visit the temple first and then as you explore the gardens and work your way up, exit through the North gate and you’ll be in the forest!

Arashiyama Sagans Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama Sagans Bamboo Grove

As you can see the bamboo grove in Kyoto is extremely popular! I arrived mid-morning, and the area was already brimming with tourists. If you want to get the perfect ‘insta-worthy’ photo then try and head here as early as you can in the morning to try and beat the crowds.

This bamboo forest, in particular, is famed for being quite magnificent and ‘otherworldly’ however I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. It probably didn’t help that the area was full of tourists with cameras and selfie sticks, it felt like a bit of a circus, and not as peaceful as I would have hoped. If your visit to Japan also takes you to Kamakura, I would highly recommend visiting Hokokuji Temple, and it’s bamboo forest for a more tranquil experience, you can read more about my visit to Kamakura in my blog post here

Arashiyama Sagans Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama Sagans Bamboo Grove

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji also known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’, is a Buddhist Hall containing relics of Buddha. The Pavilion is part of a temple that is formally named Rokuon-Ji, a Zen Buddhist temple. The Pavilion is built overlooking a large beautiful pond surrounded by well manicured Japanese gardens. Of course, the most impressive part of this pavilion, are the top two floors, which are completely covered in gold leaf, accompanied by a golden phoenix on top of the roof.

Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple

The current structure is not the original as sadly it has been destroyed numerous times, the current pavilion was rebuilt in 1955, following a fire which was set by a ‘fanatic monk’. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit the inside of the pavilion, however, inside on the first floor, there are Statues of the Shaka Buddha (historical Buddha) and Yoshimitsu, which you can catch a glimpse of through the open windows.

Ginkakuji Temple

In 1482, Ginkakuji, a Zen Temple, was established by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Muromachi Shogunate. Yoshimasa then built the Villa Higashiyama Den to spend his retired life. Yoshimasa spent his whole life sculpting and crafting the den, and nurturing its beautiful gardens. Within the complex, you’ll find the temple, the den, beautiful gardens, as well as a Buddhist Hall.



Philosophers Path

Situated in the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, this stone path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. April is the best time of year to visit, as the trees explode with colour making this one of the cities most popular cherry blossom viewing spots. When I visited in May the blossom had fallen but the walk was a very pleasant and enjoyable one nonetheless. The path begins around Ginkakuji and ends in the neighbourhood of Nanzenji, around 2KM later. The path is named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who practised meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. You’ll find several other temples in the area which branch off from the path as well as ample restaurants and cafes.

Philosophers Path
Philosophers Path

Gion

Did you know that Kyoto is the birthplace of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony? I visited the Gion district in Kyoto, a centre of traditional arts, including tea ceremonies, singing, poem reading and dance performed by traditional Geishas. There are a lot of tea houses here, and I tried to catch a glimpse of an authentic geisha moving between venues for performances but had no such luck!

Nishiki Market

I sort of regret visiting Nishiki Market because it was full of dead animals and fish, as it’s a food market after all, and the Japanese really enjoy their seafood and meat! I felt a little nauseous sometimes walking past some of the stalls so it’s definitely an experience! If you are a meat eater or seafood lover though then you’ll be just where you want to be!

If you have more time

If you choose Kyoto as your base or can dedicate more time to visiting this part of Japan, then I’d recommend including the following temples and parks which have historical and cultural significance, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, Maruyama Park, and Nanzen-Ji Temple


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my day trip to Kyoto, and I’ve given you some inspiration for your own trip. This was a very full on day though, and I did lots of walking so if you wanted a more relaxed visit definitely try to split out your sightseeing over a couple of days, or just choose only your must-sees. I was quite ready to collapse after visiting Kyoto.

Have you already visited yourself? or do you have anything to add that should be included on the itinerary? I’d love to hear from you, feel free to get in touch using the comments section below.

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How to spend a day in Kyoto

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