A Travel Guide To Kyoto – If you are looking for a traditional Japanese experience then Kyoto is the perfect place for you! It is a peaceful city filled with hundreds of garden landscapes, ancient temples, and spiritual traditions. We spent a total of 5 nights in Kyoto and wish we had more. It’s natural beauty and calmness was a great break between cities during our travels and we loved every minute of our time there.
Kyoto is especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season, so should you get the chance to visit during that time, you most definitely should!
Whether you want to experience a traditional tea ceremony, walk through ancient temples, or watch as geisha scurry the streets of Gion, there is surely something worth seeing in Kyoto.
Due to the fact that Kyoto does not have its own airport, most travellers arrive via train from either Osaka, or Tokyo.
We opted to use our Kansai Wide Area Pass from Osaka to Kyoto, which allowed us to travel there by train. The 1 hour ride was comfortable and convenient. We arrived to Kyoto on time with a full day ahead of us!
To read more about transportation in Japan, check out our blog post Here.
A Travel Guide To Kyoto
Things To Do
Traditional Tea Ceremony – Camellia Flower Tea
One of the most traditional activities you can take part in whilst in Kyoto is a tea ceremony. The Camellia Flower Tea House offers a tea experience for you to learn the same tea traditions that were practiced 400 years ago in Japan. During the lesson, not only are you given a chance to make your own cup of matcha tea, but you are guided in a lesson of history regarding the importance of the tea ceremony itself. From this experience, you gain the insight to realize how intricate and special these ceremonies are in Japanese culture. A moment of zen, peacefulness, and warm tea is such a great way to spend your afternoon in Kyoto. Camellia Flower Tea House is located just off one of the main streets in Gion and our tea ceremony leader Shogo was phenomenal. We highly recommend that you check them out if you are interested in trying the tea ceremony experience for yourself! You can click here to see more.
We had heard through the grapevine that there were real life samurai schools, or classes you could take to learn how to become a traditional samurai. We stumbled upon a place called Samurai Juku, in Kyoto which offered group and private classes for tourists. Immediately we were both super excited and knew this would be an unforgettable experience. We took a private class with our master, Kawatasan, who came from a long family lineage of samurai warriors. He gave us a brief history lesson about the way of the Samurai (bushido) and the sword. Afterwards, we watched him perform his sword skills, and then we had the chance to try ourselves. Having the opportunity to swing the sword was an adrenaline rush we will never forget. Overall, it was such a thrilling and memorable experience and if you have the time, we definitely suggest you do it! If you want to check out Samurai Juku click this link here.
The Kifune Shrine is located in a small forested town up north called, Kibune. It is a beautiful shrine dedicated to the god of water and rain. This shrine is popular for its stunning entrance covered in maple trees. If you are looking for a perfect shrine in the middle of nature this one’s for you!
Also known as Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, this incredible bamboo walkway is by far one of the most popular sites to visit in Kyoto. Walking through the bamboo forest itself feels like you are on a different planet. Shaded by the sun, you can admire the beautiful bamboo stalks that stand tall overhead. We were surprised by how short the walkway actually was in person, but we still thoroughly enjoyed our time and we were happy we went. If you are looking to capture a photo our top advice would be to either visit early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. We opted to go towards the end of the day when the crowds were smaller. Another photo tip is to take your image low and angle your camera upwards. This way you can hide all the people on the path behind you!
This town is where you can find the Bamboo Forest. Located along the Oi River, with gorgeous mountains in the backdrop, this town is a fantastic place to spend a few hours exploring. With dozens of fantastic cafes, coffee shops and matcha stores you will have plenty to do on your visit.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
This stunning Shinto Shrine was located just a 10 minutes walk away from our homestay. Famous for the thousands of orange torii gates that surround the trail, this shrine is a must if you are in Kyoto. The shrine itself is open 24hours a day, thus you can wake up early to beat the crowds and feel as though you have the entire place to yourself. Be prepared however, the hike up is actually a bit harder than it may seem. The entire trail will take you about 30-40 minutes to walk up!
Arguably the most beautiful of all the temples we saw, this one is located in the middle of a stunning manicured garden. The outstanding garden landscape is what makes this temple so popular. If you are in Japan during the cherry blossom season, or in fall as the leaves start to change, you are in for a real treat!
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
This entire, two story temple is covered in gold leaf, hence the name, Golden Pavilion. The temple itself, overlooks an enormous pond and is a sight to behold.
One of the most expansive and impressive castle grounds we visited. This castle was home to the first shogun of the Edo period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Here you can find a number of traditional Japanese buildings, gardens and squares. It was a fun place to walk around and imagine what life could have been like back in the day.
Although it is one of the smaller and newer shrines in Kyoto, we found the Heian Shrine to be really beautiful. We loved the bright colors it had and the peaceful nature of the grounds. If you have the time to visit, you definitely should as it makes for a fantastic photo op as well!
This place is worth a visit if you are a fan of Manga, or anime. This museum has a room dedicated to showing the history of comic books and manga. They also have a gigantic library selection of manga you can rent and read for the day. We spent a few hours outside in the courtyard reading a story together!
Gion is known for its picturesque streets. Lined with hundreds of shops and cafes this neighborhood is a must visit if you are in Kyoto. We spent hours walking around and exploring the streets. If you are lucky, you will be able to watch as the Geisha walk home along the alleyways.
A Travel Guide To Kyoto
This is a famous alley in Kyoto, known for its incredible restaurants. If you are hungry, make sure you walk through here and grab a bite!
A fun place to explore with family, or friends. Its a large open market that has a variety of tasty dishes to try. Known for the street food and seafood, this market is great for lunch!
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan. It was the residence of the Imperial Family until 1868, when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. The grounds of this palace were immaculate and ginormous. As we walked through, we saw dozens of working maintaining the grounds hard at work. If you want to take a step back in history and see an ancient palace for yourself, definitely spend some time here.
A Travel Guide To Kyoto
Places To Eat
If you are looking to treat yourself to some high quality sushi, definitely check out Kappa Sushi. Located along the infamous Pontocho Alley, Kappa Sushi has a great selection of fresh fish dishes. We recommend you go during dinner and ask to sit along the waterfront!
A bit more of an affordable sushi option, we really loved this place for lunch. It is a wonderful 100 yen conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Typically packed with locals on their lunch break. We had a proper fill up here for $10 usd each!
Ippudo Nishikikoji Ramen
Hands down one of the best places for ramen in all of Japan! We waited in a long line for this place for lunch, but we can honestly say it was totally worth it. They have such a great selection of different ramen dishes with all the toppings you can imagine.
Whilst in Japan, we wanted to taste some local sake. We found this place by chance one evening and we were so happy we did. We tasted a few different types of sake and had a really great time. The ambiance inside was really fun, so if you are looking for a good place to drink some sake, definitely check this place out.
This is one of the most famous street markets in Kyoto. They have a wide variety of fresh seafood, street food, and sweets. It is a really fun place to walk through in the afternoon and taste different dishes. This market is a must if you are in Kyoto!
This is a very trendy coffee chain in Japan. You can find locations spread throughout, however we went to the one in Arashiyama. The coffee here is to die for and you most definitely will have to wait in a line for it. If you are a coffee lover, this will be right up your alley.
This cute cafe is located in Arashiyama and is the perfect place to have a morning breakfast, or brunch. It was once an old traditional Japanese bath house, now converted into a cute cafe. We suggest you try their matcha drinks and their infamous pancakes!
A Travel Guide To Kyoto
Where To Stay
As we have mentioned before, accommodation in Japan can get pricey. For the most part we stuck to Air BnB’s. Although Onigiri Guesthouse is set up more like a hostel, we found it via Air BnB. We stayed for an entire week and we were super happy with our entire experience. The owner was super friendly and welcoming, he provided us with maps and information about Kyoto. Once a week he also hosts a cooking session where you can try your hand at making sushi rolls, and other traditional Japanese dishes. The beds were also super comfortable and large. Overall, it was perfect for what we needed and the most affordable option for us. It was also just a 10 minute walk from the main metro station which made it easy to get to after a day of exploring. If you are interested in checking out this homestay click here.
Overall, Kyoto is one of the most peaceful and beautiful cities in Japan. We were so happy to spend a week there immersing ourselves in traditional Japanese culture. If you are planning a trip to Japan we strongly suggest that you take a few days to explore all that Kyoto has to offer! This has been our Travel Guide To Kyoto.