Kyoto is one of the best cities in Japan. It’s old and full of history as well as modern. There is lots to see in Kyoto and I could spend years there and not see it all. I was asked by a friend what to see if they had a few days and here is the short list of things you should do in Kyoto.
Getting to Kyoto
It’s not hard to get there. The Shinkansen from Tokyo takes about 3 hours and is really reasonable.
The SAKE in Kyoto is outstanding due to the water being so clean. So when you are out for lunch and dinner always ask for the sake and make sure it’s local. The local Japanese in Kyoto are very proud of the sake from Kyoto and are happy to share what is some of the best sake in the world. You can’t buy this anywhere and it’s all so very tasty. I love the sake and food of Japan and while walking around you need to eat. Kyoto can help with that.
If you don’t want to wander around all day in search of food and want a huge variety then make your way to the Nishiki Ichiba (Market) and then find Nishiki Warai. There is no better place to find anything and everything. One of the best venues to visit at the market is Nishiki Warai. This little restaurant serves some of the best okonomiyaki in Kyoto. Okonomiyaki is a traditional, savory Japanese pancake that is cooked directly at the table. While many okonomiyaki restaurants have the DIY approach and bring raw batter to the table, Nishiki Warai serves freshly cooked okonomiyaki with a wide choice of toppings. Although mostly known for its signature dish, Nishinki Warai also serves excellent yaki-soba (fried noodles).
The Nishiki Market street runs parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of Shijo Avenue. It can be reached on foot in less than five minutes from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (4 minutes, 210 yen from Kyoto Station) or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line. If you are in the area north of Kyoto station and south of the castle you should be able to walk there in a few minutes.
This is the modern center piece of Kyoto. It’s new and it’s epic. From the outside it looks like a very large train station, but on the inside it’s massive. Over 14 stories of shopping and eating along with a stair case that can also be used as a billboard. You have to visit Kyoto station and it’s the hub for getting to everything in Kyoto.
Kyoto Station (京都駅 Kyōto-eki?) is a major railway station and transportation hub in Kyoto, Japan. It has Japan’s second-largest station building (after Nagoya Station) and is one of the country’s largest buildings, incorporating a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, Isetan department store, and several local government facilities under one 15-story roof. It also housed the Kyoto City Air Terminal until August 31, 2002.
The shopping area just to the north of the station heading towards the Castle and Palace are wonderful as well. Lots of little restaurants and shops to wander in and out of.
Kyoto National Museum
I am not one for museums at all. I stumbled across this while getting caught in the rain and decided to take a chance and see what it was like. It was amazing. All of the paintings and art work you see in Japanese books are in this museum and they are full sized. It’s very peaceful and you can take an hour or two to enjoy all of it. If it’s raining I would head there again. It’s wonderful. There are a few building to explore and only one was open last time I was there but still worth it. The museum is dark to preserve the art work, seems many people were complaining about this in the museum and failed to understand the impact of light rays on art work.
Cost is about $10 USD
Link to more information: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3962_kyoto.html
The museum can be reached in a five minute walk from Shichijo Station along the Keihan Line or in a 20-25 minute walk from Kyoto Station.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
This place is a must see. It’s pretty epic. If you have ever been to a site about Japan there will be photos of this shrine. The tori gates are the big deal here. They are everywhere and for miles. Though the Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of Kyoto’s major tourist attractions, the surrounding nature, parks, gardens, temples, and shrines provide less-visited spaces for strolling and reflection. The Fushimi Inari Shrine itself is made up of 32,000 sub-shrines, and the mountain they are dotted across beckons hikers, picnickers, and lovers of the outdoors. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city. Recent renovations to remove telephone poles and repave the streets have further improved the traditional feel of the district.
The streets in Higashiyama are lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants which have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries. These businesses retain their traditional design, although many have been renovated through the years, and they continue to serve customers today, selling local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs.
From Kyoto Station take bus number 100 or 206 in direction of Kiyomizudera. The Higashiyama district can be accessed from multiple bus stops between the Gojozaka (10 minutes, 230 yen one way) and Gion (15 minutes, 230 yen) bus stops.
Alternatively, the district can be reached in a 10-15 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station or Gion-Shijo Station along the Keihan Line, from Kawaramachi Station along the Hankyu Line or from Higashiyama Station along the Tozai Subway Line.
If you don’t his Hihashiyama, then make sure you visit Gino. It’s just as lovely and even better in the afternoon and into night. Gion (祇園) is Kyoto‘s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya(teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.
The most popular area of Gion is Hanami-koji Street from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple. A nice (and expensive) place to dine, the street and its side alleys are lined with preserved machiya houses many of which now function as restaurants, serving Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine) and other types of local and international meals.
Gion can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (20 minutes, 230 yen). Get off at Gion bus stop. Alternatively, the closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
You can’t visit Kyoto without going to the Imperial Palace. The Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyōto Gosho) used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park (京都御苑, Kyōto Gyoen), an attractive park in the center of the city that also encompasses the Sento Imperial Palace and a few other attractions.
There is building outside the palace on the grounds that you will need to get permission from to visit the palace. Go there first to get you pass. It’s free and you have to present your passport. They do require it and that will give you a time and a pass to go inside the palace gates on a guided tour.
Kyoto Imperial Palace is a short subway ride from Kyoto Station along the Karasuma Subway Line. Get off at Marutamachi (7 minutes, 260 yen) or Imadegawa Station (10 minutes, 260 yen). Note that Imadegawa Station is closer to the entrance gate of the Imperial Palace than Marutamachi Station.