While every place on our beautiful planet is a sight to behold, some are simply magical, such as the city of Kyoto. Standing as the monument to the imperial age of Japan for over a millennium, Kyoto is the very lifeblood of traditional Japanese culture.
Naturally, the list of everything you can do and see in Kyoto is as long. Vermillion shrines and golden temples to graceful tea ceremonies, spiritual quests, swaying bamboo forests and taking mind-soothing strolls through Zen rock gardens – Kyoto is more like a place from another dimension.
What can you expect?
The city is swarming with tradition, culture, rich history and architecture. Shrines and temples, wooden treehouses, luscious forests, peaceful gardens and shimmering pavilions are just the tip of the iceberg.
From top food to deep spirituality, Kyoto takes you on a journey where you’ll get to know its history and people and get in touch with your inner self. While Kyoto is the center of traditional Japan, it is also a city that gives way to modern technologies.
You’ll find all the perks of the modern world here, including a vibrant theater and food scene, countless vending machines, concrete high-rises, excellent infrastructure and so much more.
How to avoid crowds?
The crowds in Kyoto can be large at certain times of the year. In addition to locals, tourism has been booming in this city. After all, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan. However, there are certain ways you can ensure that the trip is not too overwhelming, especially if the crowds are something you are not used to being around.
- Stay for more than a few days. Kyoto is a beautiful place to visit, and several days are not enough to see everything. If you stay longer, you can go exploring early in the morning and take a break sometime in the afternoon.
- Book hotels closer to the sights you want to see. You do not want to spend the whole day on a bus or train. Thus, it is best to book a hotel closer to the locations you want to see. Then, you will be able to go on foot and explore more beautiful sights along the way.
- Get up early. Not really a morning person? In Kyoto, you should be. The earlier you manage to roll out of bed, the bigger the chances that the streets will not be packed. Furthermore, since many temples in Kyoto open pretty late, you might want to schedule your visits appropriately. For instance, Kiyomizu-dera opens at 6:00 AM, and it could be the first one you visit.
Visit the Fushimi Inari shrine
While in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a sight you simply must visit. It is a breathtakingly beautiful shrine with countless bright orange torii gates diving into the forest as it snakes up into the misty mountains.
Visiting this shrine can be a simple temple visit or a forest hike. There are many other shrines to visit along the way, with stunning miniature toriis and magnificent stone fox statues. The fox is vital to Japanese culture as it is considered the messenger of Inari – the Shinto god of rice. The shrine is open 24/7, and entry is free.
Experience the beauty of Southern Higashiyama and Gion
Gion is part of southern Higashiyama, which is one of the most interesting areas to visit in Kyoto. You can find some of the best-preserved and most picturesque streets from old times in the city. It’s considered a historic district and is crowded with paper lanterns, paved stone pathways, narrow lanes and wooden houses.
The entire district is loaded with temples, but the area we recommend visiting first is Gion. Being that Gion is Kyoto’s main geisha district, you can see many beautiful women in traditional Japanese attire. That aside, Yasaka Shrine, Shinbashi-dori, the Shirakawa Canal and Hanami-koji are also top sights that should be on your radar. Overall, Gion is known for its mesmerizing, historic atmosphere with many elements of the traditional Japanese culture preserved.
Additionally, do not miss the opportunity to visit Shijo Dori. It is a shopping street full of goods for tourists with high-end tastes. Even if you do not plan on buying anything, just seeing all the gorgeous things for sale is an experience.
Check out the Kiyomizu-dera temple
Kiyomizu-dera has been standing since 778 AD and is another monumental Kyoto sightseeing spot that you shouldn’t miss. What is so characteristic about this particular location is its rather dramatic hillside view across the city. The first thing that will captivate you is a vast wooden main hall that was built entirely without a single nail.
Then, there is also a thousand-armed, eleven-faced statue of Kannon to behold as well. You can also find other interesting things to see in this rather large complex that houses many other buildings and structures such as the bizarre Tainai-meguri, quiet paths into the forest, red three-story pagoda and the captivating entrance gate.
Take a stroll down the Philosopher’s Path
Located in Northern Higashiyama along a canal lined with cherry trees, the Philosopher’s Path is truly a wonderful sight to see. It connects two of the most popular temples, Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji, and is 2 km long. It is an excellent place for getting in touch with your inner energy and doing some meditation, as well as strolling down the canal while exploring smaller temples along the way. Of course, you do not have to go all the way along the path. You can walk for as much as you like and turn around.
Visit teahouses for a short break
You might need some time to rest before visiting another place. Teahouses are the place for calm and soothing contemplation and relaxation. Thus, be sure to visit at least one teahouse on your trip to Kyoto. If you are more used to seeing coffee shops, teahouses serve a similar purpose. However, instead of coffee, you get tea.
For instance, if you are already in the Gion district, there are countless teahouses you can visit. While some might be more modern, other teahouses will have preserved their original authenticity. Hence, for the full experience, we suggest visiting Ichiriki Ochaya. It is a historic teahouse, a place that is mentioned in the history books. After all, Japan’s revolutionary warriors assembled in this place to talk strategy.
Stay safe while exploring Kyoto
Being in Kyoto is a brilliant travel experience. In addition to modern technology, you get to behold one of the most historic places in the country. Additionally, almost all locations are well-preserved, allowing you to imagine what they looked like centuries ago.
However, all fun aside, staying safe in Kyoto should also be a priority. After all, you might get enchanted with everything around you. And then, accidentally, you might lose important documents or put your digital data in danger.
Here are some basic travel safety tips while you’re visiting Kyoto to make sure you have the best time possible. These recommendations work in any city you visit. So, remember them whenever you are about to embark on any trip.
- Do some research on the most expected problems that will probably arise in the destination you’re visiting. A simple Google search will allow you to prepare for unexpected situations. For instance, did you know that you should not take photographs of the geishas in the Gion district? If you want to capture the moment, you must ask for permission first. Furthermore, attempts to take pictures might lead to fines.
- Make copies of all important documents and keep them in a safe place. This recommendation is simple, and you should do this before any trip.
- Make sure your hotel room is always locked when you’re not there, and when you’re inside as well. This is an easy way to protect your belongings and to have that peace of mind that all of your stuff is safe.
- When using the hotel Wi-Fi, it’s always best to ensure your connection is as secure as possible. You can do this by enabling a VPN before you connect to the internet. A VPN protects your data and ensures that everything you do online gets encrypted. Thus, eavesdroppers will have no chance of intercepting your communications.