A smaller city and different cultural take on Japan
Kyoto was by far the most touristy spot we went to. There were some gems along the outskirts and edges of the city, but it was a bit too busy for our tastes while we were there. Still, found some great places to go to!
Where to go
For us, the outskirts of the city were the most beautiful and calm parts of Kyoto, even with the crowds visiting. In particular, Arashiyama had some of the more lovely nature-focused spots. The Higashiyama temples, and especially the area along the Philosopher's Path, were also quite wonderful and worth visiting. I'd venture that the further outskirts of Kyoto would be even more lovely.
Things to do
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove 嵐山 竹林の小径 - for beautiful, swaying bamboo trees. Quite touristed but still worth going and enjoying the sunshine and bamboo together
- Tenryu-ji 天龍寺 - one of the best spots we found in Kyoto. A lovely grounds with varying plants and beautiful zen pond. We enjoyed the grounds and didn't feel compelled to get entrance to the temple, but you can see into the temple from the grounds if you'd like. A wonderful place to get a view of Kyoto.
- Pontocho 先斗町 - a busy and lively little street full of restaurants
- Nanzen-ji Temple 南禅寺 - out of all of the temples, Nanzen-ji was probably our favorite. It has a beautiful aqueduct that heads to a little park that leads to a hydroelectric plant and also the Keage Incline 蹴上インクライン. Very cool history.
- Eikan-dō (Zenrin-ji) Temple 禅林寺 (永観堂) - for the beautiful maple trees right at the entrance
- The Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 - is probably the best walk in Kyoto. Meandering down the canal and stopping in the little shops and cafes is perfect for a lazy sunny afternoon.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 - to get the classic photos with the Torii gates, this is where to go. We got there at 8am and it was already getting to be quite busy. However, the higher up you go, the more people drop off as the climb keeps going up. The loop at the top was lovely to walk around.
- Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺 - a classic spot, but super, super crowded. Nice to visit, but fine to skip as well.
- Sanneizaka (Sannenzaka) 産寧坂 (三年坂) to Ninenzaka 二寧坂 (二年坂) to Ichinenzaka Hill 一念坂 (一年坂) - although also quite crowded, this was a fun couple of streets to walk down and navigate around. There's a lot of small souvenir shops and food spots!
Places to eat and drink
- Sushi no Musashi - Kyoto Station Hachijo Exit 寿しのむさし 京都駅八条口店 for conveyor belt sushi, a must in Japan and awesome
- Nishiki Market 錦市場 for an array of all delicious things
- Yoshinoya 吉野家 京都駅八条口店 for classic, cheap and yummy gyudon
- Walden Woods for a quick coffee spot
- Inoda Coffee イノダコーヒ 本店 for retro vibes and dark coffee
- Blue Bottle Coffee - Kyoto Cafe ブルーボトルコーヒー 京都カフェ if you're craving third wave San Francisco coffee
- Fujinami 藤菜美 高台寺店 for truly excellent warabi mochi
- nokishita711 Liquid Cuisine for an amazing experience tasting different foods in a new way. What an inspired idea. Definitely get a reservation if you can!
- Mister Donut (and other locations) for the classic pon de ring mochi donut!
- Katsukura Tonkatsu Sanjo Main Store 名代とんかつ かつくら 三条本店 for a great katsu dinner, despite the lines of tourists
Nara Park 奈良公園 is a great day trip, fun to see the deer and visit the huge Buddha at Tōdai-ji 東大寺. Also a blast to go get takoyaki at たこやき大松 and visit Nakatanidou 中谷堂 to see the famous hand made mochi that's apparently a YouTube sensation and is also very delicious.