The city has a population of 1.5 million people and was Japan’s former capital for more than one thousand years. Kyoto is my favourite Japanese city because of their immaculate preservation of culture, tradition and food. I feel this is quite distinct from other countries I’ve visited before so that makes it incredibly special. In fact, I could personally spend a month here but for travel I would suggest 5 nights if you’re like me and like to take your time.
Below are my absolute favourites to squeeze onto your itinerary.
Eat your way through Nishiki Market
It’s known to locals as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and is the best and largest place to head to if you’re keen to explore the culinary specialties that Kyoto is famous for. Almost everything that is sold at the market is locally produced and is fresh, fresh, fresh! I tried a variety of seafood, meats, sweets, sashimi, sushi and definitely walked out the happiest girl alive. The vibes were hustle and bustle, as merchants yell (in the most politest way possible) to try their food. It was nice to see plenty of traditional shops left to give a glimpse of what a traditional shotengai (shopping street) would have looked like back in the day. Nishiki market has a history of several centuries, and many stores have been operated by the same families for generations. You won’t regret it.
Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura)
Book a Kimono wearing experience with Voyagin
After visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, renting a kimono in Kyoto makes the most sense with its historic look and romantic vibes. There are heaps of kimono rental shops in Kyoto but the one I used and found to be an incredible experience was Kyoto Kimono Rental Yumeyakata. I had the best day walking around Kyoto in a “premium kimono” known as a “furisode.” Each piece of the furisode was carefully picked with my input and put together with the help of specially trained ladies to ensure you look and feel beautiful. After the hair and makeup team were done I was whisked away to shoot with a professional photographer in several Kyoto locations. Furisodes are normally worn for formal occasions such as a gala show, wedding or tea party. But you can have the same experience as I did, with Kyoto kimono rental Yumeyakata. It really made my Japan trip so special and is the first highlight I tell all my friends about.
Spend an afternoon feeding deer at Nara Park
Nara Park is an incredible public park located in Nara, Japan. The vast area covers 660 hectares and is renowned for its free-roaming deer and world famous temples. Feeding the deer is an attraction in itself and special crackers are on sale all around the park. Nara’s deer have become a symbol of the city and are surprisingly tame, although they can be very eager if they think you will feed them. I suggest renting a bike from the Nara Station, as the bike comes in real handy to find secluded spots to feed deer, and get to the attractions nearby.
Spend a morning exploring Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is a place I recommend visiting in the morning for sure as it gets packed pretty fast! First, there’s the Shrine itself to explore, then there’s the famous torii gates pathway behind the shrine.
The shrine is dedicated to Inari who is the god of rice, but merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business.The thousands of torii gates are donated by companies and individuals over the years, creating this pathway up and down Mt Inari. The entire hike through the red torii gates can take 2-3 hours all the way up and down.
For those who love street food, there are a heap of street food stalls just outside Fushimi Inari Shrine! They sell everything here from dango, okonomiyaki, takayuki, noodles, seafood skewers, mochi, chicken karaage, crab sticks, ice-cream just to name a few. Aside from food, there’s also a heap of souvenir stores and many chances to take home a little torii gate souvenir of your own.
Some tips for visiting the shrine:
Visit early in the morning, if you can. The torii gates pathway never closes
- Bring mosquito repellant, there are quite a few up the mountain
- Wear comfy shoes, because you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking in this area
- Bring some cash – there is so much street food to eat and you’ll sure be hungry for it after that long walk!
Wander through Arashiyama bamboo forest
Upon arriving at JR Saga-Arashiyama station, simply follow the numerous signs that point you towards the direction of the Bamboo Forest. It’s probably a 5-10 minute walk and so isn’t far at all. The Bamboo Forest area itself is quite small, it is really just one main pathway which is where you see all the iconic images taken. The path isn’t long at all – perhaps a few hundred metres only! For the Bamboo Forest itself, you’d only need an hour or less, it really is a tiny place! However, I do recommend you allocate some time to explore the Arashiyama region whilst you are at it. If you can, I would highly recommend getting up early to visit Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. There’s nothing like having a busy tourist attraction all to yourself and a few others, especially when it is somewhere like this.