Hello everyone! Are you all enjoying my favourite period of the year? I cannot believe how amazing the weather in London has been for over a month now. For the first time I can say it’s summer here too! Cannot complain about spring either, as we were blessed with beautiful sunny days, so I had the opportunity to visit all my favourite parks, which looked beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom.
My new post is about one of my favourite cities in Japan, although I still haven’t decided which one I liked the most, as I fell in love with all the places I visited, for one reason or another. Kyoto, once the Imperial Capital of Japan, is a beautiful gem of a city, filled with Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, tea houses, gardens, traditional wooden houses, castles, and home to the amazing Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If Geisha and Japanese oldest traditions are what fascinates you, this city is definitely not to be missed!
Me and my friend Mamiko travelled to Kyoto from Kanazawa, and I used the Japan Rail Pass which also included my trips from Tokyo to Osaka and from Osaka to Kanazawa. The Thunderbird Limited Express departs frequently every day from Kanazawa Station, with both direct and non-direct train rides. It took us two hours and fifteen minutes to get to Kyoto, which gave us time to enjoy the delicious bento box we purchased on the track before boarding our train. Many people in Japan buy bento boxes before their trip; you can usually find them at every station. For more info on the Japan Rail Pass, see my previous post about Osaka under the “Useful Tips” section.
In order to be able to travel easily around the city, we stayed at the New Miyako Hotel, a beautiful 4-star hotel opposite the main train station, and close to the buses as well. The location is great, the hotel staff were nice and helpful, and our room was nice and comfortable. On the first day, we bought the Kyoto Bus Only Pass, which can be purchased from the vending machines at the bus station, or at the Kyoto Bus Information Centre in front of Kyoto Station. The pass can be used within the allocated zone of the city and allows unlimited trips within the same day. It costs 500 Yen for adults, and 250 Yen for children. If you are travelling outside of the allocated zone, then you need to pay the extra amount. We also used the local trains and walked to a few places around the hotel.
One of my favourite temples in Kyoto, the beautiful Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), is a Zen temple which used to be the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who decided it would become a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death, which came in 1408. The temple was built at the end of the 14th century, but was burnt down several times over the years, to finally be restored in 1955. The grounds are beautiful, the temple overlooks a large pond, into which you can see the reflection of the striking building. There is also a small tea house (Sekka-tei) and some rocks and stones of unusual shape scattered around the garden. I was lucky as there were not too many people when I visited in February, but usually it’s always very crowded, so it’s advisable to visit it just after opening time, when it’s still quiet. We spent over an hour at the temple, it’s such a beautiful place that walking around the garden and seeing it from different angles makes it worth your time!
Address: 1 Kinkaku-ji-cho, Kita-ku.
How to get there: From Kyoto Station you can take Kyoto city bus 205 and get off at Kinkakuji-michi, or buses 101 and 205 from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji-mae. The ride takes around 40 minutes.
Opening Hours: Every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Admission fee: 400 Yen.
The beautiful Tenryu-ji is at walking distance from the famous Arashiyama bamboo grove, so it’s easy to visit both on the same day. We travelled from Kinkaku-ji, which is about 40-45 minutes away, but we still managed to visit all the places we had planned for the day, which I was really happy about, since they were all worth visiting. Tenryu-ji is one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto, which was built in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji, the ruling shogun at the time. It consists of various buildings and a beautiful landscape garden which features a pond, pine trees and rocks. I particularly fell in love with the garden, it’s just so peaceful and pretty, you feel like you are in a different world.
Address: 68 Susukinobaba-chou, Saga-Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae.
How to get there: You can take Kyoto city bus 28 from Kyoto Station and get off at Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae. Alternatively, you can take the train from Kyoto Station and reach JR Saga-Arashiyama station within 10-15 minutes; from there, it takes around 10 minutes to get to the temple. From Kinkaku-ji we took bus 205 to Nishioji-Sanjo station, then from there we took the Keifuku Dentetsu – Arashiyama line and got off at Arashiyama station, which is about 5 minutes’ walk from the temple. The ride takes just over 40 minutes.
Opening hours: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm (until 5:30 pm in the summer).
Admission fee: 800 Yen for both the garden and temple, 500 Yen if you only want to visit the garden.
For the official website click here
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Only 15 minutes’ walk from Tenryu-ji, is the beautiful Arishiyama bamboo grove. Walking through the grove is a really amazing experience, it gives you a sense of peace and you feel like you are in a different world. You can just walk along the path leading uphill, and you will find yourself at the gate of the Okochi-Sanso Villa. You cannot enter the house, but I recommend you still go inside to visit the beautiful garden, gates and have Matcha and Japanese wagashi (Japanese sweets) at the pretty tea house, which are included in the ticket to the villa. Once you have visited the villa, you can walk back and head towards the Togetsu-kyo, a famous bridge in Arashiyama, which you can reach on foot in about 13 minutes.
Addresses and opening hours:
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Ukyō-ku, Kyoto.
Okochi-Sanso Villa: 1-3-32 Nagamachi – Open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Entry fee is 1000 Yen.
How to get there: If you are not planning on visiting Tenryu-ji first, and are coming from central Kyoto, you can take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto Station, in the direction of Saga-Arashiyama station, which is where you will have to get off. The grove is about 10 minutes’ walk from there.
After visiting Kinkaku-ji and the Arashiyama area, we finally made our way towards Gion, the most famous geisha district in Kyoto. It took us around 45 minutes to get there from Arashiyama, but we still managed to walk around and enjoy the nice little shops and temples around the district. Filled with traditional ochaya (tea houses) and wooden merchant houses, Gion is a gem not to be missed. It was almost dark by the time we got there, which was still really nice because the buildings were lit up with lanterns, but we also went back on the next day, so that we would have more time to check out the shops and the famous Kiyomizu-dera. However, since the main hall was undergoing renovations (which will last until March 2020), we decided to just visit the main gate (Nio-Mon), the three-story pagoda and the bell tower overlooking Gion. Once in Gion, make sure you don’t miss Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, two of the most beautiful streets in Kyoto. There are plenty of nice restaurants around Gion, so it’s a good idea to stay for dinner before heading back to whichever part of Kyoto you are staying in. After checking all of them out, we decided to go for Mitoko, and I can guarantee that it didn’t disappoint!
Address: Kiyomizu-dera: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku.
How to get there: Kyoto City bus 206 to Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, or, Keihan line to Kiyomizu-Gojo. Since we were in Arashiyama, to get to Gion we took bus 11 from the Sumikuracho bus stop (5 minutes’ walk from Togetsu-kyo) and got off at Gion-Shijo station.
Opening hours: Usually open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, but hours may very according to the season and special night openings. For up-to-date hours please check the official website.
One of my favourite places in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari-Taisha is famous worldwide thanks to its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. The Shinto shrine is simply beautiful, you could easily spend 3-4 hours there in case you decided to do the whole of the trail, which is lined by smaller shrines and gates. Since foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers, you will find many stone foxes scattered around the shrine. We didn’t walk the whole of the trail, but still spent about two hours to check out as much as we could and ended our visit with a delicious Matcha parfait at the café right by the entrance of the shrine, which has also a terrace overlooking a small pond. The place is usually really crowded, so it’s almost impossible to take a picture of yourself at the entrance of the torii tunnels with no people behind you, but some people will stop and wait if you ask them to, and you should of course return the favour.
Address: 68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa, Fushimi-ku.
How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take the Nara line to Inara station (2 stops), then walk for about 2 minutes. The ride is only 15 minutes.
Opening hours: From dawn to dusk; admission is free.
After enjoying the delicious and refreshing Matcha parfait at Fushimi Inari-Taisha, we made our way towards the beautiful Nanzen-ji. It took us about 35 minutes to get there by public transport, and only had to change train once. Nanzen-ji is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. It includes multiple sub-temples, which means you will need a few hours if you want to check out everything. The grounds are free to visit, but you will need to pay extra if you wish to enter some of the temples. The big San-Mon Gate is quite impressive, but what I loved the most were the cute little gardens by each sub-temple, and walking uphill towards Oku-no-in, a small shrine hidden in the woods. Tenju-an is one of the sub-temples you shouldn’t miss. It costs only 300 Yen to visit, and it has a really nice garden and pond. Konchi-in’s garden is a beautiful example of the shakkei (borrowed scenery) technique used to incorporate elements from outside the garden as an integral element of the garden composition. The visit will cost you a further well spent 400 Yen. Once there, make sure you don’t miss the aqueduct by the Nanzen-in.
Address: 86 Fukuchi-cho, Nanzen-ji, Sakyo-ku, Nanzen-in.
How to get there: From Fushimi Inari Taisha we walked 5 minutes to Fushimi-Inari station, took the Keihan Main Line to Sanjo station, then from there we took the Tozai line to Keage and walked about 7 minutes to the temple. If you are coming from Kyoto Station, you can take city bus 5 to Eikando-michi, or the Tozai line to Keage.
Opening hours: 8:40 am to 5:00 pm, to 4:30 Dec-Feb.
For the official website click here
Path of Philosophy
About 12 minutes’ walk from Eikan-do (which is supposed to be beautiful but we skipped as it’s better to visit it during spring and autumn) and 17 minutes from Nanzen-ji, is the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi). The walk by the canal is amazing, and you can walk along the whole of the path in half an hour. It’s gorgeous most of the year, but of course is at its best in spring and autumn. If you follow the path from Eikan-do, you can walk all the way up until you reach the beautiful Ginkaku-ji.
How to get there: If you want to go there directly from Kyoto Station, you can take city bus 5 to Eikando-michi or Ginkakuji-michi, or the Tozai line to Keage.
Once you have walked the Path of Philosophy, you finally reach Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), which is one of the most gorgeous temples in Kyoto. The Zen temple dates back to 1482, when Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa made it his retirement villa, which was then turned into a temple after his death. The building itself is usually not open to the public, but even just looking at it from outside and walking the extensive grounds makes it well worth the visit. The place is usually really crowded, so it’s better to go just before it opens or later in the day. For stunning views of the temple grounds and the city, you can walk uphill behind the buildings.
Address: 2 Ginkaku-ji-cho, Sakyo-ku.
How to get there: You can either walk there from Nanzen-ji (which will take you just over half an hour), or, if you are coming from Kyoto Station, you can take city bus 5 to Ginkakuji-michi.
Opening hours: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm – Mar-Nov, and 9:00 am – 4: 30 pm – Dec-Feb.
Admission fee: Adult tickets are 500 Yen, children pay 300 Yen.
Staying by Kyoto Station has many pros, as not only you can reach all the main attractions easily, but it’s also an area surrounded by many temples located at walking distance. To-ji is one of them, so I decided to go there first thing in the morning, as it takes just over 15 minutes to get there on foot from the New Miyako Hotel and Kyoto Station. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple is really nice, and it consists of several buildings and a five-story pagoda. You can enter some of the halls, Kondo Hall being the main one and the largest building, and enjoy walking around the temple garden. Apparently, there is a flea market on the 21st of each month, which I missed, as I was in Osaka that day. The garden is really pretty, and it must be even nicer when the big cherry tree by the pagoda is in full bloom!
Address: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto.
How to get there: You can either walk there from Kyoto Station, or take the Kintestu-Kyoto line to Toji station, and then walk 7 minutes.
Opening hours: March 20-April 17: Open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm; April 18-September 19: Open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and September 20-March 19: Open from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.
Admission fee: Adult tickets are usually 500 Yen; check the website for up-to-date prices which may vary.
For the official website click here
My next stop after To-ji was Nijo Castle, one of the best examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era. Both the buildings and garden are breathtaking, and I would recommend you spared at least two hours to visit everything. Built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu, the castle became a UNESCO World Heritage site after being used as an imperial palace once the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867. The castle grounds are surrounded by moats and stone walls and feature a beautiful Japanese landscape garden. Apart from the castle grounds, you can also enter the Ninomaru Palace, which I fell in love with. The ceilings and sliding doors are beautifully decorated, the rooms covered by tatami mats, and the corridors feature nightingale floors, so called as they squeak when you walk on them. Before you enter, you will have to take your shoes off and wear the slippers they provide you with. Also, unfortunately photography is not allowed in the palace. Enter the castle by the impressive Chinese-style Karamon Gate.
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward.
How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take the Tozai line to Nijo-jo-mae, or the JR line to Nijo station. The ride takes about half an hour.
Opening hours: Open from 8:45 am to 5:00 pm – Ninomaru Palace open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (closed on Tue in Dec., Jan., July and Aug.).
Admission fee: 600 Yen.
From Kyoto Castle, I took a bus and went to Kamigamo-jinja, which took me about half an hour. This hidden little gem is supposed to be the oldest shrine in Kyoto, and it should not be overlooked. It is a bit of a trip from Kyoto Station, but if you visit the castle first, you are halfway to the shrine, and you won’t be disappointed. The buildings and sub-shrines are really nice, but I particularly loved the vermilion Romon Gate (Tower Gate), Tama-bashi (Tama Bridge) and main torii, which make the shrine look bright and colourful. I was lucky as the place was not crowded when I visited, so I was able to look around and relax in a peaceful environment.
Address: 339 Kamigamo Motoyama, Kita, Kyoto.
How to get there: From Kyoto Castle, I walked 5 minutes to the Nijo-jo-mae bus stop, took bus 9 and got off at Kamigamo Miso-no-hashi, then walked 5 minutes to the shrine. From Kyoto Station, the same bus will take around 45 minutes.
Opening hours: Open from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free.
For events and up-to-date opening hours click here
Since I had my train back to Tokyo later in the day, I headed back to Kyoto Station, so that I could go to the Sky Garden Terrace on the 15th floor for views of the city and of the Kyoto Tower, have something to eat and then go back to the hotel to collect my luggage and be on time for my train. Kyoto Station is a really nice modern steel and glass building, with lots of nice restaurants and some shops to check out if you have time to spare. I didn’t go up the Kyoto Tower as I preferred seeing the tower from above instead. I spent at least half an hour trying to make my mind up about what to eat and what restaurant I should choose for my last night in Kyoto, and as usual, the one I chose did not disappoint. I am starting to think there are no bad restaurants in Japan, as I always left each place wishing I could go back for more! My choice at Kyoto Station was Mimiu, pretty place and delicious food.
Where to eat
Hands down one of the best restaurants I have been to in Japan (I do realise I probably say the same thing for every restaurant I have been to in Japan, but I guess it cannot be helped!), this kaiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese meal) restaurant is not only gorgeous, it also offers delicious food which is fresh and beautifully prepared. I gave my friends a hard time as I always wanted to eat at Japanese traditional places, in tatami mat covered rooms, so I was really happy when I realised that I didn’t have to wait for the Japanese-style room to be available, as the restaurant had no Western-style ones. Located right in the heart of Gion, the place is a little gem. I loved the whole experience, the food, the waitresses dressed in kimonos, the table we had, sitting on the tatami floor, and impatiently waiting for the next dish that was coming, as we ordered one of the menus, so we could try the best the chef had to offer on the day. As for prices, I think we spent around 40-50 Euros each, which were very well spent, as everything was really tasty and we certainly did not leave the place feeling hungry. I can assure you that if I go to Kyoto again, they will probably see me there for round two!
Address: Gion Hanami Koji, Higashiyama Ward.
Opening hours: 11:30 to 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
For the official website click here (in Japanese, but Google Chrome will translate it for you).
We ate at Omen Kodai-ji on our second day in Kyoto. It was one of the places I had noted down, and I am glad I chose it. It’s a small restaurant in the Higashiyama district, just 2 minutes’ walk from Ninen-zaka, and it specialises in udon. The food is delicious and the prices are also great, as noodles start at 1150 Yen, with set menus at only 1850 Yen. Totally recommended!
Address: 362 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward.
Opening hours: 9:00 am to 11:00 pm.
On the 11th floor of Kyoto Station, Mimiu is a pretty restaurant which offers super yummy udon and soba dishes. I chose it after walking around the floor at least three times not knowing what to go for, and then I decided this one looked pretty and cosy. I chose the Yuba soba set and I absolutely loved it. I had tasted yuba already at the kaiseki restaurant and I really liked it, so I wanted to have it in Kyoto once more before leaving. If you want to know more about yuba, click here. Next time I might want to try the Udon-suki, their signature dish, which, judging by the pictures on their website, must be delicious too!
For the official website click here
Well well…I am getting hungry thinking and writing about all the amazing food I had in Japan! One last tip before I go… If singing is your thing and you are up for some traditional Japanese fun, hire yourselves a Karaoke box and sing the night away with your friends. Me and Mamiko went to Big Echo Karaoke not far from Kyoto Station, and had the best night performing a whole Bon Jovi concert!!! Anyway, I hope my tips will be useful if you are lucky enough to visit Kyoto in the future. In the meantime, I wish you a great rest of July, and I pray this awesome London weather will keep making my days better for a little while longer.