Kyoto is a captivating city full or rich culture and ancient beauty. And it can also be overwhelming to anyone planning a trip to this Top Destination City. So I made it easy and listed out the 16 things you need to do to explore Kyoto like a local!
1. Nijo-Jo Castle
~ Once the official residence of the shoguns, it gives an in-depth look at the old Japan lifestyle. The castle is known for its Nightingale corridors. The main halls of the castle were designed to chirp as they are walked on – to warn of intruders – by having the flooring nails rub against a jacket or clamp. It’s harmoniously intriguing and adds to the character of this prestigious castle.
~ The infamous bamboo groves are in this trendy neighborhood at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains. More temples, shrines, gardens and the monkey Park. Go early, this place gets overrun with tourists quickly.
~Discover zen at this temple with the famous rock garden. Founded in 1450 the creator of this magnificent garden is still unknown. Fifteen rocks were strategically placed in this oblong garden, yet you can only see 14 from wherever you view the zen scene. IF you do see all 15 at the same time you shall attain enlightenment.
4. Path of Philosophy
~ Named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers. He walked this path to meditate everyday on his way to Kyoto University. The stone path is lined with hundreds of cherry blossoms that create a beautiful display over the canal when in bloom….that I missed…by a week. I started at Eikan-Dō temple, which I LOVE, and the path ends at the Higashiyama District – your next stop!
5. Higashiyama District
~ Take a stroll through these narrow lanes full of wooden buildings that boast of shop vendors, food, and Japanese trinkets to gain a real feel for of the old capital city. This district goes between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu Temple.
6. Kiyomizu Temple
~ Granted this temple was completely overcrowded….but it is the heart and soul of Kyoto. Even the locals adore this treasure. This massive temple sits halfway up Mount Otowa, giving the massive deck the best view overlooking Kyoto. Interesting fact: the entire temple was built without using a single nail.
7. Honke Owariya
~ Go eat the best soba noodles of your life at this 552 year old restaurant. Thats right…FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TWO YEARS OLD. It originally opened as a confectionery shop in 1465, later switching to the ever amazing soba noodle house. Go to Honke Owariya – thank me later.
8. The Gion District
~ This entertainment district is full of bustling streets that hold the secrets of one of Japan’s oldest traditions – the Geishas. Want to see a real deal Geisha, then head down to the Gion district to explore this old sector lit up with paper lanterns and nightlife.
9. Kinkaku-ji ~
The infamously beautiful golden pavilion that sits on a reflecting pond, which only illuminates its beauty. You have to see this temple in person to have a full appreciation it for all its splendor. Originally build in 1397, it was burned to the ground in 1950 by a young monk, only to be rebuilt in 1955 with the exact same design. The fall foliage is supposed to be insane here.
~ A day trip to Nara is a must. This diverse town was Japan’s first permanent capital from 710-794 and boasts 8 UNESCO World heritage sites. And there are deer, wild deer roaming everywhere – read more here.
11. Ponto-cho Alley
~ This pedestrian only alley is considered by locals the most beautiful street in the city. Originally Kyoto’s old red light district, this intriguing street is full of restaurants and bars, and is best enjoyed by night.
12. Den Shichi
~ Let’s talk sushi. You can’t go to Japan and NOT eat sushi. Den Shichi is not only mouth watering sushi but its the real deal experience. A tiny place with a few tables and about 10-12 seats at the sushi bar I was the only tourist in this non English speaking place and I loved every minute. So much so that I went back twice! Pro Tip – Eat the sushi pieces by hand, turning it over and only placing the fish in the soy sauce, and do not use too much soy sauce. For everything else – use chop sticks.
13. Kyoto Imperial Palace
~ usually overlooked by visitors, yet this is an ethereal green area in the center of the city is full of history and some of the best examples of a Japanese Garden.
14. Fushimi Inari Shrine
~ This shrine is another overly crowded sight, but still a must see. Dedicated to the God of rice it comsists of thousands of brightly colored Torii Gates, and featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha.
15. Shimbashi Street
~ Listed as the most beautiful street in Asia following the White River. Take a stroll on this lovely street in the middle of Gion. Following the river you can see all the restaurants, Ryokans and clubs that are reminiscent of old Kyoto days.
16. The Cricket Temple
~ In Japan it is known as Suzumushi Temple. Go experience this temple, built in 1723, with lovely gardens and where the crickets sing year long. Wait in line for your turn to here the priest give his lesson on life, and every one is different. He only speaks Japanese and it is a treat to sit and listen to the beautiful language. Luckily I had someone who could translate the lesson when it was all said and done.
Have you been to Kyoto? If so what were your favorite spots? I spent six days there and did so much, but these were my favorite! Hope you enjoy and explore Kyoto like a local!