Many people we’ve spoken to have raved about Kyoto. It’s known to be one of the few major cities left in Japan that still showcases it’s ancient routes. And we’ve got to say, this place delivered. Coming from the technology-infused mania that was Tokyo, Kyoto provided us a refreshing insight on what Japan has to offer in a much slower pace.
Kyoto has a good public transport system which includes trains and buse which thankfully accept the same public transport passes we used in Tokyo (IC Cards eg. Pasmo, Suica). We actually preferred to take the bus to a lot of the main tourist sites as we found them to be more direct and gave us the opportunity to get an above ground view of the city. To use the bus, simply get on in the rear door, press the button before the driver approaches your stop (stop names come up on a screen in English), and exit through the front door where you will tap your ID card next to the driver.
So here are some of our highlights of this incredible city.
The Philosopher’s Walk
This is a flat tranquil walk that runs parallel to a small river hidden amongst suburbia. It was so peaceful and felt like a zen-zone with lush greenery lining the banks of the river.
If you want to sample some street food, here’s the place to do it; just make sure you come on an empty stomach. The market is a long narrow building filled with vendors offering either food or souvenirs. Common dishes offered included marinated baby octopus stuffed with quail egg, dried fish, deep fried seafood balls, deep fried chicken, a variety of pickled veggies, mochi balls and green tea ice cream. Prices were very reasonable, just make sure to take cash and to stand and eat where you bought the food, there are signs everywhere telling you not to eat and walk.
Probably one of the most Instagrammed places in Japan, this immersive shrine is known for its large orange gates which form a pathway for visitors to walk through. Each gate was donated either by a family or business and the size of the gates represent how big their donation was. When you first walk in, bypass the lines of overly excited tourists taking photos. Get in deeper, you will have hours to take more photos and you will find it gets a lot less crowded as you walk. There are plenty of snack stores and vending machine see along the way to keep you going , especially as the staircases start to get on the steeper side.
A beautiful Golden Temple nestled on a picturesque lake with the most perfectly manicured garden to compliment – this is well worth the 400yen entry fee, even if probably won’t spend more than 30 minutes there.
Look up and see how high these trees grow. It’s a beautiful forest but wouldn’t say a peaceful one given the amount of selfie stick you’re having to dodge.
Located just a 45 minute train ride from Kyoto, Nara Park is definitely a place worth adding to your list. Once you arrive at the station, it’s a further 20 minute walk through town where it’s worth stopping by for a quick lunch or to eye some dessert options for the way back. When you first arrive at the park you will literally see thousands of tourist and hundreds of deer in every direction. There are small carts with vendors selling 150yen specialised deer biscuits, with deer often surrounding them knowing this is exactly where tourists will get their food from. Make sure you venture deeper into the park where it goes from being an open park to a forest lined with concrete lanterns. These areas have less deer and tourists.
Just a few tips for the park:
1. Do not carry any food in your bags, the deer wil sniff them out
2. The deer closest to the entrance (I.e. In the open part of the park) appear to be the most aggressive, so worthwhile waiting to get deeper into the park to feed them
3. Do not tease the deer – we saw people get headbutted, kicked and bitten
4. Bow to the deer and it will bow back, then feed it.
5. Feed deer that are by themselves, if there are other deer nearby you might find yourself in quite a pickle
The shopping strip leading to Nara park is full of incredible food options but two worth mentioning are the handmade green Mochi balls and baked sponge puffs, both of which are on the right side of the strip on the way to the park.
Check out this video Making of Mochi in Nara to catch a glimpse of the mochi-making excitement.
KYOTO CHEAP FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS
We stumbled upon this little ramen joint in a little alley off the Gion district after a long night of strolling the city and boy were we glad when our bowls came out. The broth was absolutely divine and very slurp-worthy leaving us both hugely satisfied that we’d finally found our favourite ramen joint (so far)
Chow Chow Gyoza
This isn’t just any Gyoza joint, it offers dozens of different filling combinations, many of which I’m sure you’ve never tried before. But our favourites would have to be: chicken & wasabi, curry and chicken skin fried Gyoza. Just make sure you get here when it first opens at 5pm otherwise you may have to put your name on the waiting list and come back later.
Well that’s a wrap on our 3 nights in Kyoto. Definitely a must-visit for first time Japan explorers.
Til next time
Ann & Jason xo