Kyoto is one of Japan’s most traditional and spiritual cities
Kyoto is located on the island of Honshu, Japan’s central island, the largest and most populous. Specifically, it is in the Kansai Region, very close to Osaka and Nara. It was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 when Emperor Meiji moved the courthouse to Tokyo.
If you have only planned to stay one or two nights in Kyoto I am sorry for you but you will have to change your plans. There are so many things to see that in four days you wouldn’t have enough. In my case, I stayed four nights and although I saw quite a few places of interest I still had a lot to see.
For many Japanese, Kyoto is the best city to live in Japan by far. It is characterized above all by being a place full of temples and historical places. Many of these historical places have been considered World Heritage by UNESCO.
What to see in Kyoto?
The most outstanding places considered World Heritage by UNESCO:
From 1331 to 1869 it was the residence of the emperors of Japan until during the Meiji Restoration period the emperor decided to move to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The Imperial Palace is in the center of the city. The visit is outside, if you want to enter the gardens and inside the buildings you have to make an appointment here.
Nijo Castle, built in the sixteenth century, was the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns, who at that time had the military and political power of the country, while the emperor had merely a spiritual and religious power. It is located in the center, near the Imperial Palace. You can visit the interior of the buildings and gardens. The entrance fee is 600 yen for adults and 350 yen for children.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
Also known as the Golden Pavilion, it was built in 1397 as a resting place for the shogun of the time. It has been rebuilt several times due to fires. Today it has become a Zen temple and one of the most touristy places in Kyoto. It is visited from the outside and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and a small lake. It is in the western part of the city of Kyoto. The entrance fee is 400 yen for adults and 300 yen for children.
Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)
Also called the Silver Pavilion, it was built in 1460 as a shogun retreat site. After his death the building became a Zen temple. Surrounded by typical Japanese gardens and a small lake is a perfect place to relax. It is located east of the city. The entrance fee for adults is 500 yen and for children 300 yen.
Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, Japanese deity of fertility, agriculture and general success. Located at the base of a mountain, it is characterized by the amount of toriis that one finds walking through the place. The toriis are donated to the Inari deity by merchants and artisans with the aim of obtaining prosperity in their businesses. It is located south of Kyoto and entry is free.
Kiyomizu – dera
It’s a set of Buddhist temples of which the main building stands out for its complex architecture that is sustained by hundreds of pillars. From the viewpoint of the building one can enjoy beautiful views of Kyoto. It is east of the city. The entrance costs 400 yen for adults and 200 yen for children.
Neighborhoods and sights in Kyoto
Of course, these six places are well worth a visit, but if you only have time for a few I would choose first the Fuhisimi Inari – taisha shrine, then the Golden Pavilion and finally the Kiyomizu- dera temple complex.
Apart from these two places, if you get tired of seeing temples, I recommend you visit:
The neighborhood of Gion
The Gion district is in the heart of the city and is the most traditional part of Kyoto. In this old district and specifically on Hanamikouji Street you can enjoy a quiet walk between traditional Japanese houses. In addition, from time to time you will come across Japanese women dressed in geisha or dressed in their traditional Japanese costume. Perfect for taking pictures.
The Nishiki Market
Not far from Gion is the Nishiki Market, a beautiful 400-year-old street market. In this 400-metre-long alley and more than 100 shops you’ll find all sorts of delicacies. But be prepared to pay 3-4 euros for each snack.
The Arashiyama area
Another almost indispensable visit is the area of Arashiyama. There you will find the famous Bamboo Forest, one of the most touristic places in Kyoto. It disappointed me personally a little as I imagined it would be a mountain where you can walk for several hours surrounding huge bamboos but, to my surprise, it’s just a nice 100 meter road where tourists pile up to take pictures.
Fortunately in the Arashiyama area you can also go see the monkeys that live on Mont Iwataya, see a few temples and enjoy the river area where the wooden Togetsukyo bridge is located. Arashiyama is in the western part of the city. Entrance to the bamboo forest is free.
Where to stay in Kyoto?
If you are a backpacker looking for cheap places to sleep is lucky, in Kyoto you will find the best prices in Japan. In my case, I stayed at Samurai Home Shijo Omiya Hostel. It cost me 2000 yen (15 euros) every night. It’s true that it’s not the cheapest hostel you can find but quality – price is great.
For starters, the place is brand new, it’s flawless and the beds are big. In addition, there are subway and train stops right next door and convenience stores (Seven Eleven and Family Mart). It is very close to Nijo Castle, 10 minutes walk from Nishiki market and 15 minutes from Gion district.
My personal opinion of Kyoto
The 4 days I spent in Kyoto were among the best of my trip to Japan and I even regretted a little bit that I didn’t stay any longer. It is a city that undoubtedly has to be on the list of places to visit for any traveler who is encouraged to come to this country.
Here I leave you a small video that I have made where you will be able to see the Nijo Castle, the sanctuary Fushimi Inari – taisha and the Bamboo Forest.
In conclusion, in Kyoto you will discover the most traditional Japan and the most spiritual places in the country. My advice is to go to the temples and tourist places very early in the morning to save yourself a lot of tourists and take advantage of the afternoons to go to markets or interesting neighborhoods. If you don’t like to get up early, you can also look for a lesser-known temple on your own. I’m sure it will be just as spectacular and you can also enjoy peace and tranquility, which is difficult to find in these places I mentioned earlier.
Bamboo that curves is stronger than oak that resists.