A short bullet train trip away from Tokyo and a viewing of beautiful Mt Fuji will find yourself in the cultural heartland of Japan. Kyoto, once known as the capital of Japan, has played an iconic part in the development of incapsulating the history and culture of this beautiful country and is why many travellers flock to visit the historical sites that Kyoto has to offer. Some of the sites that were on my bucket list when I was planning my own trip to Kyoto were; the fusion of traditional and contemporary architecture, tori gates, bamboo forests, gardens, Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. Below you will find inspiration to assist you in planning your own three-day travel adventure to Kyoto, Japan.
Day one: Exploring the city center and familiarising yourself with this area
Bullet trains from Tokyo to Kyoto run regularly, so there is loads of flexibility as to when you start your adventure in Kyoto. Stepping off the train you will arrive in the shopping district of Kyoto where there is an abundance of hotels for you to choose from. I stayed at the Hotel Keihan Kyoto Grand which was across from the station attached to a shopping centre and restaurants. The location of the hotel was an absolute lifesaver because it was so easy to move baggage to and from the train station. Once you have settled into your accommodation, it’s now time to venture out and about and get your bearings. If you are staying in the same district as I did, you are roughly a ten-minute train ride to the city centre or approximately a 30-minute walk. I chose to walk to dinner in the city centre so I could view some of the department stores like Daimaru and other specialty stores, before settling into eating sushi from Sushi No Musashi where the grand total of 27 plates of sushi came to $30 USD. On the way home from dinner we stopped off to view the Kyoto Tower and its light show before settling in for the night.
Day Two: Visiting Shinto Temples, Tori Gates and Nara
Start your day visiting the Fushimi Inari-Taisha and Tori Gates. In my opinion, this is the number one site to visit when traveling to Kyoto which is why it is important to visit this site at 8:30 am to escape so as to beat the crowds, get that perfect photograph and take it all in. This hike will take you through roughly 500 tori gates all the way up to the top where you have incredible views of lush green scenery. The higher you go the fewer tourists there will be, so take the time to walk all the way to the top. It takes roughly 15 minutes on the Nara line to get to the shrine from Kyoto Station.
After visiting the Shinto shrine and tori gates hop back onto the train and head to Nara, a small town that offers beautiful temples, shrines and where you can meet the inquisitive locals, who for a small fee (crackers) will treat you to local hospitality by way of bowing. There are many parks in Nara that you can explore and easily spend a day roaming around. Because we had a full itinerary we spent a few hours viewing the Horyu-Ji Buddhist Temple and then hiked through Nara park to Kasuga-Taisha Shinto Shrine whilst meeting and feeding the local deer. If you do walk through Nara Park be warned that the deer will come up to you to see if you have food. If you choose to buy crackers to feed them make sure to bow to the deer as they will do it in return.
After making our way back through Nara park we then visited Todai-Ji, a giant Buddhist temple which is the most well-known temple in the area. Take a moment to walk around the park, view the koi in the local pond and people watch whilst taking in this incredible temple.
On your way home from Nara be sure to stop off at one of the many Sake Breweries and taste test the many varieties. Most breweries also off a tour of their history and the production of making sake.
Day three: Get lost in Bamboo Forests and Traditional Japanese Gardens
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a great place to start the third day of your Kyoto adventure. This forest has become one of the most popular sites to visit alongside the Tori Gates, so make sure to again arrive early to beat the crowds to get that perfect photograph! The Bamboo forest takes roughly 15 minutes to get to from Kyoto station and is then a ten-minute walk to the entrance. Be sure to walk all the way to the end of the forest and continue to hike up the rest of the path to get an incredible view of the local area. Most tourists tend to walk only five minutes into the forest and leave, so make sure to continue walking once you get to the fork in the road to continue what this bamboo forest has to offer.
On the way back from walking through the bamboo forest, make sure to stop off and visit the Tenryuji Temple and Gardens. You can easily spend a few hours roaming the gardens and taking in this beautiful temple. Make sure that you visit here in the morning before it gets really busy.
Once you have rested from starting the day early again, it’s now time to venture out to the Gion District to try and spot a Geisha. This district is only a short 15-minute train ride from Kyoto station. If you are on the lookout of for Geisha or a Maiko (Geisha in training) make sure to arrive in the district just before sunset, this will optimise your chances of being able to leave Japan saying that you saw one! The main area to spot a Geisha is Hanami- Koji street, but if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists, make sure to walk down the side streets as there are plenty of local restaurants and teahouses where the Geisha’s and Maiko’s would be working.
Planning and Organisation Tips and Advice
- You can visit Kyoto all year round, but just take note that Japan has two main seasons (wet and dry), so be sure to pack your umbrella if traveling to Japan from June- July and pack light clothing as these are also some of the hottest months, and a coat and scarf if traveling in December to February
- Make sure to always carry cash around with you as many venders do not take credit card
· Public transport is the best way to get around the city, try to avoid taxi’s as they are very expensive
- Make sure to visit all key tourist spots early in the morning to avoid crowds and large travel groups
- The fastest way to move from city to city in Japan is to use the bullet train. Make sure to organize a JR pass before entering the country
- You can purchase pocket wifi that you can use at any point on your trip to stay connected and use Google maps to help get around the city
- It doesn’t matter what your fitness level is when visiting Kyoto as the majority of the city is flat and easy to get around.
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