Things To Do In Kyoto: Where The Past Becomes Present

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If you’ve ever watched the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, you can understand our fixation with Kyoto, Japan:

Imagine being taken back in time to experience Japan as it once was – a time of honored traditions; sitting amongst elegant and porcelain faced Geishas in dim lit teahouses along the cobble-stoned streets of Gion.

Lucky for you, even in 2017, the past is still present in Kyoto’s magical city and you’ll find it hard to believe that you haven’t stepped right into a time warp as you wander through the cultural epicenter of Kyoto.

Be sure not to leave this magical city until you’ve crossed off everything from our must-see list of things to do in Kyoto below.

How to get around Kyoto

Day Pass: To make the most of your yen and time, pick up the Kyoto Sightseeing 1 or 2 day pass. (Typical transit fares are around ¥600 each trip so its worth the money to invest in these cards to see all of the sights in one go.)

The card can be used unlimited for 1 or 2 days on all Kyoto city busses and Kyoto subway.

1-day Pass: ¥1,200 (adults), ¥600 (children)
2-day Pass: ¥2,000 (adults), ¥1,000 (children)

For more information on passes, visit: Discover Kyoto

Where to eat and drink in Kyoto

Kyoto’s Best Takoyaki & Taiyaki Stand

Upon wandering to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, we stumbled upon the tiniest shop with the friendliest owners and the best Takoyaki and Taiyaki we tried while in Kyoto. Make sure to stop by and grab one of their snacks!

Address: Walking distance from Fukakusa Station, walk along Dai ichi-gun michi and you will find the little shop on your left hand side. (refer to Google image)

Takoyaki and Taiyaki

Kyo-ryori

This is the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine and although pricy, it is worth every yen to experience one of the most beautiful and sophisticated multi-course meals you will ever lay eyes on and indulge in.

The most famous Kaiseki in Kyoto is Gion KyoRyori Hanasaki which offers reasonably priced lunch sets ranging from ¥3,800-1,080. However, for the full experience, it is recommended to try their dinner course called Tsuki including 10 seasonal dishes to tantalize your taste buds as well as an appetizer, sashimi, tempura, desert and tea.

Address: 570-17, Gionmachiminamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Toyouke Jaya Tofu Shop

Yidofu/Yuba Tofu

Kyoto is known to have the highest quality tofu in the world so be sure to head to the famous tofu shop called Toyouke Jaya, which has been around for over 100 years.

Order the set meal called “Yudofuzen” – comprised of various tofu dishes such as oboro tofu, yudofu, boiled yuba and our favorite: hirousu (deep fried tofu with mixed vegetables).

Address: 822 Kamiyagawacho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8384, Kyoto

Cherry Blossom & Bamboo Soft Cream

On the way to visiting the famous Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, along the shopping street keep an eye out for one of the tastiest and unique flavored soft cream’s of Japan!

Address: Togetsukyo, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8383, Kyoto

Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

Sake selection at the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

Close to Fushimi Inari Shrine, stroll over to the old sake brewery to taste your way through their local spirit and most loved drink of choice. Admission is ¥300 including a tour and free tastings.

Address: 247 Minamihama-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto

Nishiki Market

Food lovers paradise at Nishiki Market

For market lovers and budget backpackers, Nishiki Market is a one-stop shop for trying an array of free samples along a 5 block long street. Be sure to go on an empty stomach!

For food adventure seekers, we recommend you keep an eye out for a shop selling Spicy Kyoto cod row soft ice cream. We weren’t brave enough to try it – but you should!

Top things to do in Kyoto

Geisha Spotting

When you first arrive in Kyoto, you’ll squeal in excitement over all the geishas wandering through the streets (until you realize they’re actually just tourists dressed up!)

Spotting a real Geisha is like finding where’s Waldo. However, with a little patience and the right timing, you can spot one. Here’s how:

– Two areas in which Geisha’s work are: Pontocho-dori to the west of the river and Hanami-koji-dori in Gion.

– Start waiting to spot a Geisha between the hours of 8-11pm as that’s when they are on their way to work (They’re typically getting out of taxis to race into teahouses and they’re fast – so keep your eyes peeled.)

– Don’t wander around the streets trying to spot one. Stay in one place for a good 20 minutes and wait. Then try again in another street.

Ukiyoe Small Museum

Ukiyoe Small Museum

One of the coolest museums you will ever go to and a must while visiting Kyoto.

Upon wandering through side streets, we stumbled across Ichimura Mamoru’s tiny museum and sat down to chat with this bright-eyed, warm and fascinating man who’s a master of wood block printing. You can see first hand how wood block printing is done, browse and purchase his stunning artwork or just pop by to say hi.

A Self-Guided Walking Tour

Walk the streets to discover city gems

The term “These shoes were made for walking” rings true in Kyoto. The streets were made for walking in order to discovering hidden side streets, taking you back to what feels like a time warp. These are the best areas to explore day and night:

– From Kyoto Station to to Kinkaku-Ji Temple: on this route you will be exposed to a slue of breathtaking shrines and temples along the way.

– Higashiyama District between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine

– Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka: These are two of the oldest streets in Kyoto with traditional wooden teahouses, storefronts and restaurants.

Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama

The stunning Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

One of the biggest bucket lists for coming to Japan was to see the famous Bamboo forest and although crowded, it did not disappoint one bit. Our advice is to go as early as possible in order to beat the crowds and to take your time strolling the entire length of this magical forest.

Admission: Free

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous of several thousand shrines dedicated to God of rice. If you’ve got the time, arrive at both sunrise to beat the crowds and enjoy walking through the tori gates as the sun peaks through and also, just before sunset as the atmosphere changes drastically –there is a walkway of paper lanterns that will lead your way to the beautifully illuminated temple.

Admission: Free

Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji

Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji

On the outskirts of Arashiyama is a Buddhist temple but the magic comes from its 1,200 Buddhist statues overgrown with moss. Wandering through this magical place is worth the walk and the entrance fee of ¥300.

Open: 8am – 5pm (Gate is closed at 4:45pm)

Address: 2-5 Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, Ukyo-ku

The Hosomi Museum

For Japanese art lovers, Hosomi Museum is our #1 choice. The Hosomi Museum specializes in Japanese art, from the Yayoi – Edo Period.

Sunset View: Shogunzuka Viewpoint

Shogunzuka sunset

If you’d like to enjoy a beautiful panoramic sunset view over Kyoto without shrouds of tourists around, be sure to go to “Shogunzuka Viewpoint” rather than Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto 612-0882, Kyoto Prefecture

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple

One of our favorite temples in Kyoto is the gold leaf Zen temple of Kinkakuji. It is surrounded by a beautiful lake and plenty of flora and fauna. Nothing says Zen quite like this location.

Maruyama Park

Blossom in Maruyama Park

If you’re lucky enough to be in Kyoto in the spring, Maruyama Park is the best place to see the spectacular cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

Top Festival in Kyoto

Gion Matsuri Festival. Photographed by: Jeffrey Fried

Gion Matsuri Festival

When: Month of July.

One of Kyoto’s oldest festivals, stand by to watch traditional musicians play on elaborately decorated floats and portable shrines are carried throughout the city. Be sure to not miss their grand parade on July 17th and 24th!

In the evening, the streets are also lined with stalls selling an array of traditional Japanese snacks to enjoy.

Related Articles:

Top 10 Japan Snow Festivals Worth Seeing

The Best Bars in Tokyo: Rad Nights In Japan’s Capital

Accommodation near Kyoto

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Shannon Wolf

Born in Toronto, Canada, Shannon Wolf has lived and worked around the globe as a freelance writer and photographer. Over the years her work has been featured and published both in print and online in various publications. Shannon has travelled over 40+ countries on 4 continents in the last 3 years and is an avid food lover and adventurer with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping.

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