While every corner of our beautiful planet is worth exploring, some places exude a magical charm, and Kyoto is undoubtedly one of those mystical destinations. Standing as a monument to the imperial era of Japan for over a millennium, Kyoto is the lifeblood of traditional Japanese culture.
Naturally, there’s an abundance of things to do and see in Kyoto. From vermilion shrines and resplendent temples to elegant tea ceremonies, spiritual pursuits, swaying bamboo groves, and leisurely strolls through Zen rock gardens, Kyoto feels like a gateway to another dimension.
What can you expect?
This city is brimming with tradition, culture, rich history, and architecture. Shinto shrines, wooden machiya houses, lush forests, serene gardens, and glittering pavilions are just the tip of the iceberg.
From top-notch cuisine to profound spiritual experiences, Kyoto takes you on a journey, connecting you with its history and humanity, allowing you to commune with your inner self. While Kyoto is the epicenter of traditional Japan, it also opens its doors to modern technology.
Here, you’ll find all the conveniences of the modern world, including vibrant theater and culinary scenes, numerous vending machines, concrete skyscrapers, excellent infrastructure, and more.
Avoiding the Crowds
Crowds in Kyoto can be overwhelming at certain times of the year. With both locals and tourists wandering through the city, given its status as one of Japan’s premier tourist destinations, it’s crucial to ensure that your travels aren’t overshadowed by the masses. Especially if you’re not fond of crowds, here are some tips:
- Extend Your Stay: Don’t rush your visit. Kyoto is a beautiful place, and a few days may not be enough to explore it fully. With a more extended stay, you can explore early in the morning and take a leisurely afternoon break.
- Book a Hotel Near Your Points of Interest: Nobody wants to spend the entire day on buses or trains. It’s advisable to book a hotel close to your points of interest, allowing you to walk and explore beautiful scenery along the way.
- Rise Early: Not a morning person? Become one in Kyoto. The earlier you rise, the fewer people you’ll encounter on the streets. Additionally, since many temples in Kyoto open relatively late, planning your visits accordingly is wise. For instance, Kiyomizu-dera opens its doors at 6 a.m., making it an excellent starting point.
Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine
In Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a must-visit. This awe-inspiring shrine features countless bright orange torii gates stretching into misty mountains. Your visit can be a simple temple exploration or a hike through the forest. Along the way, you’ll encounter many other shrines with charming miniature torii gates and grand fox statues. Foxes hold significance in Japanese culture as messengers of Inari, the rice deity. The shrine is open 24/7, and admission is free.
Experience the Beauty to the Southeast: Higashiyama and Gion
Gion, part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, is one of the most intriguing areas in the city. Here, you’ll find well-preserved, picturesque ancient streets. Considered a historically significant area, it’s packed with paper lanterns, cobblestone paths, narrow alleys, and wooden houses.
The region hosts numerous temples, but we recommend starting with Gion. As Kyoto’s main geisha district, you may spot many beautifully adorned women in traditional Japanese attire. Besides, Yasaka Shrine, the Gion Shijo Bridge, Shirakawa River, and Hanamikoji Street are other popular attractions. Overall, Gion is renowned for its enchanting and historical atmosphere, preserving many elements of traditional Japanese culture.
Don’t miss exploring Shijo-dori either. It’s a shopping street catering to tasteful visitors. Even if you don’t plan on shopping, just seeing the beautiful items for sale is an experience in itself.
Visit Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Built in 1397, Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is another must-see attraction in Kyoto. What sets this place apart is its dramatic setting on a hillside overlooking a pond. The first thing that captures your imagination is a massive wooden main hall constructed entirely without a single nail.
Moreover, there’s a statue of Kannon with eleven faces. Amidst this relatively extensive complex, you’ll find other intriguing features, such as the tranquil stroll path leading to the forest, the red three-tiered pagoda, and the mesmerizing entrance gate.
Stroll Along the Philosopher’s Path
Running along a canal in the northern part of Higashiyama, the Philosopher’s Path is a picturesque two-kilometer walk. It connects two of Kyoto’s most popular temples, Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. The path is a perfect spot for connecting with inner energy, meditation, and exploring small temples along the way. You don’t have to walk the entire path—stop wherever you feel like it.
Take a Tea Break at a Traditional Teahouse
Before heading to the next destination, consider a moment of respite. A teahouse is a calm and tranquil spot, perfect for contemplation and relaxation. So, make sure to visit at least one teahouse during your Kyoto journey. If you’re in the Gion area, there are numerous teahouses to explore. While some may lean toward modernity, others maintain their original traditional charm. For a comprehensive experience, consider visiting Ichiriki Chaya, a historic teahouse mentioned in history books. After all, revolutionary warriors in Japan once gathered here for strategic discussions.
Stay Safe While Exploring Kyoto
Being in Kyoto is a marvelous travel experience. Besides witnessing modern technology, you get to see places with immense historical value. Nearly everything is well-preserved, allowing you to envision how things looked centuries ago.
However, amid all the fun, prioritizing safety in Kyoto is essential. After all, the surroundings can be mesmerizing, and inadvertently losing important documents or putting digital data at risk is a possibility.
Here are some recommendations to ensure you have the most enjoyable time while visiting Kyoto. These suggestions are effective when visiting any city, so keep them in mind before embarking on any journey.
- Research Potential Issues: A simple Google search can prepare you for unexpected situations. For instance, did you know you can’t take photos of geishas in the Gion area without permission? Attempting to do so might result in fines.
- Make Copies of Important Documents: It’s a simple yet effective tip that you should follow before any trip.
- Ensure Your Hotel Room is Secure: Lock your hotel room both when you’re out and when you’re inside. It’s a simple way to protect your belongings.
- Secure Your Connection when Using Hotel Wi-Fi: When using the hotel’s Wi-Fi, make sure your connection is as secure as possible. Enabling a VPN before connecting to the internet can help protect your data, ensuring that all your online activities are encrypted. This way, eavesdroppers won’t be able to intercept your communications.