I wasn’t sure what to expect at all when my classmates and I arrived here for the final leg of our study abroad journey through Japan. Even with numerous Google searches of each place we visited, I did not truly get a grasp of things until I was physically there. Kyoto defined itself for me. Urban life and nature blend to shape this Japanese city. There are mountains that can be seen in the distance down busy, urban streets.
I have compiled a short, but sweet, list of things to do on a trip to Kyoto. Based on my own experiences, these spots are guaranteed to give you a satisfactory Kyoto experience.
Temples and shrines
Kyoto is home to a slew of temples and shrines. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Yasaka Shrine are some of the more well-known ones and suggested itinerary additions.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This Shinto shrine in Kyoto is famous for its one thousands torii (gates, shown above). Torii are seen at all shrines, specifically entryways, but not in the thousands like you will see here. Each gate has writing on the back of it that indicates the name of the person or business who donated it. The pathway of gates is lengthy, I’ll admit, but the picturesque views on the along the way make it worth it.
The star of the featured image of this post is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There is much to see around this grand temple, but one of the spots that got the most attention was the Otowa Waterfall. This was not just any waterfall. The three streams spouting water are each symbolic of prosperity in different aspects of one’s life including love, longevity, and career. Be mindful to not make yourself look greedy if you decide to try it out yourself, and only drink from one stream.
If you find yourself on a walk between Gion and Higashiyama districts in Kyoto, be sure to make a pit stop at another popular shrine, Yasaka. Daytime trips here are serene and street food vendors are usually set up in the area. At night, though, this shrine is really a sight to see. The lanterns around the dance stage, which all hold the names of local businesses, are all lit.
Monkey parks and bamboo forests
Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama beats any zoo concept. Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, this park allows visitors to see wild macaques in their natural habitat. The hike up to the top of the mountain where they reside is not for the weak, but there are rest stops along the way. When you start to get close you might see a few monkeys roaming around freely. One of the neatest things about this park is the cage structure that guests can go in, buy food, and feed the monkeys from the inside. It was like a completely backwards zoo and definitely felt more humane.
Walking distance from monkey park is a bamboo forest. This walk is short and level in comparison to the previous places I’ve mentioned that require a little endurance. Though the massive bamboo trees look intimidating at first, the walk through is peaceful. The entire area is a nice break from the inner city.
Nijō castle is significant for housing for the shogun during his visits to Kyoto, which used to be the capital of Japan. This castle is also symbolic of the rise and fall of the shogunate government in Japan, and it was used as the imperial palace for a short while after. The details and architecture are amazing to witness in person and you really get a sense of being in the presence of royalty.
The nightingale floors are another notable detail of the castle and you can hear them while walking through Ninomaru Palace. Yes, hear them. Pictures and video are prohibited within this area of the castle grounds, but your ears are all you need to experience the squeaky alarms for yourself.
Samurai and ninja museum
Located in the same vicinity as Nishiki Market in Kyoto is a samurai and ninja museum. Here, visitors can get a hands-on ninja and samurai experience. First, guests are directed to a room upstairs where they get a chance to throw ninja stars and use a blow gun. Later on, a brief tour is given and the history of the samurai is explained. An optional activity at the end is getting in full samurai uniform and taking pictures.
This entire city is truly a gem. I hope this guide gave you a good idea of the sights there are to see in Kyoto, or, at the very least, made you want to take a trip.