13 Best Things To Do In Kyoto
Here are all the best bits of Japan's former capital city!
Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is full of temples. Like, bursting with them. The city has over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. If I’d been left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start. Luckily, the crew at The Dragon Trip took me under their wing to show me the city’s best bits.
Here are my top picks and, spoiler alert, there are quite a few temples in there...
Starting with a temple (of course): Tenryu-ji is one of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s famous for its Zen garden, supposedly one of the most beautiful in Japan. Keep an eye out for the gravel alongside the pond which is raked into perfect lines each morning by one of the monks to represent flowing water.
Arashiyama bamboo forest
Sorry, but however hard you try, you’re going to struggle to get the perfect Instagram shot of this atmospheric bamboo grove. Pictures just don’t quite do it justice.
Feed wild monkeys
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Iwatayama Monkey Park (blame an irrational fear of monkeys) but the rest of group loved getting up close to the 170 wild Japanese macaques and giving them fruit and snacks in the special feeding enclosure.
Nishiki food market
For weird and wonderful food, you can’t go wrong at Nishiki market. Matcha green tea, wasabi plants, fresh sushi, UFOs (unidentified fried objects!), octopus lollipops and raw sea urchin all make great (and gross) photo opportunities even if you aren’t brave enough to try them.
Another cool temple (I did warn you there are loads). This one has a stunning three-story pagoda overhanging a cliff. It’s supposed to look best in spring (when the cherry blossoms bloom) and autumn (when the maple leaves turn red) but even when I visited on a miserable, stormy day, it still had awesome views over Kyoto.
...and walk between the ‘love stones’
This one’s for the singletons. Close your eyes and try to walk between the two ‘love stones’ at Kiyomizu - if you make it in one attempt, your wish to find true love will be granted very soon. If you don’t, your love life is basically doomed. Soz.
Given that there’s an 18m crowd of tourists blocking the way between the stones, you might want to cheat and ask a friend to help you - but, if you do, you’ll need a matchmaker to help you find your beau irl.
Traditional screens painted with stunning works of Japanese art? Check. Elaborate gates and fortifications? Check. Pretty gardens? Check. Nijo Castle has it all. Oh - and you can feed the koi carp in the moat too!
There’s so much amazing food in Japan, you’ll want to eat as much local cuisine as you can. But the delicious, thick American pancakes at Cafe Rhinebeck are the exception. Nom nom nom.
Pontocho is a quintessentially Japanese alleyway not far from the bustling main shopping street. During the evenings, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a genuine Geisha or Maiko (an apprentice Geisha) on her way to an appointment.
Geisha spotting in Gion
If you don’t spot a Geisha in Pontocho alley, you might have more luck in Gion, Kyoto’s entertainment district. Many Westerners wrongly assume Geisha are prostitutes but they’re actually highly skilled, and highly respected, entertainers. They’re trained in the arts of dance, conversation and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Booking a private audience with a Geisha will set you back about $500 per person (yikes!) but if you’re not feeling flush you can still see them perform during a show at Gion Corner.
Time for another unmissable temple: Fushimi Inari-taisha is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. Made up of over 5,000 bright orange gates leading through the forest, it’s totally breathtaking. Allow a couple of hours to follow the snaking path all the way up the mountain and visit in the late afternoon or early evening to give yourself the best chance of getting a picture without hundreds of tourists - you might also see some of the resident cats come out of hiding when it’s quieter too.
Be dazzled by the Golden Pavilion
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most iconic sights in Japan? Sure, why not. Especially as the top two levels of the Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkaku-ji or Rokuon-ji, are covered in pure gold leaf. Awesome Instagram shots guaranteed.
When you’ve had enough of temples, spend the night singing your heart out at karaoke. After all, it wouldn’t be a visit to Japan without having a go at this favourite Japanese pastime. Thankfully, most karaoke booths have unlimited alcohol during your session so no-one will remember how awful you were the next day.
MTV travelled to Japan with Finnair who fly daily to Osaka via their award-winning hub in Helsinki with economy fares starting from £695 return. The Dragon Trip’s 13-day Japan budget tours (from £1,499) give you a unique view of this fascinating country. For more information on Kyoto visit http://kyoto.travel/en.