During my 8 day adventure through Japan, I explored Kyoto for three days in early November. Three days was not enough time. The city instilled me with a desire to return one day and visit more of its ancient sites.
Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. There are many protective Fox Statues along the trails of the shrine. It’s located on a mountain and is easily accessible from the JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station. This site also has free entry and is virtually always open. It’s best to go early in the morning because the pathways of red torii became quickly congested with fellow tourists.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is a wooden Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a balcony overlooking Kyoto. We were fortunate to visit here during November when all of the trees were bright with peak autumn colors. A diminutive statue of Kannon sits inside the temple’s Main Hall. While not the quickest route, we took the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station and walked about 20 minutes to reach this temple.
Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are streets sloping downhill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and into the heart of Gion’s historic district. The streets, architecture, and occasional Geisha promise to transport any tourist back in time. You can also spot Yasaka Pagoda from this area (not featured in the image below).
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) is another iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan but is distant from the main city. The Zen pavilion is layered in gold leaf and on calm days, you can witness its stark reflection in the pond. While the most inexpensive way to visit is by bus, we were pressed for time and took the metro to Kitaoji Station and then hired a taxi for a 10-minute ride.
Arashiyama is a town located in western Kyoto that’s infamous for it’s Bamboo Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). However, it also has hiking trails, the Togetsukyō Bridge with gorgeous views of the river, shops, restaurants, and Tenryuji Temple another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nara is another popular tourist destination known for its Park. Inside of Nara Park is an abundance of sacred deer that will bow at you if you feed them crackers,
and also Todaiji Temple. Crackers can be bought everywhere in the park, but practice caution with some of the deer because they tend to nibble on everything. It takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes one way via the metro from Kyoto Central Station.
Pontocho Alley is a narrow street along the river that boasts historic architecture like Gion. This area is close to Gion-Shijo Station and has plenty of restaurants, and fun thematic bars to explore at night. The bars are built into various floors of the buildings and can sometimes only offer limited occupancy of about 5-15 people. I wish we had more time to explore the fun bars in this area. One of my favorite bars we went to was Cafe La Siesta 8bit Edition. It’s a gamer bar with a myriad of retro consoles, hand-held games, and card games. They have a human-sized Gameboy that plays N64 and their drink menu is based on vintage games too.
Nishiki Market is approximately a 400-year old market in downtown with over 100 stalls selling diverse foods and tourist items.