Kyoto was definitely one of my favourite places in Japan and I felt that three days there wasn’t quite enough to do the city justice.
Upon arrival, Kyoto could be just another city, but dig deeper, walk a little further (ok quite a lot further – wear comfortable shoes) and you will stumble into a place full of history, tradition and culture.
My top 5 things to do in Kyoto are as follows:
1) Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is one of the most unique set of temples I have ever seen. What can only be described as a tunnel of bright orange wooden columns, weave around the shrines. It is free to get in and only two stops from Kyoto station. Leave a good few hours to take the time to walk around and make the most of all of it. It is extremely unique and very special.
2) Take the train and head out to Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove. Once you get through the real tourist trap area, you can find (albeit brief) moments where you’re alone in the bamboo jungle. We both really enjoyed visiting here, I’ve never seen so much bamboo in my life and there were some beautiful Japanese gardens.
3) Read Memoirs of Geisha first, then head to the Gion district and soak up the atmosphere of bustling activity. Shops selling strange bean-curd sweets (my work friends were NOT appreciative of these) and if you’re lucky you may spot a real Geisha. We were exceptionally lucky in that we visited during the month of April which is the spring blossom festival in Kyoto. This meant that the annual Geisha dances were on twice a day, we bought tickets (£50 for two plus access to the tea ceremony) and it was definitely an experience…
4) Eat some of the best food you have ever had in your life!
Firstly, an amazing place to experience Izakaya (a bar which serves Japanese food) is the basement of Suishin near Kyoto station. Here we sampled raw horse meat (I must admit it was delicious) had beautiful sashimi and sushi and the best calamari I have ever eaten! We ordered a LOT of dishes and several glasses of plum wine for about £40. It was amazing, the photos don’t actually show all the food we ate either.
Our other amazing meal was in the centre of Gion – we splashed out and spent about £90 on a truly fantastic meal of about 5 different courses. Our main course was the delicacy of cooking raw beef and vegetables in a tasty bowl of broth. Our waiter had lived in London for most of his life and so was able to explain to us what everything was in perfect English. He recommended dipping the beef, (once cooked) into a bowl of raw egg. On seeing my concerned face he laughed and said “raw egg in England not so good, in Japan, all good!” Erm, ok.
Always keen to try new things, despite my reservations (I am prone to a spot of food poisioning) I followed his suggestion and tried it – to be honest it was actually quite nice!
5) Finally, if you’re exhausted from all the sight-seeing visit Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Take a picnic and just take some time to chill out. It really is a lovely place to spend a few hours – especially if the weather is nice.