The former imperial capital of the country of Japan, Kyoto has maintained its rich culture and is remains what many travelers envision when they think of Japan.
Kyoto has so much to offer, with literally thousands of shrines and temples, plus a rich gathering of restaurants and eateries that it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. Fear not, however. We’re here to guide you on your quest to unlock Kyoto. Here are a few spots that you definitely must experience.
Temples and gardens
No visit to Kyoto is complete without visiting Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto’s most iconic temple. Do get there early, as many travelers tend to come here as well. Modern-day Kinkaku-Ji dates from 1955, as the original temple, built in the late 13th century, burned down in 1950.
About 20 minutes by foot from Kinkaku-Ji is the Zen temple of Ryoan-Ji. One of Kyoto’s UNESCO Heritage Sites, Ryoan-Ji is considered by many a masterpiece in kare-sansui, or dry landscapes. The current garden was rebuilt in the 1800s. Ryoan-Ji also hosts an excellent vegetarian restaurant that offers lunch.
Arashiyama Bamboo forest is easily accessible from here as well. The feeling of standing in the massive bamboo grove is like no other.
Nishiki, Gion, and Higashiyama
If you’re looking for some of Kyoto’s delicacies, then its time to pay a visit to Nishiki Market. The place is lined with so many food choices and souvenirs that any foodie would be glad to have paid the market a visit. Vendors give out samples of their wares, making the market a great place to taste Kyoto’s delicacies. Nishiki also hosts several excellent seafood restaurants, with many being hidden in plain sight, so take a look around.
Gion is a short walk from Nishiki, and if you haven’t had your fill of shopping, there is a small department store on the way.
Nowadays Gion is Kyoto’s foremost hanamachi or geisha district, but it was originally built to cater to visitors to the ancient Yasaka Shrine, which still stands to this day. Pass by at dusk and you will likely see the Geisha and their apprentices on their way to evening appointments.
If you push on towards the Higashiyama district, you can reach another UNESCO Heritage Site, the temple Kiyomizu-Dera. On the way there, you’ll likely see many vendors on the steep slope selling food and souvenirs. Near the top is one of Kyoto’s top sweet shops, Malebranche, so travelers with a sweet tooth will feel deeply rewarded.
End the day by dining at the excellent Kappo Sakamoto, one of the best places to get Kyoto-style kappo ryori. The restaurant is small, having only 16 seats, so reservations are a must.
You could spend days exploring Kyoto and still barely scratch the surface, so take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds.
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