The former capital of Japan is located on the beautiful island of Honshu, holding an important place in Japan’s history and today allows tourists to see countless monuments and places of interest such as Kyoto’s Buddhist temples, stunning Japanese gardens, mesmerizing Bamboo forests as well as history-filled hidden districts of the city. The city of Kyoto has something for everyone including food lovers, artists, adventure seekers, and history lovers. We recommend to visit the city at least for a weekend, Kyoto is quite large and you don’t want to miss the little gems this city has to offer.
1. Visit a Buddhist Temple
There are a total of 1600 temples in the city of Kyoto and all of them carry a long and interesting history. If you have planned a weekend trip to Kyoto and simply do not have enough time to see all of them here are the must-see temples:
Nanzen-ji Temple: it is considered to be one of the most beautiful temples in the whole country. Nanzen-ji is a large temple complex at the edge of the lush mountain of Higashiyama.
Tofuku-ji Temple: it was founded in 1236 and is a complex of two temples. It is highly visited in the autumn season, the maple trees surrounding the temples turn into rich reds and golds creating the best setting for the perfect photo.
Honen-in Temple: it is famous for the Hojo hall which can only be visited for a week in April and November. The hall is home for the paintings by the Japanese artist Kano Mitsunobu. The temple often hosts art events and exhibitions by local and foreign artists.
Last but definitely not least a must-see temple is the Chion-in. It has the oldest and largest wooden gate in Japan dating back to the 16th century. The temple was renovated in 2019 and now is fully open to the public.
2. Contemplate the Japanese gardens
The Japanese garden culture dates back to the Asuka period (year 538 to 710) and today this form of art is applied to many gardens across the world. The Japanese gardens are a true art form that consists of stones, ponds, streams, islands, hills, plants and many other elements or even little buildings. The main purpose of Japanese gardens is not only to bring the visual joy to its visitors, but it is also a symbol of serenity and peace, where each of the garden landscape elements: rocks, sand, waterfalls, and ponds have their own meaning.
Here are some of the must-see Japanese gardens :
Kenroku-en: also known as the Garden of the Six Sublimities. It is located in the city of Kanazawa and is considered to be one of the top three most beautiful gardens in Japan, it was first opened to the public in 1871 and is best known for having all the elements of the perfect Japanese garden.
Koraku-en: also known as the Garden of Pleasure. It is found in the city of Okayama and is part of the Three Great Japanese Gardens. The gardens were completed in 1700 and have sustained their original form ever since, with only a few small changes and improvements.
Kairaku-en: also known as ́ ́the park to be enjoyed together ́. It can be visited in the city of Mito. This garden is also a part of the Three Great Japanese gardens, keep in mind that this garden is open to the public only during the Cherry blossom season.
3. Taste the Japanese food in Nishiki Market
The Nishiki Market or also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen and is the perfect place for all foodies. The market has almost everything starting from fresh fish, sushi, ramen, vegetables and sweets to the sharpest knives available in Japan. The atmosphere of the market is always busy and alive, the food is meant to be eaten right on the spot sometimes without even sitting down. Most of the stores have been passed down from generation to generation. The oldest one dates back to 1615. There are over 100 stalls to choose from, containing products made and grown locally.
If you have found yourself at the Nishiki market make sure to try:
Tako tamago: it is a small baby octopus filled with quail’s egg inside its head.
Sesame dumplings: with tens of flavors to try, you will definitely enjoy this tiny little treat.
Mochi: one of the most popular snacks available. Mochi is a little rice cake that is filled with different fillings such as – jam, red bean paste, and even ice-cream.
The market is also famous for its pickled vegetables: it is used as a side dish. It comes in many colors and flavors you can try it on the spot or bring it home as a souvenir.
4. Discover the Sagano Bamboo Forest
If you have planned a day trip from Kyoto one of the must-see places is the Sagano Bamboo forest which is only 30 minutes away from the city. The bamboo forest is highly visited by tourists as well as locals. It truly is one of the most beautiful forests in the world. We recommend to plan your trip early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the large crowds and to be able to hear the wind blowing through the trees. It is considered to be one of the most relaxing sounds on earth. Japan’s Ministry of Environment has included the Sagano Bamboo forest amongst the 100 soundscapes of Japan to encourage people to go outside and experience the sounds and the beauty of nature.
There is only one main path that can be accessed from the main street of Arashiyama and leads to the Villa of Okochi-Sanso which is an example of the traditional Japanese architecture. Make sure to hold on to your ticket which will allow you to get a cup of tea while you relax at the sight of the beauty of nature and architecture.
If you wish you can either experience the bamboo path on your own or book a spot on the walking tour which was created to avoid large crowds and will last around an hour.
5. Walk through Gion, the geisha district
Gion is one of the most charming places in Kyoto. It is almost a fairytale-like district which offers a more relaxed and zen experience. The Gion district is filled with cute little cafes, restaurants, boutiques as well as temples.
There are over 200 Geishas in the city of Kyoto. Geisha in Japanese culture is a professional entertainer who must study for five years to become a professional in fields such as performance, dancing, and singing. Visit the Shijo Avenue to experience this part of the Japanese culture and meet one of the Geishas as well as Maiko – women who are still in the process of studying to become a Geisha. Keep in mind Geisha services can be quite expensive, we recommend heading to the Gion Corner for more affordable Geisha performances, this area is also known to be more tourist-friendly.
If you have a moment to sit down we recommend visiting one of the small teahouses also known as machiya, where you can enjoy drinks and Geisha performances.
Visit the oldest temple in Kyoto – Kennin-ji, the temple dates back to 1202. Unfortunately, the temple was on fire several times and the current buildings are a recreation from 250 years ago.