From cherry blossoms, Geishas, bamboo forests, tasty bowls of ramen and over 2,000 temples and shrines, Kyoto is one of those magical cities quite unlike nowhere else. As the imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years, it’s the heart and centre of Japan’s culture and tradition. You can’t go to Japan without making a visit to Kyoto! This city of zen has no shortage of things to see and do, here’s a few must-dos to get you started.
1. Wander the Fushimi Inari Shrine
You’ve likely seen photos of this iconic spot! It’s probably one of the most well known spots to visit in Kyoto, so of course it’s number one on this list. Located on Mount Inari you’ll find thousands of orange gates nestled within the woods leading your way around the mountain to the shrine. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to visit the many trails as its around 4km long and over 1000 years old so it calls for some great exploring!
2. Sample food at Nishiki Market
For all things Japanese cuisine, this is your one-stop spot! This 400 year old market has everything from fresh noodles, to local delicacies, artisanal goods and all sorts of fresh meat and produce. You’ll no doubt find variety here. A wander through this bustling narrow covered market is sure to get your mouth watering. Try the takoyaki (fried dough balls with octopus) for a tasty snack.
3. Get lost in Gion
Marvel at the history in Gion, Kyoto’s most well known Geisha district. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a rare glimpse of a Geisha that you may be lucky enough to spot on her way to or from work. With willow-lined streets and traditional tea houses, Gion is definitely worth visiting for at least half a day to allow yourself to get lost through the beautiful district and immerse in traditional Japanese history. All that wandering have you feeling thirsty? Be sure to head to Wadachi, one of Kyoto’s top Sake bars located in Gion.
4. Explore the bamboo forests
You can’t go to Japan without visiting a bamboo forest and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is the place to do it! This beautiful bamboo grove is just located on the outskirts of the city and worth the visit. Wander the narrow pathway that leads you through a forest of dense towering bamboo overhead. It makes for the perfect peaceful afternoon stroll, talk about zen vibes all round. After your stroll you can enjoy the charming village with temples, shrines and UNESCO sites just footsteps away.
5. Experience a traditional tea ceremony
While the outside of Kyoto’s traditional tea houses are beautiful, appreciating them from the inside brings a completely different experience and is a must-do in Kyoto. Find a little bit of zen in a tea cup by visiting one of these houses. Original tea customs have been around since the 16th century with the ceremony itself centred around the cultural practice and strict ritual of preparing and appreciating matcha, powdered green tea. Forget your matcha lattes, this is the real deal! Head to En Tea House in Gion for a great authentic introduction to the world of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
6. Indulge in ramen – lots of it!
Who doesn’t love ramen!? And no we’re not talking about that 2 minute ramen (although still a guilty pleasure). Authentic Japanese ramen is a game changer and Kyoto offers some of the best! There are hundreds of styles of ramen with each chef having their own take on it. For a starting point when searching for decent ramen, you can’t go wrong with ramen from the iconic chain Ichiran. For a great local spot in Kyoto, head to Honke DaiichiAsahi near the train station. Be prepared to potentially wait in line for up to 45 minutes, but it’s worth it! You know it’s a good sign when you see a queue of locals!
7. Marvel at the cherry blossoms
Last but not least, this ones for that travel bucket list and really is as quintessential Japan as it gets! If possible, try to plan your trip to Kyoto from early to mid-April when you’ll find the cherry blossom trees in full bloom. For a few short weeks you’ll find Kyoto’s streets, temples, parks and canals completely adorned with these white and pink flowers. Locals also often hold cherry blossom festivals or hanami, which are parties or picnics for admiring the cherry blossoms. If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, you won’t want to miss going this time of the year! Be sure to have that camera ready, you’ll be in for a treat and some absolutely stunning pics for that Insta feed of yours!
Feeling inspired? Get your zen on in Kyoto and experience the heart and soul of Japanese culture. Check out our Japan tours here.