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A Quick Guide to Kyoto

Travel Sep 29, 2014

Every year my mother and I travel to Japan, first she visits her friend who lives there and then we meet and see a new city. This year it was the beautiful Kyoto that was the focus for our annual mother/daughter trip, and I have to say, we could’t have picked a better place! Last year Tokyo captivated us with its intense energy and nightlife, but Kyoto was a whole different ball game, more subtle and relaxing than Tokyo,  a lesson in zen and the art of imperfections – and a few bottles of wine! 

Go

Apparently the best time to visit Kyoto is during Cherry Blossom season (March/April/May) or during the Autumn when the leaves are a flaming red. We visited at neither of those times, instead went in August (i.e. high summer) which was still gorgeous. Although I expected to, I actually didn’t find it too hot to explore and enjoy ourselves, with the help of a shaved ice every now and then.

Stay

We stayed in a traditional Japanese house (via Airbnb) in the Nijo area, which was lovely because we got to experience a neighbourhood in a way you wouldn’t if you stayed in the main area in a hotel. This sort of accommodation does come with its own cons – locks that get stuck when you arrive, a loooooong list of instructions which makes you feel a little more like a prisoner than a guest – but overall I have to say it’s a great way to understand a place better. Although, TBH I was reminded how bad my posture is when forced to sit and eat on tatami mats with no couch in sight. However, if you are after a more atmospheric experience, I would recommend a traditional Ryokan, if I ever go back with my boyfriend that’s what we’ll do.

Do

Walk the Philosopher’s Path: We did a walk around and along the Philospher’s path (Tetsugaku no michi), a path alongside a gorgeous canal in the Northern Higashiyama district, on the first day we arrived and visited all the different temples (including the Silver Pavillion) and surrounding gardens and shrines.

Visit the flea markets: We were lucky enough to time our visit when the biggest flea in Kyoto is held at Kitanpo Tenman-gu Shrine. You guys know how much I love a flea right!? The market is held on the 25th day of the month every month, and is well worth planning around with lots of gorgeous antiques, and piles and piles of kimonos at much better prices than in other places. 7:00-16:30.

Delve into Gion : Made famous by the book Memoirs of Geisha (although as many of your pointed out in this post that book is disputed as to how accurate the portrayal is ) this picture perfect area is a series of weeping willows, lanes and canals, with small doors leading into Kyseki restuarants and drinking house. A great place to spend sunset and watch the Geisha come out to play.

Visit Kibune & Kurama: This day trip was the highlight our visit to Kyoto, and I’ll definitely writing it up on its own, but for now know that taking a day out of the city to do this is well worth it. Your itinerary will include visiting an outdoor Onsen, hiking the gorgeous mountain paths from Kurama to Kibune and dining on the platforms over the water. A must!

See the temples: Kyoto is famous for its amazing temples, shrines and gardens including the Golden and Silver Pavillions and Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine (a must). If you feel like you just want to see a few, know that you’ll get a good glimpse of them along the philosophers path.

Bamboo Forest: An utterly breathtaking vista greets you at the Bamboo forest, and although you’ll spend hours trying to get a photo of it nothing will compare with what you take away in your head!

Visit  an Onsen: Visiting a gorgeous Onsen is a great way to understand Japanese culture and what binds them together (i.e. a need for zen and relaxation as well as a deep respect for etiquette and rules).

Eat

Omen – This traditional noodle house located along the Philopspher’s Path (with another at the back of Gion) is the perfect way to end a day of wandering the gardens, temples and shrines. Order a tempura set and sit back and relax.

Okonomiyaki  –  We absolutely fell in love with this traditional, savoury Japanese pancake with a multitude of fillings that is cooked directly at your table. One place we visited and loved was Nishiki Warai, within the Nishiki Markets.

Kaiseki Ryori – This is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner and is a must for at least one night you are in Kyoto. It’s not something you’ll forget easily, although they tend to be pricey. We visited Yoshikawa for the most memorable tempura experience, it was utterly amazing.

Wander the Nishiki food market: Check out this mile long enclosed  food market in the Downtown area with more then 100 stalls for all the weird and wonderful delicacies that the region is known for.

Kazigen: A gorgeous tea room with delicious sweets in the Gion area, it was the perfect mid afternoon break.

The Cat Cafe: Ok so this was a random thing for us to do but we just had to visit a cat cafe – it was actually kinda creepy and more like a cat play school where you could stumble in and have a cup of tea.

Sangano-yu:  A gorgeous cafe in an old bathhouse, we had a delightful iced chai here prior to going to the nearby Onsen.

Lunch on the water at Kibune (heaven much?)

Lanterns in Teramachi Arcade

The gardens of the Silver Pavillion

Our neighbourhood bakery in Nijo.

The Canals of Gion

Visiting the Gardens of Nanzenji Temple

Lunch at Omen

The Bamboo Forest

The Silver Pavillion Gardens

A simple travel outfit

The gardens behind Nanzenji

Wandering the streets of Gion and peering into people’s gardens. As you do.

Nanzijen gardens

Lunch in Kibune

Evenings in Gion

The flea markets stalls

Eating all the yummy Japanese sweets

The cafe Sangano-yu in the Arashiyama district set in an old bathhouse

Everything was so cute!

One of everything please, at the flea markets.

The shrine in Kurana (more on this soon)

The Philospher’s Path

Ahhhh serenity… Can’t help but get a district monkey magic vibe!

Shaved ice, every hour on the hour.

Yummy!

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