After a week in Tokyo, we were buzzing to arrive in Kyoto and see everything this city has to offer. So many attractions packed in to such a small city it’s almost impossible to see everything (which gives you a good reason to keep coming back). We barely scratched the surface here but this is what we got up to for our few days in Kyoto -
We spent 5 days in Kyoto and stayed in an Airbnb for our entire trip. We decided to base ourselves near the train station Omiya which made it super easy to get around. Unfortunately the airbnb we used is no longer available but there is so many to choose from regardless. Don’t expect a big apartment though, majority of the airbnb’s we looked at were very small!
Pontocho is a tight alley way filled with traditional bars and restaurants which runs along the Kamo-gawa River. In the evenings, it comes alive with lights and people. We didn’t end up eating at anywhere on Pontocho but it’s a must-see spot in Kyoto and you should at least take a stroll down to see all it offers.
If you’re after a cheap, delicious lunch - Nishiki Market is the place to go. It’s essentially a long shopping street lined with market shops and restaurants filled with locally produced food, many which Kyoto is famous for. It’s a busy and bustling place with smells, sounds and sights in abundance.
We walked up and down the market taking samples/testers of all kinds of interesting Japanese delights. We ended up feasting on skewers, sashimi, tamagoyaki (egg roll) and our personal favourite - nori senbei (we’ve been searching for somewhere to purchase this snack in Melbourne but are yet to be successful).
It’s such a good way to get a feel for the cuisine and try lots of new foods in a short space of time.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
We woke up before the sun and made our way to Fushimi Inari. It definitely was one of the places I was most excited to see! Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.
I was so happy we decided to arrive very early before majority of the tourists were awake so we could take in the thousands of vermilion torii gates all on our own.
We completed the hike to the summit in around an hour or two and about half way up you get a beautiful view over Kyoto (Yotsutsuji Intersection).
As we were descending, we noticed the flocks of tourists now making their way up.
Out of all the places we visited in Kyoto, the district of Arayshiyama was definitely one of my favourites. Although, I would recommend visiting Japan in autumn as the colours seriously took every place we visited to the next level and I think the fall colours alone was the reason I loved Arayshiyama so much.
Arayshiyama is also home to the famous bamboo groves that you’ve probably seen in photos of Japan. This is also one of those tourist attractions that i would recommend getting there very early for. We showed up just before midday and it was packed. The groves are beautiful although the sheer amount of tourists definitely takes away from the attraction.
Sagano Scenic Railway
Also known as the Sagano Romantic train is an old-fashioned train that winds it way through the mountains for about 25 minutes giving you breathtaking views of the river below and all the autumn colours that surround. I imagine that this train would give you beautiful views in Spring too but Autumn was on another level. We bought our tickets that morning when we arrived in Arashiyama which I would recommend doing as tickets sell out fast!
We spent an afternoon walking around the Higashiyama district which has a really traditional feel. It’s also where you can find Gion, which is Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district. It’s a fun area to people watch, do some shopping and eat.
Nara is a day-trip you can make from Kyoto. It’s not very far and if you buy a JR Pass for the duration of your trip, it won’t cost you anything extra.
Nara Park is the location of many of Nara’s attractions including hundreds of roaming deer! We spent hours feeding/photographing/petting these deer. They were just too cute but be warned, they love food! and won’t shy away from trying to grab food off you.
After we had well and truely spent enough money on deer crackers, we headed to Isuien Garden.
Isuien means ‘garden founded on water’ and it probably was my favourite garden we visited in Japan. The reflection of the autumn colours in the lakes was magical.
We also did a day-trip to Himeji to visit the famous Himeji Castle which is a UNESCO world heritage site. We were lucky enough to have a tour guide who was amazing and definitely made the trip worth it. It’s so nice to have someone explain all the history of a place to you as you explore.
After we were done exploring Himeji, we visited the garden for lunch. Kokoen is 3.5 hectares and has nine different gardens inside. Also inside is a restaurant where you can try traditional Japanese meals with views of the garden. I had Soba noodles for the first time here and they were amazing! You can tell they’d been handcrafted with love. The autumn colours in Japan literally turn every garden into a wonderland.
We did a day-trip to Osaka to have lunch with friends that live there. After lunch, they took us to Osaka Castle which is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks with excellent views of the city. We climbed lots and lots of flights of stairs to the top as the lines for the lift were crazy! All the huffing and puffing was worth it for these views.
The food is a hundred percent a big part of what makes Japan so great. I was always excited for our next meal and honestly didn’t want to leave. I could eat Japanese food endlessly.
I realised I didn’t include any photos in my Tokyo Blogpost so I thought I would add them in here. All images are linked to the restaurant websites if known.
So here is some of my food favourites from my time is Japan - Enjoy!
(across left to right)
Probably my favourite Ramen of the trip! Ichiran is tonkotsu ramen which means it has a Pork broth (yum!) refer to my blogpost on Tokyo for more on this!
Located in Asakusa Tokyo near Sensoji, this is a killer spot to try some shoyu ramen. Might have to wait in a line depending what time you arrive.
Big food market in Ueno, Tokyo. Perfect to stop at for lunch and try some different Japanese snacks. Sashimi was cheap and beyond delicious.
Shibu Onsen Kokuya
When we visited Shibu Onsen, our accomodation included a 10 course traditional Japanese Kaiseki dinner prepared with local Nagano produce. This was one of the many courses we devoured after spending the afternoon visiting many onsens. The whole experience was so memorable.
Futuristic sushi train located in the centre of Shibuya.
Sushidai Tsukiji Fish Market
It’s a must to wake up before sunrise and treat yourself to a breakfast sashimi bowl at Tsukiji Fish Market. There’s lines at all the restaurants by 7am so get there early and take your pick.
Rokurinsha Tsukemen Ramen
Famous dipping ramen at Tokyo Station. Tsukemen isn’t my favourite variety of Ramen but still very delicious!
Yakiniku Dondon Shinjuku Kabukicho
Yakiniku quickly became one of our favourite dinners in Japan. There’s just something so satisfying about grilling your own meat. It also helps that all the meat is to-die-for-melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.
I can’t remember exactly the place we ate at but okonomiyaki is a must-try in Japan. It’s also another dinner you can cook yourself which is always a fun time.
Cheap, laidback yakitori pub in Kyoto. You order food off screens at your table which makes it so easy especially if you don’t speak Japanese. It also allows you to just keep ordering until you’re so full you can barely move.
CoCo Curry House Katsu Don
After walking around Nara Park for hours, this katsu curry definitely hit the spot.
I kept seeing these wobbly pancakes everywhere and just had to try them for myself! So we visited Gram for breakfast one morning. Get there early as they only make a limited number of these each day!
Ramen Sen No Kaze Kyoto
Very famous Ramen shop known to be the best in Kyoto. When you arrive, they’ll give you the number that you are in the line and then you just have to wait till they call your number. I recommend you go way before lunch and put down your name as we got there quite early but still ended up waiting around 2 hours to eat. Ramen is 10/10
One of the many soft serves consumed in Japan. You can’t go wrong with Matcha.
We stumbled upon this little Izakaya near our airbnb one night and it was amazing! Very traditional. We ate their set menu of small dishes and even got some wagyu steak to yakinuku style.
Probably one of my favourite places we ate in Japan. I still have dreams about this sashimi. It was a busy stand-up bar/sushi joint bustling with locals drinking beer and smoking. The food is incredible and the vibes just made the experience. Would go back here in a heartbeart.
Yakiniku Nikumon Shijo Omiya
One of our last dinners of Kyoto, we tried another yakiniku spot near our airbnb. Delicious.
Kushikatsu Osaka Station
Lucky enough to have a Japanese friend take us to try Kushikatsu at a spot in Osaka Station. Unfortunately don’t have the name although i’m sure there are lots of other restaurants to try this delicacy. Think yakitori but everything’s fried!
Japan loves sweets so we couldn’t leave without enjoying a cake and coffee. This was in Shinjuku Station.