While visiting Tokyo I knew I somehow need to get myself down to Kyoto while I had the chance, because who knows, I may never be back here!
Planning it out was the easy part: Take the 6 am shinkansen (bullet train) the earliest on the day we went, read Fodor’s Kyoto guide on the train, explore the temples, and take the last train home. Simple right? No so much. Usually I’m extremely prepared, I write everything down and create spread sheets, but I didn’t take enough time to work this one out. I thought, “It seems easy enough, I can wing it”.
My first mistake was that I didn’t buy my train tickets ahead of time. The 6 am bullet train on a weekday is very busy with businessmen and women commuting, so we ended up with seats away from each other. You can go to the train station and buy your tickets ahead of time, I prefer this as I myself as I had trouble understanding what line we needed take and the people at the counter were very helpful; or you can also use this site to plan and buy your train tickets around Japan.
The train ride itself was amazing, it felt like you were gliding on air! Why we don’t have bullet trains like this in the states boggles my mind. The train is comfortable and efficient, the seats are similar to being on the Amtrak and the messages are clearly displayed in Japanese and English in the front and rear of the train car so as to not miss your stop. The ride is only 2 hours and 4 stops, so keep an eye out.
Once we arrived in Kyoto our first stop was Nijō Castle, it was the easiest to get to from the center of town and tends to get more tourists as the day goes on, just transfer to the Karasuma line and walk or take a bus from the Ekimae stop.
The grounds are gorgeous, exquisitely manicured rock gardens and ponds filled with lilies line the walkways around the castle. Inside you get a taste of what life was like for royalty in feudal Japan. Walls with beautifully painted murals and ceilings laid with gold leaf litter the halls as you walk through the carefully plotted out walkway.
By 11am we were off to our next destination, Ginkaku-ji Temple, also known as the ‘Silver Pavilion’ because of its original plans to cover the exterior in silver. To get there we took a cab so as to not waste any precious time.
Entering into the temple you find rock gardens and trails that lead further up the mountain giving you a lovely view over the grounds.
Thinking that Kyoto is smaller than it is we decided to walk. Tetsugaku-no-michi, otherwise known as the Philosopher’s Path, is so named after Nishida Kitaro a 20th century professor at Kyoto University who used this path for meditation. During April and May the canal which is lined with Japanese Cherries creates a picturesque setting for photos of cherry blossoms. Along this path there are a bunch of smaller shrines that we stopped to check out that have less of a crowd.
By 2 pm we were starving and headed to the main street, Shijo Dori. This street is perfect if you’re looking for souvenirs of your time in Kyoto; beautiful candy and scarf shops line the streets. Just over the bridge you will see balconies overlooking the Kamo River, these restaurants offer amazing views of the river and the city. A great pick is Big Dude, traditional Japanese cuisine their lunch specials start at ¥4,290, but if you’re in town for dinner, that’s when they really light up.
After lunch we headed back up the road to the Yasaka Shrine to collect another stamp for my Japanese Temple Book.
With most of our day gone we had two more places we needed to hit: the breathtaking Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the golden arches of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
From the Yasaka Shrine Kiyomizu is only a 20 minute walk, and I highly suggest taking the walk. Along the way you’ll see tea houses, ceramic shops, and locals and tourists alike in traditional summer kimonos; but don’t be fooled into thinking that some of these women are geishas as the real ones are few and far between. You might be able to catch a glimpse of one at twilight when they emerge to head to their respective houses.
The climb up to Kiyomizu is no joke! First the climb uphill, then up the stairway to the main temple grounds, but as you can see from the picture below, the view is well worth it!
At the top you’ll find various shrines as well as the love stones. It’s said that if you are able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed that you will find your true love, how romantic! Towards the entrance you will see a curious set of weapons, these weapons are a recreation of the ones used by the monk Enchin, the founder of the temple, try as you might to lift them, but these weapons easily weigh hundreds of pounds (time to hit the gym).
Now pressed for time, and nearing our journey’s end, we race back down and jump in a cab to our final destination: Fushimi Inari.
All of the instagram pics from other travelers just don’t do this temple justice. We arrived just as the sun was starting to go down and the arches seemed to glow from the setting sun. As you walk through you will notice names and companies written on each of the arches, each one is donated in hopes of bringing good fortune and wealth, which is it no surprise when you seem names like Bank of America and Chase on some of the larger arches.
Delighted and exhausted we decided to call it a day and head back to the train station. Though there is so much more to see and experience I felt like I took in a good portion for my first (and hopefully not last) time in Kyoto.
I would love to know what some of your favorite things to do in Kyoto are! Let me know in the comments. Safe travels!
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