Click these to see what I did on my trip, the best way to get to and around Kyoto, or a minute video of my trip! This post is created using a mix of my personal experience in Kyoto and research I did before my trip.
To see a video of the Top 10 of what to do in Kyoto click here or a video on the Best Way to Spend $40 in Kyoto click here.
What to Bring
To see what I bring on all my trips that is right here.
If you are interested in getting travel insurance I recommend TravelInsurance.com. They are considered one of best in the industry, you can easily compare coverages and get the right one for you.
Where to Stay
If you looked at my saved locations from the landmarks or restaurants listed below a lot of the attractions are on the east side of the city. I stayed at the Kyoto Morris Hostel (The red box in the map on the right) and thought it was nice and they had free bike rentals which really helped me get around. If you want to know how to create a map like this or simply don't like paying for international service while abroad I can help you here.
If you are looking for a real authentic experience and to be surrounded by more culture I'd say stay in the Gion district!
What to Do
2. Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama)
Another of the most popular things to do in Kyoto is the Bamboo Forest. I'm not going to lie, the pictures are pretty cool online, it's similar to the one I have above. That was not my experience while I was there. It was extremely crowded and not at all as peaceful as they made it out to be. This is actually the only picture I have from there, other than this selfie because I wasn't able to get one without giants crowds in it. I got lost on my way there so here's an easy to use map!
3. Kinkaku-ji Temple - It's officially name is Rokuon-ji but you might as well call it the Golden Temple. It was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu that turned into a Zen Buddhist temple after his death in 1408. You'll need a ticket to get in.
4. Kiyomizu-dera - This Buddhist temple in Eastern Kyoto opened in 778 AD. It is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.
5. Restaurant in Pontocho - Pontocho is a neighborhood that is famous for the preservation of traditional architecture and entertainment. There are numerous restaurants that sit along the Kamo River. This is something I didn't get a chance to do because I ran out of time. If you want a cheaper option you could grab some food and sit by the river instead!
6. Eikando Zenrinji Temple - It is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan's Jōdo-shū Buddhist sect. The temple is famous for it's fall foliage and it's prominence in the past as a center of learning. You'll need a ticket to get in.
7. Kyoto Tower - The tallest structure in Kyoto has an observation deck that sits at 100 meters with it's top being at 131 meters.
8. Gion District - If you are looking to get more exposure to Japanese culture or to see people in Giesha's this is the place you'll want to go.
9. Rent a Kimono for a Day - Want to take your experience up a notch? Might as well throw a kimono on yourself!
13. Ryoanji Temple - A Zen temple with Japan's most famous rock garden! You'll need a ticket to get in.
14. Kifune Shrine - Kibune is a small town in the northern mountains of Kyoto City and is the home of the Kifune Shrine. It has a famed entrance surrounded by maple trees to worship Kami.
15. Mount Kurama Hot Springs - Only a 30 minute train ride north of Kyoto are hot springs surrounded by forested mountains.
16. Wazuka Tea Plantation - Kyoto is one of the biggest producers of green tea and matcha. If you want you can check out the town of Wazuka which has a great tea farm and tea fields!
17. Chion-in Temple - This is the headquarters of the Jodo Sect and the home of Japan's largest temple bell. You'll need a ticket to get in.
18. Kyoto Night Foodie Tour - If you are looking to check out local food these are always great options!
19. Nishiki market - A marketplace that is rich with history and tradition and a great place to get some of Kyoto's famous foods and goods.
20. Maruyama Park - This is close to Chion-In Temple and is a great place to check out cherry blossoms with the main attraction being a large cherry tree that will light up at night. Naturally this area will get very busy when they are in bloom but also around New Year's Eve.
21. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama - Google had this as the Arashiyama bamboo forest when I was there. If you are looking to hang with some monkeys this is a great option. You'll need a ticket to get in.
22. Sanjusangendo Temple - Officially known as Rengeo-in it's an iconic Buddhist temple that is known for it's 1,001 life-sized wooden statues of the goddess Kannon. The temple was originally built in 1164 for the Emperor Go-Shirakawa and is apart of the Myoho-in temple complex. You'll need a ticket to get in and was why I wasn't able to check it out since I was running low at the time!
Where to Eat
Kyoto is home to Uji, a small city that is famous for producing Matcha which is considered the highest quality of Japanese green tea. While drinking matcha straight (usually dissolved in water or milk) is highly recommended, matcha is also used to flavor a variety of confectioneries and desserts!
If you're just looking for a matcha ice cream cone or sweets to buy you can stay downstairs. If you looking for the full café experience, head upstairs. The text is in Japanese but the have pictures but it's mostly everything matcha.
An old Uji tea shop made in a distinctive white wall/latticework tea wholesale shop style. There is also a chance to grind tea yourself with a mill and enjoy light and strong infusions of the powdered green tea in a tea ceremony room afterwards.
Known for skillfully incorporating Japanese ingredients such as matcha, red beans, and warabimochi (a jelly-like confection covered in powder) into famous Western style desserts.
A three-minute walk from Kyoto Station and you'll find sweets made with Uji matcha green tea and various Ujicha teas to match the season.
An authentic restaurant known for their desserts.
Best Affordable Sushi
is one of the best moderately priced sushi restaurants in Kyoto. They’re comfortable with foreigners and the downtown location is super convenient. I stopped by and had a local asked me how I found out about this place. He said it's the best moderately priced place for sushi in Kyoto. I thought it was better than Ganko. Tip - ask for half baked salmon, it'll change your life.
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish that can be served with a fish or meat-based broth and accompanied by a variety of vegetables and toppings.
Honke Daiichi Asahi
Founded over 50 years ago and known as one of the best ramen shops in Kyoto!
Ramen sen no Kaze
Pure Japanese style of an all-natural ramen.
Serve creative Ramen dishes with rich, creamy soup made with chicken, pork and vegetable stock.
Ginjo Ramen Kubota
Famous for it's Tsukemen with thick seafood broth, using carefully selected Kyoto miso only.
If you are in the Okazaki Museum District and want a hearty bowl of ramen.
You'll find the this good bowl of ramen in the heart of Gion. It just may be busy if you go in peak hours.
A small 10 seat restaurant located in downtown Kyoto.
No Name Ramen
An ultra-hip ramen place that is the real deal.
Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese tasting course comprised of many small and tea ceremonies that is in a set meal course chosen by the chef to highlight a seasonal theme.
Kiyamachi Sakuragawa is a welcoming and superb spot to sample kaiseki cuisine.
If you are looking for the over top money isn't a thing type experience this is your place. When I looked into it I think I read that it starts at $475 per meal. But hey, it is 10 courses..
Michelin 3 Star
Michelin stars are a rating system that basically means that this restaurant is fancy. If you are wondering yes the same people that make tires also put out this rating system. The internet tells me there are currently 137 three star Michelin restaurants in the world so they are semi rare. These are the ones in Kyoto.
The restaurant specializes in kaiseki and Chef Takahashi is confident that Hyotei protects the traditional cuisine of Kyoto. Meals start at $250 a person.
Fine dining in the Gion district where lunch starts at $93 USD and dinner at $150. If you don't want to spend that much but are still interested you are able to get a bento box (a single serving take-out or packaged meal) for $16-50 at Kyoto Takashimaya
All these places are nice but this may be the best of the best. This is referenced as the highest pinnacle of kaiseki while continuing to pursue excellence in hospitality. Dinner starts at $475
Founded 180 years ago, this old Japanese restaurant is known world wide for it's traditional kaiseki cuisine. Lunch starts at $150 while dinner starts at $200.
Another kaiseki style restaurant with lunch starting at $90 and dinner at $150.
Chef Shinichi Iida has been cooking at the restaurant since 2010 and has quickly established a great reputation in the kaiseki dining space.
If you are looking for okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) that will be cooked up on a griddle at your table this is your spot. Located in Nishiki Warai, just steps from Nishiki Market.
Yakitori (various bits of chicken cooked on skewers) is one of the many staple dishes of traditional Japanese cuisine. Due to the simplicity of this dish restaurants that serve it are typically basic and very smoky.
Nestled in the Gion district away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this cosy yet elegant restaurant features high-quality Wagyu A5.
Hafuu combines the tradition of Japanese cuisine with a modern atmosphere. The restaurant pairs delicious wagyu steak with succulent seafood to deliver an unforgettable culinary experience.
This is the birthplace of Botan nabe which is a traditional boar-based dish and a staple of rural Japan cuisine. Although it is now wildly popular throughout Japan, it was humbly invented more than 100 years ago by Hatakaku’s former owner.
Even though it is next to international chain restaurants and coffee shops Kagizen offers a traditional Japanese tearoom experience. It stands out especially for its delicate wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets usually served with tea, and it's incredible mochi, rice cakes filled with red or white bean paste.
1. I thought having a bike made it super easy to get around but that may depend on your willingness to bike.. especially if it's raining..
2. If you have a map of the bus routes or take a picture of it I thought it was easy to navigate.
3. Sushsei was great moderately priced sushi and the locals agreed! Get a half baked Salmon roll.
4. Smart Coffee has really good coffee.
5. If I had to go back to one temple it would be Kinkaku-ji
6. Make sure you know how to get to the bamboo forest!
7. If you do go to the bamboo forest I would say try and go early. I went mid day and it was packed!
8. I thought the bamboo forest at Fushimi Inari Taisha was better than the one at Arashiyama.
9. If you check out Fushimi Inari Taisha I didn't think it was worth it to hike to the top.
Getting Around: 7/10 - The city is decently sized and I either walked, rode a bike, or took city buses to get around and had no issue. They do have a subway and taxis but those are expensive and taxi drivers may not know English. If I didn't have a bike on that first day I have no idea how I would have saw as much as I did.
Things to do: 8/10 - There is a lot of things to do in Kyoto and in my two days I filled the time I could. It would have been nice to have more time to enjoy what I was seeing or absorbing the culture. I wasn't able to make it to Mt. Fuji, it would have been cool to eat in the Pontocho area over looking the Kamo river, or even spending more time in the Gion district and rockin' a kimono.
Food: 8/10 - I really liked the food that I had but if you were looking for a traditional American breakfast I didn't have a whole lot of luck. That isn't a bad thing but I felt the breakfast options were limited which was a bummer.
Overall: 8/10 - Kyoto is awesome and wish I was there longer. The city provided an authentic experience and interaction with Japanese culture. Whether that was seeing all the temples and gardens or women walking around in kimonos in the Gion district. I felt there was plenty to do and could have easily spent more time exploring each of the neighborhoods. I would have liked to eat at a restaurant in the Pontocho area and look over the river or even grabbed snacks and sat down in the grass. When it came to the food I enjoyed everything I had, but just wish there was a better breakfast selection. I feel this is one of the more visited cities in Japan and it's for good reason!
If you want to see where Kyoto ranks against the other places I've gone click here.
Click here to see what I did on my trip, the best way to get to and around Kyoto, or a minute video of my trip!
Wondering what I bring on all my trips? click the link!
**This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you and allows me to keep the lights on around here. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
HELLO AND WELCOME!
I'm Jake, a dude interested in personal finance and travel creating the life I choose.
In 5 years I went from living in a basement with Craigslist roommates to paying off 90k of debt, backpacking 3 continents, getting a house for myself and 5 rental units.
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