Despite being known for a city of classical Buddist temples, Kyoto offered a surprising range of sights and attractions when I visited the region last year. It is one of the most popular destinations besides Osaka in this region of Japan, which is only 1 hour by train away. With the centuries-old history in Japan’s old capital, the wooden houses and Shinto shrines were just breath-taking and inspired a lot of introspection on my travels. Here I explore the most unmissable things to do and see in the city.
To see Japan as it was back in the Edo period, Gion is an area of Kyoto that was preserved in time. Iconic in its own right, this is the area where geishas gain their skills in the ancient art of entertainment. For those who really want to experience life as it was in the old days, they can dress up in traditional Japanese kimono for photoshoots and explore the historical streets.
2. Nijo Castle
For a piece of military history of Japan, Nijo Castle demonstrated the supreme power of the warlords, Shoguns, who onced ruled over Japan for much of its history. The castle is surrounded by gorgeous gardens, and featuring decorating panels and carvings in its interior, which is preserved in its original form. A must see, but remember to get there early as it’s on everyone’s must-see list!
3. Fushimi Inari-taisha
With thousands of endless arches of bright orange torii shrine gates extending its journey into the thick-wooded mountain, this is one of the most impressive sights in all of Kyoto for me. As I walked up, I quietly asked for the blessing from the Inari for my family, friends and the world around me. It is a spiritual journey as much as a photographer’s dream as I explored the mountain. It can become very eerie into the late afternoon and evening as the crowds clear out, with graveyards and miniature shrines along the path giving off a different vibe. Just make sure to have a friend or loved one with you!
Located just 20 minutes by train from Kyoto, Arashiyama is a must visit during your time in this ancient city. The famous bamboo forest alone makes this a worthwhile trip. The best time to go is in the early morning before buses of tourist groups arrive, so you can appreciate the peace and quiet walk through this forest. Its small windy path is flanked by sky-high bamboo grooves, maintained meticulously to perfection.
5. Iwatayama Monkey Park
While you are in Arashiyama, Iwatayama Monkey Park is only a short walk away opposite the Ōi River. These cute little creatures can be spotted in close distance over panoramic views of Kyoto on the top of the mountain. Ironically, it’s the animals who are free to roam the mountain, while humans are kept in a closed cage for protection while feeding these hungry little creatures.