After spending a week in Tokyo and three days in Osaka, we had three days to spend in Kyoto. I’ll admit I got a bit overwhelmed when planning what to do because there is SO MUCH to do in Kyoto. You could easily spend a week or two there and not run out of places to visit. Many of the sights are quite spread out as well, which means that we had to take buses and trains across town. In the end we were very happy with how much we managed to squeeze in; we saw everything that I was dying to see and we didn’t have to rush! To help you plan your trip, here are the top sights that I think you just have to see if you’re visiting Kyoto.
Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)
The famous Golden Pavilion looks beautiful in photos and it’s even better in person. I could barely believe my eyes, it seemed almost unreal! Definitely worth visiting, despite being further away from the other sights and being very crowded during peak tourist season.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
There’s something very tranquil and peaceful about walking through the bamboo forest, even when there is a crowd of tourists around you. If you’re going during peak season like we did I would suggest going early in the morning before the big groups get there. Make sure you also visit the beautiful gardens of Okochi-Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji Temple while you’re in the neighbourhood.
Probably one of the most iconic sights in Kyoto, the red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine are a pleasure to walk through. Inari is the god of rice and the patron of business and merchants. Each gate is donated by a Japanese business and you’ll find many stone foxes here which are Inari’s messengers. If the path through the gates seems crowded, just make sure you keep walking after most of the tourists have moved on to their next selfie destination! It gets very peaceful after around 15mins of walking up steps, and you get to see a nice view of Kyoto as well.
This huge temple is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a beautiful place to see cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and sunsets over the city. In addition to the main wooden hall, you can explore a few other buildings, waterfalls and shrines on site. The temple even has its own stunning Instagram account which you should check out!
Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka
These streets are so charming, they will make you fall in love with Kyoto. Lined with pretty old houses and nice little boutiques, it’s just a shame they are were crowded with tourists when we were there (like much of Kyoto during the cherry blossom season).
The Gion district is famous for its geishas; head to the southern end of Hanamikoji Dori street in the evening to soak up the charming atmosphere and you might just spot one! It’s also the perfect place for afternoon tea, Japanese style – we loved Gion Mitoko.
According to Lonely Planet, this is probably the most beautiful street in Asia. When cherry trees are in full bloom it’s incredibly pretty. It’s also full of young couples taking wedding pictures and girls taking graduation pictures in kimonos, which makes it even more fun to walk up and down. It’s lovely at night as well – we had a wonderful dinner in one of the restaurants facing the canal (Kanikakuni).
Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-Michi)
I’m not sure what the Philosopher’s Path is like the rest of the year, but during cherry blossom season it is the most amazing, magical place. It’s really just a canal lined with cherry trees, but it’s spectacular when everything is in bloom. Make sure you stop for a cherry blossom flavoured ice cream!
Silver Pavilion (Gingaku-ji)
This Zen temple was modelled after the Golden Pavilion, and although it has never been silver most people know it as the Silver Pavilion. It’s surrounded by a peaceful Japanese garden with ponds and moss-covered trees.
After spending just a few hours in Kyoto, I fell totally in love with the place. It felt like another world, filled with pink cherry blossoms, Japanese gardens and beautiful geishas. I honestly thought Tokyo would be my favourite place in Japan (if not the world!) but Kyoto stole my heart!
What’s your favourite thing about Kyoto?