The allure of the Land of the Rising Sun caught me this fall. Enticed by an invitation to visit Kyoto with friends I had met on previous adventures in Cuba and Spain, I packed my bags for Japan’s cultural and artistic capital. With over 1,600 Buddhists temples and Shinto shrines along with several castles and numerous world-class gardens, Kyoto blew my mind. For most, exploring Kyoto is more like walking through an outdoor museum that a city of a million and a half residents.
Top 5 Kyoto Adventures
After my first taste of Kyoto, I immediately wanted to go back. In fact, I will be going back in 2020 with a private tour. However, with this post, I wanted to give Kyoto first timers my top five Kyoto adventures. This list should cut your investigation time, making it easier to enjoy every minute in wonderful Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
One way to get the blood flowing and perhaps kick the jetlag is to climb the Inari Mountain (764 ft above sea level) with a visit to the Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine) and its one thousand vermillion torii gates. The adventure of this visit is a two-and-a-half-mile climb to the top. It takes about two hours to the summit but remember that is because it is full of shutterbug stops. Inari, known as the patron of business, is a very popular visit for those looking for success in career as well as finances. With that said, head to Fushimi Inari early, taking advantage of cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. Another adventure travel tip would be to go up to the summit but come down a side forest road to hit up another popular shrine, Tofuku-ji.
Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower
No trip to Kyoto would be complete or possible without a stop at Kyoto Station. Even as the major train and bus hub, connecting commuters and visitors to Osaka, Kansai International Airport (KIX), and Tokyo, the Kyoto Station is a modern work of art. In fact, if you would like to escape the crowds, go up the escalators to the rooftop terrace and garden.
If you are looking for a bird’s eye view of the Kyoto, the highest view (328 ft) is from the Kyoto Tower, which is within a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station with an 800 Yen entrance fee.
Kinkakuji – Golden Pavilion
This three-story Zen temple is an unforgettable sight at any time of day and any season. The beauty of the opulent, gold leaf structure is further enhanced by the surrounding gardens and reflective pond. Similar to other adventures, the early bird gets the worm at Kinkakuji. The site opens at 9 am. However, if you can’t do early, try to aim for the late afternoon hours around 3 or 4 pm to enjoy until closing time.
Nishiki Market – Kyoto’s Kitchen
No adventure to Kyoto would be complete without indulging the many different flavors of Kyoto. Although newbies may assume that everything is sushi, that is only the tip of the Japanese culinary iceberg. Some of my favorite dishes include yakitori (chicken skewers), sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish), tempura (lightly battered and fried veggies or protein), ramen (wheat noodle soup), shabu-shabu (thinly sliced beef hot pot), and okonomiyaki (savory wheat pancake). You can witness Kyoto’s kitchen in the Nishiki Market from 9-6 pm daily. There you can see, smell, and taste the ingredients of Japanese cuisine: fresh and dried seafood to pickles, Japanese sweets, and more. You may find tasty souvenirs like matcha tea, cookies, and candies to share with your friends and family. If all the aromas in the market make you hungry, there are various stalls that offer bites; however, it is difficult to not find a great restaurant in Kyoto. Whether you are looking for a casual izakaya (pub) or a formal kaiseki (multi-course fine dining meal), you won’t go hungry in Kyoto.
Gion and Kamo River at Night
Not all adventures are best during the day; some are best at night like Gion. Kyoto’s entertainment district, Gion, is a nightly feast for your eyes and stomach with a myriad of options. You can watch for the elegantly dressed geishas in kimonos, walk the narrow street to select an izakaya for dinner, relax on the banks of the Kamo River with a beer like the locals, or a combination of all ichi, ni, san (1, 2, 3).
You’re Invited to Come to Kyoto and Kumano Kodo with Me in 2020
There is a reason why emperors chose Kyoto as their ancient residence. Just as there is a reason that I will be going back to Kyoto for more. If you would like to get a taste of Kyoto in May 2020, come along with me May 16-23 for a combo cultural and active adventure to Kyoto and the Kumano Kodo.
As always, here’s to looking up!