Out of all the places I had visited in Japan, I would have to say that Kyoto was hands down my favourite. It was also the place where I spent the longest since there was just so much to do! And as one of the most picturesque places I had ever been, I got really snap happy taking pictures of the stunning bamboo forests to the vibrant Furishima Shrine (which we'll get into soon).
When planning your trip it can be overwhelming when reading all the different things people suggest to do or where to stay. Hopefully this guide can help guide you through Kyoto like a local and pinpoint the best of the best. For other tips and advice for travelling to Japan you can also check out my post on what to first expect as well as a post on day trips you can take form Kyoto.
Where To Stay
Hatoya Zuihokaku Hotel: This Japanese hotel was the perfect place to get accustomed to Kyoto. Situated around the corner from Kyoto train station, it is super convenient, especially since I was arriving from Tokyo pretty late at night, so the short walk to the hotel was a welcome surprise. What I loved the most was the mix of traditional and modern elements throughout the hotel, you can appreciate the Japanese tea rooms, hot springs onsens whilst maintaining western comforts. Its honestly the best of both worlds.
Hyatt Regency: I also had the pleasure of staying at the gorgeous Hyatt Regency in Kyoto. This hotel is closer to the actual centre of Kyoto and the various sightseeing hotspots so is a great base for your time in the city.
Where To Eat
During my time in Kyoto I mostly ate at one of the many many restaurants in Kyoto Station. Whether this is a good or bad thing I'm unsure about, but I can tell you for definite, you will definitely find something you like.
For quick snacks or meals there are small convenience stores and stalls underground where I normally bought desserts such as traditional egg tarts or bento boxes for lunch.
When you want a proper sit down meal you can go up to the 10th floor to Ramen Street where there is literally a corridor of at least 30 different ramen restaurants ranging from more expensive to super cheap. On the floor above there are more high end restaurants such as Katsukara where I had the most delicious katsu curry.
Nishiki Market is also a great place to eat some street food, such as the octopus on a stick that I tried (not the best though, I'll have to admit).
What To Do
Lets start with the iconic places in Kyoto. Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine is a stunning vermillion shaded shrine that has hundreds of Torii gates going up a mountain. The entrance is free and I'd recommend going super early because this tunnel of gates gets crowded, quickly.
Another idyllic place is Arishayama Bamboo Grove where the bamboo trees tower high above you, creating the most stunning scene. The town surrounding the area is also lovely, and filled with places to eat and matcha ice cream shops (because, priorities).
Iwatayama Monkey Park is also very close by to the bamboo grove; it involves a 20 minute hike up but oh my god the monkey's were so cute I would have done the hike 20 times over. It was definitely a highlight of Kyoto for me, as unlike the deer in Nara, these monkey's were so gentle and calm. I also loved that instead of seeing the animals in a cage, the humans were the ones in the cage and the monkey's could climb around the outside.
A more random experience I had was riding the Sagano 'romantic train' which I don't see being advertised very often, but was something I actually quite enjoyed. Originally this railway line was frequently used as a public transport method, however as technology advanced, it became relatively obsolete. Rather the eradicating the line completely, the train was transformed into a scenic route through Arishayama providing beautiful views of the Hozugawa River.
Coming back to the historic town of Kyoto, Gion, is known as the historical district where you can get your cultural fix. The beautiful wooden architecture is the quintessential image of Kyoto. If you're lucky you might spot a Geisha (look out for the intricate hair styles and traditional kimono dress). I recommend ascending from the Uedacho street, which is more of a cobble-stoned alley that will lead you to the iconic view of the Yasaka Pagoda.
The Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavillion is perhaps one of the most iconic spots in Japan. Sitting in the middle of the pond, the opulent gold-sheathed jewel-like Zen- Buddhist temple is absolutely breathtaking.
Pontocho Alley is also a quiet little alleyway where you can find small (but not cheap) restaurants overlooking the river. Walking down this little street during twilight as the Izakaya lanterns start to glow red and the shopkeepers open their doors, is a wonderful experience that you can only get in Japan.
As an alternative, you can also do many day trips from Kyoto since it is perfectly located within Japan to reach different places - check out my post on the best day trips from Kyoto here.