Kyoto is a traditional city with plenty of temples and shrines. The harmony of different components in a Japanese garden has always fascinated me. What better city to experience the spell of these mystical gardens than Kyoto. After landing at Kansai International Airport, Osaka, I made my way to Kyoto. I stayed there for 4 nights and three and a half days. The places I visited are listed below:
1.Gion District: Gion district is well known for it’s well preserved architecture and streets. There are plenty of cafes,
restaurants, souvenir shops and old style tea houses in the area, but it is fairly overpriced. It is best known for the Gion shrine. If you visit this area, you would be quite keen to get a glimpse of Geisha in their elaborate costumes and exquisite makeup, and you will probably only get a passing glimpse, unless you decide on going to one of the art performances. You can catch a glimpse of them when coming out of a car and going inside one of the art centres. Like all other touristy districts, kimono rentals are widely available. It will cost you around ¥ 3000 for a basic kimono. If you rate comfort above all else, just click pictures and skip walking around in the wooden sandals.
2.Arashiyama district: You should keep an entire day aside for Arashiyama, or even a few days. There are many temples and gardens in the area in addition to the famous bamboo forest. The onsen or the Japanese hot spring and Iwatayoma monkey park are other popular attractions. All the temples and gardens have a fee between 500 to 1000 yen. I visited the Tenryuji temple which is surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden with all the features of one. I highly recommend this temple. Entrance fee is ¥ 500. At the end of the bamboo forest, you will see entrance to famous villa. The villa is called the Okochi Sanso Villa and belongs to a popular actor by the same name. The entrance fee is ¥ 1000 that includes Japanese tea in the traditional tea house. The villa has good reviews on google. I was unable to visit it due to lack of time. This district has plenty to offer and if you have time, you can hike up the mountain at the end of the Bamboo forest and visit other less visited temples and gardens.
3.Rokuon-ji or Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavillion:
Entrance fee: ¥400
One of the most prominent sites in Kyoto, the temple is located towards the north west of Kyoto city centre. The golden Pavillion reflected in the tranquil pond is a sight that should not be missed, however, try going early in the morning or later in the day to skip the crowd.
4.Ryōan-ji or Temple of dragon at peace: Entrance fee : ¥500
This is another UNESCO World heritage site, known mainly for its kare-sansui or dry landscape. Club the visit to this temple with Kinkaku-ji because it is hardly 15 minutes walk away.
Fifteen stones are places in a small rectangular space filled with pebbles in concentric circles. From the porch of the tea house, one can meditate upon the stones. From no point can all fifteen stones can be seen together. It is believed that one needs to attain enlightenment before one can see them all together.
5. Jishō-ji or Ginkaku-ji or Temple of the Silver Pavillion:
Entrance fee is ¥600 This is another beautiful temple with a beautiful garden located in North Eastern Kyoto that offers spectacular views. This is quite a popular tourist spot as well so avoid going during the peak hours.
6.Fushimi-Inari Taisha: No entrance fee
Take a train from Kyoto station Inari which will cost you ¥140. This is the head shrine of god Inari and is located at the base of Inari mountain, 233 metres above sea level. It is believed that Inari is the god of rice but has many patrons in business men. It would take you around 2 hours to go to the top of the shrine and come down and the saffron arcs are there throughout. There are many small shrines along the way. Unless you reach there early in the morning or late in the evening, you are likely to encounter huge crowds, however not everyone goes to the top so if you continue walking, you will eventually reach a point where the crowds begin to thin and you will be able to take good pictures. I recommend keeping aside at least half a day because there are plenty of food stalls selling street food and other shops that you might want to explore. You can take a train from Kyoto station to Inari station, from where you can walk to the shrine.
7.Tetsugaku-no-michi or Philosopher’s Path: No entrance fee
This route is so called because it is believed that prominent 20th century Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro walked on this path.This small path by the canal, underneath the cherry trees is right next to Ginkaku-ji. It is a pleasant walk that takes about 30 minutes, unless you stop along the way to visit the sites. Club this with Jisho-ji because they are close by.
8.Uji city: You can take a train from Kyoto station to Keihan Uji for ¥240. You can club the visit with Fushimi Inari Taisha because Inari station is on the way. This small town is most famous for its Uji tea. I could only spend about a coupe of hours there but I recommend a day trip from Kyoto. The Byōdō-in temple is a UNESCO World heritage site and has a small museum with many precious Buddhist artifacts. The Phoenix hall is an elegant building that is featured on the back of the ¥ 10 coin. The entrance fee is ¥ 600 and an additional ¥ 300 for the Phoenix hall. Uji city has many other sites and several temples and some very famous tea shops which close quite early in the evening. You can find a tourist information office on exiting the train station. Uji is a city best discovered by foot or on a bicycle.
Tip: Everything closes quite early in Japan so be mindful of starting your day early to make the best of it.
Bonus sites: I have listed the places that I visited during my stay in Kyoto. However, I came to know of a beautiful moss garden, which can only be visited by appointment. A certain number of visitors are allowed on a particular day to Koke-Dera or Saiho-Ji temple. One may need to apply at least 2-3 months in advance in order to get permission to visit this temple. Moss gardens are breathtakingly beautiful and had I known of this temple earlier, I would certainly have visited it.
Accommodation: I recommend staying close to the city centre or Kyoto station. It would be less time consuming to visit sites due to the proximity of train station and main bus stop. I spent two nights in a hostel in Marutamachi, city centre and two nights in Arashiyama. It takes longer to reach places from Arashiyama since you would have to first go to Kyoto station.
I also recommend booking accommodations at least a week in advance or keep a tab on holidays and long weekends because that can cause the prices to go up real high. I paid thrice the amount for last two nights as compared to the first two nights due to long weekend.
Transportation: The closest airport is Kansai International Airport in Osaka from where you can take a train to Kyoto station. You can use trains or buses to reach your destination. Google maps work really well and give accurate information on how to reach from point A to point B. I did not use the metro much so I am not aware of the price for a single journey. A bus journey will cost you ¥ 230. This can get quite expensive and so a cheaper option would be to buy a one day ticket. A one day ticket for travel by bus will cost ¥ 600, a one day- pass for travel by bus or train will cost ¥ 900. You only need to stamp the ticket once, in the machine next to the driver. The date will be stamped. For rest of your trips, you can just show the ticket to the driver. You can get these passes from any convenience store. I highly recommend the ¥ 600 bus pass because there were times when I boarded the bus going in the opposite direction so I ended up paying ¥ 460 for a single journey. You can travel stress free with the pass.
If you only have to take a single journey by bus, you can follow the following step:
1) I recommend that you carry change of ¥ 230 or a bank note of smaller denomination since you pay when you have to get down and the cash box may not have enough change for denomination of a bigger currency.
2) You will then put in your bank note into the cash box and get change.
3) You are then required to put the exact amount as the ticket price i.e. 230 Yen into the machine. Sometimes the box runs out of change.
You can club Kinkaku-Ji and Ryoan-Ji together because they are close to each other. You can do Fushimi-Inari Taisha and Uji City together and visit Ginkaku-Ji and Philosopher’s Path together.
Food: The restaurants close early in Kyoto so don’t wait until it’s too late. For some of the restaurants, you may have to make a reservation beforehand. It is considered rude to cancel a reservation. You can get a variety of things to choose from at the convenience store. I ate a lot of onigiri(rice balls) from the convenience store during my trip.