This Spring ’17, I was lucky enough to go on a mini-asia adventure to sightsee, meet people and of course, take photos! With just under a week in Kyoto making up one third of my trip, I done a hell of a lot of research before-hand in how to cram as much in to a short space of time. This including the must-see spots, famous landmarks and culturally mind-blowing activities. Over the course of this post, I’ll be sharing how I broke down my days there with helpful tips to get you prepared for heading there yourself – you’re going to love it!
Day 01 – Kiyomizu-Dera/ Sannen-zaka/ Kennin-ji/ Yasaka Shrine
So Day 01 starts you off in the most crucial of areas to begin your journey. Located in the West of Kyoto, within walking distance (40m) from the central train/bus station, this is where the majority of temples, famous streets and popular tourist spots are, all within close proximity of one another. Potentially the most visited spot in Kyoto (so recommended you get here early), Kiyomizu-Dera is a postcard-esque temple built on a hill-top surrounded by lush gardens. With many brightly coloured podogas exquisite in detail with gardens going on and on and on, this area is like nothing I’ve came across in my life. As you can see by the image above, everything is maintained with precision and detail – even the repainting of the temples. Unfortunately when I was there the main temple was under repairs, although it still added towards the authenticity of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-Dera is a prime cherry blossom spotting area and yields excellent views over the city.
Following on from here you can weave and and out of Sannen-zaka, a street full of unique to Kyoto souvenirs, green tea infused treats and wonderful people. Grab some breakfast or a coffee! Following on from here you can wiggle into other shrines and temples of close proximity, like Ryozen Kannon (incredibly large buddha temple), Kennin-ji (temple with lush gardens and complete zen garden) and up to Yasaka (delightful park area with more cherry blossoms and beautiful podogas).
**Side note, to enter a lot of temples you need to pay a fee of roughly 500 yen. To experience the area is one thing, but to step inside the temples and view unique artwork or simply view how the Japanese once lived, I’d recommend going in every single one you come across. It’s not that expensive.**
**Side tip, public transport in and around Kyoto is surprisingly easy to navigate. Download the metro map on your phone before you go. Day passes for public busses cost 500 Yen I believe. A lot of people speak English and can help you with what bus or train to catch. Everything is efficient and well sign-posted.
Day 02 – Fushimi-Inari/ Arashiyama Bamboo Grove/ Iwatayama Monkey Park
The day lined up is an incredible one. Most likely the scenes you’ll recognise from films! Fushimi-Inari (pictured below) is a fairly long hike worth of art-gazing. Climbing up the Inari mountain you get; spectacular views, a new picture opportunity every step you take and also a good work out. Inari (the God of rice) – the area provides a popular destination when in Kyoto for locals, get here early! The orange pillars, each unique and different to the last, provides so much character so your trail.
With this one done and the perfect picture snapped up, which could take it’s time depending how busy it is, head on over to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It takes one or two trains to get to which is quick & stress-free. We planned everything in this day with the knowledge it would rain fiercely. As all activities are sheltered to some degree by the forest, so it works out okay (ish).
The bamboo forest is an enigma. A pure masterpiece and prime opportunity to get that selfie. The groves tower so high and again, each one being unique, they are a real marvel. While walking through we stumbled across the Okochi Sanso Garden, former home for Japanese actor Denjirō Ōkōchi. As it was unbelievably quiet, we had the entire trail to ourselves. Splendid.
Not too far from the groves, again all by close proximity, you’ll want to head to the Monkey Park. Located on a hilltop, the Monkey Park is a sanctuary for a large amount of macaques with spectacular views of Kyoto. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some baby macaques and even witness the brutality of feeding time. A must-do activity – even if you’re not keen on monkeys.
Day 03 – Nara Park/ Nishiki Market
Potentially my favourite place from my entire asian adventure for obvious reasons, Nara Park is simply a must-see. With wild deer roaming the park who will politely bow to you if you bow to them (in exchange for food of course!), to me, reflects the attitude of the Japanese people. It’s not in every part of the world every individual would treat these deer with such respect and not instantly run from the sight of a human-being.
With the park also home to a decent museum with plenty of local sculptures and art-work at the cost of 1100 yen, it’s easy to spend a decent amount of time here.
When you’ve had your fill of deer, I’d suggest heading to Nishiki Market – even if you’ve already visited. It’s bloody huge and has incredible ramen. All indoors, this market is unique in the foods it sells (octopus sticks) and the items they have to offer. The perfect spot to buy some much needed souvenirs or photo some crazy food – it has it all.
Day 04- Kinkaku-ji/ Ryōan-ji
Day 04 was our final full day in Kyoto before moving onto Osaka, which was only 30m or so away by train. We used this day to visit any places we hadn’t managed to fit in thus far or revisit places we loved. **Again, I’d recommend going to the most popular places first as there’s only limited ‘perfect’ photo space!** Kinkaku-ji is also known as ‘The Golden Temple’. This activity won’t take all day and it’s far up to the North-West, near Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It’s quite a sight to see, especially on a great day. With a few other temples close by like Ryōan-ji (which I loved even more!) which has a huge Zen Garden and lovely gardens and lake to match – it’s a great area to simply walk round the area and soak up the culture.
I hope you find this little highlight guide useful. I’ll be doing other posts like this from the same trip, so stay tuned for ‘Shanghai, China Highlights Photography Guide’.