This past July I went to Japan for the first time, as you may have noticed from Instagram or Snapchat (Add me! @neyshaba) with one of my best childhood friends. We went to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, hoping to pack as much into a one week trip as possible, and really get a feel for Japan.
Kyoto was my favorite city, as it is for many travelers, but I had some mishaps along the way. Here are 5 tips for what to do in Kyoto (and what not to do, so you can avoid some of my mistakes!).
1. Pick a handful of temples + sites to explore (& stick to them!)
Don’t over-schedule yourself! There’s so much to see in and do in Kyoto and it’s incredibly easy to go overboard and then find yourself too exhausted to do all the things you really want to experience. There around 1,600 Buddhist temples alone, plus all the palaces, districts, and restaurants you’ll also want to add to your must-do list. Do some research beforehand and make a plan. Hostels are usually very accommodating and will be able to guide you with maps and the best routes to take. My favorites are Fumishi Inari and the Golden Pavilion.
2. See the temples within proximity of your top picks
Choose a region to explore each day and stick to it. That’s the best way to maximize your ‘to do in Kyoto’ list (which is, like I said, most likely very extensive). Japan-Guide.com is a great resource to find DIY itineraries. We took one day to explore the South East of Kyoto and then another to explore Arashiyama, then we went to the Golden Pavilion on the same day. If I could do it over again I would spend a full day in Arashiyama and then a full day in the North West.
3. Plan your accommodations wisely (DON’T WAIT!)
Everything books up fast! When I go back (and I fully intend to because I loved it so much) I plan to stay a few nights in accommodations by Gion and then another few nights by Arashiyama. I wish I could have seen the bamboo groves in less of a hurry and in all possible versions of natural lights. Then again, I’m quite the shutterbug. We actually booked our accommodates for the first few nights in advance but then decided we wanted to stay longer just to find out that everything was almost packed, even on a weekday. Don’t make that mistake.
4. Spend a full day exploring Arashiyama & Sagano
Noticing a pattern here? I really wish we spent more time by Arashiyama. There’s so much to do in Kyoto, but a lot is concentrated in this area. The bamboo groves are obviously a must-see, but there’s so much more. Walk through the gardens, explore the temples, and just have a great time wandering. I think this is a great place for travelers, like me, who like to take their time and really get to know specific areas. We did go to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, but were pretty unimpressed. The monkeys were definitely cute, and the view was nice, but with the short amount of time we had to see the are I think we could have definitely skipped this ‘attraction.’ The one thing I liked was that it was interesting to see the Monkeys roam freely outside while the human visitors were locked up in a fenced room. It was a nice contrast.
5. Hang out in Gion without a schedule
This place is magical and by far my favorite part of the city. You cannot miss this bullet point on your ‘to do in Kyoto’ list. It feels like the walls are full of secrets and there’s always the prospect of a Geisha waiting right around the corner. Seeing a Maiko cross the street was the highlight of my trip! Spend as much time here as possible!