Kyoto may no longer be the capital of Japan, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of Japan’s best and most beautiful cities. Nowhere else in Japan does the past blend so magically and wonderfully with the present. Trust me, the enchantment of old world meets new is sure to make you fall in love with Kyoto over and over again.
Planning on traveling to this splendid Oriental hub? Whether you're a foodie or history buff, Kyoto has a slew of wonderful surprises to give you a unforgettable trip in Japan. Here are 21 things that will make you fall head over heels for this destination.
21 Things That Will Make You Fall In Love With Kyoto
1. Arashiyama, Kyoto
Arashiyama bamboo forest is enough to land Kyoto instantaneously on your list of favorite spots in the world. The ethereal feel of the bamboo grove is best experienced early or late in the day, when you are more likely to find yourself alone. The feeling of otherworldliness when surrounded by the tall bamboo shoots is unimaginable, and breathtaking enough to land this forest repeatedly on people’s lists of most surreal places on earth.
That being said, don’t be like most tourists who hit up the bamboo scene and then turn around; Arashiyama has plenty more to offer and many more equally beautiful places to see. Arashiyama is a place of scenic beauty, and is filled with beautiful Japanese architecture, the rushing river Oi, mountain scenes, and The Moon Crossing Bridge; the name alone should give you a clue as to the romance that awaits all who visit Arashiyama.
2. Matcha Flavored Everything
If you haven’t tried something Matcha flavored before, you’re missing out. The green tea Matcha has been used in everything from cakes to soft serve ice cream, and is a classic Japanese specialty. While Japan serves Matcha with almost everything, there is no place on earth that makes it so deliciously and easily available as Kyoto. Every restaurant you visit will offer different delicacies featuring the famous green powder, and no matter how often you taste it you’ll never get sick of it. Try Matcha flavored ice cream, kit kats, choco curl, and even Oreos- yum!
3. Nijo Castle
Kyoto is filled with ancient, historic buildings and monuments, but Nijo Castle definitely tops in as one of the most romantic places in Kyoto. Built in 1603, Nijo Castle consists of several different buildings, including two different fortification walls that circle the castle, two different palaces and many beautiful gardens. The castle’s intricate detail are unlike any other castle in the world, with singing floorboards and translucent rice paper walls. Outside is just a charming, with carefully designed gardens to showcase Kyoto’s landscape and horticulture throughout the year. Nijo Castle is unlike any castle you’ve ever dreamed of, but will instantly charm you and transport you to an ancient Japan that doesn’t exist anymore.
4. Nishiki Market
If you like outdoor markets, you’re in luck! Kyoto has one of the best and quite possibly oldest open air markets in the world. The Nishiki Market, commonly known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, has everything food related you could possibly wish for in Japan, from vegetables you’ve never heard of and Asian spices to fresh made sushi and even specialty desserts. The market consists of over 100 stores lined along 5 blocks in downtown Kyoto, some of which have been owned and operated by the same family for generations. The market first opened in the early 1300s, and is still one of the best ways to explore Kyoto today.
5. The Philosopher's Walk
While many cities try to enhance their urban infrastructures with pedestrian friendly walks and inviting outdoor spaces, few can achieve the natural beauty and setting that Kyoto’s Philosopher's Walk owns. The walking path follows a canal and is entirely lined with cherry trees overhanging the walkway. Those who are lucky enough to walk the route have easily stumbled across the most enchanting and peaceful piece of Kyoto, and cannot help but fall in love with the city step by step.
6. Gion Matsuri
The Gion Matsuri is an annual festival, and easily one of Japan’s largest and best festivals in existence. The festival lasts an entire month, and the party goes strong the entire month of July. One of the best elements of the festival are the float parades; the floats are yama and hoko style, and are elaborate enough to put any New York City parade to shame. The floats are so intricately beautiful that they have often been nicknamed floating “mobile art museums.” You can visit the floats throughout the entire days of the festival, and even good luck charms which are said to keep evil at bay. The festival has been going on for around 1000 years, and each year is a beautiful way to celebrate Kyoto and see the entire city come to life.
7. Fushimi Inari Taisha
Seated at the bottom of Inari mountain, Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most beautiful shrines in existence. The entire mountain is dotted with shrines for private worship that are reachable via gorgeous winding paths up and around the mountain. The paths leading to the shrine are almost more awe inspiring than the shrines themselves; the sounds of the forest and river running beside you accompany you the entire way up the mountain and through the lined walkways. The tunnels of torri gates are easily one of the most fascinating and photogenic places in Kyoto, and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
8. Kyoto Tower
In a world full of urban sky decks and viewpoints, Kyoto Tower is one of the best. Perhaps it's because the way it towers above a city filled with ancient, tall temples and shrines; the incredible stark contrast between the ancient and the modern is somehow both intriguing and a little whimsical. Either way, one of the best ways to appreciate Kyoto is from the sky, and the Kyoto Tower offers unobstructed 360 degree views of the city’s temples, ancient streets, and old world shrines.
While some argue that the modern space looking tower doesn’t belong in Kyoto’s ancient streets, others believe that the influence of the modern architecture help keep Kyoto in pace with the rest of advancing Japan. You’ll have to discover it for yourself to make up your own mind.
9. The Golden Pavilion
Kinkaku-ji, known more commonly as the “Golden Pavilion”, is one of the best temples in a city that is literally covered in beautiful temples, if only for its exterior alone. The the entire Buddhist temple is covered in gold, and surrounded by beautiful classically designed Japanese gardens and pools. While there are many other temples in Kyoto that are worth seeing and have more to offer for exterior beauty and accessibility, the landscape surrounding the Golden Pavilion and the striking gold of the temple itself are enough to warrant the Golden Pavilion one of the most romantic places you’ve ever discovered.
10. Gion District
Continuing the theme of old world charm meets modernism, Kyoto’s Gion District is one of the most alluring neighborhoods you will ever experience in your life. The neighborhood dates back to the middle ages, and a walk down its streets will make it hard to believe you’re not still in ancient old world Japan. It’s also one of the few geisha districts left in Japan, and it is not uncommon to see a real life geisha dressed in a breathtaking kimono walking down the street. The street itself is worth seeing; the old wooden restaurants, teahouses, and buildings are charming enough to endure you to Kyoto in one walk alone.
11. Byodoin Temple
You know that Kyoto has plenty of temples, but part of the enchantment of the city that makes you fall in love with Kyoto is the uniqueness of each individual temple. Byodoin Temple is no exception; the temple literally floats on a platform in the middle of a lake. The temple is completely open air as well, making it seem like a delicate piece of art suspended from the air.
The temple is over 1000 years old, and makes an easy day trip from Kyoto. The temple is also unique in that it is one of the only non-denominational shrines in existence. No matter what religion you are, it is hard not to fall in love with your god in Kyoto’s swimming temple.
12. Kyoto Beef
Kyoto will instantly win over any foodie who visits the city. The city is filled with expensive restaurants that offer the best of traditional Japanese course dinners. While many will have heard of Kobe beef, Kyoto Beef is even more exclusive; the beef is supposedly both tastier and more tender than Kobe beef, and is only sold in Kyoto for Kyoto population consumption. Sushi lovers will enjoy eating sushi in Kyoto, as the city offers its own taste and perspective on sushi plates.
13. Heian Shrine
Not all of Kyoto’s temples are ancient. This shrine is a relative newbie compared to the others, built in the late 1800s, and is a beautiful piece of Japanese architecture, blending old with the new. The shrine also holds some of the most photogenic gardens in Japan, and is a world in and of its own; you can easily lose yourself among the ponds and gardens for hours while being completely satisfied with its charm.
14. The People of Kyoto
If you haven’t fallen in love with Kyoto yet, you will as soon as you get to meet and interact with the people who live there. There is next to no crime in Kyoto, and people tend to be very honest and trustworthy. Kyoto is known for its fashionesta sensibilities, and it is not uncommon to see people dressed up in elegant kimonos for rather ordinary occasions.
15. Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple
When you picture a Japanese temple, Eikan-do Zenrin-ji is the perfect temple with all of the traditional Japanese characteristics; endless gardens, beautiful vistas and outlooks, gorgeously decorated interiors in rich colors, and bridges over serene ponds. While you may not be allowed to take pictures inside the temple, it will easily stay with you in your mind for years to come as one of the most ethereal temples and most quintessential Japanese places to love.
16. Rengeoin Sanjusangendo
Rengeoin Sanjusangendo may be Japan’s longest wooden building, but it’s not building but what the building houses that will take your breath away. Inside the hall’s doors lie over 1000 life size wooden statues of the goddess Kannon. Each statue is incredibly life like; no two are alike with completely different features; it is almost impossible not to feel like each one has come to life and you are being intently watched by an army of goddesses. It is surreal and truly one of the most mesmerizing places you can explore in the world.
17. Monkey Park Iwatayama
While you can easily spot monkeys in the wild around Japan and in other parts of the globe, Kyoto’s Monkey Park in Arashiyama gives you an up close look at the monkeys without the inauthentic zoo-like feel that cage structures around the animals gives off. The monkeys still roam free, and it’s hard not to be charmed into loving Kyoto when these guys are ready to playfully enjoy life with you. The hike up to the top is well worth the effort, especially for the views over the city. There are even snacks for sale to feed to the monkeys; the best time to go is late summer, when there are guaranteed to be a few baby monkeys running around as well.
18. Excellent Public Transit
If you’ve ever wanted to visit Japan, Kyoto is the city you’ve been imagining. It has everything Japan has to offer in one city, and is also incredibly easy to navigate your way around. The ancient neighborhoods and walking paths make it easy for pedestrians to navigate; biking is almost as easy with plenty of bike rental shops and picturesque roads to bike along. There is also rail travel via the train and subway, and plenty of buses and public taxis. Tickets and passes are cheap, and can get you pretty much anywhere you could ever want to visit in Kyoto.
19. Mt. Yoshida
Kyoto is filled with unexpected charm and new discoveries at every corner, and Mt. Yoshida is the perfect example of this. The greenspace in the middle of the city is filled with shrines, monuments, and testaments to old and new Japan all jumbled together. Mt. Yoshida is a great place to explore a bit off the beaten track and fall in love with Kyoto’s blend of old and new right next door to each other. It’s also a beautiful piece of lush greens space in the middle of the city, a respite from the traffic and noise of the city.
20. Toji Pagoda
While Pagodas are quite common in Japan, Kyoto’s 5 story Pagoda is an a whole new level of impressively beautiful and mesmerizing. It is a national treasure of Japan, and is the only ancient pagoda of the three original that stood in Kyoto to survive. The pagoda is only open a few days a year for entrance, and is a charming beautiful piece of Japanese architecture. You cannot help but be slightly enraptured when viewing the tallest Japanese wooden structure in Japan, and think about the history that has evolved around the Toji Pagoda since its beginnings over 1000 years ago.
21. Okochisanso Garden
No matter what time of year you are visiting Kyoto, it is the perfect time to discover the Okochisanso Garden for yourself. The meticulously maintained gardens were designed over years to showcase each season of Kyoto’s weather, and at any time of year you can see different plants in bloom and appreciate each season’s beauty. The estate was originally privately owned, but now the gardens as well as the villa, tearooms, and shrines are open to the public. No matter when you visit, you will be able to see the beauty of Kyoto, and fall in love with the natural beauty of Japan.
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