I definitely didn’t get to see all of Kyoto in a day, but was able to see a lot of really great places! Part of that is because touring around Kyoto is really easy since they have buses that will take you from, for example, Kiyomizu Temple to Kinkakuji. Since I speak a little bit of Japanese, I was also able to ask local people for directions, which was great for getting me out of my comfort zone, and more rewarding than I ever thought it would be!
Nijo Castle is one of seventeen historic monuments in Kyoto designated as a UNESCO
World Heritage site. It’s a huge flatland castle that, unfortunately, on the day of my visit was having construction done to the main front entrance. Also, only the gardens were accessible. You can order food at a tea house on the castle grounds and there’s also a gift shop (of course). I was surprised that there’s an entrance fee. It’s small (400 yen), but it wasn’t my favorite stop to sightsee. Still, visiting a World Heritage Site made it worth it. The castle is very old – built in 1679 by the Tokugawa shogunate.
Kinkakuji: I 100% recommend going to see Kinkakuji in Kyoto. It’s also known as the Golden Pavilion and even though I went in the winter (January), there was no snow and I was able to take beautiful photos. It’s also under the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. It’s older than Nijo Castle – the building was completed in 1397.
Sanjusangendo: This is a Buddhist temple with thousands of statutes inside, and a large Buddha situated in the middle. It was really cool, but no pictures are allowed inside. If you do want a picture, they had postcards and things in the gift shop. I didn’t know how to get here, so asked the first people I saw, and they turned out to be the sweetest Japanese couple. They walked me all the way to the temple, and they were joking and laughing the entire time. I know some Japanese and so asked them a little about the town. It turned out that the woman had actually spent new years at a temple near Sanjusangendo. Like they say, sometimes it’s all about the journey!
Kiyomizu Temple: Getting to Kiyomizu Temple is just as fun as actually being there. I walked through Higasiyama-ku, which has all these traditional restaurants and shops, including kimono rental shops frequented by locals and visitors. This trip was my first one to Kyoto and I was surprised to see so many people clad in kimono. Most of the people were taking pictures with friends at the temple.
Gion: Gion is one of the most well-known Geisha districts in all of Japan. Some years ago I read and watched “Memoirs of a Geisha,” so actually being in this town was unreal! There are tea houses and restaurants throughout. The town was built in the Middle Ages and is in front of Yasaka Shrine, so it’s easy to visit the two.
Fushimi Inari-taisha is another place that I 100% recommend. It contains thousands of red torii gates that are each donated by different businesses. I went here on New Year’s Eve and it was incredible. I even hiked to the top of the mountain. Make sure you have
comfortable walking shoes! I saw some girls in heels and have no idea what they were thinking. I was in boots and had sore feet the next day! Beware of wild boars, though. There are signs throughout the sign warning that if you see one, don’t approach!
Arashiyama: I went here, originally, just to see the Bamboo Forest, but there is so much to do here! There are shops, restaurants, temples, beautiful scenery, an onsen, and, of course, the Bamboo Forest! In fact, there was so much to do that it was dark by the time I went to the forest. Consequently, I missed out on the chance to get a good picture of the Bamboo grove. I did meet some really cool people, including a Finnish couple and two college students going to school in D.C. We all got a little last, but touring around with people made the forest infinitely less creep at night. This is another place I’d revisit!