Kyoto (京都), the historical formal capital of Japan for over 1000 years, is nicknamed the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. Indeed, when we took the Kyoto map from the information counter, you could see shrines spread out all across the city and you’d be spoilt for choices to decide which to go and which to skip.
This is the exact map I used to go around Kyoto (I had the English version). We didn’t have a lot of time, so we had to plan properly to get the most out of what we could. Here’s an itinerary that you could follow for 2D1N in Kyoto:
DAY 1 MORNING/AFTERNOON:
Visit Shrine 1 of your choice. I’d recommend Fushimi Inari Shrine. But beware, it takes 4h or more to hike up to the top. The hike consists of mostly stairs, so if you have a bad knee or really bad stamina, you might have to be careful. It’s really good exercise though and it’s free! 😉
You’re supposed to collect water from the leaking hole in that wooden spoon, then drink the water and gargle it before spitting it out. I’m not too sure about the purpose, but we were following the Japanese around us. (golden rule in shrines: if you’re lost, just mimick the Japanese)
So we paid 200yen each to write our own wish (from a list given – but they’re in Japanese, readable in Chinese).
All these wooden sticks will be burnt on November 8 every year. If you have 2 wishes, you would have to purchase the bigger stick (1000yen). No one is mending the booth, so you just have to put the money in and leave your sticks there after you’re done writing.
These are everywhere throughout the hike. Basically, your hiking view. 🙂
There are different routes to hike up (if you see the route map above), but by midway, you’d pass by this before going to the top. Spoiler: This resting point is the best place for the scenery as seen below. You wouldn’t see any view once you reach the top. It’s just the shrine itself.
It’s a good rest stop to enjoy a soft serve after sweating out during the hike. I’d recommend hiking in Spring/Autumn, because the temperature was perfect for a comfortable hike.
Here’s the summit. Nothing fanciful. But since I’m here, I prayed like the Japanese. Clap two times and hold your palms together. After you’re done, ring the huge bell as loudly as possible for awhile. 🙂
DAY 1 AFTERNOON/EVENING:
Either Visit Nishiki Market (closes at 6pm)
We wanted to go there to take a look but we couldn’t make it in time. But I’ve read quite a bit on the reviews and it seemed like there were a lot to eat, and they have one of the best takoyaki (my favourite Japanese street snack)!!! I’d definitely go there to check it out next time.
Or Walk around the shopping district, Shijo-Dori
This was what we did. It was nice to stroll in this city because it wasn’t so crowded as compared to Osaka and Tokyo.
Day 1 EVENING/NIGHT:
Visit Gion, the famous Geisha district. If you want to catch a Geisha in action and yet do not have enough budget for the real deal (Geisha performing just for you while you dine), the best alternative is to go to the Gion Corner (a theatre that was initially made for Tokyo Olympic Games, thus there are various languages for you to choose from) to catch the cultural performance. If you’re a student, produce your student card (it’s always good to bring your ID overseas!) and you get a student price, even better!
It’s a 50 minutes performance that is made up of 7 Japanese traditional performing arts: Chado (tea ceremony), Koto (Japanese Harp), Kado (flower arrangement), Gagaku (court music), Kyogen (Japanese comic play), Kyomai (Kyoto style dance by Maiko, young Geisha) and Bunraku (puppet play). This will surely be an eye-opener to someone who is not familiar with the Japanese culture.
Gion is also famous for their nightlife – there are many bars and clubs in that area with bouncers who are all suit up! We had dinner in that area in a traditional setting where we had to kneel and eat. We obviously couldn’t do it for long, but a group of Japanese corporate workers knelt for a good 2h beside us the whole time! I wonder if they could walk after that.
Lastly, Gion is known for their famous old wooden buildings and tea houses. So remember to snap some pictures!
DAY 2 MORNING/AFTERNOON:
Try Kyoto’s cuisine for brunch/lunch, it’s really different from what you usually get in Tokyo & Osaka, or anywhere else in the world that’s broadly labelled as Japanese food. We asked our hotel reception for recommendations and they gave us a few choices along the route towards Kyoto Station.
The waiter recommended these dishes – which tasted really interesting. Apparently, Kyoto is famous for their deer and horse meat, of which we tried the latter. It was the thigh and the neck meat if I didn’t remember wrongly. My friend liked the horse meat, it was very tender and melts in your mouth. I’ve never eaten any of these before, and personally I still like the mainstream ones more. But no harm giving it a try!
(The authentic Kyoto cuisine, Kyo-ryori, is when a waitress in kimono kneels on the tatami floor serves you food on a low table. It’s really expensive but you can opt for it if you have the spare cash.)
After that, walk further down to the Kyoto Station to visit the free observatory and skyway. You can explore the station itself with its beautiful architecture.
view from the Observatory
Don’t bother going at night – the view is really dark, plus it’s blocked by the glass wall, so you can’t really get any nice photos. Also, it’s a place where the Japanese teenage couples like to spend quiet moments at – so you won’t want to feel awkward there.
view from the skyway
DAY 2 AFTERNOON/EVENING:
Visit Shrine 2 of your choice. I’d recommend Kinkakuji, The Golden Pavilion. (do not confuse with Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion) You could take a bus directly from the Kyoto Station’s bus interchange. It takes about 40minutes, because it’s right at the top part of Kyoto, but it’s one golden palace you won’t want to miss. One bus ride is 230yen.
It’s so beautiful in Spring with the flowers and vivid colours. I’d go back in winter when it’s snowing. It’ll be such a beautiful sight! The admission fee is 400yen.
By then, you’d be able to get a feel of Japanese culture and appreciate the differences between Kyoto and other major cities. It’s not as boring as some may claim it to be. Also, if you’re a manga fan, there’s a manga museum to go to.
I also highly recommend you to do the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe trip if you have the luxury of time, because even without the Shinkansen, these three cities are accessible by their local trains! That’s how close they are. They have express trains so they’re quite fast!