The 8 Best Things To Do in Kyoto
Kyoto, the cultural and imperial capital of Japan, has been recently named one the world’s most photogenic cities and deservedly so. The city is world-famous for its cherry trees, elusive geisha, tranquil Buddhist temples, beautiful Shinto shrines, and exciting dining scene. Even after dark, Kyoto remains a spellbinding destination, as you are about to discover.
1. Fushimi Inari
Among the must-see destinations in the city, Fushimi Inari easily tops the list. Sitting at the foot of a mountain called Inari (hence the name), this popular shrine boasts stunning yet seemingly never-ending tunnel gates, which provide visitors tranquil and mildly challenging trails. Shinto pilgrims come here to honor the god of rice, while tourists simply revel in the shrine’s beauty and mystery, especially at night. After dark, it is much easier to find secluded spots in Fushimi Inari for complete solitude, contemplation, or photo-ops when the crowds have left for the day. Carefully watch your steps as the lights along the way are not too bright. Follow the long stretch of red pillars, enjoy the serene environment, and soak up the glowing vista of Kyoto city below.
2. Kyoto Tower
If hiking is not your thing, ride an elevator to the top of Kyoto Tower. This retro-futuristic landmark was built in 1964 about the same time as Tokyo Summer Olympics. For an old imperial town, this tall structure, which looks like it pops out from a comic book, announces to Kyoto visitors that the city is no longer stuck in the past. Open from sunset to late at night with playful lighting by request (yes, many have proposed marriage here). As you reach the top, look down, and take in the fantastic view of the city far below you. With only a few high-rise buildings in the area, it’s easy to see why the tower has become a famous lookout point in the city.
One of the main religions in Japan is Buddhism, so it is unsurprising to find the best Shojin cuisine in Kyoto. Vegetarians will be thrilled to find plenty of delectable meatless options at Ajiro, which is open for lunch and dinner. The founder of the restaurant went through an intensive cooking training from Buddhist monks. Hence, the dishes in this restaurant are as authentic as they can get. Simplicity reigns in its interior design with tatami seats and low tables. Call the concierge to secure a table or a private room if you are coming as a large group. Anything with tofu tastes delicious in this unassuming Michelin-starred restaurant that specializes in vegetarian fare.
4. Kiyamachi Sakuragawa
Self-proclaimed foodies should sample a different type of Japanese cuisine, like the exquisite Kaiseki cuisine. Skip other restaurant recommendations and proceed to Kiyamachi Sakuragawa. This dining spot did not get one Michelin star for nothing. Kaiseki newbies can discover Japanese haute cuisine by sampling flavors carefully put together by the kitchen crew of Mr. Maeda. Using the best available ingredients by season, he creates Kaiseki meals and dining experiences that delight the senses. As in any sought-after Japanese eatery, call to reserve a seat days or weeks ahead of your visit.
For traditional Japanese entertainment, spend an evening watching Kabuki, a theatrical art form where characters put on striking costumes and exaggerated makeup, and over-dramatize their movements. Discover why the Japanese love this show, which dates as far back as 1600. Picture yourself enjoying theater shows among Edo period spectators. The earliest theater ever put up in Kyoto is Minami-za in 1610, and its name came from Shijō Minami-za. Besides the theater’s age and timeless fame, its location makes it ideal. The theater is situated in the midst of the famous geisha district of Gion. This night out activity is absolutely in tune with Kyoto’s historic setting.
Observe the contrast between the old and young Kyoto at Metro. This chic club is a hit among the youngsters in Kyoto with its hip and varied music. You will hear the DJ play both local and international songs from various artists. Recently, however, Metro is no longer limited to music lovers but also caters to aficionados of films, visual arts, and even literature. No wonder why it’s easy to feel at home in this well-known local hangout. Visitors can also choose to watch movies or listen to lectures. For schedule of performances, concerts, as well as talks, ring the reception before you visit.
Kyoto welcomes weary travelers in its unique, relaxing,and ritzy ryokan inns. No trip to Kyoto is complete without staying in one of these traditional hotels. To find the best among this accommodation type, stay at Tawaraya. Slip into your yukata (traditional Japanese kimono), then sit back and relax in your tatami-mat-covered sleeping quarter that harkens back to the Edo period. It’s a wonder how such as peaceful sanctuary can be found in the middle of Kyoto’s hustle and bustle. Previous guests of the inn gush about the fantastic service, gorgeous rooms, pristine courtyard gardens, and quick access to downtown sights and attractions. Who needs the rooftop bar and revolving restaurants in high-rise hotels when you can spend the evening in this amazing abode?
8. Kodaiji Temple
If you only have the evening to see one of Kyoto’s most famous World Heritage Sites, a trip to Kodaiji Temple at night is worth every minute. Around mid-March until early May, this impressive temple is open from sundown to 9:30 pm. To celebrate seasonal events, such as the cherry blossoms in spring and the foliage in the fall, the temple is spectacularly lit, leaving visitors in awe. Explore the intricate architecture, horticulture, and zen principles applied to this worship site. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the lovely light show illuminating this amazing ancient treasure at night.
Bonus: Hang out with geiko (geisha). One of the biggest bucket list items travelers want to cross off is to snap a photo of Japanese entertainers or hostesses called geisha. You can easily spend the whole afternoon or evening waiting for geisha in the Gion district, or you can book a meeting with geiko in an ochaya (a traditional Japanese teahouse where geiko meet clients). It’s pretty pricey compared to seeking geisha on the street, but if you want to make sure you are seeing the real deal, it’s best to book ahead. The concierge in any luxury ryokan inn or five-star hotel can help you with this.
There are more things to do in Kyoto than we can fit on this list. Have you traveled to Kyoto lately? Tell us your favorite activities in Kyoto via our Facebook page.