Formerly the capital of Japan, Kyoto is found on the largest island of Honshu. Whether it is your first time (or your eighth time), there is always a seemingly never-ending list of sites to see, things to eat, and places to visit! Here’s how to spend a weekend in Kyoto, ticking off several of those bucket list items.
First off the bat, we would highly recommend staying in a ryokan. These Japanese inns allow guests to get a real taste of Japan and some of the special traditions associated with this country. Rooms feature tatami mats and a cosy futon to sleep on, a yukata (a style of kimono) that can be worn around the ryokan, and most have communal baths to soak in at the end of a busy day.
Once you have checked in, take your pick of visiting Kinkaku-ji or Ginkaku-ji (the Golden or Silver Pavilion) …or even both, if you have time! Whichever you choose, walking through the immaculate surrounds to come across one of these pavilions is simply breath taking.
As twilight approaches, head to the Gion area. This historic neighbourhood has streets lined with traditional buildings, making it a picturesque place to explore. Dusk is the best time of day to spot geisha, particularly on Hanami Lane, so keep an eye out! Dinner tonight can also be found in Gion. Pop into a ramen shop, an izakaya or any place that takes your fancy.
This morning, start your day off with a traditional ryokan breakfast. It is an assortment of beautifully presented dishes like miso soup, rolled egg omelettes, pickled vegetables and more.
Today’s adventure sees you catching a 30-minute train ride to the small village of Arashiyama. You have probably seen its iconic bamboo grove splashed across photos of Japan, but don’t look past discovering its quaint streets, temples and shrines as well. Going earlier in the day is best to beat the crowds, plus it means you have then built up an appetite to have lunch in one of Arashiyama’s small, affordable restaurants.
Catch the train back to Kyoto mid-afternoon for some downtime at your ryokan. You may want to head to the onsen to experience this Japanese tradition!
Depending on your appetite, energy levels and budget, Pontocho is the place to go this evening. Located by the Kamogawa River, there are a range of bars, casual eateries and upmarket restaurants. If you visit during the warmer months, restaurants that are right beside the river have an outdoor space overlooking the water for you to dine al fresco.
It is another early start today to beat the crowds, this time at Fushimi Inari shrine! Located just by the Inari Station on the Nara train line, it is the most important shrine in Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Marvel at the 10,000 bright orange torii gates as you make your way to the top of the mountain. Depending on your fitness levels and time available, it is very easy to only do a section of the 2-3 hour return hike. The smaller shrines and views across Kyoto up the mountain are well worth the walk!
You will have worked up an appetite after visiting Fushimi Inari so the Nishiki market is calling your name! Affectionately known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, this is the place for foodies to peruse the hundred-odd shops and restaurants. Stop in at a local restaurant to try some of the freshest seafood, then spend some time wandering the markets. It’s a great place to pick up some Kyoto specialties like pickles or sweets.
Just two kilometres from the Nishiki market is Higashiyama. With traditional wooden houses and magical alleyways, you’ll feel like you have stepped back in time; a great way to get a feel for what Kyoto was like many decades ago. You may want to indulge in a little shopping here too for souvenirs and Kiyomizu-yaki pottery.
Your final stop for your weekend is Kiyomizu-dera temple for a glorious sunset. It has a fantastic viewing platform to give you a panorama across Kyoto as the sky changes colour. Its name translates to ‘pure water temple’ since it was built at the bottom of the Otowa Waterfall, a revered site for the Japanese.