This guide aims to guide you through the main sites and advise on how to prioritise your stay in wonderful Kyoto.
Kyoto is easily be seen as a microcosm of Japan, and is a highlight of many tourists visits to Japan. Its also a great city to gently introduce you to the Japanese way of life when travelling from Western cultures.
Besides the ultra modern new railway station with its high-speed bullet trains giving rapid access to the rest of the country, sit stunning Japanese gardens and secluded temples that seem a world away from the modern Japan which exists a stones throw away outside the temple gate.
Kyoto is a city that can entertain for days on end and shouldn’t be rushed. In a one or even two-day visit you would barely skip round the main attractions and would miss much of the experience that the city can offer. Where time allows we would recommend a minimum of three days to see the city itself and a minimum of four days if you want to see any of the sights around the city.
The main arrival point for most visitors to Kyoto is the Central JR railway station. Lying to the south of the city centre the JR station offers access to both Kyotos limited metro network and through its adjacent bus station, to its efficient bus service.
There are many cheaper hotels and restaurants in the vicinity of the station and a short walk north is the main commercial area of the city.
We stayed in the Holiday Inn Kyoto which as a couple of westerners in a new culture made for a very relaxing and easy introduction to Japanesse culture.
The hotel is situated north east of the city centre right beside Nijo Castle and offers a free shuttle bus service which runs at regular intervals to and from the JR station.
The hotel is gorgeous and even if you are not staying here is worth a visit to its rooftop bar for the views alone!
Radiating out from the central train station, which lies to the south of the city centre, lies a grid pattern of streets which makes the city easy to navigate - distances can be deceptive though and many of Kyoto’s main streets can go on for miles.
The cheapest, quickest way around the city is using the city’s efficient bus service. You can pick up an English language bus map from the tourist information centre at the front of the railway station (All day pass=200) Y
Kiyomizudera is one of the most important temples in Japan and stands in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto, and is famed not only because of the beautiful temple with its stunning views from its wooden terrace, but also because the buzzing Higashiyama district which surrounds the site is the Trafford centre equivalent of craft shops, restaurants and ryokan seeking to satisfy the needs of the many tourists snaking their way up the hill towards the temple.
The temple complex is a beautiful place to wander but unless you get here in early morning don’t expect to have the place to yourself!
Entry through the torrii at the main takes you away from the hustle of Higashiyama to the temple complex itself, with the main hall right ahead of you.
Behind the main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love. In front of the shrine are two rocks, placed several meters apart from each other. Successfully walking from one to the other rock with your eyes closed allegedly brings luck in your love live. This experience seemed way too life like to me! I took a couple of wrong turns initially, had my head turned in different directions, but eventually found the right road without straying too far! Truth be told mind, even the wrong turns were fun!
After the rocks, walk down the stairs to the pool at the bottom of the main terrace where legend has it that by drinking spring water from the pool gives long life- have still to prove whether this legend is true!
The temple and the surroundings were wonderful, but to me the actual hustle and bustle of the Higashiyama district was the real star- a must see!
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji, more commonly known as the Golden Pavilion is a Zen temple formally bult as part of a new residence for the retired shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
The main temple bulding is overed in gold leaf to give it its distinctive appearance and the grounds centre on a large central lake which somehow manages to always seem tranquil despite the number of tourists around the place
Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
Ginkakuji, otherwise known as the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple, although the names a bit of a cheat as plans to cover the temple in silver to complete a temple to rival the splendour of the Golden Pavilion were never fully realised, so all you get is big wooden temple. Lovely nonetheless mind.
The garden represents Mount Fuji, with a stunning pyramid of sand with the ocean waves rippling all around the base. The whole garden is very tranquil and again, very relaxing.
Sanjusangendo is the popular name for Rengeo-in, a temple in eastern Kyoto, which is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
The main hall, which houses the statues, is with over 100 meters Japan's longest wooden structure. In its centre sits one large Kannon, flanked on each side by 500 smaller statues, standing in neat rows side by side, each as tall as a human being.
Gion is Kyoto's geisha district, and is great for a wander about in the early evening when the geishas are heading to and from appointments.
The traditional wooden machiya style merchant houses, which now contain high class restaurants and tea houses, crouch tightly together and offer a glimpse of what the city may have looked like back in the days of the shoguns.
For those mere mortals who would baulk at the extravagant cost of being entertained by a geisha for an evening, a night at Gion Corner (http://kyoto-gion-corner.info/) may suffice. Its great fun and tries to give tourists and introduction into the formal Japanesse arts. For those of you who have ever wondered how geishas entertain guests or what the proper way is to pour a cup of tea is- then this is the place to go!
Arashiyama is a great wee town about an hours bus journey from Kyoto and is well worth a visit.
There is the ubiquitous zen temple and lots of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Many of these shops sell bamboo products and you can wander through the bamboo grove or sit on the bridge and watch the fishermen catching their carch using comorants instead of rods!
Kyoto is a wonderful city- tons to do, loads of new experiences and the Japanesse people are some of the loveliest people you could ever come across. Defintely a must do in Japan!