Kyoto is a city that blends tradition and modernity with utmost finesse. Once served as the capital of Japan, this historic city stands awash with remnants of past glory. From busy shopping complexes to the gentle serenity of sublime gardens, there is much to unravel. If you’ve got 48 hours in this mystifying tourist hub, make the most of your time in this vibrant city that is home to Japan’s best food, culture and architecture.
Kick start your day with a tour around the spectacular Nijo Castle. Regarded as one of the most impressive sights, nothing is as symbolic of Kyoto as this architectural marvel.
For a rather historic romp through old Kyoto, I’d recommend a visit to the Yasaka Pagoda. This lone tower that survived the ravages of fire overlooks beautiful cherry blossoms. Just a short walk away, you will also come across the Yasaka Shrine. There’s plenty to explore in and around Yasaka Pagoda and Shrine – the untouched alley is an amazing place to walk around and explore the narrow lanes with traditional old houses with gardens overflowing into the road, small eateries serving piping hot and tasty food (a must try is mochi, a Japanese rice cake) and you might even come across men ferrying tourists in a rickshaw. You will land up spending at least a couple of hours here, including grabbing some lunch.
Next, head to another must-see attraction among the architectural wonders – Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple. Strategically located on the brink of the Higashiyama district, the temple offers brilliant views of the city apart from its individual splendour. To reach this mesmerising temple, you need to hike through a narrow cobblestone pathway, which is most often filled with tourists and has numerous shops on both sides selling souvenirs, food and other knick-knacks. It’s best to hike your way up to the temple first and spend time at these shops on the way back. Once reaching atop, you will have amazing views of the city as well as a never-ending view of a forest. In the right seasons, you can either see a sea of cherry blossom trees, spring trees or autumn trees. For the adventurous, there is even a pathway which goes into this greenery to get a better view. Once you finish at the temple, you can spend some time at the shops on the way back down, which usually close by 6-7 pm. Snack on some soba noodles or hot meat buns and buy some gifts for your people back home.
Kyoto boasts of a distinct culture and no trip is complete without a visit to the iconic Gion District. From the Kiyomizu-dera temple you can walk the streets of Kyoto to reach Gion District. This walk will take you through streets and sights through traditional wooden machiya houses which you will find only in Kyoto, old Kyoto. Once you reach the main district, which is a popular area for seeing geishas, spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you’ll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their zori sandals and exquisite kimonos.
Once you finish roaming the streets, you can head to a place of your choice for dinner, there plenty to choose from. Later, you can even head to a bar for a few drinks before heading back to your hotel to prepare or the next day.
Kyoto is a garden lover’s paradise. For the best experience with nature, I’d suggest starting your day at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The forest is one of the most serene spots to enjoy nature’s bounty. You can rent a bike or stroll the pathway to enjoy the beautiful sight of sunlight shining through the bamboo groves. In the vicinity, there are plenty of gardens and parks that you can visit. But a must is if you enjoy the tranquillity of gardens, is the grand Tenryū-ji Temple. Surrounded by sprawling Zen gardens and peaking mountains, the temple makes a captivating site. If you’re in time for spring, the pink parade of cherry blossoms is worth watching.
Choosing the best shrine to visit in Kyoto can be a daunting task. But the Fushimi Inari Shrine is hands down the winner. Dotted with over 5000 vibrant vermilion tori gates, this seemingly unending path is a pleasant hike. Climbing all the way to the top of Mountain Inari is recommended, if you can, as the sight from there is breath-taking.
After an energised walk, head to the Kinkaku-ji Temple (golden temple). This temple attracts visitors for its luxurious charm. Set amidst a dazzling pond, this gold encrusted temple is a must-see attraction in the city.
After all this adventure, a stroll around the scenic Philosopher’s Path is the single best way to while away an hour or two. The Philosopher’s path is a stone walk along a canal that is beautifully lined with fragrant cherry blossoms (during the season). The path winds past small boutiques and restaurants offering a glimpse into the culture of the locals. It is also a perfect spot to grab a bite of lip-smacking delicacies. Some of the must-try favourites include Ippudo Nishikikouji and Fire Ramen. But don’t restrict yourself to these meals. After all, no visit to Kyoto would be complete without feasting on the city’s gastronomic treats.
If time permits, you can also squeeze in a visit to the Ginkaku-ji (silver temple).
After all these activities, wind up your day resting at a local bar or unwinding in your hotel, for after walking for two days, your feet and body would need the rest.
Few things to keep in mind about Kyoto:
- If it’s the rainy season, don’t forget to carry an umbrella around with you as you will need to walk around the temples/shrines and sites.
- Don’t forget to carry good shoes because in Kyoto you will need to do a lot of walking.
- Unlike Osaka and Tokyo, there are very few subway lines in Kyoto. For getting around the preferred mode of transport is either taxi or bus. Taxis usually are expensive and buses are cheaper but you’ve got to wait for them.
- Hotels usually give you maps in English which will help you get in and around the city.
- Temples and shrines usually shut by 4 pm. So, plan your visit accordingly.
Click to explore our Honeymoon in Japan holiday and our Japan Cherry Blossom holiday!