Kyoto is a classic Japanese city full of temples, geishas, shopping and great food. Smaller than Tokyo, there’s a lot to do in and around Kyoto.
We had decided to visit Kyoto based on persuasive recommendations that the city was a must-see destination for any Japan itinerary. However, once in Japan, we were enjoying Tokyo so much that departing the metropolis was bittersweet. Plus, traveling with luggage takes its toll.
Our plan was set and the hotel was booked, so we plowed forward to Kyoto. After a sushi breakfast at the original Tsukiji market, we hopped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and were off to the city of geishas and temples.
Getting to Kyoto
Armed with 7-day Japan Rail (JR) train passes, we boarded the train found our seats in car 12.
The train was awesome as it took us the 263 miles in under three hours, with a beautiful view of breathtaking Mount Fuji along the way.
First Impressions of Kyoto
Arriving at the impressive Kyoto Station, we were immediately struck by the number of geishas in Kyoto compared to Tokyo. We saw many older geishas as well as many young maikos (apprentices). So many that we stopped counting.
Although a big city, Kyoto has a totally different vibe compared to Tokyo. It has many older buildings since the city wasn’t bombed during World War II.
Kyoto has less neon lighting and women are dressed more conservatively. We were also struck by the great number of temples in the city. There are literally temples everywhere.
Our first priority was to visit Ginkaku-ji, more commonly known as the Silver Pavilion. We took a bus part way to the temple and then finished the journey by walking up Tetsugaku-no-Michi, the Path of Philosophy.
The path is a gorgeous, quaint, canal-centered walk highlighted by the remnants of cherry blossoms and the arrival of bright green spring leaves. Considering that Kyoto is one of the best spots to view cherry blossoms in Japan, we were thrilled to see nature’s colorful display.
We diverged from the path to visit Hõnen-in, a serene Buddhist temple up the hill.
Once we reached the Silver Temple, we enjoyed the view, the ponds, the perfectly manicured trees and the exterior of the pavilion itself.
We fit in an early morning visit to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, a Shinto shrine complex with thousands of orange gates leading up the mountain.
We kept expecting the gates to end as we ascended the mountain, but they kept going.
Although we are not students of Shinto, we found the walk to be spiritual in a naturalistic way.
Plus, we could not help but think of the similarities to the 2005 Gates exhibit in New York’s Central Park. Modern artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were inspired by the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha with its infinite bright orange entryways that seem to wind into infinity.
Another priority was seeing Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. The original Kinkaku-ji, built in 1397, burnt to the ground in 1950. The gold plated temple glowed, casting a serene reflection in the surrounding pond.
We arrived at the popular temple along with many school groups and other tourists.
There’s lots more than temples around Kyoto of course. We dined at a kaiseki restaurant and shopped at the fabulous, 400-year old Nishiki Market.
We also shopped at the two century old Takashimaya department store.
Final Thoughts on Kyoto
Although we enjoyed the slower pace of Kyoto, not to mention the shopping, sites and foods, we regretted leaving Tokyo based our relatively tight itinerary.
So, we switched to an earlier train back to Tokyo after visiting Kinkaku-ji, just in time to enjoy ramen for lunch and then check into our new hotel in Akasaka.
One thing about Kyoto, though… it’s where we got the money shot.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
We self-funded our trip to Kyoto.
Original Publication Date: May 10, 2013
Wednesday 29th of October 2014
That's so interesting about seeing that many geishas! After reading memoirs of a geisha, I would love to visit here, see for myself! Pictures are lovely, train journey, the must see destinations, all of it sounds really interesting, look forward to going myself in a few years time :-)
Wednesday 6th of August 2014
Would you happen to know if the emperor lives in Kyoto year-round, or does he move around based on the season, like the British royals? The emperor is a very controversial figure for Japan, as you may know, and the Japanese revere him as the soul of Japan - a difficult concept to communicate without the Japanese cultural experience. Did you see any sign of this sort of homage, perhaps with some changing of the guard, or perhaps a motorcade, or anything else like that?
Daryl and Mindi Hirsch
Wednesday 6th of August 2014
I must admit that we didn't see the emperor in Kyoto. We did see many geishas, which was pretty cool.
Friday 10th of May 2013
Love Kyoto!! It is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan!!