The laid-back atmosphere and the cultural heritage combine to make a visit to Kyoto the absolute highlight of any serious backpacker’s Japanese itinerary!
My journey to Kyoto was achieved from a flight with Singapore Airlines to Osaka, and then taking a limousine bus service from Osaka Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station. This journey usually takes 1 hour, but can take longer during peak travel times of the day. Luckily, my accommodation in Kyoto was just opposite the bus stop (although, obviously, I still got lost).
Probably the main reason people visit the ancient Japanese capital is to see its famous temples and shrines, of which there are many! Probably the most amazing of them all are Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), and my personal favourite, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its amazing red tori gates leading up the Inari mountain!
There is no question that there are many temples to explore in Kyoto. Many backpackers make a beeline to Kiyomizu-dera, with its famous wooden verandas (this is actually Kyoto’s number one tourist attraction), and also Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion), which is kind of like a sister temple to Kinkakuji, with it being designed in much the same way, at least externally. Be warned though: Ginkakuji is not actually silver (most people know this, anyway)!
Nanzenji Temple, Sanjusangendo Hall, and Nijo Castle are also great tourist hotspots that cannot be left off your itinerary when in Kyoto. While they may not be quite as impressive visually as the likes of Fushimi Inari or Kinkakuji, these attractions are nevertheless very rewarding experiences for the people who dedicate more than a few days in the city. Nijo Castle especially, with its nightingale creaking floors, is a must-see attraction!
Pontocho Street is a narrow street in the Higashiyama District of Kyoto. This design reminded me of the Hutongs in Beijing and the Hanok villages of Korea. However, Pontocho Street has a main purpose of not residences, but entertainment! In the night time, there are bars and chic restaurants lined within these narrow streets and it is a great place to unwind after a frenetic day of sightseeing. Some of these bars even have beer gardens (or sake gardens) that overlook the river at the rear of the alleyways.
No visitor to Kyoto can avoid the lure of the lantern-lined streets of Gion. This is where you may see geisha, which are female Japanese entertainers and hostesses (not prostitutes), who often hold galas and dinners for businessmen and salarymen, as a way of earmarking the traditional Japanese heritage around here. Usually these days, there are also geisha available to entertain tourists. While I did have the opportunity to see this kind of entertainment, you can really get a great idea of what goes on with the Geisha and Maiko apprentices on this blog from Girllilikoi.
I had an amazing time exploring every little nook and cranny of Kyoto. I didn’t manage to find Nishiki Market, which is located down a street off of Gion somewhere, but aside from that I saw everything else that I wanted! Tokyo may have the bright lights, and Hiroshima may have the important historic monuments from World War 2, but it Kyoto that remains the greatest city in all of Japan!