Kyoto is almost as magical as Disney World. If you only have time for one city in Japan, I would choose Kyoto over Tokyo. Also, does anyone else find it really entertaining that Tokyo and Kyoto are anagrams of eachother? No, just me? Ok.
Anyway, how I got to Kyoto was almost as awesome as Kyoto. The incredibly fast bullet trains (aka shinkansens) were out of my budget, so I decided to take an overnight bus after two days in Tokyo – worked out well, since I also saved money on accommodation! I was expecting it to be a relatively sleepless night, as most overnight bus rides are.
BUT. This was the greatest overnight bus of all time, I talk about it constantly. The seats reclined so far back I was basically lying down, each chair had a little dome that you could pull over yourself to make it feel more private, and it was totally dark and silent the whole night. I slept for over eight hours, with zero interruptions, and woke up to the extraordinary view of the Kyoto river just as we pulled up, rubbing my eyes as I peered out the window slightly disoriented.
The first thing that I did in Kyoto was have a nap. I said it was because I really wanted to try out a capsule hotel, but if I am telling the truth it is because I was lazy and also needed a shower. Side benefit – I got to try out a capsule hotel! I think I paid about $20 for a 2.5 hour stretch of time at nine hours Kyoto. I truly think that being able to rent a place to nap is the greatest idea of all time. I got to shove all my stuff in a locker and use the included toiletries and toothbrush, AND A ROBE AND PAJAMAS. Then when I got in the capsule, I could set the alarm to wake me up gradually with light, for the exact time I needed. Truly the best nap of my life.
I was in Kyoto at one of the two best times of year. It’s a great destination year-round, but if you want to be wowed, cherry blossom season and autumn are the best times. Autumn apparently comes later to Japan than Canada, so in mid-November the beautiful colours were in full swing. Everywhere I walked the trees were almost the best attraction, and the ancient temples and shrines looked even more beautiful with the vibrant red backdrop of nature. Let’s get into where I went and what I did!
Free Walking Tour
I love doing walking tours to orient myself to a city, and this was a great one. It was the first thing I did after the aforementioned nap, and was a great way to learn about some shrine etiquette AND spot some geishas. Our guide explained the history and culture of geishas to us (they are not prostitutes!) and we got SO lucky in the Gion district, seeing multiple geishas rushing to lessons or appointments.
It was so cool, and our guide said it was the most he had ever seen in one day. This area of town itself is so historic and beautiful, and I loved wandering through it.
Philosopher’s Path and Kyoto’s Temples
I actually missed out on some of the most famous temples in Kyoto – like the Golden Temple. I honestly just wasn’t too fussed about temple after temple, even though they look beautiful. I was more in the mood for hiking and nature! However, I certainly made time for the Philosopher’s Path, which is a gorgeous 2km path leading along a canal and between some of the city’s most famous temples.
It was quite busy when I walked along, but it was a really lovely stroll, especially with the fall leaves. I ended up at Ginkaku-ji and decided I wanted to go for a hike. I sat down at a restaurant, ate some amazing ramen, and googled a hike nearby.
This was the best thing I did in Kyoto! When I hiked, I had some extremely vague directions, but fumbled my way through it – when I just googled the hike, though, I found this site. It even has pictures, so if you save this site in advance the hike will be a BREEZE.
Anyway, the hike itself was lovely – but the atmosphere at the top was the best part. I was the only foreigner that I could see, and there were tons of families picnicking, chatting, and just enjoying their days. I found a perch and read, journalled, and people-watched to my heart’s content. And of course, had a solo photo shoot!
Jam Hostel Kyoto Gion
I really liked my hostel. It’s owned by a lovely woman (who speaks great English and is happy to chat) who also owns the sake bar on the bottom floor. I love hostels attached to bars; it makes it so easy to make friends and it worked out perfectly here! I sat down for a sake tasting and ten minutes a lovely British girl named Jo sat down and we started talking. We ended up going out that night together for dinner, and meeting up the next night for dinner and drinks. We had a great time trying out lots of different restaurants and bars; the food in Japan was SO good. I somehow managed to leave the country without eating any sushi, which I’m still really confused by, but everything else I ate was amazing.
One of my favorite moments in Japan came as I was walking back to my hostel, full, happy, and maybe a bit tipsy. I took a random route and ended up walking down Pontocho Alley, which is apparently known as one of the most atmospheric dining areas in Kyoto. The lanterns were lit, every bar was buzzing, and I felt very content with my life and with Kyoto.
Next up: my thoughts on the two most famous day trips from Kyoto!