Kyoto was cooler than I expected. Everyone will tell you it’s Japan’s traditional city and they’re not wrong but where traditional can often mean stuffy, Kyoto has endless curiosities and quirks.
You will see Kimonos everywhere. At first I thought that maybe this was what Japanese girls did on a Sunday afternoon at the city’s many temples.
When we met with our private guide though, she told me most of them were actually Korean and Chinese girls dressing up for Instagram greatness! While I didn’t go that far, I was inspired enough to buy a beautiful parasol as a geisha-style souvenir.
My favourite walk of the whole trip was up to the top of the Arashiyama Monkey Park where you can enjoy a 180 degree view over Kyoto AND get up close to the monkeys.
The park is fully supervised and there is an air conditioned room where you can buy apples to feed the monkeys, which of course I did. The monkeys here are the same species as the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani but these macaques are much easier to get to.
I also took part in a home-cooking class where I learnt how to prepare authentic chicken teriyaki which I absolutely loved. I’m not much of a cook at home but cooking classes when travelling are such a great way to get to know a place and the locals. Plus you get to eat the best food!
I also discovered that fermented tuna, known as Katsuobushi, is shaved to create kombu, the key ingredient in miso soup. Our guide pointed this out while escorting us through the Nishiki Market – Kyoto’s famed food markets.
While the markets are a little touristy, our guide told us there were plenty of great finds to be had and the locals go there to eat.
Kyoto has lot of temples; over 1600 in fact. As the city was the final stop on my trip, I had grown a bit tired of them to be honest especially since you rarely get to go inside one and they’re inevitably at the top of a giant hill!
But the first temple I visited in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera, turned out to be my favourite. The structure was complex and striking but it was more the scenery, lush and overlooking the city, that set it apart. Watching the sunset from here was really magical.
Kinkaku-ji is Kyoto’s most photographed temple and is truly beautiful but again, the surrounding grounds were even more picturesque.
My favourite part of the visit was going inside one of the ancient buildings and hearing the floors squeak – a feature that was purposely created so the Emperor could hear when anyone entered.
Of all the places I loved in Kyoto, if I had to choose a favourite it would be the Fushimi inari Taisha shrine – also known as the red gates.
They really are as spectacular as they appear in pictures. And they really do go on and on and on. To avoid the crowds, I recommend arriving early or late in the afternoon which is what I did.
Visit around sunset and you’ll get the most beautiful light peaking through the tight gaps of the gates and you’ll no doubt fall in love with Kyoto like I did.
Published under license from Well Travelled