Known for: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Nijo Castle Fushimi-inari Shrine Ryokans Geisha
Take a walk back in time down the streets of Kyoto lined with burnt orange leaves and wooden architecture from a bygone era. There’s something about Kyoto that displays a true sense of tradition and authenticity, and it’s charming city keeps travellers returning year round.
One myth I can immediately quash for you is that you can’t see both west and eastern sides of Kyoto in one day. You totally can. Wake up early and cycle to Arashiyama bamboo forest on the far west, grab a bit to eat afterwards, then meander over to Fushimi-inari for sunset.
WHAT TO DO
1. Start with Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. A beautiful green grove of sleek and tall bamboo stretches down a (surprisingly short) pathway like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Dress warmly as it is not exposed to a lot of sun, but the air is so fresh and crisp you’ll want to enjoy it while you’re away from car fumes of the city.
2. While you’re there, keep walking to explore the gardens. Regardless of what season you visit in, they will be beautiful. While we were there we got to see this vivid red tree.
3. Grab lunch, and cycle over to Fushimi-inari shrine and walk through the 1000 red gates. Each one is so well preserved, it’s hard to believe they were first built in 711.
Travel tip: Make sure to side quest off the path to see another stunning bamboo grove
4. Stay to watch the sunset
Travel tip: Don’t bother going right to the top as the best look out is just below (look for this view).
5. Bike back via the canal
6. Spend the evening at Len bar and Restaurant. The hospitality went beyond expectations as they looked after our bags, let us use the internet and helped us find a hostel, and to repay them we bought about 6 of their delicious curries while we were there!
We built great friendships with the staff and I feel like our experience was a memorable one and it goes to show how far a little bit of kindness can go.
7. Seek out cool street art
8. People watch
9. Try to spot Geisha women in traditional dress
Travel tip: Always get to tourist saturated places early. I can’t stress this enough!
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of great hostels in the area.
We stayed at a hostel called Suzuki Guesthouse. It was quite far from the busy area of town, but super handy to our favourite restaurant so we were happy. Another cool thing about the hostel is when describing it’s location you can say, “Oh you know, that one next to the ancient old castle across town”. How many other places in the world can you say that?
WHERE TO EAT
Morpho Vegan Cafe: Carnivores need not be put off this plant-based wholesome haven. We loved the soy meat “fish” burger with tartare. Sounds strange, but it was so delicious we went back the next day and ordered the same thing for lunch.
WHAT TO WEAR
Once again, pretty mild weather. I wore a light jacket and yoga pants while I was there as we were doing a lot of riding. The bamboo forest is teeth-chattering freezing in the early morning, but by the end of the day you’ll be hot from biking, so best bet is layers, layers, layers.
In all honesty I’d be back to Kyoto in a heartbeat. While it is one of the more popular areas of Japan, it doesn’t feel over-run with tourists or built up with Westernised monstrosities. The old fashioned charm with lure you in and you won’t want to leave.
Next up, Nara + Wakayama.