Kyoto is a beautiful city with tons to see, but if you’ve got a short schedule you can definitely make the most of your time and experience some of the amazingness Kyoto has to offer. With plenty of public transportation it’s easy to get around the city in a timely manner so that you can see as much as possible.
Nijo Castle: Get into some history of the Shoguns and take in the beautiful architecture at the amazingly preserved Nijo Castle. The whole complex has three rings, outer ring of defense, the secondary ring of defence, and the inner gardens and palace, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle opens at 8:45AM and costs 600 Yen. I’d give yourself an hour to an hour and half to go through the museum and walk around the grounds.
Arashiyama – Bamboo Forest: Next hop on the 93 Bus out to Arashiyama, it’s a bit of a ride to the outskirts of town but well worth it. The bamboo forest is beautiful and even more breathtaking in person. If you go in December you can catch the Light Festival, right around Christmas time the Bamboo Forest gets lit up at night for a beautiful night time walk through the grove.
Okochi-Sanso Villa: If you exit out the back of the Bamboo Forest you’ll find another beautiful garden, the Okichi-Sanso Villa. You can wander around the beautiful garden paths and stop into the tea house for a hot cup of matcha and a sweet treat. Admission is a little pricey at 1,000 Yen, but I thought it was worth it, and it includes your tea and snack.
Packing list for Japan in Winter
Imperial Palace and Park: Spend your morning wandering around the beautiful park and Imperial Palace. Admission to the palace is free, but they do offer tours in English is you feel so inclined. I really enjoyed just taking a walk through the park and around the Palace on my own though.
Nishiki Market: It’s time to go try some food! From the Imperial Palace you can either walk (about 30 minutes) or take a the train (Karasuma line) over to the Nishiki Market. This awesome indoor/outdoor market has all kinds of food and cute little shops for trinkets and souvenirs. Be sure to try the donuts and the pastries!
Fushimi Inari Shrine (Orange Gates): Once you’ve had your fill of treats and snacks head to the train station, you can take either the Keihan Main Line, or the Karasuma to the Nara line out to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. Take a walk through the meandering paths and grand orange gates. I went in the late afternoon and was able to catch the sunset from the top of the hill. The views of Kyoto were awesome from up there.
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If You Have Extra Time:
Golden Pavilion: The Golden Pavilion is pretty cool and if you have some extra time I’d highly recommend going out to see it. It’s a bit out of the way, and there not a whole lot around it which is why you’d need some extra time. But the Golden Pavilion itself is pretty spectacular to see and the gardens around it are beautiful.
Air BNB: We stayed at this cute little Air BNB in the Kamigyo Ward. It was small but cozy, and in a great location. It was really close to the Imperial Palace and park, and the Kamogawa River was close by which was really pretty to walk along. Most importantly it was easy to get around from, with plenty of both subway and bus stops nearby.
Eat & Drink
Ramen: We ate so much good ramen in Kyoto. The warm broth and noodles was perfect after a day out exploring the city. I felt like any place we walked into was amazing, so be adventurous, walk into a ramen place without looking up the reviews!
Green tea everything: I do love green tea, and Kyoto has no shortage of green tea flavored treats. From ice cream to pastries, you’ll be able to get your green tea fill!
Pastries and sweets: There are a few pastry shops at the Nishiki Market that you should definitely try! And by pastries I mean donuts! The most popular seems to be the tofu donut spot, but I also remember seeing another stall that had beautifully decorated donuts as well! And don’t forget to try some fresh mochi!
So even if you have a limited time in Kyoto, you can still see some of the beauty the city has to offer. And while you could spend a week or two exploring, sometimes time just doesn’t permit for that. I still think it’s worth the trip even if you only get to see the hits.
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