I think this may just be a long blog post, because boy oh boy Kyoto is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Temples, bamboo forests, hikes, and vending machines. What more could you ask for! So, let’s dive into it and all that beautiful Kyoto has to offer.

  1. Fushimi Inari Shrine (Red Gates)

The red gates are actually a Shinta shrine and they are known as Tori gates. I still can’t make up my mind if they are red or orange; depending on the time of day and the light beaming onto them.

The gates wind up the mountain along numerous trails and its a truly beautiful 233 meter hike up to the top of Mount Inari. Be warned you may be taking so many pictures of red gates that you’ll need an extra SD card! Every gate is purchased by either companies or individuals, with their name engraved on the beams. If you want to purchase a red gate it will set you back around 400,000 Yen (about £2700). 

Knowing how potentially packed with tourists this place could become, I literally arrived at Fushimi at about 5.45am. I was not prepared to have thousands of people walking through my otherwise clean shot of sun‑rays bursting through the beams. And boy it was worth the tired early morning eyes. I basically had the whole place to myself, and nearing the top of the mountain I didn’t see anyone for about an hour. Now thats my version of perfect travel.

One of my favourite things about Fushimi Inari and in fact Japan in general are those details. Japan is full of finite details. Keep your eyes peeled for origami filled glass jars, and tiny wooden red gates on street corners (see if you can find them in my photos).

You can take the subway to get to Fushimi Inari, its located near to the JR Inari Station which is on the JR Nara Line. From Kyoto Station it takes just 5 minutes and costs about 150 Yen (£1).

Admission: FREE (don’t you just love that!)

2. Wandering Around Gion

The Gion district in Kyoto is atmospheric, beautiful and peaceful. There is a multitude of things to do and see in the area, and I highly recommend spending the day just wondering around the picturesque streets. Here is a short list of things to do in the area: Yasaka pagoda, Yasaka Koshindo Temple (an amazingly colorful temple I just happened to stumble upon and Hanamikoji Street, are just a few spots you must check out in Gion. But please take time, look down every alley and just keep walking.

3. Vending Machines

Vending machines? What is she going on about I hear you say! Japan is full of vending machines. They line the street. They are colourful and they sell just about anything. Regular quick snack vending machines do exist in Japan but their epic-ness goes way beyond a cold Coca Cola. Vending machine contents include coffee, face masks, cigarettes, alcohol, apples, clothes, noodles, flowers, and flying fish soup. I found it to be a rather enjoyable wandering task to photograph and take note of all the different kinds of vending machines lining the streets.

4. Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji Temple

Worth a visit for sure, but I was a little underwhelmed by the golden temple! It was a bit of dreary day when I was there and therefore the golden pavilion didn’t quite pop like in photos I had seen. It is however a nice walk around the grounds, and I can only imagine the colors and flowers during spring time.

Admission: 400 YEN (US$3.60)

5. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

I will be honest; I was very disappointed by the famous bamboo forest! It looks so picture perfect in photographs but even visiting first thing in the morning it was filled with people and not as epic as I imagined. However, do not despair if you continue walking through the bamboo you will find a few different paths leading up a hill. The easy and short hike leads up to beautiful vantage points of the city and the winding valley. A definite do not miss when going to the bamboo forest.

6. Toji Kobo Market @ the Toji Temple

Firstly, this market only takes place on the 21st of each month, so plan around the date. Mostly known for the Toji Temple, I stumbled upon this market which was a very happy coincidence as I didn’t know it was happening. The once-a-month market sees about 1,000 textile, antique, ceramic and food stalls for you to explore. It is a great place to be with the locals and get a feel for everyday life in Japan.

Toji Kobo Market is a great place to try a yummy traditional Japanese snack, Takoyaki, otherwise known as “Octopus balls”. Made with a flour- based batter and cooked in a spherical mold they are usually filled with diced octopus. I had never tried octopus before and it was so delicious, the vendor even gave me an extra one for free as it was my first time trying!

Admission: 500 YEN (US$4.50)

Market is free!

7. Kiyomizu-Dera Pagoda

Because a trip to Kyoto is not complete without multiple viewings of shades of orange/red temples… I give you Kiyomizu-Dera Pagoda. There are two separate things to see at this location, a beautiful orange/red pagoda that contrasts beautifully with the blue sky. You can also see one of the most celebrated temples in Japan, a huge wooden temple perched on the side of the hill. I visited in January 2020 just before COVID started and the building was undergoing significant construction, therefore it lost its wow factor quite a bit.

Admission: 300 YEN (US$2.70)

8. Kyoto Morris Hostel

Not somewhere to visit but somewhere to stay. Located in Nakagyo Ward this was a great hostel, but as I am writing this, I see that it is temporarily closed, hopefully this is just a COVID related impermanent closure and it will be up and running soon. It has that Japanese, clean line, pristine finish that so many places have in Japan and offers a variety of dorm rooms and came equipped with all my hostel essentials. A bed curtain, plenty of socks, a light, and a USB port. I can only hope they open back up soon!

I hope to see you again one day Kyoto!

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