7 Places to Visit in Kyoto


Thousands of years ago Kyoto was Japan's capital and the city remains a cultural center today with plenty of things to do including visiting over 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, 17 World Heritage sites and five traditional geisha districts.

So what is there to see and do in Kyoto and, above all, how do you decide what to do first?

I spent four days touring Kyoto learning about the city's past while soaking up the charm and atmosphere it offers visitors today. The unique blend of ancient tradition and modern life I found there is what travel in Japan is really all about.

Kyoto has something for everyone and, while I experienced only a small taste of Kyoto, the happy memories and lessons I learnt there will linger on.

1. People watch at the train station

I arrived at Kyoto train station during rush hour but you can't really appreciate Kyoto's futuristic train station known as “the cube” until you see it from the outside.

The huge station is much more than a transport hub and includes a massive department store, many restaurants and an observation lounge on the 15th floor.

2. Wander in and wonder at the bamboo forest

You can hop on a train to the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. It's beautiful, romantic and highly sustainable. One of my favourite things to do in Kyoto.

3. Feed the snow monkeys

While you're in Arashiyama climb up to the monkey park to watch the monkeys and check out fantastic views over Kyoto. The monkeys are wild and should be treated as such but they're used to being fed by humans.

You can feed them by hand from inside a large cage. Just buy a bag of peanuts, apple or chestnuts and let the monkeys, who are outside the cage come to you. I love monkeys and these are fine specimens – I could have hung out all day with them – and this is a totally unique experience, something you can only do in Kyoto.

4. Meditate at the Ryoan-ji Temple

The Ryoan-ji Temple is a world heritage site famed for its simple raked gravel rock garden. If that's too crowded take a walk round and find a quiet bench in the garden by the Kyoyo-chi pond. It's picture postcard perfect so you hardly need to meditate to feel relaxed, serene and at one with the world.

5. Go zen at the Myoshinji Temple

Extend that zen feeling at the Myoshinji Temple, Japan's largest Zen temple which will take you from OMG to om.

6.Walk up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple was established even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan and is another of Kyoto's UNESCO world heritage treasures. I was honored to be shown around by the head monk Egin Onishi who deserves a blog post dedicated to him. Don't miss the mini Buddha statues outside, the cliff 276 people have jumped off hoping it will make their wishes come true, and the clear water spring the temple is named after.

7. See the big Buddha

Hello Kitty might be big in Japan but Buddha's bigger. Visit the 24-metre high statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the Bodhisattva of Mercy) which was created in 1955 to honor the Japanese dead of World War II. There's a wishing ball too so if your one worldly wish is for world peace this is your chance to make that wish.

It's easy to see why Kyoto is dear to Japanese hearts. Travelers to Kyoto will find it stakes a claim on your heart too.

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