Now I wouldn't advise you only spend 24 hours in Kyoto, but it can be done! My trip to Japan was short and sweet (5 nights to be exact), not quite enough to visit 2 cities and experience x2 events with Perriet Jouet – the reason I was there. But I wasn’t going to travel all the way to Japan and miss the opportunity to visit the country’s former capital. It’s the location for (as I mentioned previously in my Tokyo post), one of my top 5 all time favourite books – Memoirs of a Geisha. The book takes place in Kyoto’s Gion area – the city’s historical district known for Geishas - that is today still almost perfectly preserved.
Kyoto has that perfect mix between old and new. I loved Japan, but I would say that I preferred Kyoto (as a travel destination), merely because Japan’s history and traditional culture is more apparent there. I just wish I’d had more time to spend wandering around its quiet back streets and soaking everything in.
On my only morning in the city I woke up at 6am and checked out of my hotel early so I could wander around the Gion district before the crowds arrived. I’d really advise this if you want to take photos of the streets without hoards of people. Then grab a coffee & breakfast at Arabica when it opens at 8am and pancakes in the café just across the street. And my early wake-up call allowed me enough time to wander through Gion and then hop on a train out to xxx to see the famous bamboo forest. Once there I hired a bike as I had around 45mins to visit the site. If I went again I would aim to get to xx for 8am as by 10:30 it was already filled with people. Nonetheless, I'm glad I saw the bamboo forest with my own eyes. Another first.
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- Visit Kennin-Ji (Kyoto's oldest Zen temple) & Shoho-Ji
- Catch the train out to the Bamboo Forest – hire a bike across from the Station and cycle there!
- Try the street food at the Nishiki Market
- Wander through Pontocho alley – a tiny street filled with traditional restaurants. If you don’t want to just stumble into a place, try Daitoryo. I specifically looked for a restaurant with very little English on the outside and followed a Japanese couple into this place. It was exactly what I was looking for – 3 or 4 traditional low tables, with cushions on the floor as seats. Tetsuya Uemura is 5 generation owner – if you have time, have a chat with him and he will happily give you advice about what to see in Kyoto. I opted for the Tofu lunch menu, not because I’m vegetarian, but because I was curious and the meat one did look huge. It was delicious and exactly the lunch experience I was after.
- Urban Research Doors - great for ceramics, homewares and clothing
- Babaghuri – minimal Japanese clothes & toiletries
- 100% Arabica – this place doesn’t need any more press, but it was one of the best lattes I’ve ever had. Try to get there for opening, otherwise you’ll be waiting in a huge queue to get served.
- Sentido - they do great coffee beans that you can take home
- Sowgen – antiques store with a café at the back
- Honwaka Donuts
- Jeremy & Jeremiah - colourful candy floss shop
- Ice-cream - try the green soft scoop that you'll see being sold on the main street in Gion
Others I wish I’d had time to try, care of Beth from Local Milk (see her Kyoto guide here):
- Monk - this place has only 12 seats and was unfortunately full when I tried to book..
- Wife & Husband