An absolute must for anyone visiting Japan, even if you only have a few days in Tokyo, make the effort to do a day trip to Kyoto, the countries imperial capital until not that long ago.
Things To Do:
My favourite part of Kyoto was the area surrounding Kiyomizu-Dera temple, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka are just two of the perfectly maintained old streets of Kyoto, entrance to the temple is ¥600 though you can still get an amazing view over the city for absolutely free, just follow the crowds to the top of the hill and get clicking. The streets surrounding the temple are some of the few, perfectly preserved areas of the city, where you can still see traditional wooden buildings and spot the odd Geisha walking around if you’re lucky (we spotted the two photographed below around the Gion Shirakawa area). As the old buildings are being pulled down and replaced with modern skyscrapers, this part of town is becoming more and more precious. We spent a full day wandering the streets, in and out of alleyways and fully enjoyed being lost in Kyoto.
Kyoto is the perfect base for a day trip to Nara Deer Park, take the Nara line from either Kyoto station or Tofukuji station, its free if you have a JR rail pass. The park is really easy to find when you leave Nara station, just follow the crowd, I guarantee there will be one. The park is really special, the deer roam free (they are completely wild) within the temple grounds and surrounding areas. Head around the back of the temple for the best photos of deer in their more natural habitat. A pack of Deer food is ¥150 and there are plenty of stalls around the park. On your way back to the station stop at Renesa Indian Restaurant for some really good food at reasonable prices.
We stumbled on the Royal Imperial Palace by accident when exploring the gardens, entrance is free but they only let a certain number of people in at any time and security is strict. The palace is beautiful and in really good condition, the free map you receive when entering guides you from building to building and is full of interesting information.
The river that divides Kyoto is the perfect place for a stroll, or its wide flat path makes it a great place to cycle too. When the sun sets the Pontocho area comes to life, a series of narrow alleyways home to traditional restaurants adorned with lanterns, it’s one of the prettiest places to get lost and explore (though it’s not a cheap place to eat!).
If you’ve done any research into Japan or Kyoto yet you’ve probably already seen photos of the incredibly photogenic Fushimi-Inari temple, also known as the temple of 10,000 shrines. I don’t know if that’s an accurate count but there are a lot of shrines that make a stunning walkway up the mountain. Entrance is completely free and the temple has its own subway station on the Keihan Line.
Where To Stay:
We stayed in the ultra-stylish Millennials hotel for £28/night including breakfast, we had a capsule room each but ended up sharing one and keeping our bags in another most nights. The bathrooms were spotless and the whole hotel looked brand new. The space was really modern and the facilities were fantastic, we cooked at the hotel every night which saved us a fortune on eating out. (FYI, the supermarket directly opposite the hotel was the cheapest we found in Japan.) The hotel also offers unlimited free beer for 1 hour each night which Sean certainly made the most off.
Getting around Japan is so easy, we took the bullet train from Kobe which took around 30 minutes or you can get there from Osaka in just 15 minutes. From Tokyo it will take around 2 hours 15 minutes. Once your there, the subway system is fairly simple to use, especially if you’ve already used the Osaka or Tokyo subway.