Trip: October 2017
Below is our Top 5 Things To Do in Kyoto, part of the Just Carrying On – Top 5 Things To Do series. These lists are favorite activities, eats, and drinks from our travels around the world—in no particular order.
We visited this quaint big city with our friends Rheanne and Kyle, spending 5 days as part of a 12 day trip to Japan in October 2017.
1. Rent Bikes
At 600 yen a person for five hours of bike adventures, this was the favorite activity of everyone in our group. I would like to recommend a bike with a basket, to store your bag and add to the charm of the biking experience (most people in Kyoto have baskets and even a few babies attached to their bikes). After renting our bikes from Kon’s Cycle (near Nishiki Market) we headed toward the river and took the path north. Since this happened to be a national holiday in Japan, Health and Fitness day to be exact, we passed many people relaxing along the river enjoying picnics and reading books. We eventually biked east across the river, meandering through charming neighborhood after charming neighborhood until arriving at the start of the Philosopher’s Path, which we explored by foot.
2. Drink beers along the Kamo River
Our most economical and also one of the most enchanting experiences we had in Kyoto was drinking local Japanese beers on the river bank at sunset, alongside tourists and locals alike. There are multiple Family Marts and 7-11s from which to purchase cheap beer (~$1.5 USD each). Our group was split between Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin as the best lager of Japan. Regardless of which you prefer, grab a couple and post up alongside the river as the day fades into the night. The Google Maps link below was our favorite spot.
3. Eat okonomiyake
Nishiki Warai was our place of choice to enjoy the infamous okonomikyake. It is described as a ‘pancake like’ food but don’t let this deter you (as it did me at first). It just happens to be a round dish, like a pancake, and is also cooked on a skillet. The spot was delicious, mostly tourist-free and affordable. We knew of two distinct types of okonomiyake, Hiroshima and Osaka. There’s an ongoing rivalry for which is best. We picked four different types to be shared between the four of us and they were each placed on the skillet in the middle of the table for us to enjoy, family style. Yum.
4. Visit the Higashiyama Jisho-ji Shrine
The Golden Temple was beautiful yet crowded and the famous Inari Temple was the most interesting but even more crowded yet. The Higashiyama Jisho-ji was juuuust right—our favorite temple in Kyoto (it goes by the name Ginkaku-ji Temple as well). Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of people there too. But the peaceful gardens were not overwhelmed by the large groups of people. It was beautiful, serene and what many think of as a ‘classic’ Japanese garden experience. Ponds adorned by bonsai trees, beautiful stones raked into perfection and small bridges leading you across perfectly mirrored reflections.
5. Bar Bunkyu
Sometimes the NYT’s 36 Hours articles really come through. We walked down a side alley, through a curtain that had Bar Bunkyu written in calligraphy on the front, and down another short alley until arriving inside of the bar. A stunning slab of wood filled the dimly lit room, framed by eight seats and forming the bar itself. A singular bartender stood in the middle, learning what each customer likes to drink and then creating his own imagined version of the drink. We sampled Japanese whiskey and quickly became friends with the other patrons, both visitors and Japanese. It was one of those hipster, curated, artsy experiences that we can’t help but love. So much that despite our tight budget we stayed for another round.
We ate some of the best croissants, pastries and baguettes of our lives at a boulangerie in Kyoto called Boulangerie De La Liberte. I never saw that one coming. We were also charmed by the slim and crowded Pontocho Alley, lined with restaurants and bars. We settled on a small upstairs bar (the name is Japanese), snagged the best seat in the house at the window and enjoyed our overpriced beers while looking out over the river.
Top 5 Things To Do in Kyoto is part of Just Carrying On – Top 5 Things To Do series, which offers our best travel recommendations from around the world.