Kyoto in a Day or Two!

KYOTO is truly a must-see place for anybody visiting Japan for the first time...


For me, who has been lucky enough to go to Japan twice before, the image of Kyoto will forever be etched into my memory. Not only was it the wonderful experiences I had with my friends there that made it all the more memorable, but it was the beauty more than anything, the beauty of the city and it's attractions. Note that both times I visited Kyoto were during sakura or cherry blossom season, which turns the environment into pretty bursts of pink that decorate every street you walk through. I visited Kyoto on day trips from Otsu in 2014 and Osaka in 2016, and on both occasions with my friends, we planned hard and managed to visit a lot of the must-see places in those day trips. It is possible to check out quite a lot in this time, (and I recommend not rushing to enjoy every second of these attractions!) but if you are on a tight schedule and you've fit Kyoto in for a day or two, these are five cool, essential places you can fit into a tight schedule, that you should definitely see in the city before you leave Japan.

1:) KIYOMIZU-DERA TEMPLE


Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) is one of my most treasured places in Japan that I have been so lucky to visit twice before. The views from the top of the temple are glorious on a sunny sakura season day, as it is placed neatly on the hills of Kyoto. The walk up to the temple has various shops and souvenir stalls that are sure to attract the average tourist, selling a wide variety of Kyoto goods, but as the walk goes on, the excitement of seeing Kyoto from high up is the best part. 
The view of the temple from the far side as pictured is incredible, especially with the sakura or autumn leaves glimmering below. It sports a giant wooden stage that arcs above the hillside below, with the main hall adjacent that is used as the main place of worship. The place has reduced me to tears twice because of the temple's sheer beauty and that is no exaggeration. It feels romantic, otherworldly, and it screams of old style Japan, juxtaposed with the modern Kyoto city background, it is a place forever etched in my memory. I for one, cannot wait to visit again, and I will try to catch the autumn illuminations next time in November!
HOW TO GET THERE: Kiyomizudera is about a 20 min walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station.

2:) KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE


A breathtaking place to view in sakura season, Kinkaku-Ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) offers a serene experience akin to any other that you will see in Kyoto. The city itself offers some truly magical sights, and this place is no exception. After missing out on this during my visit in 2014, I took it upon myself to see this World Heritage site finally with my own eyes in 2016. It did not disappoint at all.
The zen temple is as gold as people say it is, reflecting the sun off the gold leaf exterior painting a perfect mirror image in the water... it is a picturesque place from every single angle. The grounds are also spacious and incredibly well kept, and it is a fantastic place to chat with other tourists who are just as stunned as you are to be in the presence of such a remarkable temple. There is also a tea garden in the grounds, where you can have matcha tea and sweets for as little as 500 yen, and some statues where people toss coins for luck.
HOW TO GET THERE:  It can be faster to get to Kinkaku-ji to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station or take a taxi, (like we did!) which can take 10 minutes from there to the temple.

3:) NIJO CASTLE


I have been to Nijo Castle twice, once in 2014 and once in 2016. I remember the first time I set foot inside the phenomenally mammoth grounds and the beautifully painted gardens in sakura season too. The weather on that day was roasting hot for an April day, and finding the entrance took as while as we went the wrong way at first! The walls surrounding the castle itself are incredibly long and high. Once you enter the main gate of Nijo Castle, you enter Ninomaru Palace, which served as the official residence of the Shogun during visits to Kyoto. Wandering around with your shoes off along the Nightingale floor inside the castle itself, which squeaks to alert intruders, and seeing models of the Shogun in the tatami mat rooms is a brilliant experience.

Fast forward to 2016 and we caught the night show that was on sporadically. Not only was it a beautiful temperature with perfect weather at the time, the illuminations inside the grounds were gorgeous, complete with a live koto show in the main hall. The grounds offer market stalls where you can try and sample various types of sake for free, have a cup of matcha green tea, and even buy some Nijo goods such as chopsticks and fans.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. The whole trip takes around 15 minutes long.

4:) GION DISTRICT


Gion is Kyoto's most famous and known Geisha district, located incredibly close to the also fantastic Yasaka Shrine. It is instantly recognizable thanks to the sheer amount of wooden merchant houses and wide streets that the district contains.
The streets and alleys are littered with restaurants and teahouses (or ochaya) where maiko and geiko entertain various guests. A few can be seen on their rounds if you are in the area! My experiences in Gion were brief. I wandered through as a shortcut to Yasaka Shrine, but I found myself immersed at the sheer beauty of this place at night where it illuminates (specifically along Gion Shirakawa).
HOW TO GET THERE: The closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line, and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

5:) HEIAN SHRINE


Your introduction to the Heian Shrine is by that of a giant torii gate, that I remembered for one, glittering in the sun on one very humid April day in 2014. Once inside, the grounds are massive, offering plenty of space to get that wide shot!
Behind the main buildings in the shrine is a very beautiful and spread out garden that has appeared in two of my favorite movies 'Lost in Translation' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. This place during cherry blossom season truly lights up, as the garden is regarded as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in all of Kyoto. The gardens can get a little crowded in this time, but the pictures you can get are stunning!
HOW TO GET THERE: Heian Shrine can be reached by the subway from Karasuma Oike Station to Higashiyama Station which takes around about 20 mins.

Other places I really enjoyed are below!:


- Kyoto Tower
- Ginkaku-Ji Temple (Silver Temple)
- Kyoto International Manga Museum
- Kyoto Station Building
I've yet to visit...
- Nanzen-Ji Temple
- Fushimi-Inari Shrine
- Arashiyama

How did you find your trip to Kyoto? Comment below!