Saturday, 7 February 2015

Kyoto itinerary - What to do and eat in Kyoto

From Shin-Osaka station in Osaka, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto Station which was one stop away. Our itinerary below is in chronological order and we found it extremely convenient to travel in this order around Kyoto. I love Kyoto so much for its traditional little houses, quaint beautiful architecture, and slower pace of life. 

What to do in Kyoto

Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine: We took the JR Nara Line to Inari Station, which is right in front of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This shrine is famous for its walking path of tori gates, and the hiking trail extends all the way up the hill and back down again. We did not complete the whole trail and opted out somewhere in the middle but the dense parallel rows of tori gates were amazing! The shrine grounds were also very pretty with little streams, evergreen trees, red leaves, and branches bare in the cold.

From Fushimi Inari Shrine, walk towards the Fushimi Inari Station. That will take you through a row of traditional shop houses and across a train track.

Visit Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park: From Fushimi Inari Station, take the Keihan Main Line to Gion-Shijo Station. Exit the station and walk down the road towards Yasaka Shrine which is at the end of the road. If you are tired or thirsty, there is a Starbucks along the way which is the perfect pit stop for some coffee and rest.

Yasaka Shrine was interesting but what really caught my eye here was the Maruyama Park behind Yasaka Shrine. We overheard a tour guide explaining that the Maruyama Park had one of the best views for cherry blossoms in spring. It was winter when we visited but the park was no less beautiful. Standing at the edge of the Maruyama Park and looking across, I felt like I was in a painting. A stone bridge across the pond with trees framing the scenery. This place was pretty isolated and quiet, and I loved it. I loved the beauty of the place, the lack of noisy tourists, the peace.

Ninenzaka Stairs and Sannenzaka Stairs: This is part of the Preserved Historic Streets in the Higashiyama District and is easily accessible from Yasaka Shrine. We were lost trying to find our way and were extremely lucky that we met a kind local who led us there. He brought us through some little alleys lined with old wooden buildings and we emerged in a bustling street. The small shops inside the wooden buildings sold a variety of quaint Japanese items like chopsticks, mochi snacks, purses, and many other pretty stuff. It was very fun strolling down the path, looking into the shops, and exploring. If you intend to buy some snacks back home, make sure you remember to check the expiry date. We forgot and ended up buying 5 boxes of mochi snacks which were going to expire even before we left Japan. Those became our daily snacks for the next few days.

Visit Kiyomizudera: I am guessing this is the must-visit in Kyoto judging by the large crowd of tourists in Kiyomizudera. If you are coming from Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, Kiyomizudera is just right at the end of the Preserved Historic Streets. Frankly, this was my least favourite place because it was just so crowded. I was shoved and pushed along by many tourists from a particular country who spoke so noisily that I cannot even hear myself think. The grounds were beautiful but I just could not enjoy it as much as I did in Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park. The tranquility was sorely lacking.

Bamboo Grove in Arashimaya District: I did not manage to visit the bamboo grove during my trip to Kyoto in winter because the days were so short and it turned dark so quickly! So I made it a point to visit when my boyfriend and I were in Kyoto during the cherry blossom season.

I heard the place gets really crowded in the day so we woke up super early and reached the bamboo grove at dawn. The only other people in the bamboo grove was a couple doing their pre-wedding photo shoot and a few photographers so we could take our time to enjoy the place without being hurried along.

It was really quiet and still in the bamboo grove and we could hear birds chirping somewhere far away. There is only one path for visitors and we were not allowed to enter the bamboo grove on both sides (which made sense because I can totally imagine hordes of tourists ruining the bamboo grove).

Togetsukyo Bridge 

Togetsukyo Bridge and the adjacent park were perfect during the cherry blossom season. You can read all about it here. The scenery at the Togetsukyo Bridge was amazing. I would return if I find myself in Kyoto again.

What to eat in Kyoto

Eat katsu at Katsukura: At Kyoto Station Building, take the lift to the 11th floor of the Isetan Department Store. The 11th floor, known as The Cube, houses all the restaurants in the Kyoto Station Building but we were there for one specific reason - Katsukura.

The katsu at Katsukura was really delicious. So crispy and light on the outside, yet amazingly tender and juicy within. I read online that the queue can be atrocious but we escaped that (thankfully) by having our lunch/dinner at 4 pm. Yes, the trick to eating all sorts of popular yummy dishes without having to queue is to eat at incredibly odd hours. We perfected that skill in Japan!

Eat Oyakodon at Hisago: First up, disclaimer. We reached Hisago, which was 5 minutes away from Yasaka Shrine, only to find out that it was closed for renovations!!! Extremely upset. So we did not manage to try the famous oyakodon at Hisago but I was told that this was a must-try dish in Kyoto!

484 Shimokawa-cho Higashiyama-kuKyoto 605-0825

Eat 551 Horai Pork Buns: I heard about 551 Horai pork buns during my trip in the winter but did not have an opportunity to try them so I made up for it during my April 2016 trip. Bought the pork buns back to the hotel as supper. It was good, very juicy and the pork was very fresh, but I doubt I would crave for it. 

I also went to Nara which you can read about here! My other day trip was to Nagoya and Hakone!

I visited Kyoto during the cherry blossom season and the post is up here

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