Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan. When you conjure up images of Japan and its beautiful cherry blossoms gently blowing in the wind with a backdrop of temples, shrines, and mountains, you’re likely thinking of Kyoto.

I studied at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies for one year from 2003-2004.

Great things to see/do:

  • Temples and shrines, most notably:
    • Kiyomizudera
    • Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
    • Fushimi Inari
    • Ryoanji
  • Bamboo forest
  • Gion: the old town where, if you get lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a geisha or a maiko
  • Arashiyama
  • Maruyama Park
  • Pontocho at dusk
  • Kamo River in the evening
  • Nijo Castle’s gardens
  • Nishiki Market
  • Visiting a night festival

What I like to eat when I visit:

  • Pickles: Kyoto is known for its pickles; keep an eye out for pickle shops around Kawaramachi that have free samples for you try
  • Macha
  • Takoyaki: this is more of an Osaka food, but I still love it!
  • Okonomiyaki

The bullet train stops at Kyoto Station, and you can take it to/from Tokyo as well as nearby Osaka or Kobe.

Some videos that really capture the feeling of walking along the streets of the city:

The city was once the capital of Japan until the Meiji Restoration, when Emperor Meiji moved to Tokyo because of the growing political influence of the Buddhists in nearby Nara. To get a feel for this time of history in Japan, I recommend watching the anime series Ruroni Kenshin.

Kyoto is also where one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, was born.

These are some suggestions that trusted friends[1] made that I haven’t checked out myself:

  • Relaxing at the Kurama Onsen
  • Omen Udon
  • CHOJIRO Sushi Kiyamachi
  • Manten Yakitori in Pontocho
  • Tiny little ceramics shop in Pontocho
  • Suina bookstore and food market on Shijo-dori near Karasuma Station
  • Ramen (chicken-based) and mazesoba shop, also on Shijo-dori, near Karasuma Station

Read more thoughts on Japan.

[1] Big thanks to Liz for her additions and thoughts on restaurants and shops!