I fell in love with Kyoto because of that energy and feeling. Transported into another time. Looking around me on the streets of GION, I can almost see everyone’s face with awe and satisfaction that they have also ticked that off their list.
The smell of woodsmoke, the drift of incense; a procession of monks in black-and-gold robes, and the silence and stillness from the crowd as a geisha pass them by.
Kyoto cannot be done in just one trip. It’s a start though. It’s a place you need to dig deep into its roots and understand its history and culture.
Then there is the food…But that’s for another post. For now, here is a guide to Kyoto when you are planning your vacation to Kyoto, Japan.
Tokyo to Kyoto
Trains are the best way to get around Japan moreover the bullet train that we took from Tokyo to Japan. Japan’s high-speed bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen trains, offer visitors an experience like no other with speeds reaching up to 320 km/hr! The principal bullet train Shinkansen routes include Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano, and Kyushu. The 2 shinkansen terminals in Tokyo are at “Tokyo” and “Shinagawa” stations. It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Kyoto.
Here is an excellent guide on the bullet train and inside information.
As a first-time visitor to Kyoto and a hotel lover (junkie), The Ritz – Carlton in Kyoto is a property that has to be on your bucket list to stay. It was built on the banks of the Kamagawa River (Kamo river) with views of the Higashiyama mountains in the East and minutes away from Kyoto’s popular downtown and 15 minutes away from Kyoto Station and a bike or walk ride away from Gion. We checked into our room facing the Kamogawa river and from the moment you step into the room, you are in the presence of tranquility.
The hotel organizes tours and excursions and even a private shrine viewing with sunrise breakfast with monks. The dining at The Ritz-Carlton is nothing shy of exquisite such as Mizuki, a Japanese-themed restaurant, and the Italian La Locanda. Delicacies with the Pierre Herme boutique by the lobby every time you pass by, you would stop and admire the selection of Macaroons and signature cakes.
The most impressive dining of them all was breakfast. There are three types of rooms here: Deluxe, Deluxe Garden, and Luxury; and three types of suites: Garden, Garden Terrace, and Garden Terrace Tatami.
The average room price ranges from ¥63,000/$532 US for a Deluxe City View room with one King bed to ¥268,000/$2,262 US for a top-floor suite with a private balcony and mountain view.
Highly recommended and a walk, cycle, or taxi away from the center.
Things to do in Kyoto
Take a walk from The Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto to Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants, and Ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.
Gion is one of my favorite places in Kyoto with the traditional wooden buildings and the historic district is the most popular place for seeing Geisha, especially at around 5pm when the Geisha start to head out. Please make sure you respect the laws and don’t get up in their faces and respect their presence as she walks by. Always take photos from the side or back, but leave their path open.
The Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto offers the Kimono Experience. You are brought into a room filled with colorful material and Kimonos for you to choose from, with a hairstylist and a make-up artist and for the next 15 minutes, you are being pampered and taken care of by professionals. It’s an experience you cannot miss out on and a chance to be drawn into the culture by local attire.
In myths and tales, bamboo has a long history with the Japanese people, who use it as a metaphor for a man's strength. The Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama paths which are over 500 meters long are set between Tenryuji temple and Nonomiya Shrine.
You can either walk along the forest on foot, cycle, or by rickshaw. You can find the rickshaw almost at every corner and they take you to great secret spots!
Japanese Tea Ceremony
For over 1,000 years, the Japanese drank tea, and up to the 16th century did they start to take it seriously. Kyoto remains the center of the Japanese tea ceremony world (and tea growing world) and a popular place called Camellia is known to be one of the best among many. The Japanese Tea Ceremony It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance the bitter taste of the tea.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
On my bucket list for the longest time! Despite not hiking to the very top (lack of time), you should make sure you do! The hike to the summit of 233m Mt. One of the most fascinating short walks in Kyoto is the pilgrimage circuit around the shrines at Inari-san. It’s also the best way to see all of the Fushima-Inari Taisha Shrine. One of the most memorable moments in Kyoto and one of the most beautiful shrines.
Bike around Kyoto
Everyone highly recommends and insists on biking around Kyoto as the best way to explore the beautiful gems. It is one of the world’s greatest bike cities and you will find a bike to rent around every corner. Remember that people drive on the left there and so should you on a bike. You can park your bike at many bike stations parking and take a walk after that. One easy route I found online is Kyoto Station to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens via the Kamo-Ogawa River which will take you about 2 hours.
Visit Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
Kyoto’s most iconic sight. We made sure we went there on a weekday very early morning. Wake up at 6am to catch the sunrise otherwise it would be packed with tourists.
Walk the Philosopher’s walk
Cath the Sakura (cherry blossoms) by walking through the philosopher’s walk. Its name comes from the Japanese philosopher of the first half of the ‘900th Kitaro Nishida, who taught for several years at the University of Kyoto, and it is said he used to walk along this street during his moments of reflection.