All in Kyoto

12 of the Most Instagrammable Places You Need to Visit on your First Trip to Kyoto

Kyoto is the second most popular spot for visitors coming to Japan after Tokyo. Where Tokyo is the city of dazzling neon lights, uber-modern inventions and architecture, explosive excitement and a bustling population, Kyoto feels like the exact opposite. It's the perfect balance to any trip to Japan. Kyoto is history. It's ancient Zen gardens perfect for internal contemplation, peaceful walks along aged pathways, spiritual visits to sacred temples and traditional creative arts and culture. Whereas Tokyo is a city designed with curated, instagrammable spots, Kyoto is just naturally photogenic. If you're only visiting Kyoto for a short period and are looking for the best spots to soak in the visual beauty of this city, these are my favourite places to hit up while on your photographic journey in the old capital of Japan, Kyoto.

The Best Self Guided Walking Tour of Gion, Kyoto's Historical Geisha Neighbourhood

The Gion district is one of Kyoto’s oldest neighbourhoods. The streets seem to surge with history but what makes this area so unique is because it is one of the last remaining places where you can see real Geishas in Japan. Up and down these streets you can keep your eyes open and see if you can catch a glimpse of a Geisha on her way to a tea houses where exclusive guests enjoy an evening of traditional Japanese entertainment.

Our Guide to Exploring the Natural Wonders of the Beautiful Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The first morning in Kyoto we decided to venture outside the city and visit one of Kyoto's most popular sights: the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Heralded as being one of the "most beautiful groves on earth" and designated a "National Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty" by Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a place unlike anywhere else. It's a place where you can escape yourself, as long as you manage to escape the throngs of tourists as well.

Guide to Visiting Kyoto's Okochi Sanso, Arashiyama's Stunning Traditional Japanese Villa and Zen Garden

Near the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, you'll come across the entrance to the Ōkōchi Sansō Villa Gardens. After traipsing through the groves and narrowly escaping peak tourist hour, we were in need of a break from the selfie sticks and loud tour groups. Before entering we poked ours heads in the front gate. From there, it looked like there wasn't a soul inside. Immediately as we passed through the gate and started to walk up the hill, the noise from the tourists below disappeared. We could hear our footsteps on the stones below and the sound of the wind in the trees. It wasn't until the very end of the tour that we ran into another person. It was the perfect escape from the crowds below and more beautiful that we could have imagined.

The Ultimate Walking Tour of Kyoto's Incredible Fushimi Inari Shrine's 10,000 torii gates

One of the most iconic images of Japan has to be the bright, vermillion coloured torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Many people come to Fushimi Inari Taisha not knowing the scope of it. They see the images online and think it's just a few small alleyways - this is far from the whole picture. The main shrine sits at the base of the Inari mountains, but a path of thousands of torii gates behind the building leads visitors up 233 meters above sea level to visit 4 kilometres of sub-shrines finally ending at the magnificent mountain top shrine.

What you Need to Know Before Visiting the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama

Many people underestimate how much there is to do while visiting Arashiyama. We were lucky enough to book off an entire day here to explore, but I think if we could have done it all over again, we would have booked a hotel to extend our time there ever more. One of the attractions that often gets overlooked is the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Many people are dissuaded when they see it's a 30-minute + hike, uphill, to where you'll see the monkeys. They either can't spare the time or can't spare the energy. But let me tell you right now - it's worth it...well worth it.

The Top 13 Things to Explore and Experience along Kyoto's Philosopher's Path

The Philosopher's Path (or Tetsugaku-no-Michi as it is known in Japan) is one of the greatest exploratory walks you can experience in Kyoto. The Path is located in the northern area of Higashiyama at the base of Kyoto's East Mountain. It is a place to wander, to find yourself, to embrace peace and quiet and to see what makes Kyoto so unique as a city. The path follows the Lake Biwa Canal for around 29 kilometres at the base of the mountain. The trail is lined with cherry trees on either side. During the cherry blossom season, this is one of the most popular spots to come and view the spectacle.

The Best Ryokan in Kyoto

While staying in Kyoto, I wanted to find a traditional Japanese Ryokan where we could relax and unwind after a busy week in Tokyo. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that originated from the Edo period when inns were a home for weary travellers. Ryokans were once a fairly inexpensive option, but in recent years some Ryokans have become quite the luxury. So finding one with charm at an affordable price, that was also still available, was somewhat of a challenge. But then I came across Ryokan Shimizu. 

Visiting Arashiyama Village

Arashiyama Village is more than the Bamboo Grove and monkey forest which surround it. Taking a walk down the busy streets and quiet laneways of the small town is an excellent way to experience Japanese culinary treats, see traditional Japanese architecture and explore some lovely shops selling souvenirs and hand made crafts.

The Okochi Sanso Villa and Gardens

Near the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, you'll come across the entrance to the Ōkōchi Sansō Villa Gardens. After traipsing through the groves and narrowly escaping peak tourist hour, we were in need of a break from the selfie sticks and loud tour groups. The fee seemed steep at Y1,000 ($10) but we made the executive decision and plopped down a few notes, and we were inside. Y1,000 might look like a lot for a self-guided walk through an old garden, but it was some of the best money we ever spent on the trip! 

Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama

Many people underestimate how much there is to do while visiting Arashiyama. We were lucky enough to book off an entire day here to explore, but I think if we could have done it all over again, we would have booked a hotel to extend our time there ever more. One of the attractions that often gets overlooked is the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Many people are dissuaded when they see it's a 30-minute + hike, uphill, to where you'll see the monkeys. They either can't spare the time or can't spare the energy. But let me tell you right now - it's worth it...well worth it.

Walking Tour of Fushimi Inari-taisha

One of the most iconic images of Japan has to be the bright, vermillion coloured torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Many people come to Fushimi Inari Taisha not knowing the scope of it. They see the images online and think it's just a few small alleyways - this is far from the whole picture. The main shrine sits at the base of the Inari mountains, but a path of thousands of torii gates behind the building leads visitors up 233 meters above sea level to visit 4 kilometres of sub-shrines finally ending at the magnificent mountain top shrine.

Kyoto Backstreets Walking Tour - Part One

One of the best ways to explore a city is with a local guide. Free walking tours are offered in larger cities across the world, but more often than not, you get what you pay for. They also usually have huge tour group numbers and only take you through the most popular attractions, you probably have already seen. Our Ryokan suggested Waraido Guided Tours which give 5-hour walking tours of the Kyoto Backstreets, through hidden alleyways to discover the roots of Kyoto itself.