Discovering traditional Kyoto

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Kyoto is the most popular tourist destination in Japan and it's easy to see why. It's full of traditional culture and architecture, and so different from most other Japanese cities, which are super modern. It felt like we were walking through the set of 'Memoirs of a Geisha' at times.


Gion is the geisha district and it's filled with little shops and tea houses. The streets are cobbled and lined with traditional wooden buildings. We loved wandering along the Shirakawa Canal and peering into the immaculate-looking restaurants. This is the best area to stay and where you're most likely to see a geisha (I'll be writing more about that in my next post).

Streets of Gion

Kokeshi dolls

Nishiki Market

Known as 'Kyoto's kitchen', this traditional market has been going for centuries – the first shop opened in 1310. It's definitely evolved to cater to tourists, expect to see as many tourists as locals here, but it's still a great place to sample some regional specialities.

Market stall

Japanese pickles

Fushimi Inari Shrine

The orange torii gates are an iconic landmark in Kyoto. They're spread over an entire mountain and you can take different paths that lead up to shrines and little restaurants. There are so many that it actually takes a couple of hours to walk through them all. I'd recommend going as early as you can to avoid the crowds (it may not look like it in this photo, but it was packed when we visited!).

Torii gates

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

As soon as we saw pictures of Kyoto's bamboo forest, we knew we had to visit. But what I didn't realise until we arrived is that Arashiyama is more than just the forest. There are stunning river views and lots of walking trails through the hills. The bamboo forest itself is impressive, but expect to walk through it with lots of other people, it gets really crowded.

Mountain views

Bamboo forest


Kyoto is famous for its temples, there are actually 1600 dotted around the city. After spending so long in Asia, it's hard to maintain quite the same level of enthusiasm when seeing temple number 305 as you did with number 5. So we narrowed it down to a few, and visited Kiyomizudera, Higashi-Hongan-ji and Kennin-ji. They're all beautiful, so be sure to dedicate time to exploring some of them.

Temple with a view

Wooden orange temple

Wooden decorations

If you're planning a trip to Kyoto, check out my posts on how to spot a geisha, spending a night in a Japanese capsule and where to eat.