Our vision is to take you on day trips to cities around the world. Featuring the best local hangouts so you can experience life like a local on your adventures. Join us and explore the alluring and multifaceted city of Kyoto that left an emotional mark on us long after we bid ‘sayonara’.
Amongst the numerous sprawling metropolitan cities of Japan, Kyoto emerges as the city that radiates the deep-rooted culture and traditions of ancient Japan.
Kyoto is enlivened by traditional temples, colourful shrines, serene gardens, mysterious geisha, bespoke shops and amazing restaurants. On our trip, we not only uncovered sights and treasures this city holds, but we also experienced its peculiar dualities of old and new, ancient and modern. Now, allow us to take you on a visual journey of Kyoto, of which we deem as one of the most rewarding destinations we’ve ever visited.
WALDEN WOODS || A STRIPPED-DOWN, MINIMALIST CAFE
508-1 Sakaecho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Walden Woods is hidden behind Kyoto’s backstreets and is easily one of the most gorgeous cafes we visited in Kyoto. Its open entrance devoid of signage, white textured walls and bare aesthetics draw in curious passers-by and coffee lovers. Customers make their orders on the lower level before climbing up the staircase to reach a U-shaped communal space on the upper floor lit by antique lanterns and embellished with calming ornaments. Walden Woods’ menu is mostly comprised of single-origin coffee, but we decided to try their lovely, handmade Chai which came with a light, buttery biscuit to balance the spiciness of the drink.
ARASHIYAMA BAMBOO FOREST || A DREAMLIKE STROLL
Arashiyama, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
For newcomers to Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a sight to behold, captivating tourists all year long. It is open 24 hours a day and admission is free. Beat the crowds by coming early to experience a serene, otherworldly stroll between towering bamboo trees on both sides of the winding walkway. If you’re lucky, you might even capture folks wearing yukata robes and geta sandals in your photos!
ARASHIYAMA || IMMERSE IN A LIVELY NEIGHBOURHOOD
Known for its beautiful natural landscape and lively vicinity, Arashiyama is one of the most thrilling spots to be in Kyoto. There are a plethora of boutique shops selling souvenirs and traditional handmade Japanese goods as well as restaurants, both casual and upscale, that offer a variety of cuisines. It’s very easy to lose track of the time here as you browse through each store and stock up on gifts for your loved ones.
HEIAN-JINGU SHRINE || FINDING YOUR INNER ZEN
97 Nishitenno-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
If you’ve watched the film Lost in Translation, then you might remember the scene in which Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson) goes on a solo trip in Kyoto and leisurely wanders through two temples in Kyoto. Yes, one of the temples featured in the film is the majestic Heian-jingu Shrine (the other being the Nanzenji Temple). The torii (shrine gate) of the Heian-jingu Shrine is immense.
Past the torii, we were treated to a magnificent gravel-strewn open area leading to the main compound of the shrine. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto as the (former) capital city of Japan. Covered in a red and teal colour palette, the shrine serves as the ideal backdrop for a meditative respite. We spent a good hour admiring the shrine’s architectural beauty, making wishes, and observing the Japanese go about their daily religious rituals.
ASSEMBLAGES KAKIMOTO || A MODERN DESSERT SHOP
587-5 Matsumoto-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Housed inside a refurbished machiya (traditional townhouse), Assemblages Kakimoto is a modern sweet shop where a vitrine showcasing heavenly pastries awaits. You can choose to sit down and experience exclusive sweet creations from their à la carte menu or if you’re in a hurry, you can also purchase their delectable cakes and treats to take away and enjoy by the Kamo River or in the comfort of your hotel.
Higashi-Hoganji Temple || AN AUSTERE TEMPLE IN CENTRAL KYOTO
754 Tokiwacho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Boasting an austere appearance, the Higashi-Hoganji Temple is located in the center of Kyoto. From here, you can visibly see the Kyoto Tower in the distance. The Goei-do or Founder’s Hall of the temple is the largest wooden building in Kyoto. Supported by 90 pillars, the building is adorned with ornate, golden chandeliers and golden engravings. Photography here is strictly restricted to outside the temple and visitors are required to take off their shoes before stepping onto the tatami floor inside the temple.
BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE KYOTO || COFFEE CULTURE IN A TRANQUIL SETTING
64 Nanazenji Kusagawacho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
We visited the new Blue Bottle Coffee in Kyoto mostly because we were intrigued by the venue’s architectural design. Situated inside a 100-year old historic building, the coffee shop is the epitome of modern grace marrying traditional ethos. Featuring floor to ceiling windows, polished wooden furnishings, and visible greenery, the serene space invites customers to unwind over their quality coffee and housemade treats. For those who would prefer a bit of solitude and discretion, we recommend grabbing a table at the far end of the cafe.
NANZENJI TEMPLE || THE QUINTESSENTIAL ZEN EXPERIENCE
86 Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
There’s a handful of traditional temples scattered across Kyoto and a few of them like the Kinkakuji Temple and Kiyomizu-dera are always bustling with tourists. If you’re someone who would much rather prefer experiencing a more peaceful temple experience, then we recommend making a trip to the Nanzenji Temple.
Considered as one of the most important Buddist Zen temples in Japan, Nanzenji’s central temple grounds are free to access but if you want to explore inside the temple buildings and their notable garden, then you’d need to pay a separate fee. Take in the sights and smells of the surrounding nature as you make your way to the temple. It’s one of the reasons why it has such a special place in our hearts.
SANNEIZAKA || OLD-FASHIONED STREET WITH SCENIC VIEWS
2 Chome-221, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Take a trip to Sanneizaka and immerse yourself in a vivacious and dynamic historic street dotted with delicious food stalls and souvenir shops. Continue further along the downward-sloping, winding path and you’ll be rewarded with a scenic view of the Yasaka-no-to Pagoda – arguably one of the most photogenic structures in Kyoto.
RIVER RAMEN || FLAVOURFUL CHICKEN YUZU RAMEN
225-3 Sendochō, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
There is no shortage of amazing food in Kyoto. Although the city is known for its kaiseki cuisine, those who just want to enjoy the simple pleasure of slurping a bowl of ramen would find plenty of options as well. River Ramen is one place you’ll want to check out, largely because of its unique yuzu-broth ramen. The restaurant can be easily missed as its facade is comprised solely of a dimly lit, non-descript door.
Inside, you complete your order using a machine beside the entrance. For your first visit, we strongly recommend you try their Kohaku Ramen – a gorgeous medley of assorted vegetables, linguini-like noodles and juicy barbecued pork bathed in a fragrant, clear chicken and seafood yuzu broth and topped with shaved katsuobushi. This warmed our bodies and lifted our spirits in no time!
There are many places to discover in Kyoto. Most tourists tend to flock to the most popular destinations. However, if you find yourself having only a few days to explore the city and would like to experience the city from a unique, more ethereal perspective, then we’d recommend you allocate some time from your itinerary and take the less-traversed paths to visit places often overlooked and underrated. You might just experience something completely life-changing.
Photography by James Yang