The best attractions in Kyoto, Japan's historical capital, have all the traditional vibes you're looking for when traveling to Japan. Ancient temples, traditional Japanese food, Ryokans, and the famous Bamboo Forest are few of many gems to explore in the bustling city.
Guides to Kyoto can be a bit overwhelming with endless temples, shrines, and architecture. The city is also massive and very spread out so it's not like you can just walk from one to the other. You have to choose where you go wisely as time spent getting from one attraction to another is costly.
I didn't know where to begin when I googled Kyoto and all it has to offer, especially because I would only be there three days. After some serious research, hits, and misses, I narrowed down the must-sees of Kyoto. These attractions I have boiled down to three categories: temples, shrines, and unique highlights.
KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE (THE GOLDEN PAVILION)
An iconic Kyoto sight is this flawless temple. Intricately designed with gold-leaf embellishment, Kinkaku-ji gets packed with tourists from all over the world. Luckily there is a cut off looking point that allows for a clear view without any people.
Home to a variety of serene traditional zen gardens and twenty-two 'sub-temples', you can knock out quite a bit in one visit. The monastery turned temple is located in Kita-Ku, Kyoto on over 57 acres of land!
This sight for sore eyes is a bit far out of the way relative to other temples, but the colorful foliage and rainbow bridge combo make up for the loss in time. The Buddhist temple looks like something out of a movie set that houses the oldest building in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The famously orange shrine dates back to the year 711. Located on the Inari mountain, the sea of orange goes on for miles as it winds up the mountain to several smaller shrines.
This bright Shinto Shrine is in the Gion District of Kyoto. It is located near charming streets and fun shops to walk through. Definitely a must!
The UNESCO site is a bit less touristy than the other Shinto shrines and is located in the Shimogamo District. It has an extensive sake collection in painted barrels that make for a great photo.
Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest)
You may recognize pictures of the ever popular bamboo forest. It is a bit far out of the way from Kyoto's city center and actually quite smaller than you'd think.
The natural sight, in spite of this, is still incredible. As with all the other attractions, go early in the morning to avoid tourists, this natural wonder gets Packed with a capital P.
I think this stream-side stroll is heavily underrated. The peaceful walk is quiet with traditional homes and architecture lining the way. Cherry blossoms sprout from the trees in the midst of bright green foliage. This was a breath of fresh air from all the other hectic touristy spots.
A famous street packed with traditional geisha fan vendors and mochi on a stick. This historic, cobble stone road winds up a massive hill. The vendors close around 6pm which truthfully is the best time to go if you want to escape the herds of people. The street will be empty and the best view is at sunset.