If you're planning on a holiday in Japan
, then Kyoto
has to be on your list of places to visit. Kyoto is arguably the most well-preserved ancient city in terms of culture and tradition, 17 of Kyoto's attractions are UNESCO World Heritage Sites
(gardens, palaces, etc.)
But that doesn't mean everything in Kyoto is ancient. Kyoto is a charming city that mixes old-world and modernity in the perfect manner. You can experience bustling night markets and trendy cafes, Geisha
and zen temples all in one small city!
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1. Walk Through The Bamboo Forests of Arashiyama
is situated just outside of Kyoto, and it is like a mini-version of Kyoto. Get lost wandering through miles of bamboo trees towering over you; it'll definitely feel like you're in another world entirely.
The serenity of this magical place can be lost at times because this is one of the top-rated tourist attractions in Kyoto and everyone has (and should have) this on their list of things to do when traveling in Kyoto. That's why locals say that you'll have a better experience visiting during the low season when there aren't as many tourists.
But if you do happen to get stuck in a wave of tourists, there is a hidden getaway that you can escape to with the most amazing view. Walking through the bamboo forest
, you’ll come across a hill. Walk upwards until you spot the first house. Turn left and exit the grove to find a small hill with a playground. Keep on climbing to reach the vantage point.
2. Rent a Bike
Rent a bike to explore the city at your own pace.
Most locals use this as a method of transportation, so if you want to feel like one of them, ride along! You can rent a bike from near the Kyoto station
, or even join a Kyoto Bike Tour.
Handle your bicycle carefully. Don't park it outside the designated area, or you can face a fine and the removal of the bike. Driving under the influence (even on a bicycle) is also a serious crime that comes with a serious fine or imprisonment, but needless to say, being under the influence carries bigger consequences in a Muslim's afterlife!
3. Walk Through Higashiyama
Picture Credit - www.cruisebe.com
is another place that everybody has on their list of top things to do in Kyoto, and that's because this is the area where most of “old Kyoto” is situated.
Narrow alleyways, huge temples, small serene gardens, and traditional wooden-tiled houses make Higashiyama one of the most magical places in not just Kyoto, but in all of Japan. It's a place you definitely cannot miss!
4. Kyoto's Markets and Cafes
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Kyoto has a bunch of night markets, flea markets, cafes, and shops that you can explore.
is an essential tourist spot and is a great place to explore. But if you want a more authentic shopping experience, head on down to the Sanjo-dori area (where you'll find mostly locals as opposed to mostly foreigners at Nishiki).
Demachi market, located outside the Aoibashi-nishizume bus stop is a small local market where you can find vegetable shops, 100yen shops, kitchen items, dried food items, cafes, restaurants
, and more.
Flea markets are held at shrines and temples throughout Kyoto on a weekly basis. These are great places to find unique and traditional art, clothing, antiques, and more.
Find local kissa (cozy neighbourhood coffee shop) hidden around Kyoto. A few such places are:
- Cafe Frosch (Nishjin),
- Nijo Koya (a little ways south from Nijo Castle),
- Iyemon Tea Salon (in Sanjo).
5. Spot a Geisha
Picture Credit - www.pinterest.com
Geisha are traditional female Japanese entertainers with striking appearances of a bright white face, red lips, and elaborate hairstyles, dressed in the iconic Japanese Kimono
. They act as hostesses and are trained in various traditional Japanese arts.
Kyoto is the city that is most often associated to Geisha and is one of the best places to spot a Geisha or maiko
(geisha apprentices) in modern Japan. If you want to spot a Geisha, your best bet to do so would be at the Gion neighbourhood. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled, because they are known to move pretty fast!
Recent times has also seen the new traditional odori
or public dances held at all Kyoto hanamachi annually (most in spring, one in autumn) for which you can buy tickets.
If you want to take a picture with a Geisha or maiko, please be polite, and do not force them if they are not interested.
6. Enjoy Halal Food
Picture Credit - www.japan-guide.com
You don't have to miss out on delicious food in Kyoto in fear of it not being Halal
because local food
is one of the best reasons for a Halal vacation
Halal Ramen at Ayam-ya
(Location: 2111, Mikatakonyacho, Shimogyoku Kyotoshi, Kyoto 6008238.)
Chicken Karage at Naritaya
(Location: 422-1 Rinkacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0062.)
Notes: Delicious miso Ramen, a prayer room with ablution facilities, and free Wi-Fi!
Yudofu at Kiyomizu Junsei Okabeya
(Location: Higashiyamaku, Kyotoshi, Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 2, Shimizu, Monzen, 6050862.)
Notes: Yudofu (tofu simmered in hot water – a local delicacy), and grilled miso tofu.
Halal Wagyu BBQ at Nanzan Grill
(Location: Kitayama Notre Dame Mae, 31 Shimogamo Kitanononogami-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city 606-0846.)
Notes: Get the Kyoto Wagyu BBQ Set for a filling meal.
Halal Shojin-Ryori at Kiyomizu Junsei Okabeya
(Location: 2 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0862.)
Notes: Shojin-ryori is a vegetarian-based diet developed by Buddhist monks, typically consisting of meals centred around tofu.
… and so much more!
Don't cancel reservations at the last minute, and don't bring outside food and beverages into restaurants.
Tipping is not a Japanese custom. Instead, say “okini”, which means thank you in Japanese.
7. Explore Sakyo-Ku
Picture Credit - www.jameshuangphoto.blogspot.com
is one of the eleven wards in the city of Kyoto. Owing to the scattering of universities situated near the northern area of Sakyo-ku, there is a young, hip vibe to this area, and definitely a lot of unique experiences and things to do in Kyoto.
Nestled in the ramen-stall lined streets is Keibunsha, a reader's dream. This bookstore has everything that a print-lover could ask for: books about various topics, self-publication, photography collections guides, and more. They also partner with local craftspeople to sell things like coffee blends and Japanese style towels.
Go next door to their exhibition space which has a rotating display of paintings, furniture, clothes, stationery, and more. Everything on display is for sale!
They have a little rental space at the back where workshops, exhibitions, talks, etc. are held, so catch one if you can!
8. Take Public Transport
Picture Credit - www.expatsguide.jp
Japan has one of the most evolved and technologically-advanced public transport systems in the world, so take advantage of this during your holiday in Japan!
Don't take pictures near train tracks. Some trains are so fast that you'll barely have a warning. A cool picture is certainly not worth risking your life for!
If you are sitting in the priority seating area, please get up if you see someone who it is reserved for (elderly, disabled, pregnant women or people traveling with small children).
If you're taking a cab, please note that Japanese taxi doors are automated, so they open and close on their own. Do not manhandle the door, or stand too close that it bumps into you while opening.
9. Explore Kyoto!
Picture Credit - www.sase.org
Kyoto is everything that we have described above, but it is also so much more! The best way to explore and find out all the unique things to do in Kyoto is to get out there, mingle with the locals, and find out for yourself. But as always, there is a few more local etiquette
that you need to follow to make sure you stay respectful to the culture and traditions of the people living there.
Smoking outdoors is frowned upon, therefore save it for when you're inside (areas where smoking is allowed).
Whenever required, line up in an orderly manner and make room for others.
Keep toilets clean.
Do not litter! Kyoto aims to be the most beautiful city in the world, therefore littering is strictly prohibited and you will be fined. A good idea would be to carry a small container in your bag to temporarily discard small trash.
is rice straw mats used in traditional Japanese homes and other places. Please make sure to take your shoes off before stepping on them. And take your shoes off before entering someone's home.