The last time I visited Japan was in 2009 and I’ve been in love with the country ever since, from the rich and long history and traditions, the cheerful and humbly polite people to the delicious cuisine – all these lead to an enchanting place to visit.
When we were invited to a wedding in Japan we were thrilled and couldn’t wait to go back! We knew we would only be in Kyoto for a short time – 48 hours to be exact, so we wanted to make the most it! Here I share all the places we visited in the time we spent in Kyoto! Yes we really did it in 48 hours!
Royal Park Hotel
This trip, we stayed at Royal Park Hotel, THE Kyoto. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Kyoto and is a close walking distance to Shinkyogoku shopping district and the famous Nishiki market shopping street where you can find all things to do with food and sample some of the delicious local goodies.
The hotel has two major subway line stations a short 3 minute walk away (see the hotel website for details). Getting to the hotel is relatively easy by subway from Kansai Airport or Kyoto Station and it is also easy to head to the spectacularly beautiful sight seeing destinations around the city.
The hotel itself has a chic modern decor with an elegant bar situated right in the lobby. We found the service to be excellent and attentive, with reception speaking perfect english and able to give you any assistance or tips with what to do and where to eat in the area. I highly recommend some of the freshly baked goodies from the French Boulangerie next door to the hotel for breakfast to keep the energy levels up before a long day of sightseeing.
Hyatt Regency Kyoto
The other hotel we looked at staying and would recommend is Hyatt Regency Kyoto. The hotel is the perfect blend of contemporary and Japanese design with a beautiful natural wood undertone.
The hotel is in a quieter part of Kyoto and features plenty of sight seeing opportunities around the area. It is across the road from the Kyoto National Museum which has a number of interesting special exhibitions throughout the year. The hotel is also surrounded by a number of prominent temples and is a short 5 minute walk to Shichijo subway station.
The hotel has a great spa. We booked spa treatments at the RIRAKU Spa where we had a much needed relaxation break after our long Shinkansen train ride from Tokyo. Given we were in Japan we thought it appropriate to try the signature treatment which includes traditional Acupuncture and an authentic Shiatsu massage by trained professionals. It was my first time trying Acupuncture. I was scared at first because I thought it may be a painful experience but it was the exact opposite. I could barely feel the needles and felt a lot more relaxed.
After our treatment, we enjoyed a few drinks at the hotel bar which serve local Kyoto craft beer (brewed with sake yeast) and great cocktails – I tried the Green Tea Mojito, it was delicious!
The concierge are also very helpful in providing suggestions on structuring an itinerary, or if you’re so inclined the hotel provides Private Tours with an english speaking driver for the day. We found this to be a huge plus if you are short on time. We booked a private tour for the next day. Our driver Mr Moo was extremely helpful, while not a licensed guide, he gave us an insightful lesson into the history of the samurai and shoguns as well as the temple traditional ceremony and history.
SEE & DO
Fushimi Inari Shrine – The first place we visited on our Private Tour (via Hyatt Regency Kyoto) was Fushimi Inari Shrine. I missed out on visiting this Shrine the last time I was in Japan so this was the first place on my list. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torri gates. The trail leads into the wooded forest of Mount Inari. While the main reason most tourist come to Fushimi Inari Shrine is to explore the mountain trails, the shrine buildings themselves are also worth a visit!
Tip: I recommend visiting this Shrine early in the morning. We were there around 10am and it was already packed with tourists. We had to wait a while just to capture these photos without so many people in the background!
Bamboo Forest and Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama – The Arashiyama region is a truly beautiful region of Japan and famous for it’s scenic beauty and UNESCO heritage sites. Going in early Autumn the leaves were just turning an orange and red hue and I can only imagine how beautiful this would be in the height of Autumn. It is also a beautiful time to go in Spring when the cherry blossoms are in season.
Note: the bamboo forest gets very packed with tourists throughout the day and I would advise to go extremely early if you wish to catch those shots you see online where there is not a person in sight!
Unfortunately we missed our booking to this famous tofu restaurant Shoraian in the Arashiyama area. We have heard so much about it and fabulous tofu lunch course it serves. Some have even claimed they go to Kyoto just to eat at this restaurant. It is a little hard to find but if you head towards the river from the Arashiyama town and turn left towards the mountain and follow the river it is a short walk up a few steps after the path along the river ends. Please let me know if you try this and what your thoughts are!
Wearing Natalija Robe
Kodai-ji and Entoku-in Temple – to appreciate a different perspective and to experience a real zen atmosphere with less tourists I would recommend visiting Koidai-ji and Entoku-in temples in the evening before or after dinner. They switch on all the lights and light up the temples until 10pm in the evenings.
EAT & DRINK
Tsujiri – This is a well-known cafe in Gion and famous for Matcha Japanese desserts with locals and tourists alike queuing down the street to try some of their tasty desserts. This is a great place to take a break after walking around Gion area.
Ito Dining by Nobu – If you are in the mood for premium beef and seafood and enjoy teppanyaki style cooking this is the place for you.
Warning – premium quality produce also commands premium quality prices but we found the experience well worth it for the fable Kobe beef which was cooked to perfection by the chef in front of us. You could see the marbling of the beef before they cook the meat. While you would think that that much fat would make it incredibly oily this was not the case, the meat was instead incredibly tender and juicy and almost melted in your mouth!
Tip: The restaurant has fantastic views from the window seated area and a very picturesque view of the stream and old city outside the windows (ask for this when booking) however you will then miss the teppanyaki table where you get to see the skilled chefs cook up your meal in front of you. I’ll leave the choice up to you.
Instead of ordering the set menu I recommend ordering individual dishes and tasting the full variety of seafood, vegetables and meat. Between two, this also ends up being cheaper than ordering the set and you get more variety (although we skipped the bread, coffee and dessert courses). The abalone course is also surprisingly delicious. I’m usually not a fan of abalone but this was cooked to perfection (doused in Dom Perignon to cook) and the perfect texture and extremely tender.
Kodaiji Wakuden – If you are a foodie or simply love good good, then Kyoto is perfect for you! It has over 170 Michelin Star restaurants to choose from. I highly recommend trying the two Michelin Star restaurant Kodaiji Wakuden situated near the Kodai-ji Temple entrance. The restaurant is in one of the narrow streets of the town and is in the style of an old tea ceremony house. It is a beautiful property and serves fresh seasonal produce from around the Kyoto area. The menu is omakase with the chef cooking in front of you explaining in detail the courses (in Japanese). The dishes are traditional and prepared to perfection. Each course is served with that superb Japanese attention to detail coupled with amazingly warm yet ceremonial hospitality.
It is said that at the restaurant you will be able to experience at least two seasons and maybe even three. Attending in the early Autumn we were able to experience the end of the Summer menu featuring conger eel which is at it’s peak condition in the summer and the early Autumn mushroom fare featuring 13 different types of mushroom prepared in a variety of different ways. I now want to go back and experience the winter Taiza Crab menu which is a Winter delicacy from Northern Kyoto!
Suffice to say we would definitely return to eat here again!
Nishiki Market – Aritsugu in Nishiki Market is where you can buy quality sashimi knives and other metal worked goods. Price wise it is very reasonable for the quality and from what I hear a tad cheaper than some of the quality knives you can buy in Tokyo from Tsukiji market. It was established 450 years ago as a swordsmith and now sells over 50 kinds of knives.
Ippodo Tea Shop – This is one of the best tea shops in Japan and has been in operation for over 3 centuries. If you’re looking to buy some high quality tea to bring home this is the place. They serve many kinds of local Kyoto tea varieties and the area is renown for producing some of the highest grades of tea due to the perfect climate and mineral rich soil.
To help you learn more about the traditions and about the tea itself, the Kaboku Cafe attached to the shop, lets you make your own tea to drink and enjoy with Japanese confectioneries. The shop assistant will give you a lesson on how to make tea dependent on what type you choose. We really enjoyed this fantastic experience!
GOOD TO KNOW
Courier Service – If you are planning to travel to multiple cities in Japan and do not want to lug around heavy baggages from hotel to hotel, I highly recommend using the Courier Service offered by most hotels in Japan. For a very reasonable price, you can have your luggage delivered to your next accommodation the next day. I found this service to be more and more valuable as my bags fill up with souvenirs along my journey.