Kyoto has a population of about 1.5 million people and is primarily known as being the place to go if you want to see what Japan is all about. Kyoto was the imperial capital for more than a thousand years and is famous for its more than 1600 temples and shrines placed all around the city. The city has more than 17 UNESCO sites and the culture from past decades is still very well preserved here. The Geisha culture, the incredible gardens, the colourful shrines and the beautiful temples are just some of the reasons to go to this amazing place. Going to Kyoto is like stepping back in time and you get a sense of what Japan used to be like in the imperial days. Today Kyoto is also a city that has amazing restaurants, great opportunities for shopping and hip bars. We're confident that you're going to enjoy this beautiful and vibrant city as much as we did.
➳ WHERE TO have DINnEr in Kyoto
Tsukiji Sushisei: We were craving sushi one evening and decided to check out Kyoto’s Sushisei. A great place for casual sushi right downtown. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs do their thing, or grab a table with a few friends.
Rohan: A good and really cheap Izakaya restaurant in Kyoto. Go here for a nice and simple meal with locals.
Tatsumura: This restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star and definitely deserves it. There's just one set menu consisting of 10 dishes and every dish was incredible. We especially liked the tofu.
Kiln: This place was perfect for a date night. We went here and had some great homemade bread, mackarel caesar salad, wood-fired wagyu beef and a great rack of lamb. Here you dine at communal tables, which was a fun experience. An intimate and very joyful experience.
Mughal: After having had Japanese for 10 days straight we felt like having something else. We did some research and quickly came to the conclusion that we wanted to try out Mughal for it's excellent Indian food. We weren't disappointed. This place was full of Indians (which is always a good sign) and we watched the chef cook up our dishes. We had about 6 different dishes, which were all exquisite.
Kanga-an: Amazing vegan restaurant in Kyoto. This place is a real zen temple dining experience and the menu is very out of the ordinary. Get a private dining room and watch the beautiful dishes come in one by one. This was a really different experience that we truly enjoyed.
➳ WHERE TO GET RAMEN in kyoto
Hakata Ippudo: Hakata was Elin's favorite ramen place in Tokyo/Kyoto. This tiny and very casual restaurant was a local favorite and was packed from noon to evening. The broth here is Tonkotsu, which is pork based. We went here several times and had their classic ramen with extra greens. The gyozas here are to die for so make sure to get gyozas as a side order to your ramen. You will not be disappointed.
Omen Noodles: Omen noodles came highly recommended by people we met in Kyoto. Here you get a clear ramen broth with a side of udon noodles to slurp. You get a bunch of different fresh vegetables that you add to your broth to make it your own. We also had great prawn tempura here.
Gogyo: Gogyo was Ollie's favorite place in both Kyoto and Tokyo. Here they specialise in burnt miso and burnt soy ramen. We were lucky to get a seat at the counter, where we could watch the chefs cook the burnt miso/soy. A very distinct flavour that we absolutely loved.
➳ WHERE TO GET DRINKS in kyoto
Café Independant: We went here a couple of times. Located in the basement of an old building, this place serves up various dishes and drinks. We just went here for the drinks - which were addictive. The gin tonic and the daiquiris here were perfect. We just kept ordering drinks for hours.
Hello Dolly: We stumbled upon Hello Dolly while walking along the river in Kyoto. Having drinks here felt like going back in time. It was very dim-lighted inside and all the furniture looked like old antiques. This old jazz bar played old jazz classics and the staff were really nice and attentive. We had a nice old fashioned by the window facing the Kyoto mountains and the river. An unforgettable experience.
Edible Garden: We found this tiny outdoor bar while walking around the river bank area in Kyoto. This bar 2x2 meters and serves up amazing gin cocktails. Try out their signature Gin & Tonics or their Gin Mojito.
Len Bar: This bar is actually part of a hostel called Len. We went here on a Wednesday night and the place was packed with people from around the world. The bar was very trendy and stylish for a hostel bar and the drinks were great. Go here if you want to connect with a bunch of other travellers.
➳ WHERE TO GET COFFEE/TEA in kyoto
Kiln Café: right by a small river on a cute, narrow street of Kyoto lies this this perfect, minimalistically designed little café serving great coffee and other refreshments. Enjoy floor to ceiling windows that let in oceans of light and fine views of cherry trees and people passing by. A perfect little hideaway.
Vermillion Coffee: Located nearby the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine (a must-see in Kyoto) this place serves up some of the best coffee in town. Make sure to stop by if you're in the neighbourhood.
% Arabica: We went here twice during our trip to Kyoto. The place serves up great iced coffees and the baristas here are true artists. Sit on their bench outside in the sun and sip this great coffee while gazing tempel. A good variety of beans and roasts here.
Omotesando Koffee: A branch of the Tokyo Omotesando coffee shop. You'll find this store inside the United Arrows store in downtown Kyoto. Pop by for a doppio cappuccino.
➳ WHERE TO STAY in kyoto
Bijuu Hotel: Probably the most luxurious experience in our lives. This boutique hotel has it all. Everything in this boutique hotel is from the finest Japanese designers and artists. Go here for a spa/hotel experience that is out of this world. The 501 suite is 114 m2 and includes a sauna in the room as well as a massive bath in the middle of the living room. This place also has a great view of the river and the Kyoto mountains. Read our full review of Bijuu Hotel here.
Sakura Terrace - The Gallery: Located close to Kyoto station this newly built hotel is very fresh and has everything you need. The rooms are quite standard, but do the job if you're out visiting temples and shrines everyday anyway. Definitely recommendable if you want to stay at a hotel that's fresh and nice. Sakura Terrace also has a spa and restaurant that can be used by all guests.
Len Kyoto: Len is a modern-day hostel that is very hip and stylish. A great place to stay for the budget traveller. Make sure to also check out their hostel bar in the evening, which we really enjoyed.
➳ BEST TEMPLES/SHRINES in kyoto
There are over 1600 temples in Kyoto, so having to visit the 'best ones' in just a couple of days or weeks is a pretty difficult task. We were in Kyoto for 7 days and we went temple/shrine hunting every day, so we're just going to list the top 10 that we liked the most and that we believe you have to see when in Kyoto. The temples and shrines below are not in any particular order.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple
- Ryoan-ji Temple
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Nijo-jo Castle
- Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
- Nanzen-ji Temple
- Honenin Temple
- Kenninji Temple
- Kodai-ji Temple
➳ BEST SHOPS in kyoto
United Arrows: Although United Arrows is mostly situated in Tokyo there's also one in Kyoto. United Arrows has a good selection of everyday clothes. Mostly Japanese designers, but also a few European. If you're looking for some new threads you can't really go wrong with the classics that they sell here.
Kapital: This Japanese denim brand has a wide selection of jeans, tshirts, shirts and vests. Many of the designs here are very quirky Japanese, but there's a lot of cool stuff here. Especially great for men.
Blue Blue Japan: Everything in here is made in Japan and they specialize in clothing made with Japanese indigo. This was one of the best clothing stores for men that we visited in Kyoto. Many of the designs are very distinctively Japanese. On the pricey side, but definitely worth a visit.
London Art Factory: This vintage store stood out from most of the others in Kyoto, as this store only sold 1940-80's English vintage women's pieces. Might not be worth a visit if you're from the UK, but otherwise, check it out for some great finds.
120 Organic: Good place to go if you want to bring home some Japanese towels or wash cloths. Everything in here is of the finest quality.
Kyoto Antique & Vintage Market: If you're going to Kyoto make sure to do some research on when the Vintage Market is open, as it's not open all year around. We were lucky to be in Kyoto when it was on, so plan accordingly, if you're going. This market is situated in an old elementary school and gathers 50 of the best antique and vintage shops from all over Japan - needless to say the things are amazing.
Pro Antiques.com: Great little antique store that specialises in ceramics and porcelain. Go here if you want to get some Japanese porcelain to serve your green tea in when you get back home.
Angers Kyoto: This store with 3 floors focuses on design from around the globe. You'll find a lot of Scandinavian design here, as well as many other designs from Europe. It's a fun store to visit as it's almost impossible not to find something that you want to bring back home. They had some great vintage men's watches and a bunch of other stuff for our home.