I'm going to offer you 12 places that should be experiences. It'll range from famous landmarks to places that aren't advertised as much. If I haven't been to a place then it won't be on this list. I'm only mentioning places I've been to and have found to be either fun or interesting. They are in no particular order.
1. Fushimi Inari
This is one of the most famous shrines in Japan. Not only is it beautifully set in the southern mountains of Kyoto but it can also be used as a great form of exercise. If you are an outdoors kind of person then you'll enjoy walking the whole path at Fushimi Inari that goes up the mountain and back down. As you're walking the path, you'll be going under a bunch of gates. Facing forwards the gates look ordinary but once you turn around you'll see Kanji written all over that are names of people who contributed to the shrine. If you're more of just a sightseer then you can just walk a bit of the path like I did and enjoy the shops located at the bottom
Over on the western side of Kyoto is Arashiyama, the more rural part of Kyoto. It's such a beautiful place with great scenery. I told my husband that if we were to move to Japan I would love to live in Arashiyama (who knows, maybe retirement). There are two great places to enjoy in Arashiyama: Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain. Bamboo Forest is an iconic place that has been featured in the movie Memoirs of A Geisha, along with Fushimi Inari. It's a great stroll to take and see all the tall bamboo. Monkey Mountain is a mountain full a monkeys you can see and feed in safety. It costs just a little bit of money to enter the mountain and just a little bit more to feed them. I think it'll be about $6 to $8 total (pretty cheap). You'll have to climb to the top of the mountain on a trail to reach the monkeys. It's super fun.
3. Kyoto International Manga Museum
This is a pretty cool visit to take. Pay a small fee to get in and you can see all the exhibits they have going on at the time. Many exhibits are permanent such as the one about manga through time and there are some exhibits that are temporary. When I went in the Spring of 2014 I got to see the exhibit on Shojo Manga fashion. It was pretty cool to see all of the clothes in manga that I've read. Not only exhibits, but you may even catch a workshop upstairs in one of the classrooms. I got to drop in on a comedy sketch from a manga artist. Even though my Japanese wasn't enough to understand the show I still had fun seeing everyone's reactions and having a good time. Then if you'd like to just chill out for a while there are manga in many different languages that you can read. Such a great place to hang out.
4. Miyoshi Ramen Shop
First food place to be mentioned on this list, and there's a good reason why. This ramen shop is amazingly good for amazingly cheap. As a college student at the time, it was the perfect watering hole for us to dine at almost every night. The shop is a small hole in the wall kind of place that is located closest to the Sanjo station. You'll be seated at one of the two bars. The menu is small but you can't go wrong with any of the choices. It's so good that once you're done eating everything in the bowl you'll want to drink all the broth too, and you can! Perfect place to grab a quick bite to eat.
5. Nijo Castle
Japan has a lot of castles scattered all over the country in different cities. They each served a purpose and have now become tourist attractions. Nijo Castles is one of those castles that you just have to see. The castle grounds are maze-like, with clear strategical purpose. As a tourist, it's probably one of the funnest castles to visit. There's a look-out that spans over Kyoto, making it a great picture taking spot. The best part of the castle is the floor boards. When you walk inside the castle the floors make a sound like a crane. This castle just has so many fun little quirks that it needs to be visited.
6. Philosopher's Path
Especially during the cherry blossom season or the Autumn season, the Philosopher's Walk is a great way to stroll around Kyoto to seethe sights. The walk itself is historical, and leads from one temple, Ginkaku-ji, to another, Nanzen-ji. It takes about 30 minutes to walk the path, but there are shops and little cafes along the way that will probably be of interest. The historic side to this path is of a philosophy teacher who used this route to get to his university everyday as meditation. Try it out, it'll be a very calming experience.
7. KaraFuneya Coffee
Another food place made it on this list, but not just any food place. This place serves parfaits of all kinds! I have a big sweet tooth so this place was made for people like me. Their selection of themed parfaits are amazing and range from strawberry to matcha to chocolate and even to katsu parfaits. Yep, you heard me. Not in the mood for too many sweets but want something savory? This place has got actual meals in their parfaits such as chicken katsu. Just go try it out, you'll thank me later.
Kyoto is still known for their traditional culture, and what's more traditional than Gion, the geisha district. A lot of people get super excited when they roam the back streets of Gion because they think they see geisha but in reality they saw a maiko. Maiko are apprentices of geisha. It's easy to tell them apart by their appearance as a maiko will be less elaborate than a geisha and the back of the obi will look different than a geisha's. Geisha are not known to walk on the streets in daylight hours but there are maiko trying to get to classes and events during the day, so you'll be able to see them. Still pretty cool. And a lot of the restaurants over in Gion serve traditional Kyoto meals.
9. Nishijin Textile Center
This is a great touristy place to go to, especially on days when the weather is not favorable since it's indoors. You can see a live kimono fashion show and even buy souvenirs made of kimono fabrics they've made. They also have demonstrations and other services regarding kimono available. If you'd like to know more on the Nishijin Textile Center click here to read my freelance article where I give full details of everything you'll find there.
10. Kami River
In Kyoto, there is a river that's called Kami River. During the day it's a nice place to just relax and hangout with friends. But at night there are a ton of things going on. There are all sorts of people out at night to see street performers. So if you're looking for something more local and not as touristy, then this is the hangout spot for you!
Kiyomizu is one of the most known temples in Japan, and it's in Kyoto. This temple is set on a mountain. The temple is known for its pure water. This is also another place where you can get a great view of the city. My favorite part about Kiyomizu is the architecture. It's just such a huge temple, it takes your breath away. And what would be a trip with bringing back some souvenirs for friends and family. There's a trail of shops that bring you down Kiyomizu that cater to tourists.
12. Nishiki Market
I'll end my list with another food place. Now, don't let the name fool you. It's a market but it's a unique market. There are foods that people have made already that you can purchase. If you want to try great local food made by locals, this is your kind of place. Even if you don't buy anything it's still pretty cool to see the market and it's business atmosphere.
I hope this helps those who have never been to Kyoto before or those who have been but didn't get to see everything. All the places I've named I've been to before. If I didn't name a place it was either because I've never been or it just wasn't a fun place in my experience. Have a great trip in Kyoto, Japan!
Follow me on social media!
And subscribe here to follow my blog!