Last month, Brandon and I traveled to Japan for an 8 day trip. We split our time between Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, and Kyoto. We spent a majority of our time exploring in Kyoto. We spent about 4 1/2 days walking, taking the train, hopping on the buses, and exploring Kyoto.
If you’re looking for things to do in Kyoto your first time, this blog post is for you. I’m sharing tips on exploring the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, our entire eating experience at Hirobun, and more!
Here are 10 Things to in Kyoto Your First Time
1. Catch noodles through bamboo shoots at Hirobun
Address: 8 7 Kuramakibunecho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 601-1112, Japan
Brandon discovered Hirobun on a Facebook/YouTube video that went viral. This was at the top of his list as we planned out our trip to Kyoto.
Hirobun is a restaurant in a cute little village called Kibune. I was absolutely surprised when we saw that the Hirobun and all the restaurants in the village are built over the river. I’ve never seen a whole town build its restaurants over a river a before!
- We traveled 1 ½ hours from Kyoto to get to this town. We took two trains and a bus and had to walk/hike up into the town to get to this restaurant.
- Hirobun opens at 11am and we got in line around 11:15am.
- We had to wait another 1 ½ hours before we were seated to eat.
- We were led to a large open sitting area (FYI – no chairs, everyone sits on the ground and you have to remove your shoes) where the rest of the restaurant guests patiently waited for their number to be called.
We learned that groups only have about 10-12 minutes to eat before they sit the next round of people.
There are also 6 bamboo lanes where the noodles come out from and each party is assigned a lane. There isn’t a warning when the noodles come out, so you have to pay attention. If you don’t catch the noodles, I assume the noodles just fall into the river.
It was such a fun, unique dining experience. Even though it was trek to get there and we had to wait, I’d say the dining experience was well worth it! If you want to check out a few Instagram videos, you can check out my IG post here.
2. Stop by the Kifune Shrine
Address: Japan, 〒601-1112 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Kuramakibunecho, １８０
If you’re heading to Hirobun, you should also make plans to stop by the Kifune Shrine. You’ll pass the Shinto shrine on your way up the hill to Hirobun.
Brandon and I ended up walking down the shrine on our way back down from Hirobun. The stone staircase with the bright orange lanterns were beautiful! Like many of the incredible shrines and temples in Japan, the Kifune Shrine was believed to be founded over 1,600 years ago.
3. Wander through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Address: Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0007, Japan
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is easily one of Kyoto’s top places to visit. You can get to the bamboo forest from Kyoto Station by train.
Here are a few tips for visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove your first:
- Get to the bamboo grove as early as you can. All of the tour groups start arriving around 9am so if you can get there between 7am-8am, you’ll get to avoid the crowds.
- If you’re looking to take a photo inside the bamboo forest, don’t be afraid to walk up and down the trails several times. That way you get a break from the crowds and you’ll find an opportunity to take your shot.
- If you do get to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove early in the morning, make sure you pack snacks for grab breakfast beforehand. The eateries were just starting to open when get got there in the morning. Brandon and I grabbed sandwiches at 7/11 and ate them on the train so we weren’t hungry when get got to Arashiyama.
4. Visit Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Pavilion
Address: Kyoto 603-8361, Japan
The Golden Pavilion is a Zen temple located in northern Kyoto. Kinkaku-ji is built over this large pond and actually burned down several times throughout history.
The Golden Pavilion is three stories high and each floor is built in a different style. The first floor is built in Shinden Style, the second floor in Bukke style, and the third floor is in Chinese Zen style. Unfortunately, the inside of the building is closed to the public.
If you’re looking to take photo of the Golden Pavilion, I recommend NOT taking the photo right when you enter. We got to Kinkaku-ki around 11am-12pm and it was incredibly busy. I recommend walking up the guided path and taking photos on the other side of the pond where its less busy.
5. Wander through the Gion District
Address: (Starbucks) 349 Masuyacho Kodaiji Minamimondori Shimokawara Higashi Iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0826, Kyoto Prefecture
The Gion District is most well known as the Geisha District. If you want to experience walking through the streets of the traditional wooden machiya merchant homes, you have to walk through the Gion District.
Brandon and I wandered through the Gion District an hour before sunset. While there were still crowds, it wasn’t as busy as we thought it was going to be. We walked through the souvenir shops, tea shops, and restaurants. I think this was my favorite neighborhood we visited in Kyoto.
6. Hike through the Fushimi Inari Shrine
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
Like the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is top destination in Kyoto. If you’re looking for things to do in Kyoto your first time, you have to stop by the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the God of rice and is located in the southern part of Kyoto. You may have seen photos of the thousands of orange torii gates that cover this shrine.
Here are a few tips for visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine your first time:
- Go as early as you can. As a previously mentioned, most tour groups start arriving by the bus load by 9am. Brandon and I were one of the first people at the shrine when we got there right at 8am.
- If you plan to HIKE the entire mountain, I would highly recommend wearing workout clothes or at least comfortable sneakers. The entire hike takes about 2-3 hours to do and the incline does increase as you hike up. Brandon and I weren’t prepared for the hike. I was in sandals and Brandon brought his big backpack because we were exploring the rest of the day. We ended up hiking up half way and turning back around because it was so hot.
- Bring your camera and water! If you’re visiting in the summer time, it can get hot and humid even early the day. It wouldn’t be fun to feel dehydrated when you’re halfway up the mountain!
7. Eat your way through the Nishiki Market
Address: Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura)
Located in downtown Kyoto, the Nishiki Market is 5 blocks of shopping, restaurants, fish, and produce. The Nishiki Market is also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen. This market started as a fish wholesale district around the 1300s. You can find full sit down restaurants or grab skewers and small bites as you walk along the market.
8. Try a Public Bath
Address: Kyoto Granbell HotelJapan, 〒605-0802 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Yamatocho
I had no plans to try a public bath but Brandon convinced me that we needed to try it while we were in Japan. We stayed at the Kyoto Granbell Hotel and the hotel had its own public bath for their hotel guest.
I was SO NERVOUS at first to enter the public bath. We decided to go around 9pm after a whole day of walking around the city and exploring. We learned that public baths are separated by gender. You also have to wash yourself and be clean before you enter the hot pool. You also can’t bring any towels or robes into the hot pool. There are lockers you can put your robe, towel, and slippers in before you enter.
After taking a quick shower, I entered the hot pool. There was already a handful of ladies in the bath hanging out and chatting. It was actually really relaxing. We ended up going a second night!
FYI – there are no phones/cameras allowed at the public bath!
9. Wander through the Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Address: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
We were wandering around the Gion District, walking up the streets, and accidentally walked to Kiyomizodera Temple. The Buddhist temple sits halfway up Mt. Otowa in Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountain range. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Kyoto your first time.
Founded in 778, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sight. It’s one of the historic monuments from Ancient Tokyo. You can read more about the temple history on the Kiyomizu-dera website.
10. Stop by the Yasaka Shrine
Address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0073, Japan
The Yasaka Shrine is also known as the Gion Shrine. Founded over 1300 years ago, this is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. This shrine is known for the Gion Matsuri summer festival.
We wandered to this shrine after grabbing lunch at Gyugyu. If you’re staying in the Gion District, this shrine is really easy to get to!
There you have it friends! 10 Things to Do in Kyoto Your First Time.
What other things do you recommend seeing in Kyoto?
Thank you for reading!