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Kyoto – 7 Easy Strolls you will never forget

Kyoto isn’t easy to forget. It’s one of the few places we’ve been that you get everything you could have wanted or imagined in your introduction to Japan. Even in the depths of winter when the trees are bare and the colours are muted it is still memorable. We spent eight days in Kyoto for Cheryl’s 50th birthday. She spent 2 of those days in bed with a lung infection and if she ever needed 7 easy strolls to package her experience, it was now. She would have settle for two strolls and a bucket of ramen, but these little excursions from our base in the Higashiyama Ward were so laconic and enjoyable, what was fast becoming a disappointing trip turned into something Cheryl and I will never forget… perhaps the bucket of ramen did the trick.

1.Golden Temple – Kinkaku-ji

(“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) This is a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the most popular of the 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which are all World Heritage Sites. I actually tried to avoid the Golden Temple. Only because it seemed like the biggest challenge given Cheryl’s health at the time. The pronunciation is very similar to Ginkakuji (Silver Temple), you can imagine my delight when the cab driver nodded with enthusiasm at my fist real attempt to communicate in Kyoto. It later became obvious that his delight was in the size of the fair he had just landed – we were on the other side of town. It’s quite a large complex of gardens and satellite temples and buildings. It’s popularity conjured images in my mind of thousands of people jostling, coughing and sneezing. Whilst this may usually be the case, we arrived on a rainy morning and the crowds weren’t too bad. You very quickly get a sense of why this place is popular, the gold leaf covering the upper stories of the main pavilion is magnificent. If ever there was a need anymore for a postcard this would be it.

Golden Temple Info:

2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402, Japan
Operating Hours: 9am–5pm
Admission: ¥400
Suggested Length of Visit: 3 hours

Getting to the Golden Temple:

Kitano Hakubai-Cho Station is the nearest train station on the Keifuku Dentetsu-KitanoLine, but it’s a long way from the temple, you’d have to catch a bus from there. I’d recommend catching a cab, even with poor pronunciation you won’t regret it (¥1500/3000).

2.Nijō Castle

I love the whole Shogun thing. I’ve read all the James Clavell novels and if you ever wanted to experience the type of world he was describing you’ll find it in this place. One of best surviving examples of castle/palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era, it’s a massive complex of which you would do well to arrive at the correct entrance – otherwise you’ll be in for a walk. It was fascinating just wandering the gardens and marvelling at the way they preserve the garden for winter and admiring the craftsmanship in the buildings and massive ramparts, which are “Inca” like in the way they are slotted together. Many of the buildings are closed to the public, perhaps that was bad timing but it didn’t really matter, there’s a lot to see.

Nijō Castle Info:

2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402, Japan
Operating Hours: 8:45am–5pm
Admission: ¥600 (there’s also English audio commentary available for ¥500)
Suggested Length of Visit: 3 hours

Getting to Nijō Castle:

It’s pretty central so is an easy ride on the subway. It’s worth going for Nijōjō-Mae Station and not Nijō. You’ll save yourself for all the walking you’ll be doing once you get inside. A Suica/Pasmo card or “All Day Subway Pass” will get you to Nijōjō-Mae on the Tozai Line, from there a five minute stroll around the corner will have you at the gates.

3.Silver Temple – Ginkakuji & Philosophers Walk

Silver Temple – Ginkakuji

This is a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama Ward), which was built as a retirement villa 500 years ago for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. I’d have to say it was probably our favourite of the “temple” experiences, the gardens are pretty special. The grounds are a fantastic example of the Japanese rock garden (karesansui), often called a zen garden. It’s complete serenity amidst rolling moss slopes, sculptured gravel and gardeners in ninja boots.

3.Philosopher’s Walk

It makes sense to tie a visit to the Silver Temple with a stroll along Philosopher’s Walk. Still on the bucket list is doing this when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, none the less it is still a lovely area. We arrived in January, it’s a fairly grey affair but many of the shops and cafes are still open on what is quite a long route that follows the canal – 2kms from the Silver Temple to the neighbourhood of Nanzenji. Early April is when this becomes one of the city’s most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing (Hanami).

Silver Temple & Philosopher’s Walk Info:

2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402, Japan
Operating Hours (Silver Temple only): 8:30am–5pm
Admission (Silver Temple only): ¥500
Suggested Length of Visit:
2 hours – Silver Temple & 2 hours – Philosopher’s Walk

Getting to the Silver Temple & Philosopher’s Walk:

There’s not really a subway station close by, you’d be looking at a 20 minute bus ride from Demachiyanagi Station (Eizan Main Line), then an easy 10 minute walk up a mild incline. There’s the usual fan fare of tourists shops and Japanese style cafes crowding the entrance. Again, I’d be recommending a cab – Kyoto is fairly small, you’re never more than ¥1500/3000 away (or you could throw yourself in front of a bus with your Suica/Pasmo card or “All Day Travel Pass”).

5.Higashiyama Ward

This has got to be one of the best injections of old Japan you will find anywhere in the country. Alleyways, shrines, Geisha and old wooden buildings all jumbled together in a 2 square kilometre area – between Higashiyama Station down to Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera Temple then across to the Kamo River. We decided to stay in this area because we wanted to be in the middle of this, the National Museum of Modern Art being nearby was an added draw (if only it wasn’t closed for renovations). Wandering aimlessly around this area was pretty special, coming back at night was even more so. Unlike us, you could time your stroll with a performance at the cities premiere Kabuki Theatre, Minami-za, you will need to book ahead by clicking here.

Higashiyama Info:

Higashiyama Ward
Operating Hours: Always… it’s the streets ☺.
Admission: FREE
Suggested Length of Visit: Half a day

Getting to Higashiyama:

For me, this is more about street wandering than visiting Temples & Shrines. I would suggest starting at Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line and snake your way down to Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line. If you wanted to keep it all on the Suica/Pasmo card you could do a loop and end at Sanjo Station back on the Tozai Line. See the map at the end of this post.

6.Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Sogenchi Garden

We were so looking forward to experiencing this place. Cheryl dragged herself out of bed and willed her way up the hill from Arashiyama Station, there was no stopping her. As soon as you arrive at the station you know you’re at a destination that experiences big tourist numbers. The trinkets are screaming at you as are the rickshaw drivers… they’re not really, just more eager than most Japanese. All the signs are a bit foreboding but the short walk up the hill takes a turn into a cute little alleyway. Any chance to wolf a steamed bun down will wash away any misgivings, it feels like you are wandering up a rural street. It eventually leaves the bustle behind and the bamboo looms over you. It’s magnificent, so peaceful even with all the people milling about. The added bonus is Sogenchi Garden is next door, which also happens to be World Heritage Listed.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Sogenchi Garden Info

Saganonomiyacho, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8394, Japan
Operating Hours: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Always open | Sogenchi Garden 8:30am–5:30pm
Admission: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, FREE | Sogenchi Garden ¥500
Suggested Length of Visit for both venues: Half a day

Getting to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Sogenchi Garden:

The best way to get to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is via the JR Sagano Line, 15/20 minutes from downtown Kyoto (Kyoto Station ¥240). From there, it’s a 5-10 minute stroll to central Arashiyama, Sogenchi Garden is just down the street.

6.Nishiki Market

The market runs parallel to Shijo Avenue. After all of that “Old Japan” overload it’s a terrific way of changing it up and getting a peak at contemporary Japan in all of it’s cheap trinkets and fishy smells. There’s some great little food vendors which would account for it being known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, it’s also a good opportunity to sort your souvenir shopping.

Nishiki Market Info:

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan
Operating Hours: 9:30-6pm
Admission: FREE
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hours

Getting to Nishiki Market:

It’s a five minute stroll from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (just few minutes from Kyoto Station, ¥210).

7.Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

This place is the grand-daddy of attractions, the mother of all things quintessential Japan. Most people will associate Japan with the vermilion torii gates, even if they were like me and didn’t know what they were called. Apparently, according to Shinto beliefs, they mark the transition from the mundane to sacred. Even if you’re not spiritual they definitely do something. It’s wonderful. An explosion of colour that invites you in. It seems infinite as they snake up the mountain side, it really is very special. I found a great little espresso coffee shop nearby and made two trips out here whilst Cheryl was recovering in bed. I resisted taking a peak the first time so I could share the moment with here, I’m so glad I did.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine Info:

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan
Operating Hours: Always open
Admission: FREE
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hours

Getting to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shirine:

Maybe a five minute stroll from JR Inari Station will take you past a bustling little shopping precinct then to the shrine complex. It’s only 2 stops from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (¥140).

Google Map, Routes, Sites & Currency Converter

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Getting around Kyoto

Kyoto is fairly compact so there’s no need for car, it would be too much of a hassle to park anyway. You can get around comfortably on foot by mixing it up with the public transport system and taxis.


There’s only 2 subway lines in Kyoto, the Karasuma line that runs from North to South and the Tozai line from east to west. We bought several two-day “Bus and Subway Passes” for ¥2,000 each. The Japan Rail Pass is not valid in Kyoto’s subway but you can pick up a Suica or Pasmo card at vending machines in most train stations that will cover the subway and the buses, a single one-way trip usually runs at around ¥240-360 (a card costs ¥2,000, but that includes a ¥500 deposit that will be refunded if you return the card).


Aside from the Suica/Pasmo cards, you can get an “All-day Pass” just for the bus network for ¥600 from ticket machines at the bus stations or on the actual buses. These enable unlimited travel on the bus routes, err… all day.

Independant Rail

You will most likely use these but needn’t concern yourself too much, you just pay the additional fare when you need to. Don’t worry, if the machine sounds off all sorts of embarrassing beeps they’ll just ask you to pay the difference, so carry change!

Where to Stay in Kyoto

We use Airbnb whenever the opportunity pops up. We run our own place in Port Douglas so know the system pretty well and for us it’s the most user-friendly of the private holiday rental apps. If you are planning to stay for longer than 2 nights, click here to set up an Airbnb account, you’ll get way more bang for your buck. We’ve used Airbnb in Tokyo as well and found that many of the listings are offering pocket wifi as part of the deal, this is invaluable.

Getting to Kyoto

If you’re just visiting Japan for Kyoto chances are you’ll be flying into Kansai International Airport, Osaka. It’s about 90 minutes from Kyoto by express train of which you can catch and purchase tickets just outside of the terminal – just follow the crowds. There’s also the shinkansen bullet train which does it in an insane 12/15 minutes, you can use a Japan Rail Pass which are best purchased outside of Japan, although you can now get them domestically. The shinkansen also covers the 450km trip from Kyoto to Tokyo in an impressive 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Publications on Kyoto

Here’s some good reading, we found the Lonely Planet Kyoto invaluable.

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Kyoto - 7 Easy Strolls you will never forget