There was always something about Kyoto that beckons me. When I finally had the opportunity, the former imperial capital exceeded my expectations that five days flew so fast.
Kyoto is home to numerous Buddhist temples, shrines, gardens, and imperial palaces. As a former seat of power, important cultural artifacts are housed in these shrines and palaces. You will not find yourself running short of things to do or places to visit while you’re in the city.
Here are some of my favorite destinations in Kyoto–the hidden gems of Kyoto where you can have the place all to yourself, at least for a couple of hours. You can mix them up depending on your interest, budget or time.
A lovely scene awaits you as you walk through the Bentendo Hall. My first visit was during spring so I had view of the sakura. It is also a great place to experience the autumn foliage as the temple complex is surrounded by red and orange hues. If you come by noon, you might also be able to witness Goma, a Buddhist fire ceremony.
Directions: I came from JR Nara line so I got off to JR Rokujizo and transferred to the Tozai subway line. From there, you can travel to Daigo station. When you reach the station, you can either walk (10 minutes) or take the shuttle bus.
Admission fee: 1500 yen (combined ticket) – Php 638.
5. Tea tour in Wazuka and Tea Factory tour in Uji
Were you ever curious how matcha is produced? If you love tea then a chance to visit a tea field or a factory should not be missed. Both Wazuka and Uji are known for their production of high quality Japanese teas. A visit to both areas gives you a glimpse of not only Japan’s tea culture but also the rich history that is ingrained to it.
Admission fee: The guided tea tour in Wazuka costs about 12,000 yen (Php 5,104) per person if you are single traveler or in a small group. If you are traveling with an organized group tour (min 15 people), the cost will be about 3,000 (Php 1,276) yen.
The tea factory tour in Uji costs about 500 yen (Php 213) per person. However, the taxi fare to get you there will set you back at least 2,000 yen (Php 851).
4. Otagi Nenbutsuji & Adashino Nenbutsuji
These temples are considered as Kyoto’s hidden gems. Located in a secluded area in Arashiyama, this place is often overlooked by visitors whose focus is on Arashiyama’s known spots. Visit Otagi Nenbutsuji for its the whimsical 1,200 stone statues of rakan, the devoted disciples of Buddhism. Each statue displays a different facial expression with some pulling off of cheeky expressions.
Adashino Nenbutsuji can be reached by a 10 minute-walk from Otagi Nenbutsuji. Here you can see a beautiful bamboo grove and 8,000 Buddhist statues. Along the way, you will pass by the preserved street of Saga-Toriimoto.
Directions: Take “Kyoto Bus” # 64, 74, 84 and 94 bound for “Kiyotaki” and get off at “Otagidera-mae”. Stops are located at Hankyu Arashiyama Station, Kyoto Sanjo Sta., JR Kyoto Sta. and from a bus stop called “No no Miya” near Saga-Arashiyama Station’s south exit.
Admission fee: Otagi nenbutsuji – 300 yen ( Php 128) and Adashino nenbutsuji – 500 yen (Php 213).
3. Kimono Forest at Randen tram station
Aside from the bamboo groves, there is another forest you should not miss in Arashiyama. The Kimono forest is located in Randen tram station on Kyoto’s Keifuku Arashiyama line. The forest is composed of cylindrical pillars, each wrapped in a colorful kimono pattern. Enjoy it during the afternoon or see it illuminated at night.
Directions: It is located in Keifuku Arashiyama line
Admission fee: Free
2. Ujigami Shrine
I visited this shrine before the tea factory tour. The Ujigami Shrine is believed to be the oldest shrine in Japan. The Honden dates back to the Heian period and consists of three separate buildings built side by side, each covered by a cypress bark roof.
Directions: The shrine can be reached within 10 minutes from Keihan Uji Station or 15 minutes from JR Uji Station.
Admission fee: Free
1. Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka (early morning or late at night)
The preserved districts are not exactly a hidden area as you would pass by these streets on the way to Kiyomizu dera. However, the atmosphere is completely different when you visit during wee hours of the day. Non-existent crowds, closed shops, and just the traditional townhouses around you–you can almost feel that you are transported back in time.
Directions: Take the No.206 bus bound for Kitaoji bus terminal via Higasihama-dori or No.100 bound for Ginkaku-ji via Kiyomizu-dera Gion. Get off at Gojozaka stop and walk east 10 minutes.
Admission fee: Free
In the next Postcards feature, find out why Kyoto’s iconic destinations attract millions of travelers each year.
Have you been to Kyoto yet? Have anything to add to this list? Tell us in the comments!