The Kyoto prefecture offers an immersive Japanese cultural experience from its longstanding temples & shrines, and natural wonders.
In contrast to modern cities such as Tokyo where temples and shrines were destroyed during World War II and now rebuilt, the temples and Shinto shrines of Kyoto were preserved.
Kyoto is a mix of natural wonders and religious landmarks. The city is home to many original Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines spread across the city and its mountainous region.
A former capital of Japan in the Edo period from early 17th century to the mid 19th century, it was also a political symbol for about 260 years; before the capital was eventually relegated to Tokyo.
From Tokyo to Osaka, then Kyoto & Nara
In this Japan trip, aside from Tokyo, we included Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara in our itinerary, and stayed here for 10 days from February 17-26. Winter was about to end, so it was comfortably cool and the tourist spots were not too crowded, which is a common scene during Spring time and the cherry blossom season.
From Tokyo, we took the Willer Bus to Osaka on one of its midnight schedule starting at about 10:30pm, and arrived in Osaka the next morning. The trip will take you about nine hours, including a number of law-required 30-minute breaks every 2 hours. This will serve as your toilet breaks as well. Or you may also get a delicious snack or meal available at almost every bus stop.
We arrived in Osaka past seven in the morning; and were pleased to catch a brief snowfall as we passed by Kyoto. Our first day in the Kansai region was spent in Osaka. And it totally merits its own separate story feature for another day.
Booking a Kyoto-Nara Day Tour via Klook
Our 10-day Japan trip included a Kyoto and Nara Day Tour activity which we booked via the Klook app weeks ahead.
We’ve been using Klook for several years now. Thankfully, we never had a problem with any of our booked activities. The tour guides were polite and helpful too.
Some of the activities we experienced with Klook included the Werribee Zoo Experience in Melbourne in 2018, a day tour of Jiufen Village in Taiwan, and a Cable Car Experience in Singapore, among others.
For this Japan ttrip, we did a hybrid of DIY and Klook tours; just like in our first visit to Japan in 2019, when we went to Hokkaido in Sapporro.
And now, for our Kyoto and Nara Day Tour experience.
Wonders of Kyoto
Our Kyoto-Nara tour started at 8am. There were two pick-up points, one in Namba station in Osaka and the other one was at the Kyoto VIP Lounge. We hopped on the former as we were in Osaka. Our guide can also speak both English and Chinese.
Our first destination was at Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkakuji.
The Golden Pavilion is a three-story structure whose top two floors are completely covered with gold leaf. Kinkakuji, which means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”, is a world-renowned temple.
Given a time allocation of about 1.5hours for this spot, you will have enough time to walk through the surrounding serene garden; the pond itself is just spectacular as well.
We went around the garden and saw a prayer site where people would throw a Japanese coin before saying a prayer. There’s also a small shop where you can get souvenir items and other religious artifacts.
Our second stop was the Arashiyama district.
A healthy 15-minute walk from where our bus parked, the guide brought us to the jumpstart and explained a bit about the district. And with only 2 hours to explore Arashiyama. we headed right away to heart of the famous Bamboo Forest.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Sagano Bamboo Forest, more commonly known as Arashiyama Bamboo, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.
The roads were long and winding, but we didn’t mind and just enjoyed and nature-tripped. So make sure to wear comfortable shoes as this tour has a lot of walking involved.
Did you know that most of the bamboo trees in this forest have a height of more than 16 feet?!
Moreover, there’s also a small shrine area called Nonomiya Shrine. It was said that imperial princesses back in time, traveled here to purify themselves before their marriage.
There are considerably more visiting tourists here as well. So taking good photos without the crowd can be quite challenging. But with enough patience, we got some good shots nonetheless.
After almost an hour, and as it was almost lunch time, we went back to the jump-off point and had a quick lunch. The area is actually laced with a lot of Japanese restaurants offering iconic Japanese fares, to traditional desserts such as matcha ice cream and mochi-based sweets.
You should definitely not miss ramen in Japan. But since we’ve been eating ramen the past days, we decided to have something else today.
We’re so pleased to find something different this time – a bowl of ozoni or mochi soup with thick rice noodles on a cold day. It’s pretty and came with a colorful set of mochi – purple, yellow and white. The thick noodles were inter-laced with veggies and meat in a rich but lightly-flavored broth. The set meal also came with dry tiny shrimps, and a small soft matcha pudding on the side.
For dessert, we had a serving of matcha ice cream topped with mochi and red mung beans. This restaurant also serves hot green tea; and our meal total costs around Y 2,500 or P 1,000. It’s relatively not expensive at all!
Due to lack of time, we were not able to check out the adjacent Monkey Park anymore. But overall, we enjoyed our visit to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
Crowd aside, it offers a peaceful respite from the busy city. Hearing the blissful sound of the bamboo leaves brushing with each other, and the trees swaying wind the wind, is so relaxing. Perhaps going here early in the morning would be a good way to avoid the huge crowd.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
You’ve probably seen those photos of a thousand red gates / torii (that actually looks more like orange) on the internet – those are at the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.
In fact, it is a sacred place for Japanese people. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is made up of over 30,000 shrines or torii, leading guests to the biggest gate at the end of the path at the top, with a great view overlooking Kyoto.
And just like to previous spot, the start-off point is laced with a lot of lovely Japanese street food vendors leading to our bus parking area.
Of course, we got some Japanese pancake and another matcha ice cream – on a cold winter day.
Nara Park and the Bowing Deers
Capping our Kyoto-Nara Day Tour was a visit to Nara Park.
The park itself offers a relaxing stroll lined with plum and cherry trees. And more interestingly, you will meet friendly deers gathered in herds, or wherever a visitor is feeding them. Yes, visitors can feed them with crackers/cookies that are available at nearby shops for only Y100.
And if you’re feeling extra, you can try to make a bowing action as you feed them and they may just politely do the same. Perhaps they are also accustomed to this Japanese gesture of respect. Haha!
The tour ended with a ride back to the same pick-up points in downtown Kyoto and Osaka, at around 7pm and 8pm, respectively. We alighted at the Kyoto Station drop-off point.
Transport Options Going to Kyoto
From Manila, the nearest airport to Kyoto is Kansai International Airport (KIX), located in Osaka.
There are several airlines flying from the Philippines to Osaka including Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and JetStar Japan. We flew to Tokyo via JetStar Japan when we scored cheap flights to Tokyo via Klook as well.
By land, as mentioned earlier, we took the midnight Willer Bus from Tokyo to Osaka. It costs us about Y3,500 per person.
Another land option is by train. A JR Pass for the JR Train would come in handy. You can also use the same pass going to Fushimi Inari station where the aforementioned Fushimi Inari shrine is immediately accessible with a 3-minute walk.
When is the Best Time to Visit Kyoto?
As the country has 4 seasons – summer, winter, summer, and fall – each period offers a unique experience.
Personally, we believe that Spring time would be the most visually-appealing experience, obviously because of the plum and cherry blossoms.
Some say you can save when you travel during winter season (December to February). Autumn in Japan is also famous like spring time, so you may want to visit during the months of October and November when the temperature starts to drop as well. We were able to visit Hokkaido back in May 2019 for spring and it was spectacular.
On the other hand, you may want to avoid the summer months if you don’t like the hot weather.
As for other factors involved with travelling, you wouldn’t find much problem as Japan has an efficient transportation system – it’s so easy to go from one place to another.
There are also a lot of accommodation options to stay in from affordable capsule hotels, luxury hotels, and even traditional Japanese ryokan.
Related article, Where to Stay in Tokyo, Japan?
This Kyoto & Nara Day Tour via Klook costs P 3,400+ per person (JPY8,200 / USD62). You can check the availability and other exciting travel experiences on the Klook App.