Hope you set aside some time for this loooong post. This was my favorite city from this trip so really excited to share our finds! B and I always plan our travels around good food and this is where we had the BEST meal of our lives (so far)!
How to get to Kyoto from Tokyo
We took the Shinkansen, the bullet train, from Tokyo Station. We got tickets at the Shibuya JR station ticket office the night before so we wouldn’t have to run around to get tickets with our luggage the next day. (Tip: If you have big luggage that won’t fit on the overhead shelf on the train, ask for seats in the last row of the train cart where there are space behind the seats for big luggage. However, might want to book those seats a couple days ahead.) Nozomi train is the fastest one. It comes every 10-20 mins and it takes about 2hr 20mins to get to Kyoto station. One way ticket is Y13,710 (~$130).
We arrived about an hour before our train so we have time to pick up ekibens (railway bento boxes) from Ebiken-ya Matsuri – a tradition when taking the train in Japan! Tokyo Station itself is like a huge mall with lots of food courts. With so many choices, it was so hard to decide which ones to get!
Ryokan: Sumiya Kiho-an
After a week of travels, we booked Sumiya Kiho-an, a ryokan (Japanese inn with tatami rooms) in a town called Kameoka outside of Kyoto for some R&R. After we got to Kyoto Station, we took the JR Segano line to JR Kameoka Station (35mins). The ryokan had a shuttle waiting for us at JR Kameoka South Gate. It took another 20mins to get to the Ryokan.
It’s totally worth it to travel to more remote areas for a ryokan with a natural spring (onsen). This ryokan taps into the Yunohana springs. It has public baths or you can also book the private open-air bath for $30 for 45mins. We had to walk along a path covered in fall-colored leaves to get deeper into the forest for the private bath. You are surrounded by trees and nothing else out there (sorry, no pics allowed at the bath!).
The stay also includes dinner and breakfast. Dinner is kaiseiki style, which is what Kyoto is known for. Our dinner was 13 courses and took about 2-3 hours! Everything was fresh and beautifully made. The only thing that’s different about this ryokan is all meals are served in the private rooms in the dining room instead of your own room (didn’t really bother us).
When we woke up the next morning, we had friends texting us if we are ok…turns out there was an earthquake north of Tokyo earlier in the morning. Missed it by a day! Then off to a HUGE breakfast. In addition to your breakfast set, there was also a buffet bar with more side dishes, rice, miso soup, and more!
After breakfast, we had a few more hours to pack, go to the bath again, and then the shuttle took us back to the Kameoka Station.
If you can’t tell, we loved loved loved this ryokan! The place is very clean and the interior design is traditional but also updated with modern details. The location is very quiet and so scenic everywhere you looked.
After Sumiya, we stayed 3 more days near downtown Kyoto in Sakura Urushitei – another ryokan but with less frills this time since we knew we would be spending most of the time exploring the city. Our room was pretty small but enough for sleeping and the bathroom was surprisingly modern compared to other ryokans I looked up in the area. Sakura has a few other locations but Urushitei is the most convenient and walking distance to Gion/Shijo Dori.
Our ryokan was only 4 blocks from Nishiki Market so this was a frequent stop for us for snacks! You can find: fresh soy milk, soy doughnuts, mochi, matcha everything, pickles, fresh seafood, and more!
We put aside a whole day for this area since there are so much stuff to explore here. It’s about an hour from downtown Kyoto by bus. Be mentally prepared that this area is always crowded with tourists.
Here it is – the BEST meal ever! Steak Otsuka is in the Arashiyama area so after we got off the bus, we sprinted here to line up! They open at 11am every day but closed on Thurs. When we got there at 11:13am, there was already a large crowd waiting. But it goes pretty fast. We were expecting to wait around 1-2hrs based on the list but got in after 45mins as some people left. B and I each got the Wagyu A5 set ($49!!) but then after B finished his set, he looked at me and I looked at him with the exact same thought. We then proceeded to order our 3rd set! #YOLO
Follow the signs (or the crowd) to the bamboo grove. Unless you go before 6am, this place is already crowded but still breathtaking nonetheless. Along the path, there’s a temple (Tenryu-ji) and a beautiful garden you can pop in to see.
Across the river from the bamboo grove is the monkey park. It was around a 20-30 min trek up the mountain. I almost didn’t want to go up but so glad I did! Once at the top, you’ll see lots of monkeys just walking freely around you! You can also buy some bananas to feed them.
Other things to try in the area: Shoraian, a tofu restaurant away from the touristy areas (it was all booked by the time I called so try calling at least 2 months ahead), soy ice cream
A network of small alleys with restaurants and shops. We loved this area and came here just about every night. Also spotted a geisha here!
Because of the lanterns, this shrine is really pretty to visit at night. An easy walk from the busy Gion area.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The famous red gates. Easy to get to by subway. The red gates are donated by Japanese businesses to bring them good luck, costing them US$4k to $10k depending on the size! If you want to see alllll the gates, the trek up is about 3-4hrs long and there are different small temples along the way.
% Arabica Coffee
B and I are not coffee drinkers unfortunately but came for the great design 🙂 Brought a few bags back for family and friends who loved it! There’s a location at Arashiyama too but the line is ridiculous. Go to the Higashiyama location instead – no wait and a bigger store where you can get whole beans roasted on the spot!
Here’s a few more eye-candy to remember Kyoto by! We’ll be back!
Match & soy ice cream at Arashiyama; black ramen at Kyoto Gogyo; my favorite mitarashi dango at Umezono Kawaramachi but can find this throughout Japan; handmade soba at Sobanomi Yoshimura (not pictured)
Next stop: Osaka!