Where to stay?
We stayed in Kyoto for 4 days, but, to be honest, I wished we had a fifth day there as there were a few places we had no time to visit. I guess that's an excuse to go back, right?
We stayed in two different places during our time there. We spent the first couple of nights in Sakura Terrace, a perfectly fine hotel a short walk away from the train station, great to hop on the JR line to Fushimi and the Bamboo Forest.
The following two nights we stayed in a traditional room at Matsubaya Ryokan, a great ryokan with an amazing traditional Japanese breakfast and where futons are lot comfier than what they look like.
After dropping our bags at our hotel we headed to Higashi Honganji, a big shrine, a stone's throw away from Kyoto train station. It is a complex made of multiple temples and very impressive.
Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Kyoto's train station on the lookout for a place to eat. You may think that eating in a train station is a little sad, but Kyoto's station is an architectural wonder and absolutely worth getting lost into. Among the floors of shops and eateries, you will find glimpse of the city and some magical architectural moments. And on the 11th floor, you will find an excellent tonkatsu at Katsukura.
After lunch, hop on the JR line to Fushimi.
A few tips before to start the visit, when visiting Fushimi wear comfortable shoes that you can walk-in for a good few hours and have at least a bottle of water per person.
Fushimi is one of the most famous touristic sights in the world with its thousands of torii gates lined along the mountain trail. Warning - the first kilometre is hell! You will be stuck in a crowd of tourists stopping every two meters to take a picture. After the first kilometre, people will start to head back, the trail will get less busy and you will finally have a quiet moment to embrace the beauty of the place.
Keep climbing (you have to walk that tonkatsu off, right?) to the quietest spot and unspoiled views of the valley. Then turn around and head all the way back downhill to the station. There is no shortcut exit there.
Freshened-up and starving, enjoy a 'burnt' ramen at Gogyo Ramen for dinner.
Start the second day at the famous Bamboo Forest. You must have seen this place all over Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. It looks beautifully serene on most pictures right? Well let me tell you, in real life, it is MUCH busier. No silence and bird chirping noises, camera noises and 'say cheeeeese' is what you will hear the most.
The Bamboo Forest is breathtakingly beautiful though, and once you adjust to the flow of people you will see through the chaos its true beauty. Get lost in the small alleyways around the forest and explore some of the shrines surrounding the place before your next stop!
A train and a walk later, arrive at Kinkaku-ji. Again, crazy busy, again ridiculously beautiful. There you will find the most beautiful gold-plated shrine, in the middle of a wonderfully Japanese-looking pond. The park is gorgeous and I really cannot emphasise enough on how beautiful the golden pavilion is.
On your way back to the station swing by Hirano Shrine, a peaceful 'everyday life' shrine.
Our third day in Kyoto was a rainy one. We started the day sheltered into the shops of Shijo Dori. If you are only going to enter only one shop, make it Daimaru, and visit the food section. Daimaru is comparable to Selfridges or Le Bon Marche and the food hall is amazing!
Talking about food, after salivating in the alleys of Daimaru, head to Nishiki Market for a real lunch. Dedicate a good 90 minutes to 2 hours to the place as there is so much to see and to taste.
In need of a walk after so much food, we headed to the small streets of Pontocho with the hope to run into a geisha. Geishas there weren't, but charming little houses to take pictures of there were!
The day was getting greyer and greyer but we still stuck to our plan and walked to the Imperial Palace park. After so much walking and in need of something warm and comforting to eat, we ended our day at What's for some delicious beef.
Luckily our last day in Kyoto was sunny and warm again, the perfect weather to end our trip at one of the most famous sights in town - Kiyomizu-dera. We explored the shrine before getting lost in the traditional streets of Sannen-zaka.
Walking along the wooden houses in Sannen-zaka is like time travelling to the past, and, if you are lucky like us, you may find some geishas! Be aware that geishas are coy by nature and not easy to photograph. Respect it as you don't want to come across as a rude tourist.
Wander in Maruyama park and stop before lunch at Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful temple just off Gion's streets. After a quick lunch on the go, get lost in the streets of Gion, a lively neighbourhood where you will find designers' shops, traditional ryokans, and, again, some beautiful shrines.