Previously I did two posts on travelling to Tokyo and Nagoya, talking about my experiences from both of my visits to Japan, and now I’m going to cover Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve chosen to do them both in one post as I haven’t visited them for the length of time that I have visited Tokyo and Nagoya and therefore don’t have as much experience of these cities like the others.
I’ve been to Kyoto twice before. The first time was just for the day when I was living in Nagoya. The second time was in last November when I went for 3 days. Osaka I have only visited once last November for 2 days. From my experience there isn’t nearly as many things to do in Kyoto and Osaka as there is in Tokyo, but here are my top 10 things to do in Kyoto and Osaka:
1. Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto): This is my favourite shrine in Kyoto. I prefer it to the more iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha. It draws a huge crowd of tourists, and it’s a long walk from the nearest train station, but the views you get of the city from the hillside and the shrine itself is well worth the uphill hike.
2. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto): This is the most iconic shrine in Kyoto, and even one of the most iconic tourist spots in Japan. It is most famous for it’s lines of torii gates, which you can walk through, and which we did start walking through. We did however decide not to go to the top of the mountain as it was a similar trek to Mount Takao in Tokyo and we decided we didn’t need to do that again. There is a street full of food vendors outside the shrine, and one of the stalls did the best karaage (fried chicken) I’ve ever had in my life!
3. Arashiyama (Kyoto): Famous for it’s bamboo forest, this is on the outskirts of Kyoto and is also home to many shrines and temples, as well as shops and street food. We had some street food for lunch and went looking around one of the shrines, but we were mainly there to see the bamboo forest, which is stunning.
4. Kinkaku-Ji (Kyoto): Kinkaku-ji is the famous golden pavilion. It is full of tourists, like most of the famous shrines in Kyoto, but still enjoyable all the same.
5. Kyoto Tower (Kyoto): This is where we got to view the city, and it wasn’t a planned trip. We just happened to come across it and decided to kill some time there. Underneath the tower is a big hotel and shopping centre complex which we had a brief look around, although there wasn’t really anything of interest to us there, but of course we went for the views and they were amazing!
6. Kyoto Aquarium (Kyoto): we went to Kyoto aquarium because my boyfriend loves sea life, and we had some spare time one afternoon. They did a really good dolphin show, and we just do happened to be going into the dolphin exhibit as the show started which was really good timing.
7. Umeda Sky Building (Osaka): This was the first thing we did in Osaka and was probably the most scary of all the high view points. I’m not scared of heights, so it wasn’t that that bothered me, but the outside escalators were quite something. It was probably just me being paranoid but they didn’t feel very stable, and it was just pleased to get off them when they were done.
8. Osaka Castle (Osaka): Of the two castles I’ve visited in Japan (this one and Nagoya Castle) this one is by far the biggest and therefore the most impressive. It’s built in a very similar style to Nagoya castle, but it is surround by a moat and a beautiful park that, at the time of year we went, had some lovely autumn leaves in bloom.
9. Namba Yasaka Shrine (Osaka): Nambayasaka shrine is a really small shrine which doesn’t take very long to see, but it’s a lot of fun because the shrine itself is supposed to be the head of a lion. When you’ve spent two weeks visiting shrines, it’s nice to see one that’s a little bit different to the rest.
10. Dotonbori (Osaka): Dotonbori is one of the main shopping districts in Japan, and is aimed at the kind of people who would go and visit Akihabara in Tokyo. The streets in Dotonbori are narrower though and I found it easier to find my way around it than Akihabara.
I’m definitely very keen to go back to Kyoto, probably only for 3 or 4 days again, but I love Kyoto as you get to see historical Japan right next to modern day Japan. It’s a really beautiful and interesting city with a lot of history, and here are my top 5 things to do next time I visit:
- Kyoto Imperial Palace: this is the former residence of the Japanese royal family and is unfortunately something that I didn’t get to see last time. Visitors are not allowed to enter the buildings, but I would love to take a look around the palace grounds.
- Kyoto National Museum: I would love to visit this museum mainly to see it’s art collections, but it also houses ceramics, calligraphy, costumes and archaeological relics, all of which I find fascinating.
- Gion: Gion is Kyoto’s Geisha district, where you can visit teahouses where the Geisha and Maiko entertain. It is also filled with shops and restaurants, and has a distinct look to it, because of the many wooden houses that line the streets.
- Ginkaku-ji: Also known as the silver pavilion, this is somewhere I tried to visit, but wasn’t aware of the amount of travel needed to get there (see the getting about section below for my experience of Kyoto transport) and has always been high on my list of things to do in Kyoto.
- Iwatayama Monkey Park: This is something that I missed in Arashiyama that if I knew it was there I would have definitely gone. I watched a documentary once on Japanese wildlife and they talked about the macaque monkeys that lived on the outskirts of Kyoto and I really wanted to go and see them, and I never knew this place was there to do it, so definitely next time!
By the time we got to Osaka on our trip in November last year I think we were both pretty tired and therefore Osaka was a bit of a wind down at the end of the holiday, so we didn’t really feel like exploring much. I did feel that 2 days was enough to see a lot of the city though and I think we did right by not spending so long there, however there are a few things I’d still like to do in Osaka, so here are my top 3:
- Universal Studios: If we had more time in Osaka we would have done this on our last trip, but of course this needs a whole day reserved to be enjoyed.
- Tennoji Zoo: This zoo houses many different species of animals (230 different species according to their website) and prides itself on “reproducing as closely as possible the original habitats and environments of animals.” I’m very fascinated by African animals in particular, and as it is not possible for me to go on a safari right now, I love to visit as many zoos as I can so I can see these animals and how they live.
- Daisen Kofun: this is a burial mound in Sakai, just outside of Osaka and is said to be the tomb of Emperor Nintoku (who ruled in the 4th century). Not much is known about the kofun tombs and there are a total of 161,560 that have been discovered across Japan.
Osaka has an excellent subway line, much like Tokyo and Nagoya, although I found it was easy to get lost in some of the stations. Kyoto on the other hand does not have very good transport links, considering it’s the second largest city in Japan. The nearest train stations to popular tourist attractions can actually be miles away, and when we attempted to go and see Ginkaku-ji, we found out that it was a further 3km away from the nearest train station and we would have to get the bus there from the train station. It did cross my mind if this was to preserve the older parts of the city, but in a country where technology is miles ahead and everywhere is connected I find this hard to believe, and therefore I’m not sure why Kyoto hasn’t caught up with the likes of Tokyo and Osaka.
As we were getting a bit short on money by the end of our holiday we were less experimental with our restaurant choices and were mainly looking for affordable places that wouldn’t break the bank. However there are some excellent and affordable restaurants in Kyoto station, and we had one of the best meals of the holiday at a tonkatsu restaurant there. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from at the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka and we enjoyed a lovely katsu curry there which was very cheap. But we mostly spent our evenings in both of the cities eating at the same restaurant that we found close to our hotels. The one in Kyoto was amazing! They did really tender katsu meat, eat as much as you like rice and the tempura was to die for! The food at the restaurant in Osaka was good too, although I wasn’t impressed with their selection of drinks. They only did hot drinks (tea, coffee or hot chocolate) or iced drinks (again tea, coffee and hot chocolate), and their not the kind of drinks I like to have with my meal, but that is my personal preference.
In my Tokyo post I spoke about APA hotels, and in Osaka we stayed in an APA hotel too, which I would definitely recommend as they are a decent hotel in a mid price range. In Kyoto however we chose to stay in a ryokan which was the biggest mistake of the holiday, and a massive let down, especially considering the price we paid for it. It was advertised as a ryokan, but it was really more of a traditional style hostel. With only 1 shower and bathroom for the whole accommodation (there must have been about 20 of us there) I was not impressed with having to get up at 6am as the only way of avoiding shower queues and the shower itself didn’t look like it was regularly cleaned. You don’t feel very good having a shower in a dirty shower cubicle. The other thing that annoyed me was the paper thin walls which meant that we could hear all the shouting and 2am skyping of the disrespectful guests staying next door. I know it’s not the fault of the accommodation that our neighbours were annoying, but what annoyed me was that this hostel cost the same price as the APA hotels, and I felt like I had been seriously ripped off by it. Therefore I would not recommend staying in a ryokan based on my experience. I’m sure there are good ones out there, but this experience put me right off. We woke up at 6am on our last day in Kyoto and didn’t even hang about. We were in Osaka by 10am, exhausted, but so happy to have a decent place to sleep that night.