A ride on the bullet train brought me from Odawara Station to Kyoto. This was yet another addition to a trip filled with several exciting moments. Taking a ride on the high-speed train (Shinkansen) was something I looked forward to during this trip to Japan.

Long-time readers will know that trains are my favourite mode of transport. This ride was one I wanted to tick off my train-travel-related living list, which also features the epic Trans-Mongolian rail journey from Mongolia to China and a luxury train journey anywhere in the world.

For now, I would enjoy the luxury of riding the second-class berth on the train as it zoomed past the countryside. And when I say “luxury”, I mean that, because the Japanese are generally polite and conscious of others in public spaces.

The berth was clean and quiet, making a ride in any class a pleasant experience, especially so when the journey leads to a city as charming as Kyoto!

Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
Bamboo Forest empty Kyoto
Yasaka Shrine Kyoto

I chose to travel on a mid-afternoon train, so I could get the chance to visit Hakone Shrine, its Torii gate, and Odawara Castle.

But First, A Stop at the Hakone Shrine…

That morning, it took me a short 5-minute walk from the hotel to the shrine and an hour later, I was still there, marvelling at its beauty and simplicity, just as a beautiful sunrise spread its colours across the lake. To be able to visit this place and have this experience unhindered was priceless.

Heiwa no Torii Overnight Visit

Later, I returned to the hotel to enjoy a pleasant promenade around the gardens, before settling in for a delightful breakfast.

Time passed swiftly, as it always does when one is having fun and I raced to catch my train, regretfully leaving Odawara Castle out of my planned stops for the day.

As it turns out, I did not have to worry so much because I was able to change my ticket without any extra charge. Had I known this earlier, I would have certainly made a stop at the castle.

Osaka Castle Pond Things to do in Osaka Japan
made up for this by visiting the beautiful Osaka Castle

Less than three hours later, I arrived in Kyoto and made my way to the hotel in Gion, the city’s most famous geisha district.

Day 1 in Kyoto: Travel and Rest Day

I stayed at the Stay Sakura Kyoto Kiyomizu Gojo Hotel, which was a suitable base for my time in Kyoto. After several early mornings in Japan and even more to come, I was happy to spend the remainder of this day leisurely. My adventures in Kyoto would have to wait until the following day.

Day 2 in Kyoto: Gion District, Temples and Shrines

The next morning, I started my day bright and early by visiting different attractions in Higashimaya. This is a popular area where you’ll find several old temples, shrines, traditional houses and shops.

Higashiyama Ward Kyoto

My first stops, which were a walking distance from the hotel, were the charming old cobblestone streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka.

Places to Visit in Kyoto: Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka

There were a handful of people in the area when I arrived and a line of photographers and their subjects waiting to get one of Kyoto’s most iconic shots – the one with Hokan-ji Temple’s Yasaka Pagoda in the background.

Yasaka Pagoda Kyoto Early Morning

Because Kyoto is so popular, you won’t necessarily get most places to yourself no matter how early you arrive. However, I still recommend visiting famous places early in the day or later in the evening to elevate your experience.

Nevertheless, on this beautiful autumn week, I found most places in the city to be bearable crowd-wise. I walked through Higashimaya at different times of the day and it was always a pleasant experience.

Gion District Kyoto

Next, I followed the signs leading out of the streets to the centuries-old hillside temple, Kiyomizu-dera, another tourist favourite in Kyoto.

Places to Visit in Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera Temple

This temple dates back to the 8th century and is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of its attractions is the main hall with a large veranda that offers spectacular views of the city, especially during autumn.

After spending some time around Kiyomizu-dera, I saw that I had several hours before my next scheduled activity – attending a tea ceremony with Maikoya. So I thought I’d simply walk around and pop into anywhere that was open.

Other Places to Visit in Kyoto…

And walk, I did, admiring how old and new Kyoto blended so delicately! From Yasaka Shrine to Maruyama Park; From Chion-in and Shoren-in Temples to Heian Shrine.

Yasaka Shrine Kyoto

I walked past beautiful flowing rivers, flanked by trees with stunning autumn colours and stopped to watch ducks and turtles swim in them. One minute I could see modern-looking buildings and the next, it was traditional architecture and pure nature.

Later on, as I headed back towards Gion and the venue of the tea ceremony, I stumbled upon Omen Restaurant, a place I had seen highly recommended online. Luckily, it was just about opening time when I arrived and I was first in line to get seated.

I ordered a bowl of udon noodles with a side of tempura. Although I didn’t quite fall in love with the taste of udon, the meal was a good one and did well to sate my hunger.

By the time I was done with lunch, I had just enough time to walk over to Maikoya, get changed into a Kimono and attend the ceremony.

Maikoya Tea Ceremony in Kyoto Japan

Things to Do in Kyoto – Tea Ceremony in Kyoto with Maikoya

As soon as I arrived at the townhouse in Gion where Maikoya holds these sessions, I was ushered into a room to change. My session came with a kimono (traditional Japanese outfit), which Maikoya lets you keep until 6 pm the same day.

I chose each piece of the outfit and the staff helped me put it on and get my hair done. I was quite impressed with the way they handled my braids.

Kyoto Kimono Rental Tea Ceremony

Then it was time for the main event. One of the staff members led me to the ceremonial room and there I waited for other members of the group and the host to join us.

Sadō -The Way of Tea

The Japanese tea ceremony, known as Sadō or “The Way of Tea”, is a cultural activity that involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha. During our session, the host took us through a detailed history of the ceremony, before proceeding to perform it.

Maikoya Tea Ceremony Japan

She then made her cup of matcha, while we watched on quietly. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to make ours and have them with some Japanese sweets.

The whole thing lasted about half an hour and was an insightful and beautiful experience. I was glad that I included it in my Kyoto itinerary.

I turned in my kimono and walked the short distance back to the hotel. And with that, my first full day of sightseeing in Kyoto came to an end.

Maruyama Park Kyoto

Over the next few days, my adventures in Kyoto would take me to visit more temples and shrines. I would get lost in beautiful back alleyways that transported me back in time, only to emerge in the “present”, where taller and more modern buildings defined the skyline.

I spent four days in Kyoto and it was not nearly enough to scratch the surface of what this beautiful Japanese city has to offer. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic introduction and I left feeling completely satisfied with my stay but eager to come back someday!

4 days Kyoto Itinerary

Have you visited Kyoto (or any other Japanese cities)? I would love to hear about your trip and recommendations in the comment section below!

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  1. Amarachi, you are living the life that half of us dream of!! Love it!! Your pictures are so clear and descriptive, I feel like I have been to Japan! 🙂

  2. This is such a fantastic post with so many amazing photos. I’ve never been to Kyoto, but I love how there seems to be a harmony of tradition and innovation and how it is home to beautiful natural scenery interwoven with historical buildings and traditional architecture. Thanks for sharing, and have a good day. Aiva xx

  3. Ahhh these pictures and your experiences elicited such a warm feeling for me. I 100% want to be in Kyoto now!

    • Thanks, Tiesé. Kyoto is such a beautiful city. I’m sure you’ll love it! These days, it gets a lot of mixed reviews due to the sheer number of people that visit but as with most big/famous cities, if done right, it could be a highlight of a trip to Japan.