I have been to Kyoto 3 times, but truth is, I can’t say I know Kyoto all that well. I have never done a proper tour of Kyoto. Kyoto has always been a stopover for a day enroute from Tokyo to other cities further West. And each time I was there, I would cover bits and pieces of Kyoto.
The first time I was there, I explored the areas near Kyoto station by foot, covering Kiyomizudera, Heian Shrine and Nishijin Textile Centre.
The second time I was there, we visited the places that were easily accessed by train: Kyoto station, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama.
This time, our visit to Kyoto was part of a larger self-drive trip. We were there in early December which was the very tail-end of autumn in Kyoto. We planned to catch as much of the remaining autumn foliage as possible, as well as explore the rural region in Northern Kyoto.
Driving in Kyoto
Within central Kyoto, Kyoto’s bus network gets you to just about anywhere you need to go, so driving is not really necessary. But when we were there on a Sunday, its buses and bus-stops were PACKED to a brim! There were people people everywhere! I was secretly glad we had a car, especially since we had kids and a stroller.
That was until we realised how expensive parking in central Kyoto was – ESPECIALLY on weekends and public holidays. In general, parking in Kyoto is more expensive on weekends than weekdays. Below were the parking rates at the carparks we used:
- Tofukuji = 300 yen for 30 min
- Gion = 200 yen for 15 min
- Kiyomizudera = 400 yen for 15 min
- Nishiki Market = 300 yen for 20 min
- Arashiyama = 1000 yen for whole day
After we parked our car and walked around, we almost always came across another carpark with cheaper rates. I blame it on Murphy’s Law. But the point is, if you bother, you can drive around to find cheaper coin parking.
For this segment of the trip, we stayed in two different apartments, or rather houses, in Kyoto from Homeaway. For the first two nights, we stayed in a house in Central Kyoto which had a parking garage, so we didn’t have to worry about overnight parking charges.
For the next two nights, we stayed in a traditional thatched-roof farmhouse in the rural area where we could just park our car in front of the house.
Day 6: Kyoto
We started our Kyoto tour at Tofukuji – a popular site for viewing Autumn foliage.
We weren’t sure what to expect because our visit there on 6 Dec was pretty late for viewing autumn foliage in Kyoto. But turned out luck was on our side.
Though definitely past the peak, the autumn colours that filled the garden of Tofukiji was still impressive – at least for us from evergreen Singapore.
As we walked through the gardens, it was clear that the visit would have been a lot more beautiful if we had been there a week earlier. But oh well, blame it on Singapore school holidays.
If I did not have kids with me, I would have spent the whole day checking out the famous autumn spots in Kyoto. Something I especially regretted not doing after reading the autumn report on Japan-guide.com. But well, there was only so much of “beautiful red leaves” the kids could tolerate before they started their “Mummy, can we stop looking at the beautiful red leaves already?” moans.
So off we went in search of food glorious food. I googled around for interesting things to eat in Kyoto and after reading Kyotofoodie.com, we decided to walk around Gion where the site recommended Gion Izuju Kyoto Sushi, Jouvencelle and Kinana.
We headed first for the famous sushi restaurant called Gion Izuju Kyoto Sushi (祇園いづ重 京都寿司). I loved their saba sushi, though hubby was not a fan. Neither were the kids – who missed their usual nigiri Tamago sushi.
So we headed next to Yasaka Shrine directly opposite the road from Izuju sushi where there was a festival going on.
And where there is a Japanese festival, there will be food.
After grabbing some snacks, we walked around the shrine for a bit to check out other parts of the festival.
And the kids quenched their thirst with Gion water.
Then we continued our search for dessert. We went to Jouvencelle which was a short walk from Yasaka Shrine. Only to find out that the matcha fondue we wanted to eat was sold out! *cries*
So we went on to Kinana. There was a long queue to sit down at their cafe, so we just made do with eating their signature dekitate ice-cream at the counter. It was good. The closest thing to Hokkaido sweets I have had on mainland Japan. Somehow after going to Hokkaido so often, most of the food on mainland Japan (especially the desserts) don’t seem that fantastic. Of course, it’s still gazillion times better (and usually cheaper) than those Japanese dessert franchise we get in Singapore.
We continued roaming around Gion district until we were back to where we started near Izuju sushi. Since it was too early for our planned night visit to Kiyomizudera, we went to a random cafe with WIFI and sold matcha parfait. Just to keep the kids happy before we went to another (in their opinion boring) shrine.
The night visit to Kiyomizudera didn’t start until 6pm. But due to the nightmare traffic jam we experienced the previous night, we decided to go a bit earlier. Even then, there was an insane crowd and long queue at the main entrance by the time we arrived slightly before 6. Luckily we arrived via the side-entrance which was significantly less crowded.
I can’t say I enjoyed the visit. It was simply too crowded for my liking. Check out the crowd on the terrace!
It was so crowded that the human traffic within the temple came to a standstill. And at the back of my mind, I kept thinking of the 400yen per 15 min parking we were bleeding as we stood there stuck in the crowd. We spotted an escape route down a flight of stairs skipping the terrace, and made a beeline for the exit.
On our way out, we found a spot of serenity amid the madness (probably because we were one of the first to leave), spent about 200yen parking time to take some photos without the crowd before rushing back to our car.
We actually planned to visit Kodai-Ji which was nearby and also hosting its autumn night visit. But we were so turned off by the crowd at Kiyomizudera that we decided we would just go back to the apartment to sleep.
Day 7: Universal Studios Japan
When we planned 2 nights stay at central Kyoto initially, we never planned to go all the way to Osaka. I was thinking of taking it easy, go around enjoying the remaining autumn foliage and binge on matcha dessert. But somewhere along the way, we decided the kids would probably be much happier with a visit to Universal Studios Japan.
It was a good, albeit VERY expensive, decision. Tolls fees and parking were expensive. Entrance was expensive. We bought the Universal Express 5 pass (as advised by Life’s Tiny Miracle) which was expensive.
But we had tons of fun. Definitely more fun than if we had stayed in Kyoto visiting more shrines. Actually I would have been perfectly happy just sitting on a bench surrounded by maple trees and sipping a matcha latte. But without kids that is. With the kids, everyone was definitely happier spending the time at USJ. Hmm… Maybe not the husband who paid the bills.
We were at USJ from opening to closing. I mean, we spent a bomb on petrol, toll fees and parking for this day trip, we definitely should make it worth.
Day 8: Nishiki Market, Arashiyama
We started the morning with a visit to Nishiki Market.
Nishiki Market was quite different from other markets I visited in Japan. While the markets I visited were usually filled with crabs and sashimi, Nishiki Market sold more of dried and preserved food.
Lots of candies.
From Nishiki Market, we drove to Arashiyama. We started with a visit to Arashiyama Monkey Park. There wasn’t much autumn foliage left when we were there on 8 Dec but definitely lots of monkeys.
Did I mention Arashiyama Monkey Park was located at the top of a freaking mountain? You may want to keep that in mind if you are thinking of hiking up there with kids.
After visiting Arashiyama Monkey Park, we crossed Togetsukyo Bridge to the main tourist hub of Arashiyama. There were plenty of cafes and souvenir shops lining the streets, and we joined a long queue for some random snack.
We went on to the bamboo forest – which was packed with people and vehicles sharing the narrow pathway within the bamboo grove.
Initially we planned to drive on to Kinkakuji after Arashiyama. But we kind of had enough of expensive Kyoto parking and since Arashiyama’s parking was for the whole day, we ended up just chilling out at a cafe.
From Arashiyama, we drove on to our next apartment in Northern Kyoto.
Day 9: Ine, Amanohashidate, Kyoto Illumiere
For this day, we had initially planned to visit Kayabuki No Sato (Miyama), Amanohashidate and Kyoto Illumiere. But when our host heard that we were driving up to Amanohashidate, he recommended we took the drive a bit further to Ine.
Ine was home to Japan’s only Funaya (boat houses) – unique waterfront houses where the fishermen could drive their boats right in to the ‘garage’ below. This earned the town the nickname ‘Venice of Japan’.
After visiting Ine, we went to Amanohashidate View Land. Amanohashidate was one of Japans’ Three Sights (日本三景 ‘Nihon Sankei’), together with Miyajima (which I visited in 2004 and 2007) and Matsushima (which I visited in 2008). It took me more than 10 years, but I have finally completed visiting all 3 of Nihon Sankei! Woohoo!
And this is how you should view Amanohashidate so that it appears to be a bridge to heaven (as its name suggests):
From Amanohashidate, we drove on to Maizuru Tore Tore Seafood Market. Unlike Nishiki Market, this was more my kind of Japanese market – stalls selling fresh seafood with a centralised seating area in the middle. It reminded me of Washo Market at Kushiro, one of my favourite places to eat in Hokkaido.
Finally, we went to Rurikei Onsen, the site for Kyoto Illumiere. Of all the illumination events we visited in this trip, Kyoto Illumiere was my least favourite. I didn’t think it was worth the hassle of going all the way to the secluded Rurikei onsen and paying 1000 yen admission for it.
Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes
- Tofukuji [Tel: 075-561-0087 / Map Code: 248 395 037]
- Gion Izuju Kyoto Sushi [Tel: 075-561-0019 / Map Code: 7 618 107]
- Jouvencelle [Tel: 075-551-1511 / Map Code: 7 588 802]
- Kinana Ice-cream [Tel: 075-525-8300 / Map Code: 7 588 817]
- Kiyomizudera [Tel: 075-551-1234 / Map Code: 7 589 016]
- Kodai-Ji [Tel: 075-561-9966 / Map Code: 7 589 752]
- Universal Studios Japan [Tel: 0570-20-0606 / Map Code: 1 276 649]
- Nishiki Market [Tel: 075-211-3882 / Map Code: 7 617 123]
- Arashiyama Monkey Park [Tel: 075-872-0950 / Map Code: 7 606 729]
- Kinkakuji [Tel: 075-461-0013 / Map Code: 7 732 325]
- Ine [Tel: 0772-32-0277 / Map Code: 652 605 518]
- Amanohashidate View Land [Tel: 0772-22-5304 / Map Code: 197 202 312]
- Kyoto Illumiere [Tel: 0771-65-5001 / Map Code: 52 693 513]
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