Kyoto is a place of such vast historical and cultural importance in Japan, it is hard to recommend the ‘best of’. Both the ‘must-see’ attractions and the lesser known ones are all amazing in their own right. We spent around five days in total in Kyoto, broken up by a couple of side trips (Miyajima, Hiroshima and Nara). As there is simply so much in and around Kyoto, you could easily spend much longer and still not get bored, every street has something new and interesting to discover. Although it is a pretty big city in itself, it has something of a small town vibe to it. Our choice in hostel definitely added to our enjoyment of the city, Len was undoubtedly the best place I stayed in Japan, and probably all of Asia to date. The attention to detail the owner has put into designing this hostel is evident throughout. For example, the wood used to make the bar downstairs and decorate the shared lounge upstairs, he travelled all over Japan especially to find. I felt that this hostel really reflects the intricate attention to detail and the fabulous taste that the Japanese have. All the main attractions of Kyoto are amazing to see, but it was the little details around the city that made it feel special. Like finding our favourite little café's (Japan does coffee culture oh so well) like Japanicon, which is also a bar/vinyl shop, and Nakamura (or Toast Man, as we quickly nicknamed it) near the train station where we had a few incredibly cheap and wonderful breakfasts (which always consisted of toast..)
Most of the highlights of my time in Kyoto involved going to see an attraction, wondering off-trail and finding something even more mesmerising.
When visiting the Fushimi Inair-taisha, we found what I can only describe as a graveyard for Torri gates somewhere far behind those famous orange gates. In contrast to the sleek orange gates on the main trail, these chipped, faded and finally abandoned Torri's carried an ethereal beauty.
Gion, the famous Geisha district, with all it’s intriguing teahouses. I ended up staying in Gion for a night, which happened as a result of forgetting to book a place to stay for a Saturday night, on a bank holiday weekend. (You HAVE to book places to stay well in advanced in Japan, everywhere seems to get booked up days, if not weeks, in advanced). The guesthouse was nothing on Len, but it was nice to be able to spend a night in the infamous Geisha district. When I was wondering back to the guesthouse in Gion at midnight that night, I passed by a teahouse where a couple of elegant Geisha were discretely slipping out of a teahouse.
On the way to the Bamboo Grove, a huge parade of school children passed us by dancing and chanting. They were on a ceremonious school trip planting cherry blossom trees and handing out handmade bags (which I now using to carry my toiletries while travelling, thanks girls).
Kyoto is simply an amazing place to feel the history and culture of Japan, not just through the historical attractions, but by simply being there, walking around and observing the everyday happenings in a city which has really preserved the rich culture of the Japanese.