How to Tackle Kyoto as a First Timer
Kyoto is an unmissable stop on the itinerary of any first-time visitor to Japan, seducing with its ancient temples and shrines and serene Zen gardens. Ensure your visit goes as smoothly as possible by following our top tips for your first time in Japan’s ancient capital.
Get an Early Start
Kyoto can get overwhelmingly crowded with tourists at times, so ensure a hassle-free experience by booking a tour that visits the most popular attractions early. Stroll around the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before the tour groups arrive, visit the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji temple) right as it opens, and walk through the torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine before it gets packed.
Experience Traditional Culture
Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience the Japanese arts. Packages are available that combine watching a range of performances, includingmaiko (apprentice geisha) dancing, flower arrangement, court music, and puppet theater, with a tea ceremony and dinner.
Deepen Your Knowledge
You’ll enjoy a much richer experience of the temples, shrines, and gardens that make Kyoto famous if you learn about the traditions and practices behind them. A scholar-led walking tour focused on Shinto and Buddhism or garden and landscape design can fill you in.
Ditch the Crowds
When the masses of tourists get to be too much, head off the beaten path on a bicycle tour of Kyoto’s hidden side, and discover intimate Zen gardens and charming backstreets known only to locals.
Go to Samurai School
Learn the skills of the samurai in a class studying the basic techniques of these ancient Japanese warriors. Especially popular with families, courses typically include a photo session in samurai costume and a certificate of completion.
Take a Bite out of the Food Scene
Don’t leave Kyoto without trying some local specialties, such as obanzai (homestyle cooking) and sake. A guided walking tour can take you to some of the city’s best food spots, including some hole-in-the-wall eateries and hidden watering holes that most visitors miss.