Unfortunately, Kyoto has not been our favorite spot. It’s extremely crowded here and filled with twice as many tourists that we saw from Tokyo. It could also be that it’s Saukura Season (Cherry Blossom) so lots of visitors come to participate in the Hanami Festivals. Everywhere we turn, there are crowds of foreigners, we didn’t feel as much of a tourist being in Tokyo. In Tokyo, everyone is very organized and polite, in Kyoto we encountered a lot of rude people, disorganized lines, lots of elbow bumps with no apologies…it just felt more of a tourist area than Tokyo.
Everyone goes to the same places- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji Temple, Fushimi Inari-taisha and Nishiki Market. These are amazing and beautiful must-see places and of course we visited too…I just didn’t expect so many crowds upon crowds!
Iwatayama Monkey Park
We started at Iwatayama Monkey Park because it is the only site across the river. Tenryu-ji Temple and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest are both on the opposite side of the river. The hike up to see the monkeys took us about 30 minutes with breaks, I think the park entrance says you can do it in 20 minutes to the top, but we took our time as it is a pretty hike. Total round trip was 1.5 hrs, it really depends on how long you spend with the monkeys!
Once at the top, you are greeted with free running monkeys everywhere! They are very acclimated to humans so are very polite and mind their own business. We paid $1 inside the feeding cage to feed them apples. It was so neat because all you had to do was hold out your hand with the food and they would come to you and grab it. Some monkeys were big bullies and would scare off other monkeys in order to take the food. They have the whole mountain to themselves to roam free, it’s really neat! You can also take beautiful photos of a Kyoto skyline from the top, those monkeys have the best city view!
After leaving monkey park, we grabbed lunch in the village area and then headed to Tenryu-ji Temple. There are lots of markets and street vendors in the village area for you to browse through. The temple closes at 5:00pm, so we made sure to make that a priority. You can pay a ticket to visit the temple + garden or just the garden. In retrospect, we would have just paid for the garden because you can see the temple from the garden anyway! Inside the temple, you can’t do much because they don’t allow visitors to enter in some restricted areas. Once you exit the garden, you automatically enter the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (free admission). The garden was blossoming with lots of greenery, plum trees, and sakura. It’s a very photogenic area!
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
So. Crowded. I would recommend for all visitors to enter in the bamboo forest and hold off on taking photos, it’s so tempting to take photos as soon as you see the massive bamboos, but if you just wait a bit and turn the corner, the crowds really let up and you can get beautiful people-less shots! It’s a very calm and peaceful forest. On a quiet, crowd free day, I could spend hours just watching the bamboos sway back and forth. The air feels so clean in the forest, it’s very serene. Even with all the tourists, I really enjoyed it here.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
This place gave me a headache. Again, on a crowd-free day, I would be writing a different story. I felt like we were sheep being herded into a stall. Everyone has their phones held up high or their selfie sticks in our face. We were all walking shoulder to shoulder underneath the red gates…We weren’t able to enjoy the atmosphere or appreciate our surroundings at all because you constantly have to keep moving in order to keep the foot traffic going. It was impossible to get a good photo here. We didn’t stay here long and I dont regret it at all. I’m just happy it was free or else I would have been more disappointed. I always see amazing photos online of this area or friends that go and get a crowd-free photo, it was just luck of the draw and unfortunately, it wasn’t there for us.
This was a really fun spot to try out many different types of Japanese snacks. It’s a very clean and organized alleyway that runs for many many blocks. It’s a good place to grab some souvenirs for friends and try yummy sticks foods. We typically just let our noses guide the way! All the vendors are really nice and you can sometimes try out the snack before you purchase the bag. Vu ate a lot of fresh uni during our walk down the alley and it was all worth the money and time!
The market is also near Gion so it was a short walk over the bridge to the luxurious prefecture. Although we didn’t encounter any true geishas, it was still a beautiful stroll.