I found Kyoto to be more touristy than Tokyo. Tokyo was very crowded, but it was crowded in general with native dwellers and tourists alike. Whereas, Kyoto seemed to have a higher proportion of tourists to natives. Or maybe we just went to touristy spots. Anyways, that was my observation. We spent 5 days and 4 nights in Kyoto and felt like it was a good amount of time there. If anything, maybe add another day to the itinerary to explore more, but we were happy with the amount we saw. General information: While in Kyoto, try to go as early as you can to any touristy locations. We found if we arrived at locations around 9am that it was a manageable crowd but then became overwhelming tight later in the day.
The vermillion toriis are breathtaking, but climbing it is a legit uphill workout. Try to go when it's good weather, not too hot and not raining. You will be climbing a lot, so plan accordingly, wear comfy shoes and bring water. At the bottom of the shrine, there are lots of food stands. We ordered kakigori, or shaved ice.
We had high expectations of seeing the temple and shopping, but felt very overwhelmed by pushy crowds of tourists. I wish we were able to experience this area on a better note. We got a bit turned around and I think the main temple there was under construction? I think we were also tired and hangry on this day.
I preferred the area of Arashiyama over Kiyomizu-dera. The bamboo forest and the wide-open space along the river is really breathtaking. Arabica coffee is right near the river, so it was refreshing to take in the views and drink some caffeine. The Arashiyama Bamboo forest is beautiful but also gets crowded quickly. From the bamboo forest, there is a main street that leads to the river that has lots of restaurants, matcha shops, and places for omiyage. We went to the monkey park, but in hindsight, probably could have skipped it and not have missed much.
This beautiful golden temple is an easy, leisurely walk. I think you could visit in an hour. We went on a rainy day towards the end of our trip when our legs were tired, so it worked out pretty well. We gobbled down these black sesame treats at one of their food vendors.
This is a cute street market that is great to pick up some omiyage, food, and even lunch. We saved this adventure for a rainy day because the market is held in an outdoors street that is enclosed. You'll find that a lot of places in Japan are outdoor streets with roofs. You feel like you're outside, but are covered from the elements, it's quite nice. We picked up some green tea for family and maneki-neko cat chocolates.
Japan has a big pancake trend there, which was a nice respite from Japanese food. Mmm carbs! Tom ordered these pancakes that were as voluminous as biscuits but were soft and squishy. Very tasty! I ordered different pancakes that were in the traditional American shape. I think pancakes don't automatically come with syrup here, as I didn't receive syrup. (You can find pancakes all over, we just had ours in Kyoto.)
Thanks so much for following along on my Japan recommendations! I hope you learned of a few places to check out as well as what to steer clear of.
If you have any favorite places, let me know! I'll write it down for our next trip that we go on in 5 years. Jaa Ne!