Making it big in travel world right now (and we can easily see why), Japan is blessed with so many incredible sights and wonders. With a unique blend of fascinating culture and natural beauty, this enchanting destination really is a lover’s paradise. Thinking of getting away to a place of babbling streams, towering mountains and centuries-old buildings? Tick off these wonderful experiences for a romantic Kyoto getaway.
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Discover the Kyomizu-dera Temple
For some of the region’s most captivating scenery, hop your way between Kyoto’s most-loved temples and shrines. There are plenty to choose from here (there’s even the odd palace and castle), with several making the UNESCO World Heritage list. One of the most impressive options, the Kyomizu-dera Temple is a must-see. Built in 778AD, this spellbinding sight offers stop-you-in-your-tracks views of the city – especially during cherry blossom season.
Romantics, be sure to check out the nearby Jishu Shrine before you leave. Dedicated to the Buddhist god of matchmaking, the site is where couples can take part in special rituals to bless their future together. Dissolving a private message in water, tying a love note to the fence and patting Buddha’s belly are all supposed to guarantee a happy long-lasting relationship – whether or not they work, touching experiences like these will stay with you long after you board the plane.
Explore charming Gion
Arguably Kyoto’s most well-known attraction, the almost time-forgotten Gion district is a must-see. Known for its tiny traditional wooden houses, hole-in-the-wall dining spots and resident Geisha, it’s mandatory viewing.
One of the best ways to see Gion is by taking a leisurely stroll. Keep an eye out for traditional teahouses (don’t miss partaking in a traditional tea ceremony if you get the chance) and pop into the quaint boutiques and antique stores along the way for a special souvenir.
Marvel at Arashiyama’s natural beauty
The riverside settlement of Arashiyama feels as if it’s in its own little world, yet it’s still technically within Kyoto’s city limits. Green, leafy and utterly tranquil, the district is Mother Nature at her best.
A great starting point here is the World Heritage-listed Tenryu-ji Temple. Originally constructed in 1339, the wooden and paper buildings were rebuilt in 1899 due to fire damage, yet they still boast plenty of old-world charm. Do as the locals do here and sit on the temple’s raised verandah and gaze out over the ornamental ponds filled with giant carp and into one of the finest gardens in Kyoto.
From the rear exit of the temple’s garden, a giant bamboo forest can be found, packed with soaring trunks that seem to ascend into heaven. At the other end of this tunnel-like path is another fascinating attraction, the Okochi Sanso Villa. Once the home of a famous Japanese silent movie star, it’s mostly known for its exquisite gardens. In the cherry blossom season (late March until late April) and throughout autumn, this brilliant spot blooms with a whole rainbow of colours.
Catch the Sagano Romantic Train
After strolling around Arashiyama, catch the Sagano Romantic Train (Sagano Torokko Ressha). As romantic as the name suggests, the steam train journey takes you along the Hozugawa River, through to Kameoka.
Affording picturesque views of Kyoto’s countryside, the semi-open train is basically made for sight-seeing. Reserve your spot, settle in and enjoy the truly gorgeous scenery.
Visit the glittering Golden Pavilion
Haven’t yet had your fill of ancient sites? A Zen temple in northern Kyoto, the aptly named Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is worth visiting for its gardens alone. Overlooking a large pond, this 15th-century site features two top floors completely covered in gold leaf – that’s sure to impress the luxury-lovers.
Originally built as the retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaya Yoshimitsu, the Golden Pavilion is also where you’ll find an Edo Period teahouse. After checking out its extensive tea collection, order yourselves a hot matcha tea from the onsite store and find yourselves a shady spot in the leafy tea garden – heaven.
Try the local food
Of course, you really can’t come to Kyoto without enjoying its acclaimed dining scene. Whether you’re after fine dining or simple comfort food, you’ll find it all in restaurants, bars and at street vendors across the region.
Sushi is an obvious go-to for lunch and dinner (and you’ll find amazing options here), but don’t just limit your order to tuna rolls. For a quick belly-filling meal, try the okonomiyaki from one of the local bars or street vendors. A savoury pancake-like creation often made with pork, prawn, cabbage and fried onion, it’s a devilish indulgence best enjoyed with a pint or two of beer. Want more? Pick yourselves up some yakitori (charcoal-grilled chicken skewers) while wandering through Kyoto’s streets.
Ramen is also a must-try, especially in winter. You’ll find some of Japan’s best here, with almost countless little ramen shops serving steaming hot bowls of broth, noodles, seaweed and pork. Do. Not. Miss. For dessert? Immerse yourselves in Kyoto’s more modern dining scene and sample traditional Japanese flavours in ice-cream form. Matcha is a favourite (and for good reason), but you can even try eclectic flavours like wasabi, tofu skin, soy sauce and miso. Don’t knock it till you try it!
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