I’ve walked these areas again & again, and never get tired of them. However, as a local, I do often skip the really famous sites and concentrate on the lesser-known spots nearby.
Gion’s Kenninji Temple
Kyoto ‘Top 3’ Recommended Courses for First Time Visitors
1) Philosopher’s Path
Take a taxi or bus to Ginkakuji Temple. They will drop you off at the bottom of a souvenir shop-lined street full of people. Walk up the street and visit Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. Afterward, follow the tree-lined stream (canal). This is the ‘Tetsugakudo-no-michi’ or Philosopher’s Path. There are art galleries, shops, cafes, restaurants, and temples along this walk. Honen-in is an interesting temple worth visiting. Detour north off the path to pay it a visit. Make your way back to the path and follow it to the end – near Kumano Nyakouji Shrine. Walk down the sloping street here (there are a few souvenir shops). At the larger road you come to, follow everyone and turn left. As you walk, Eikando Temple will soon be on your left. Next is Nanzenji Temple. They are two of Kyoto’s most impressive temples and both are especially beautiful in the autumn. When you’ve finished exploring, take a taxi, bus, or train from this area back to your hotel.
2) Kiyomizudera Area
Take a taxi or bus to Kiyomizudera Temple. They will drop you off at the bottom of a souvenir shop-lined street full of people. Walk up the street and visit Kiyomizudera. Afterward, walk back down the street a short distance and make a right turn down the cobblestone steps of the Sannei-zaka (slope). It is easy to miss, so if you don’t see it, just ask. This slope is lined with traditional shops/cafes/restaurants, and it then connects to another slope, Ninen-zaka. Continue walking toward ‘Nene-no-michi’. Kodaiji Temple is an impressive stop along this route. If you keep walking, you will reach Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine. From there it is a short walk to the most famous Geiko/Maiko district, Gion, and Kyoto’s main shopping/entertainment district.
This is an entire district of Kyoto (near the Western mountains) that you will need a day to see. Travel by sightseeing train up the riverside, then travel back down it in an old fashioned boat (the train ride requires advanced reservations). Wander through Japan’s most famous bamboo forest, visit wonderful temples – including Tenryuji (a World Heritage site), take a ride in a rickshaw, and walk to and explore neighboring Sagano. Depending on where you are traveling from in central Kyoto, there are three different train lines that serve Arashiyama, and there is regular bus service as well.
*In autumn, it might be difficult to reserve seats on the scenic sightseeing train. If so, take the JR Line to Kameoka instead. Or, if you are not interested in the train/boat ride, start your day at Otagi-Nenbutsuji Temple and walk through the historic district of Saga Torimoto. Stop at some of the lesser-known temples on the way back to central Arashiyama (Adashino Nenbutsuji, Gioji, Nisonin, and Jojakkoji are some of my favorites).