A leisurely 40-minute hike up Mt. Arashiyama will bring you to Iwatayama Monkey Park which is inhabited by a troop of more than 170 Japanese macaque monkeys that roam free in their natural habitat. It's a perfect place to not only watch these playful creatures frolic around, but also enjoy the panoramic views of the city.
Saiho-ji, commonly referred to as Kokedera, is an 8th-century Zen Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage site that lures visitors to its untapped moss garden. The two-tiered garden is a serendipitous consequence of a flooding that took place during Edo period. Today, this verdant natural wonder is meticulously manicured and preserved by the monks with more than 120 different varieties carpeting the ground in various shades of green.
The rolling foothills of Arashiyama are home to the iconic Sagano Bamboo Forest. The verdant grove is accessed via the 14th-century Buddhist temple Tenryu-ji. A unique serenity is experienced from the wind rustling through the soaring trees making a zawa zawa sound and the filtered sunlight filling the space with a tranquil green glow.
As a birthplace of Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony, the historic neighborhoods of Gion and Higashiyama are perfect places to visit machiyas and learn about the ancient art of tea-making. During the ritual performed on a tatami floor by a professional tea master, you'll have a chance to learn about the philosophy and etiquette of drinking tea, as well as master the basics of making matcha.
Best Day Trip
For a complete change of scenery, a 23-minute ride on a local train will bring you to the world of neon lights, flashy billboards, Japanese pop culture and kitschy love hotels. Welcome to Osaka, known as the Food Mecca of Asia. Make sure you allow ample time to sample some of the specialty gastronomic delights of the city such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
Most Iconic Place
In the City of Thousand Shrines, Kinkaku-ji Temple, commonly known as the Golden Pavilion, sits in the middle of a large pond, the crown jewel of its surroundings. The temple gets its name from the gold leaf which covers the entire exterior of the top two floors and was deservedly named as one of 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
Nijo Castle, the residence of Tokugawa shoguns, stands in the heart of the city as a testimony of the power that the Shoguns wielded over the emperors throughout the Edo Period. The castle impresses with its moat and exterior stone walls, as well as the elaborately painted screens that decorate the interior. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of Japan's feudal era architecture.
You know you're in the most historic part of Japan when even Starbucks chooses to open its coffee shop inside a 100-year-old preserved Japanese house that features characteristic vernacular architecture. A noren curtain on the entrance door, tatami floors, silk cushions and a Japanese garden are all present for you to fully immerse into Japanese ambiance while sipping your matcha Frappuccino.
Neighborhood to Explore
To be transported to the Japan of yesteryear, stroll through the streets of Gion. It originated in the Middle Ages to provide accommodation for pilgrims to Yasaka Shrine, gradually evolving into Japan's most exclusive and well-known entertainment neighborhood. Most often referred to as Kyoto's Geisha District, you should veer off to the narrow side alleys that tease with the possibility of a rare glimpse of a real geisha.
Grab a drink and nestle on the banks of Kamo River around the Pontocho Area. It is one of the favorite spots for locals to hold festivals, take casual strolls or invite loved ones on a picnic date night. The cheerful buzz and clinking of beer glasses coming from the surrounding restaurants only add to the pleasant atmosphere.