You can explore Kyoto with city bus or subway. I used my ICOCA card to ride the train in Kyoto. Kyoto station is the biggest train/subway station. You can ride train/subway for going around or take the shinkansen to go to another city from this station.
Kyoto station is also the end/beginning point for most city buses that cover many tourist attractions. The flat rate for the city bus is 220 JPY per ride, so if you want to ride the bus all day long, I recommend you to buy Kyoto City Bus One Day Pass. You can buy this card at tourist information center inside Kyoto Station for 500 JPY. Two Day Pass is also available for 1,200 JPY. But it's important to note that you'll need to pay extra for long distance journey (non-flat routes). Buses with black numbers on white fields is long distance buses.
How to ride city bus in Kyoto?
1) Board from the rear door and exited from the front.
2) There's a display in front of the bus that will tell you the next stop, when you see your stop press the red button near you.
3) Pay when you get off, put your money (exact change) into the slot. If you use the city bus pass, the first time you use it, simply put the card into the card slot and you'll see that the date will be printed on the back of the card. For the second use and after you just have to show the card with the printed date to the bus driver.
For the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto I used the Willer Express night bus, super great value for budget travelers. But it's a bit sad if I missed the chance to experience the super fast bullet train, since I should go to Kansai (Osaka) for my flight back home, so I took the shortest route of Shinkansen (Nozomi): Kyoto-Osaka (14 mins journey - 1,420 JPY). Tricky way to check another thing on my bucket list :p
Since Kyoto Station is the center hub for everything, it's a wise move to find a place to stay around this station. Luckily, I found the newly opened place called Piece Hostel. It's a modern and simple hostel in white building with minimalist touch and color. Kyoto Station is just 5 mins distance walking from the hostel. Everything is clean and neat. Free wifi, towel, toiletries, and you can buy a cup of coffee from their mini cafe inside the hostel. They also served several kinds of bread for breakfast, plus potato salad, rice, and miso soup! If I have a chance to go back to Kyoto again, I surely will stay in Piece Hostel :)
I stayed in this room! All these pictures are courtesy of Piece Hostel :)
Day 1 in Kyoto : Ginkakuji Temple - Path of Philosophy - Heian Shrine Torii Gate - Kiyomizudera Temple - Gion
Ginkakuji Temple or the Silver Pavilion is a Zen temple established in 1482. It's located near Higashiyama mountains on eastern Kyoto. This complex consists of the pavilion itself, several temple buildings, an unique dry sand garden called Ginsyadan, and one calming yet pretty moss garden. You can walk slowly along the circular route from the grounds to the hill.
The Silver Pavilion was originally called Kannon-den. It's two storied with a traditional Japanese residential architecture style on the first floor and Chinese temple style on the second floor. There's a bronze phoenix on the roof that constantly facing east as a guard of Ginkakuji.
On our way to this temple there are many food stores that offered a lot of matcha (green tea) snacks and dessert :9
Admission: 500 JPY
Directions: Take bus no 100 from Kyoto Station and get off at Ginkakuji-mae or bus no 5/17 and alight at Ginkakuji-michi (40 mins journey)
From Ginkakuji temple, I took a walk along Path of Philosophy for about 30-40 minutes. There are also more small temples and shrines along the way. Beside that, I also found some restaurants and pretty cafes. The path is ended at Nanzenji Temple, but I skipped this part and continued my journey to Heian Shrine Torii Gate.
I filled my tummy with some snacks at 711 nearby the gate. I couldn't resist to buy one bottle of bubble milk tea just because the packaging was too cute! I'm a fan of Marie the cat from Disney and I didn't think twice once I saw her faces on the label ^^
Just before the sun went down, I took a bus from the shelter near the torii gate and rushed to Kiyomizudera Temple. It's a long way road from the bus stop to reach the temple gate, but don't worry, your eyes and taste buds will be spoiled by snack stores that offer many samples of their products! :)
Kiyomizudera or Pure Water Temple is the most popular temple in Kyoto during cherry blossom and autumn season. The temple is famous for its wooden stage, 13 meters above the hillside. There's also a waterfall called Otowa Waterfull inside the complex. Visitors can take a cup and drink from one of 3 streams. Each stream is believed will give a benefit that different from others : longevity, success at education, and good love life. But it's not a wise decision to drink from all streams because is considered as a greedy act. When I was there, several parts of this complex was being renovated but I still can enjoyed most parts of this temple.
Admission: 300 JPY
Directions: I took a bus no 100 from a bus shelter near Heian Shrine Torii Gate, you can also catch the same bus or take bus no 206 from Kyoto Station (15 minutes journey)
The first word that popped on my head when I heard "Gion" is geisha. Yes, Gion is an area or district in Kyoto that famous for its geisha. This area is filled with restaurants and tea houses (ochaya) where guests are entertained by geisha and maiko. Almost all constructions within this area are build with Japanese wooden style. Nowadays, you need lots of luck and persistance to see geisha walked around in Gion district. You're lucky enough if you're able to see maiko. I didn't see both :(
My battery was drained out once I arrived in Gion so I didn't take any picture while I was there. I took another city bus (no 100/206) from Gion to go back to Kyoto Station.
Day 2 in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari-Arashiyama-Ginkakuji Temple
Shrine with countless torii gates: Fushimi Inari! This shrine is located on southern Kyoto and consists of thousands bright red torii gates that will lead you to Mount Inari. You need around 2-3 hours for the round trip from the shrine on the ground to the mountain. I skipped the hiking part ^^v
There are many foxes statues inside because it's believed that they are the messenger of Inari.
Directions: Take JR Nara line from Kyoto Station to Inari Station (5 mins journey, 140 JPY using ICOCA card)
Next stop is Arashiyama area. This area famous for the bamboo grooves/forest and the scenic train. The first option was kinda creepy for me, so I chose to experience the second one :) Arashimaya is soooooo pretty and quiet! It's just a small city, you need a half day tour to see almost everything. The most important thing is never ever ever skip the scenic train! The view will be more amazing during cherry blossom and the peak of autumn season when the leaves turn to red/yellow.
The old looking train will take you from Torokko Saga to Torokko Kameoka Station for around 25 minutes journey. Then you can walk to Umahori Station to take the JR train back to Saga Arashiyama or straight to Kyoto Station (25 mins journey, 320 JPY). Don't forget to choose the fully open cars to enjoy the view!
Admission: 620 JPY one way
Directions: Take JR Sagano line from Kyoto Station and alight at Saga Arashiyama Station (16 mins journey, 240 JPY). The Sagano Scenic train station is located behind the JR station. There's a tourist information center outside Saga Arashiyama station if you need any info about Arashiyama.
The last touristy place that I visited in Kyoto was Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion). Along with Ginkakuji Temple, it's also registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site. The best time to visit this temple is in late afternoon when the sun gradually went down and the shine that touch the temple makes the golden color more shimmery. There's a pond beside the pavilion and you can see its beautiful reflection above the water.
Unlike the Silver one, Golden Pavilion is 3 storied but the golden phoenix also stands on the top as a guard of the temple. The gold foil just covers the second and third level. Each level have its own architecture style.
Admission: 400 JPY
Directions: Take bus no 101 or 205 and get off at Kinkakuji-michi (40 minutes journey)
A friend of mine also write a story about her journey to Kyoto. She covered more stories about Arashiyama. I also followed her advice to taste a delicious japanese curry near Kinkakuji Temple. It's located exactly behind the bus stop. The owner is an old married couple with the warmest hearts :)
Take a look here to read her stories!