If you have already accommodated for all the tourist recommendations in my previous blog post Kyoto – Top 5 Places to Visit and still have time for more exploring, see below for a more extensive list of things to do in Kyoto!
Recommendations by me:
This is a 3-4 hour, ~25K cycling tour around Kyoto. There are several tour companies that offer this and I would highly recommend it! It is fun, exhilarating, quickly covers a good number of places and at the same time helps maintain a self-tour sort of experience because of the lack of a tour bus and the amount of ground you personally cover on your bicycle. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and friendly. I would suggest it be the first thing you do so you have some historical and religious background information to go on for the self-touring parts. Trust me, some things made a lot more sense after this session!
I booked my tour on expedia and covered Kamo River, Heian-Jingu, Nanzenji Temple and Path of Philosophy. I wound rank my fitness as very average and I was able to manage the tour easily. However, you might want to plan a relatively relaxed afternoon before going full swing into tour mode again. I would recommend adding a half day to full day to your Kyoto visit if you’re doing the Cycle Tour. I personally didn’t (so it’s doable) but my time in Kyoto was EXHAUSTING from all the rushing around and I would have done it differently if I had known.
Kyoto has a number of really small and intimate bars, from basements of buildings to the 4th floors. Even on weeknights the party areas are brightly lit and bustling, but the bars themselves are still moderately crowded, especially as the night progresses. While most party-goers were business men and I didn’t see too many women around, I didn’t feel awkward or weird in any way. It was all pretty chill and casual.
A lot of the bars are male-centric, but I would recommend the karaoke and piano bars for my fellow female travelers. I and a guy friend spent hours listening to people singing and drinking the smooth whiskeys. We met some really friendly and incredibly sweet people. I had read that the Japanese take their Karaoke seriously and do not appreciate bad singing and while everyone I heard sounded like a professional opera singer (I don’t know how :/) they were, at the same time, very encouraging and insistent that everyone at the bar have a good time. I couldn’t tell who owned the bar and who the customer was, because everyone was trying to make sure everyone else was having fun. People tried really hard to communicate as well as they could and treated us (very obvious tourists) like how they would treat any local. This friendly attitude is one of the big reasons I feel absolutely in love with Kyoto!
Gion (Geisha District)
The entire Gion area is brightly lit with tiny bars and restaurants lined along the length of the road. There is a lot of ‘street food’ type of cuisine later in the night, totally delicious!
For all my alcohol loving friends – Yamazaki, that’s all I need to say! I’m no whiskey expert, but even I know how smooth that was. There is actually a distillery you can go to from Kyoto, but the reservations need to be made way in advance. I tried about 8 weeks beforehand and didn’t get slots. The whiskeys are available at every bar in all of Japan, so it’s very easily accessible.
If you don’t drink alcohol, no worries, I got you covered – Tea! There are several places that serve amazing aromatic teas. If you want visit an authentic Ochaya (Tea House), make sure you know the pricing and availability. A lot of these places can get very expensive as you are serviced by a Geiko (Geisha) with a full tea ceremony, so plan according to budget.
A $10 whiskey pour is equivalent to a double shot in the US, so pacing your drinks is really important for a good long night!
Places I was not able to visit but are widely recommended
#1. Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion): UNESCO World Heritage Site
Inspired by the Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is a Zen Temple surrounded by extensive ground. But unlike the name suggests, the temple is not covered with Silver leaf.
#2. Shimogamo Shrine: UNESCO World Heritage Site
#3. Kyoto International Manga Museum
#4. Yamazaki Distillery