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12 Hours in Kyoto Featured

A complete guide to your day trip in Kyoto.

by Angelina Hazzouri

Just over three hours from Tokyo by train, Kyoto is a leading principal among Japan's most refined cities. Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto boasts culture, history and Japanese tradition around every corner. You'll never get bored here, as there is literally something for everyone. Looking for something to eat? Looking for somewhere to shop? Looking for the perfect backdrop for your next photo? (Hint: cherry blossoms!) We've got you covered.

Your Morning: Cherry Blossom Walking

Cherry Blossoms Chris Gladis 1©CHRIS GLADIS

A trip to Kyoto would be incomplete without viewing the beautiful cherry blossoms that decorate the city. Perhaps you've seen photos, but there is nothing like the real thing. Stroll among these beautiful trees, known as sakura in Japan, during the early spring months for optimal beauty. Our top picks for viewing this incredible sight are Kyoto Imperial Palace Park and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, one of the city's hidden treasures that captures the beauty of Japan not just with cherry blossoms, but also with endless beds of flowers and its own greenhouse. Arrive early to beat the crowds, and a little tip from us, bring a picnic blanket and some food for a garden brunch to make your visit extra special.

Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)

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They say all that glitters is not gold... but this sure is. A zen temple in northern Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is a two-story structure almost completely covered in gold leaf, hence the name 'Golden Pavilion.' Although visitors are not permitted inside, the outside of the temple is breathtaking on its own, richly decorated from top to bottom and constantly glistening in the Kyoto sun. Surrounded by lush greenery and gardens, the Golden Pavilion includes beautiful grounds with gardens that are just as astounding, providing views of the temple sitting on the reflective pond.

For Lunch: Mouriya Gion

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After a morning of walking through beautiful gardens and nature-filled areas, you'll be relaxed, but you'll also be hungry. Make a reservation at Mouriya Gion for Kyoto's best Kobe beef steak. With only 34 seats, the small joint focuses on local ingredients from trusted shops throughout the city, and its charm has nothing on its food. A menu complete with dozens of steak options as well as seafood, a trip to any Mouriya location is a treat, but the recently-opened Gion one is sure to please your palate.

Afternoon Shopping in the Gion District


Japan's most well-known district for geisha, the ancient Japanese female tradition of art and dance, Gion is full of life - it's no wonder this is one of Kyoto's most popular areas. After a delicious lunch, stay around the district for an afternoon of walking among beautiful Japanese shrines and shopping from the wooden machiya merchant houses to Shijo Avenue, where you'll find quaint stores selling local products, such as sweets, crafts, delicacies and more. Also packed with bars and traditional teahouses, the Gion district is the perfect place to get your fix of the Japanese tea ceremony, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, have a cocktail before dinner.

Finishing Strong: Kichi Kichi Omurice

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After your extravagant beef steak lunch in Gion, you might want something on the lighter side. Famous for its legendary dish that went viral, Kichi Kichi Omurice is the best-known restaurant in Kyoto for omurice, a Western-style Japanese delicacy that is made of flavoured rice wrapped in a fluffy omelette. Chef Yukimura Motokichi entertains each customer with his theatrical presence and omelette preparation. Timely arrival is enforced, as you may be told to leave if you arrive too early or too late, but that hasn't stopped us. With Kichi Kichi's cosy atomosphere and welcoming staff, it's worth the trip, and you'll think so too after you've tasted the egg masterpieces and various fried rice dishes.


For more ideas on Do, Dine and Spend, visit our Destinations page.