A Cafe for Cats. 5 cool things about Kyoto | Expedia.com.au

From cat cafes to bamboo forests: 5 cool things to do in Kyoto

From cat cafes to bamboo forests: 5 cool things to do in Kyoto

As the ancient capital city of Japan, Kyoto is home to some of the country’s most important historical and cultural sites. There are more than 2,000 temples and shrines within the city, 13 of those are UNESCO World Heritage listed. So, do you go to Kyoto just to see temples? The answer is no.

Yes, they are an important part of the culture, and a few should be on your must-do list, but the city has plenty of other experiences to offer too.

Here’s our top five cool experiences for a visit to Kyoto:

A feast for your senses

Japanese food can be as simple as a streetside Yakitori chicken skewer and as complex as a beautiful nine course degustation. Go in with a broad mind and a hungry stomach. If you’re after a crash course in Japanese fresh produce, make a beeline for the Nishiki Ichiba markets. Hundreds of years old, these covered markets stretch along 400 metres and are jam packed with stalls selling anything and everything. You’ll find seaweed in every shape and form, dried fish and live fish, fruit and vegetables, even dog biscuits. The tofu donuts right in the middle of the markets have a strong foodie following, and at 300 yen for 13, are a bargain.

While in Kyoto, make sure you try the soft serve ice cream – green tea is the most popular flavour, but you’ll also find cherry blossom and chocolate. The windy streets of Higashiyama district leading up to the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple are filled with ice cream stores.

Don’t forget to try tempura, lightly battered and fried vegetables, and shabu shabu, a dish where the eater drops thinly sliced pieces of beef and noodles into a boiling pot of broth, before eating.

Animal Cafés

Many Japanese apartment buildings don’t allow pets, so what do you do if you’re a dog or cat lover and you can’t keep one? You go to an animal café. Cat Café Nekokaigi is one of the well-known animal cafes in the city. Follow the signs – from the tiny cat sticker on the elevator to the waving welcome kittens on the front door – to enter another world, where the cat is king.

Cat Café Nekokaigi is essentially a large room in the middle of an apartment building. There are scratching posts and day beds all over the place, along with plenty of space for humans to settle in for a drink.

Admission fees are charged for the first hour and every half hour after; you can order coffee, tea, soft drinks, and then it’s time to meet the cats. There are rules though – no smoking, no camera flash, no touching sleeping cats, no feeding of cats and no kids under 13.

At the appropriately named Dog Café, patrons are encouraged to bring their own pooches to have a bite to eat. There are plenty of dog treats and toys for sale.


A night like no other

Spending the night in a traditional Japanese inn, known as a ryokan, is a great way to experience something different. These small boutique hotels can have as many as a 100 or as little as one or two rooms and are scattered all over the city. Most do not have any beds, instead guests sleep on tatami mats – well padded futon mattresses laid out on the floor. Don’t be alarmed if there’s no mat in your room at check in – many inns set up the mats at night, packing them away each morning. Gion Hatanka in the Gion district is a polished example of a ryokan, with beautiful stone gardens, an indoor onsen and rooms with deep wooden bathtubs. It’s also just around the corner from Yasaka Shrine.

If you’re after a proper bed for the night, The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto opened in February and is a brilliant example of modern Japanese design. Most rooms do have beds, but there are a few suites featuring tatami mats. The spa’s signature Ryokucha Serenity Ritual is a superb sensory experience that begins with a fresh bowl of frothy green tea and ends in an hour of bliss, with a traditional massage.

Historical Kyoto

You cannot go to Kyoto without visiting some of its most important historical monuments. The Higashiyama district is a good place to start – go early in the morning and you might see Maiko, apprentice Geisha, walking to class. Temples and shrines are scattered throughout the district – Kiyomizu-dera Temple dates back to 778 AD and sits high on a hill overlooking the city. Allow plenty of time to explore its gardens and shrines.

At Shunkoin Temple visitors can undertake a tour and a meditation class – with monks leading their students in short but poignant lessons on emptying the mind and finding peace.

The Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, is probably Kyoto’s most well known temple. Covered in gold leaf, it’s blingy but rather sparse compared to some of the other bigger temple complexes. There’s also the Silver Pavilion, temples with elaborate rock gardens and others with impressive koi ponds.

A traditional tea ceremony led by a Maiko is another great chance to see Japanese culture up close. These young women train from as young as 16 and reach the epitome of poise and grace once they become Geisha. During your tea ceremony, they’ll pour tea, serve treats, dance and even play a few games.

Bamboo Forests

Kyoto’s famous bamboo forests are definitely worth the 30 minute train ride from downtown to the small town of Arashiyama. The Sagano bamboo grove is a peaceful place, until the crowds arrive. Make the effort to arrive early in the morning, when you’ll walk alone along the paths. The groves are most popular during Cherry Blossom season and as the leaves begin to fall. April and early May are peak travel periods for Expedia’s Aussie travellers, who time their trips during Cherry Blossom season. The weather will still be cold so pack warm clothes.

Lisa was the guest of Kyoto Tourism. 

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Lisa Perkovic

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