Kyoto Botanical Gardens is the oldest of its kind in the country, and features more than 100,000 plants, flowers and trees covering around 12,000 different species. Pay the 200-yen entrance fee and the place is yours to explore. View the various sections by strolling along the sprawling network of winding paths or simply find a suitable spot, plonk your stuff down and enjoy a picnic in the pretty surroundings. Be sure to drop by the conservatory, too – a whole other world that offers around 4,500 species of exotic plants.
How to get there: Take the Kyoto City Subway and alight at Kitayama Station. Alternatively, take Kyoto City Bus 1 or any Kyoto Bus bound for Shizuhara or Ichihara, and alight at Shokubutsuen-mae. The botanical gardens is a five-minute walk from the bus stop.
2. Nishiki Market
Few markets in Japan excite the senses quite like Kyoto’s centuries-old Nishiki Market. Besides lots of Kyoto’s famous pickles and sweets, the market also offers a vast array of other local foods and goods. If you’re feeling peckish, look out for tasty samples offered by some of the vendors or purchase a more substantial snack instead. Give yourself plenty of time as Nishiki Market can get pretty packed. Go slow (you may not have any choice) so that you can soak up its unique atmosphere.
How to get there: Alight at Shijo Station on the Karasuma subway line, or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu line and take a five-minute walk to the market.
3. Kamo River
Kyoto’s charming Kamo River is a great place for a spot of people watching, or simply a relaxing stroll. Start at Shijo Bridge and head north – against the flow of the water – on the left side. The river attracts all kinds of characters, from solo saxophone-playing musicians honing their skills to locals with somewhat unusual pets (think rabbits and pigs). An hour north, where the river splits, look out for the birds of prey circling above, and be sure to guard any snacks or they’ll soon dive down to grab them. The Kamo River is at its liveliest on a sunny weekend afternoon.
How to get there: To get to Shijo Bridge, alight at Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line.
This is Kyoto’s highly Instagrammable historic neighbourhood, a place as quaint as it is quirky. Head south from Maruyama Park and you’ll soon reach Higashiyama’s wonderfully picturesque streets where attractive machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) host a slew of souvenir shops, cafes and plenty more besides. Ninenzaka (below) offers a great spot for photographs at the top of the steps at the far end, and along the way, you’ll pass Starbucks’ recently opened site that includes tatami flooring inside a 100-year-old machiya. Continue through the narrow lanes to the bustling Kiyomizumichi street, which leads up to Kiyomizudera temple.
How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take bus 100 or 206 in the direction of Kiyomizudera. Alight anywhere between the Gojozaka and Gion bus stops. Alternatively, the district is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the following train stations: Kiyomizu-Gojo Station or Gion-Shijo Station along the Keihan Line, Kawaramachi Station along the Hankyu Line, and Higashiyama Station along the Tozai Subway Line.
5. Manga Museum
Manga fans won’t want to miss Kyoto’s International Manga Museum. Check out the Wall of Manga where you can browse 50,000 manga books published since 1970, and visit the Research Reference Room where you can explore older material related to this uniquely Japanese art form. At the Manga Studio, you can marvel at professional manga artists as they bring their characters to life, from an initial rough sketch through to colourful completion. You can even join a workshop to try your hand at creating manga and find out if you’ve got what it takes to be the next Osamu Tezuka. Otherwise known as the ‘Godfather of Manga’, his most famous work is arguably Astro Boy.
How to get there: The museum is a three-minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station on the Karasuma & Tozai subway lines.
6. Philosopher’s Walk
Philosopher’s Walk is most popular in spring thanks to its abundance of cherry blossom trees, but you can enjoy it just as much in other seasons. Named after a prominent philosopher and Kyoto University professor who, long ago, regularly strolled the route deep in thought, the peaceful stream-side path offers the perfect break from Kyoto’s busy temples, shrines and shopping streets. You’ll find places along the Philosopher’s Walk to sit and ponder, while several cafes provide additional opportunities to relax. You can complete the walk in half an hour but with distractions along the way, and plenty of philosophising to do, you’ll likely take longer.
How to get there: The path runs between Ginkakuji and the neighbourhood of Nanzenji. To get to the Ginkakuji end, take bus 5 or Raku Bus 100 from Kyoto Station. The journey will take approximately 25 minutes. The Nanzenji end is located near Keage Station on the Tozai Line.
– TEXT BY TREVOR MOGG
PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM, FLICKR USER THILO HILBERER, FLICKR USER KENTARO OHNO, 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.