Most Beautiful Places in Japan: Kyoto + Nachi Falls

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto was hands down one of my favorite places in Japan. Tokyo was fun for a big city, but Kyoto was just gorgeous. We were there the second weekend of November 2017, and the fall colors were at their peak!

We were only in Kyoto for 3 nights, which is enough to see the highlights, but you could easily spend more time here. There are countless gorgeous temples and shrines to explore and so many incredible restaurants.

Keep reading below for our favorite, must-see sites in Kyoto, plus another one of the most beautiful places in Japan you may want to add to your bucket list.

MY OTHER RECIPES

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Fushimi Inari Shrine

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

{GPS Location}

Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most recognizable sites in all of Japan. Over 10,000 bright orange gates around the shrine grounds line a trail that leads to the sacred Mount Inari.

You can do the full hike to Mount Inari with panoramic views over Kyoto, which is about 5 miles round trip and takes approximately 2-3 hours there and back. Or you can just wander as far as you want and head back when you want. You could easily spend the whole morning just marveling at all the beautiful gates!

After your hike, have lunch on the foodie street near the main entrance {GPS Location}. Many food carts and stalls line this pedestrian street with local, authentic street food. You can sample many things from all the different stands.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Here’s a great article with more information on hiking to Mount Inari: Mt. Inari Hiking Route

TIP: This place is super popular — get there as early as possible and go on a weekday if you can! The further you go along the trails, the more the crowd will disperse.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Kiyomizu-dera

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

{GPS Location}

Watching the sunset over the fall colors at Kiyomizu-dera is one of my favorite memories of Japan. Kiyomizu-dera is an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It was founded in 780 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be sure to pay the entrance fee to go into the main hall and walk around the back to see the Otowa Waterfall. Kiyomizu-dera means “Pure Water Temple” and gets its name from this waterfall. The waterfall is divided into three separate streams. Drinking from each stream has a different benefit — longevity, success at school, and success in love. However it is considered greedy to drink from all three!

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

The path to Kiyomizu-dera is a vibrant shopping street lined with fun boutiques, cafes, and souvenir shops. Be sure to pop in the souvenir shops and try all the free samples!

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

{GPS Location}

The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. From all the hype, I was expecting it to be a bit bigger, but it is really just a short walking path through a tall bamboo grove. This area is super fun, you could definitely spend a morning here exploring, and there is a main street near the train station with lots of shops and restaurants where you can have lunch.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Hokanji

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

{GPS Location}

Hokanji is a 5-story pagoda and Buddhist temple in Kyoto’s historical district. The path to the pagoda is a cobblestone alley lined with traditional buildings and shops giving the area an old-world feeling. At the base of the pagoda we found a shop selling fun soft serve dip cones — but these are not your average Dairy Queen dip cones!! These cones are DIPPED IN GOLD!!! It’s about $10 USD for one of these bad boys, but totally worth it!! This is such a charming area and a must-see in Kyoto.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Gion District

Gion is Kyoto’s geisha district and a great place to explore in the early evening. Here are the main points of interest:

  • Hanamikoji Street — Upscale Japanese restaurants and boutiques line this street with traditional wooden merchant houses.
  • Tatsumi Bridge — Scenic area by a canal lined by willow trees and teahouses with views over the canal. Keep an eye out for hostesses in colorful kimonos on this wooden bridge.
  • Yasaka Shrine — A large shrine with hundreds of lanterns that are lit in the evenings.
  • Gion Corner — A theater with one-hour shows of Kyoto’s professional performing arts
  • Kennin-ji Temple — Known for its Zen garden.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Seiganto-ji Temple & Nachi Falls

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Seiganto-ji Temple is one of the most beautiful places we went in Japan. The temple is set in front of the scenic Nachi Falls, the tallest waterfall in Japan. The temple has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

The only problem with Seiganto-ji Temple is that it’s kinda out in the middle of nowhere. It’s 4 hours by train from Osaka and 5 hours by train from Kyoto. However, if you really want to see it and don’t mind the long (and expensive) train ride, you can easily see it with one overnight stay in a small village nearby.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


How to Visit Seiganto-ji Temple & Nachi Falls

We stayed in the small village of Katsuura, which is easily accessible by direct train from Osaka and Kyoto. Katsuura is an interesting place to stay because there is a large fresh tuna market every morning and there are several traditional hot springs hotels to spend the night — which is an experience in itself!

You will arrive by train to the Katsuura station. The village is small enough that you can walk to your hotel from the train station. Across the street from the train station is the bus station. Here you’ll need to buy a roundtrip one-day pass for the Kumano Kotsu bus — it’s around $10 USD. This allows you to hop on and off the bus at any of the stops.

When you’re ready to visit, take the bus to the last stop — if you can — it was closed when we visited so we had to get off at the second to last stop. You can get a map at the bus station or your hotel showing you exactly where to get on and off and which stops are open.

Anyway, from either of the two stops you can walk up to Nachi Taisha Shrine and the Seiganto-ji temple — they are right next to each other. After visiting the shrine and temple, follow the path down towards the pagoda and you will come to the postcard-perfect view of the pagoda with the falls in the background. You can go up into the pagoda for another view of the falls. There’s even an elevator in the pagoda! It’s only three stories, but I had to take the elevator just to say I’ve taken an elevator in a pagoda before, lol!

Also worth checking out in the area is a narrow street lined with souvenir shops — a good place to stop for lunch. You’ll also see a big torii gate, like the ones at Fushimi Inari Shrine. Follow the path through the gate to reach the base of the falls. You can pay around $3 USD to get to the observatory deck for an even closer look at the falls.


Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

After visiting the falls, you can take the long path down the stairs to the first bus stop — you will have passed it on the way to the temple. The staircase will end on a main street. Turn right, walk for maybe 5 minutes and you will see the big bus stop on your left. Here you can hop on the bus and head back into town.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs so you don’t get lost! ;)

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan


Where to Stay in Katsuura

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

We stayed at Katsuura Gyoen, a traditional ryoken and onsen hotel right on the Nachi Bay. A ryoken is a traditional Japanese-style inn. An onsen is a natural hot spring. After a long day of exploring the Nachi Falls, you can relax in the natural hot spring overlooking the bay.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Here is what the inside of a traditional Japanese ryoken looks like. Yes, this is the entire room. Notice there is no bed! But look at the view of the bay!

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

At least you have turn down service. ;) In the evening before bed, housekeeping will come make your bed for you. I’m not a huge fan of sleeping on the floor, but this was fun for just one night for a traditional Japanese experience. They also give you your own kimono for wearing around the room or to the hot spring.

Best things to do and see in Kyoto, Japan

Thanks so much for reading! Be sure to check out our Best Things To Do in Tokyo post and our guide to  Where to See the Best Views of Mount Fuji — one of my favorite places we went in Japan!