After our visit to Tokyo and Hakone, we continued south to Kyoto. Many people who have spent time in Japan have remarked at how much they thought I would love Kyoto. I was so excited to check it out for myself!
First of all, the city was much bigger than I had anticipated. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I did envision a “small city”. Kyoto is obviously much smaller than Tokyo, but there’s a lot of movement and different areas to explore. We actually stayed at three different hotels during our time in the city, and although I’m not sure I’d recommend that (too much moving around with a baby!), it was nice to experience different areas of the city.
For the first part of our trip, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency, which was nice but nothing to write home about. The Onsen (Japanese bath) was really small. After having such great Onsen experiences in Hakone and Tokyo, it was a little underwhelming. The restaurants in the hotel were nice, though, and we really enjoyed the daily breakfast. The concierge was helpful in directing us to various points of interest.
We also ran out of diapers at this point in the trip, and we lost Milo’s sleep sack, so they were especially helpful in directing us to the mall so we could replace those items. Did you know they have Babies R Us in Japan? It’s basically the same, except with all of the Japanese brands and items that are specific to living in Japan. We ended up buying an adorable sleep sack with mushrooms on it. Japanese love mushrooms — they are everywhere! Even though it no longer fits Milo, I can’t bear to part with it.
After spending a couple of days at the Hyatt Regency, we went for an overnight stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan. I had done extensive research on ryokans to discover the ones that were most appealing to me. The one challenging aspect was the cost! They are seriously expensive. Granted that most overnight stays include breakfast and dinner, but they will still put a dent in your vacation budget (if not eat the entire thing up!).
I had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but in the end I decided that I didn’t want to miss the traditional experience of sleeping on tatami mats. We opted for a one night stay to maximize our time and so that we wouldn’t break the bank.
The ryokan we stayed at is called Shiraume. The location was amazing. There was a plum blossom tree right outside that garnered a lot of attention. It was so beautiful. The ryokan is located in the Gion neighborhood, the old part of Kyoto with canals and wooden houses.
The ryokan experience is something I would recommend doing if you have the budget to put aside for it. After checking in and leaving our shoes at the door (something you do most places in Japan), Matt and I took turns in the private Onsen, and then swiftly changed into our kimonos (including Milo) and settled into our room.
It is tradition to sleep on tatamis that are unrolled each evening. It allows you to really use the entire house — you don’t have a bedroom that is only used for sleeping, but instead you can live and enjoy all aspects of the house during the day. Our room had a little garden and it snowed while we were there. It was so peaceful to see the snow gently falling outside the window.
Matt is not that tall, and he almost didn’t fit in the house!That evening, we had Kaiseki, a traditional multi-course dinner. The food was amazing, and the thing that really impressed us on our trip was the beautiful and interesting food presentation. Our dinner was as beautifully plated as it was delicious. Milo had a few meltdowns during dinner, but luckily we were in our room and we weren’t disturbing anyone else. Matt and I sipped on homemade plum wine, which was really interesting.
I really loved the history of Shiraume, which dates back to 1600. The building has been in the same family for centuries, and you feel honored to stay in a place with so much history. Actually, one of my favorite things about our trip to Japan aside from the people and food, was how much history and family play a role in the everyday life of the Japanese people. We were told so many stories, and I loved how many people shared their ancestry with us.
I’m not sure that there are many children visitors at Shiraume, and it may be mostly because it is expensive. I don’t think I would bring older children, as the house felt very delicate and I’m not sure how enjoyable it would be. Milo was not even crawling yet (which is crazy to say!), and it felt really easy to travel with him (he was 8 months old at the time of our trip). The staff at Shiraume was wonderful with him, and really loved on him. Good to know: they even had a little toy stash, and they gave Milo a few plush toys to play with, which when you are traveling and far from home, is such a nice gesture.
After our wonderful overnight stay at Shiraume, we headed down the street to check in to our third and final accommodation for our stay in Kyoto at Hotel Mume. True to the reviews, the staff at Hotel Mume were incredible. The day before we checked in, we stopped in to check out the hotel and see exactly where it was located. We were greeted with open arms and treated to a drink at the bar… the day before we checked in! The hotel was so kid-friendly (but really everywhere in Japan was… and it was amazing) and everyone was so, so wonderful with Milo. I would stay here again in a heartbeat for the service alone. The location was also great, and it was a much more reasonable accommodation.
Here are a few things that I’d recommend doing while in Kyoto:
Visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto (and even if you’re not!), you’ve certainly seen photos of the bamboo forest. It is such a special place, with a winding path through the bamboo grove. The bamboo is so tall! It is really quite a sight to see. The area surrounding the forest is neat to explore, as well. There are some cute restaurants and food stalls, plus several small temples that you can walk through. We took public transit everywhere in Japan (more travel tips here), and the bamboo forest was super accessible by train.
Eat as much as you can!
We really loved the food in Kyoto, and I don’t think we scratched the surface. A few of our favorites:
– our meal at Hiro in Gion, where you grill your own meat. You sit on tatami mats on the floor, and enjoy beer while you grill different cuts of meat. Ordering at these kinds of restaurants is always a little tricky, but we found the waitstaff to be very helpful. You take your shoes off to eat at this restaurant, and we were seated in a little private room. It was one of our favorite meals!
– Kyoto-style sushi (Izakaya) is a little weird, but it’s something you should experience once. I can’t recall the restaurant we tried, but I’d recommend stopping into one of the many Izakaya spots to try the traditional cooked and marinated sushi.
– run, don’t walk to Gion Tanto! These savory pancakes (Okonomiyaki) were so good. There was a long wait when we arrived, so we ordered to go. I still think about these pancakes!
– Eat udon noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our favorite noodles were from casual restaurants. There are so many spots for yummy noodles in Kyoto.
Visit Nishiki Market.
This expansive food market has so many interesting foods to try and gifts to bring home. It can be a bit of a mob scene, so plan accordingly.
Fushimi Inari Gates.
In addition to the bamboo forest, I was most excited to see iconic red gates. It’s good to know that the gates are always open, and it is likely way less crowded in the early morning or evening hours. We went in the middle of the day, and it was definitely crowded. The area around the gates is great for wandering, too. Lots of food stalls and little shops.
Kyoto is such a wonderful place, and its people really left me with the desire to visit again. Have you been? What are your favorite things to see, eat, do? xo