Kyoto is without a doubt, one of the best known and most popular travel destinations in Japan, while Nara, once the capital of Japan some 1300 years ago, is full of historical charm too.
Today I am going to share with you 15 iconic places to see and things to do that you can easily access with your JR-WEST Kansai Area Pass!
1. Dress up in a kimono
It’s probably one of the most touristy things to do, but seriously, it’s hard to leave Kyoto without having a few photos of yourself in a beautiful kimono!
I am dressed by Kyoto Kimono Rental YUMEYAKATA, (夢館) located at Gojo. There are probably countless amount of kimono rental shops all throughout Kyoto but the good things about Yume Yakata are that:
1. They have kids size start from 1.5 year old
2. It is multilingual-friendly! There are stationed staff who can speak English, Chinese, Cantonese, French, etc.
3. It is even muslim-friendly with a prayer room provided!
There’s an extensive selection of kimono at competitive prices so you will be spoilt for choice.
I’m all dressed!
Good news for JR-WEST pass holders! Present your JR-WEST pass and get a 10％Discount + Complimentary YUMEYAKATA original gift.
Nearest station: Gojo Station on Kyoto City Subway Line
(1 stop from Kyoto station by Subway Karasuma line and 2 minutes walk from “Gojo” station. Remember that you need to redeem your Kyoto City Subway Pass with the exchange ticket that comes with your JR-WEST Kansai Area Pass.)
2. Kiyomizu-dera Temple 清水寺
Yes Kiyomizudera is a major tourist spot, but there’s no other reason to stop you from visiting this world heritage site and one of the most celebrated temples in the whole of Japan, especially if you are a first-timer to Kyoto.
Nio-mon Gate, the main entrance of Kiyomizu-dera Temple was miraculously uncrowded.
Nearest Station: Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on Keihan Line
(Remember that you need to redeem your Kyoto Sightseeing Pass with the exchange ticket that comes with your JR-WEST Kansai Area Pass.)
3. Yasaka Jinja Shrine 八坂神社
Yasaka Jinja Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is also one of the most important attractions in Kyoto. The last time I came here was 7 years ago. Have you heard of the Gion Matsuri? It’s one of the top 3 most celebrated festivals in Japan and it’s held by Yasaka Jinja Shrine in summer time since over a thousand years ago.
It was surprisingly not so crowded with tourist when I was there so do make your way there, I recommend taking a slow walk after Kiyomizu-dera Temple, although it takes around 20 minutes, the walk through Higashiyama old town district is totally worth the stroll!
Otherwise, you can also access it by train.
Nearest Station: Gion Shijo Station on Keihan Line (please use your Kyoto Sightseeing Pass)
4. Eat Yuba for lunch 湯葉
This is my personal favorite! Can you imagine a set meal comprise of dishes completely made only from bean curd? Other than the tiny anchovies in one of the side dishes, this meal is almost vegetarian. And I love it!
Yuba is not only delicious, it’s also a healthy superfood packed with protein. I went to Yubasen, one of the famous yuba specialty shop before making my way to Kiyomizu-dera, and here you get to sample the beancurd product in all sorts of creamy, gooey, crispy, melty way, all in one set lunch! The meal is not cheap (JPY1800+ for this set) but I couldn’t get enough of it!! Seriously I think I can eat this every day..
Nearest Station: Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on Keihan Line
5. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – one of everyone’s favorite which is world-famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates – needs no further introduction. (This is the entrance to the shrine, just right opposite Inari Station.
Nearest JR Station: Inari Station on JR Nara Line (it’s right opposite JR Inari station and 0nly 2 stations away from Kyoto Station! )
6. Enjoy Uji Matcha 宇治抹茶
If you love green tea, Uji in southern Kyoto is your paradise. You will be greeted with a massive Ujibashi Bridge first, which is said to be one of the oldest bridges in Japan.
You will then walk along the Byodoin-Omotesando street lined with traditional tea shops selling tea products including matcha, hojicha, etc. This is Nakamura Tokichi the original shop, one of the oldest and most popular tea houses in Uji since 1854. If you are a true connoisseur it may be worth queuing for a spot to dine in, I didn’t have the extra time to spare, so I changed my plan to visit Tsujiri instead (which is actually more popularly known in Singapore and Malaysia!), and it was completely empty. What a lucky day!
I ordered a matcha tea set which was just the perfect afternoon sweet treat before moving on to the next spot.
Both the tea houses are located just a few minute’s walk from JR Uji Station.
By the way, don’t forget to spot the gigantic tea pot post box outside JR Uji Station!
Nearest JR Station: Uji Station on JR Nara Line (20 mins from Kyoto Station)
7. Byodoin Temple 平等院
Isn’t this temple simply gorgeous? As you walk further along the Byodoin Omotesando, you will arrive at this mesmerizing world heritage site called Byodoin Temple .
With over 1000 years old history, you can delve real deep into the stories behind it, but in short, it is a very important site that it is made the motif of the Japanese 10 yen coin.
Look! Remember to bring along a 10 yen and let’s all take a photo with your shiny coin and trend this together!
Nearest JR Station: Uji Station on JR Nara Line
8. Kyoto Station 京都駅
The next attraction in Kyoto, is actually Kyoto Station itself.
It is one of the most impressive and stylish stations I’ve come across and there are actually so much to do and see in the station itself! Believe it or not, you can actually spend a good few hours here just looking, eating and shopping.
The Kyoto Tourist Information Center is huge and easily spotted in the main hall so do seek help if you need any assistance regarding your travel.
First of all, you can do some shopping at the exclusive JR Isetan collaborated departmental store. Maybe you can find some really unique souvenirs to bring back home here!
I have mentioned this before but if you are looking to temporarily store your luggage or forward your parcels, look for Crosta which is located right beside the JR central gate for such services.
The massive Kyoto Station Stairway itself is another sight to behold!
Drop by Kyoto Ramen Koji, a food street featuring a huge varities of ramen from Sapporo to Hakata for supper before heading back to your hotel.
Since we were in Kyoto, I picked Masutani Ramen, a Kyoto-born ramen brand that specializes in tonkotsu (pork broth) and shoyu (soy sauce).
There’s a mini size so it’s perfect for ramen-hopping!
Nearest JR Station: Kyoto Station itself
Nara is often one of the most overlooked prefectures in the Kansai region. While the deer park is of course, internationally popular, many tend to dash to Nara for just that and move on to the next prefecture. There are so much more to this all-important prefecture it is probably not an exaggeration to say that a big part of Japan’s civilization is shaped in and by Nara. This ancient prefecture has lots of historical monuments and chronicles preserved which are really worth giving a look at. It has soon become one of my favorite, honestly.
Today I’ll introduce the basic and iconic attractions that you can easily access with your Kansai Area Pass, maybe when the time comes, I will delve deep into the mind-blowing sacred grounds beyond the deep mountains and dense forests. Next time. 🙂
9. Rent-a-Cycle Ekirin Kun
As you arrive at JR Nara Station, it is probably a good idea to rent a bicycle and go on a little excursion on wheels. There are a lot to see in the city and while major attractions are not so far off each others, you could do better on time-saving for more sightseeing spot exploration if you are on a bike.
Look for Ekirin-Kun, a rent-a-cycle service just next to JR Nara Station.
Just flash your JR-WEST rail pass and fill up a simple form to rent the bicycle. Make sure you have your passport with you too.
The rental fee is JPY700 without the pass, so having a JR-WEST rail pass on hand actually saves you JPY700 because you get to rent it FOR FREE! There’s so much value to this pass I really can’t stop raving about it.
That’s my ride of the day! And now we are ready to explore!
10. Naramachi 奈良町
Naramachi, literally Nara Town, is a former merchant district lined with old town charm from the yesteryears, now beautifully preserved and transformed into a quaint area featuring stylish boutiques and cafes in between historical museums.
I love it. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was compared to the similar historical district in Kyoto. Totally recommended to spend a relaxing afternoon just exploring the retro townscape.
Nearest JR Station: Nara Station (it’s about 20-min walk on foot but cycling makes it a breeze!)
11. Naramachi Koshi-no-ie House 格子の家
Hidden between the narrow streets in Naramachi, Koshi-no-ie House is a former merchant home now open to public, for free!
There’s no entrance fee so feel free to explore the house of a rich merchant and get a feel of how an old-time machiya townhouse is like.
Nearest JR Station: Nara Station (cycling recommended)
12. Feed the deers at Nara Park 奈良公園
This attraction needs no introduction. Almost all travelers who visit Nara would make a compulsory stop here. From Nara park you can easily access famous attractions such as Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and more on foot.
So I’d recommend you to park your bicycle at the designated bicycle parking area at the park and walk from then on.
There are a few stalls in the park selling Shika Senbei (deer crackers) for JPY200. Make sure that you feed the deers only the deer crackers as I’m sure you have heard or seen news about some of the poor deers at Nara park died as a result of consuming too much plastic bags fed by or stolen from visitors. Make sure too that you don’t have any plastic bags with you because they are attracted to the sound of it and will try to nom it off your hands!
The park is incredibly beautiful in autumn!
Many tourists have observed the deers to be aggressive, but most of the deers I encountered are pretty tame, although a couple did try to nudge me for more senbei lol. Oh boy they sure go at a faaaaaast pace! If you want to take your sweet time taking good photos, make sure you buy a good amount of senbei ready to feed them, as they could get frustrated and slightly cranky once the senbei runs out. 😂Think of them as 6-month old babies who first tasted yummy solid food haha.
Nearest JR Station: Nara Station (cycling recommended)
13. Kasuga Taisha Shrine 春日大社
Kasuga Taisha Shrine, just like Yasaka Jinja Shrine of Kyoto, is one of the prefecture’s most worshipped shrines. Other than its rich history, the walk up to the main shrine was a really pleasant one where you get to even spot a few adorable fawns on the way up.
Unlike the Kyoto counterpart, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is also comparably less crowded so you can take your time to pay your respect at the shrine.
Got my Goshuin (handwritten seal and stamp given by the shrine) within 5 minutes too.
14. Todaiji Temple 東大寺
Another one of the most historically significant sites in Japan. This World-Heritage temple houses the largest sitting bronze Buddha statue in Japan. Todaiji, along with Kofukuji and Horyuji, make up the “Big Three” must-see temples of Nara. This was my last of the three. ^^
The main hall of the temple – the Daibutsuden (大仏殿) remains as the world’s largest wooden structure, built in year 743. And mind you, the current structure was rebuilt in 1709, and it is only two thirds the size of the original. Just the thought alone gives me goosebumps.
15. Stay at Hotel Vischio Kyoto
This is not an attraction but here’s a hotel in Kyoto I can recommend you as your base for your day trips. Kyoto Vischio Kyoto is super conveniently located just across Kyoto Station.
See the large structure behind? That’s Kyoto Station.
I was surprised at how amazingly spacious the lobby is. There are lots of comfy space for you to rest while waiting to check in.
Looove the hotel breakfast spread – a wide variety of traditional Japanese and international delights. I stayed here for two days and I couldn’t even finish sampling all the food they provided.
Ahhh chirashi sushi!
The interior is modern and stylish which is luxuriously spacious. There’s even a public bath available for all guests!
Nearest Station: Kyoto Station
That’s all for my Kyoto + Nara iconic spots now. Remember that you can purchase your JR-WEST rail pass directly from its official website.
In my next post on JR-WEST, I will be sharing all the iconic spots you can easily access with your Kansai Area Pass, to Osaka and Kobe!