We took the Shinkansen to Kyoto over Thanksgiving weekend with my mom and stepfather (Jodi and Max). The fall colors were just about at their peak. The city was tremendously crowded, but it was so beautiful that it was worth fighting through the masses. Plus in Japan, even when there are huge crowds, everyone remains amazingly civil and polite – no growls or dirty looks anywhere. I’d guess that we saw 0.03% of the city during our two days of exploring, but we had a great time.
(Scroll down for lots of photos)
The first day, we headed to the western part of the city to explore a neighborhood called Arashiyama. There, we walked the neighborhood, explored the Tenryui-ji Temple (where Stacy and I had a non-traditional yet amazing Shojin Ryori Thanksgiving dinner), and visited the “Monkey Park”. While we had lunch at the temple, the kids and their grandparents headed off to a street fair and then for a rickshaw ride. The rickshaws have become one of the kids favorite things to do in touristy areas. The rides aren’t cheap, but everyone leaves happy.
The monkey park is an area in the hills above the city where they put out food to attract monkeys. It works – they come by the dozens to hang out, feast, and socialize among humans. We left our bags at the entrance because the monkeys are known for stealing shopping bags and playing a game of “keep away”. The walk up the hill is long, but the fall colors kept us entertained as we made the trip. Along the way there were signs warning us not to make eye contact with the monkeys.
We spent the second day following the Lonely Planet’s “walking tour” guide of Kigashiyama in the eastern part of the city. We spent a leisurely full day to complete the half-day tour (2 1/2 year twins, you know) and saw about half of the things the tour features but had an absolutely great time.
My random tips for visiting Kyoto with Toddlers
- There’s a lot to see in Kyoto – too much. Don’t be too ambitious. Instead, pick a few main sites or activities, and then take your time enjoying getting to and from things. The streets of the city are just as fun as the main attractions
- Rickshaw rides are expensive but a great treat. They cost about ¥9000 (about $90), but last almost an hour and the driver works hard to make sure you have fun. Our kids love them.
- We carried cheap light weight umbrella strollers that aren’t fancy but are easy to carry and fold/unfold. They end up being good for naps and moving long distances. At temple entrances, we would stash them out of the way so we didn’t have to carry them all the time.
- Street food is awesome for toddlers. They can pick out what they want, it’s cheap and fast, served in a paper plate, and it’s okay to take breaks from eating to run around a bit.
- The monkey park is a fairly long walk up to the top of the hill where the monkeys are. It was fun for us because of the fall colors, but I could see if being rough in the winter, a rainy day, or hot summer. Seeing the monkeys was fun but there’s definiltey some danger there. These are wild animals.
- We rented a three bedroom apartment on VRBO that cost about as much as a single hotel room would have for our stay. We think this is always a better way to go – you get more space, can stay up after the kids go to sleep, and can eat some meals in. One of the rooms had tatami mats which ended up being perfect for the kids.
- The weather was great while we were there. Our rainy day backup, which we didn’t get to use, was to go to a “dress like a geisha/samurai” place. They have kid packages and I’m sure it’d be fun.
Day 1 – Exploring Arashiyama, Tenryu-ji Temple, and the Monkey Park
Day 2: Walking the Streets of Kigashiyama