Slow Travel: A Local Guide to Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is one of Japan’s top tourist destinations! But, if you’re like me and don’t like crowds, I’m here to show you a more local, slow travel guide to the city. My favorite places to go, food to eat, and a few helpful tips for your trip to Kyoto, Japan. 

Kyoto, Japan Temple and architecture. Tea house with a view.

What I love about “slow travel” is it gives you the opportunity to truly experience the culture and live everyday life like a local. Sure, you want to see all those IG-worthy spots, but a city is so much more than that. It’s history, community, and routine. Which is why I love staying in an apartment, as opposed to a resort. 

Our Stay

We stayed in a small apartment near Kuinabashi Station. It was a quiet neighborhood, filled with parks for children, three different groceries, and multiple train stations. 

The home had a small bath (as most Japanese homes do because baths are a part of every family’s routine), a kitchen and two bedrooms. We cooked often because the fresh and seasonal ingredients from the grocery closest to us was always stocked! Which made our rule of eating 30 a Day super easy 🙂

Japanese food set healthy vegetables

Food & Drink 

Pickles & Sake

This sounds like an odd combo but at Gabana sake pub, they have it figured out! The contrast between the mild, sweet sake and sharp, pickled veggies pairs so well together. It is standing room only, but with only a small menu, it won’t take long to finish.

drinking sake at market in Japan
pickled fermented vegetables Kyoto Japan

Tea in Gion

Obvisously we had to visit the oldest part of town, but places like Gion, Arashiyama and Fushimi-Inari are FULL of tourist traps and overpriced restaurants. 

Luckily, we stumbled upon this charming tea house when I was in DESPERATE need of caffeine. Little did we know that the white coffee and fresh pastries came with a private view of Kyoto’s oldest pagoda, Yasaka. 

This was TRULY a hidden gem. 

Comfort Food

Although a nation-wide chain, Wako is my FAVORITE tonkatsu place (even though I never order the tonkatsu, lol). The panko-fried fish and oysters are perfectly moist and crunchy. And, the famous miso soup is full of nutrients as well as super tasty. It is comfort food at its finest! 

Wako tonkatsu restaurant Kyoto Japan
tonkatsu Kyoto Japan kaki fry miso soup rice Japanese food set

Around Town

Busy, Busy, Busy

Honestly, I love Kyoto Station. I love looking over the city on the Skyway and I could shop at Isetan forever! 

I also talk about my favorite hidden bar in the video at the bottom of the page! It was by far the most ideal setting for an evening cocktail. 

Kyoto Tower city nightlife

(Not-so) Secret Garden

I’m usually not much for gardens, but if this place was as beautiful as it was during winter, I can only imagine how  stunning it is during Spring and Summer. No matter what time of year it is, Kyoto Botanical Garden is always a great way to spend the day strolling through nature, meditating in the French Garden or English Garden or Japanese Garden… so many ways for you to reflect and appreciate every sound, smell and sight. 

white flowers Kyoto Botanical Garden
English garden Kyoto Botanical Garden trees

Lessons in Travel

The language barrier can be real. Unlike other tourist destinations, Japan’s economy doesn’t rely on Westerners… so there is very little incentive for them to learn English. Try to learn just a few phrases. A little effort can go a long way!

Shop seasonal produce… Truth be told, in Japan you don’t really have a choice. But it was nice to know that seasonal items were grown locally (be it in Kyoto or Japan in general) which makes it that much, more special 🙂 and makes it taste even better. 

daifuku Japanese dessert red ripe strawberries

MAIN LESSON: Slow down. I guess I have really been slow traveling since moving to Thailand from 2017-2019. But, when I over-planned and packed a ton of activities into our New Year’s and my mom fell, I realized I did too much. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see and learn about places you visit, but it should be enjoyable… not run by a natzi. 

Check out a few secret gems I found in Kyoto!

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