Day 1 – Travel to Kyoto and evening in Osaka
- We landed at Narita Airport, Tokyo around 8 am. After getting Pocket Wifi, JR Pass and Suica card we headed out to our first base Kyoto. Get train seats for first trip reserved at JR pass counter.
- The 4 hour journey first in Narita Express and then Hikari Shinkansen was comfortable (we even caught up on some sleep). Changing trains was easy (check train, platform and car number before boarding) and there was enough space for suitcases. SS Tip: While it is ok to eat in Shinkansen – it is impolite to eat or talk loudly on other local trains.
- Post freshening up, we headed out to Kyoto station for a meal (multiple eating options around station) and then Dotonbori in Osaka for the evening. Use JR pass to go to Osaka on Shinkansen and then take metro (use Suica card) to Namba station. SS Tip: The alternative to take the free train from Osaka to JR Namba station takes time and is not worth the hassle.
- Dotonbori is a lively place with restaurants on both sides of the canal. With roadside entertainment, brightly lit buildings and so many people – this place was a sight to see. As we were in no mood to wait for a table at the Mexican joints, we ended up at an Indian restaurant called Shama for dinner (not much of an ambience but awesome food)
Day 2 – Kyoto
- We started off with famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. We walked through the countless orange torri gates to the mountain top. Do stop on the way to enjoy the views of Kyoto city – much better than going to any observatory/ tower. Crowd wasn’t much and it took one hour walk going up and down.
- Next stop was Kyoto Imperial Palace (which is surprisingly free) – pick up the free pamphlet and roam around the large grounds. Definite must see to get a sense of life during Emperor’s era!
- On the bus and off to the golden temple, Kinkaku-ji (400 Yen fee) It’s a relatively small place but quite crowded. We just went around the building, took pictures and ticked it off our list. Surprisingly, the temple looked absolutely new! Spotted an Indian restaurant on the way – so we headed to Ganesha for a sumptuous Indian meal.
- Last temple for the day was Kiyomizu-dera Temple (300 Yen fee) – get off the bus and walk uphill to this temple complex. While the main building is crowded – head along to the other temples in the complex. Orange pagoda at far end is good spot for pictures! Before you leave, do stop to get a drink from the dragon fountains!
- We then walked over to Maruyuama Park to feast on some street food and enjoy a peaceful sunset. We then spent some time roaming around Gion – lot of shops and restaurants. While we dint spot any Geishas, we saw a lot of people in traditional Japanese outfits throughout Kyoto! SS Tip: Buy Kyoto one day bus pass (500 Yen) from hotel reception as buses are most convenient to travel between different tourist attractions
Day 3 – Arashiyama and Nara
- We took a train to Arashiyama from Kyoto station and then set off on foot to explore the Tenryuji temple (500 yen entrance fee for grounds + 300 for indoor). The temple had beautiful grounds (especially the area near the lake). We took the back exit and walked onto the famous Bamboo grove. It’s a short path with tall bamboo trees on both sides and makes for a great picture point.
- There is nothing much to explore on other side of the grove (lil countryside with few temples). On the way back to station, we tried out the 4 flavors ice cream which included flavours like green tea and roasted coffee ! SS Tip: Take a slight detour, cross over the bridge to the quieter side, and enjoy views of the still river with the green hills in the background.
- We went back to Kyoto station and took the train to Nara. 45 mins train ride later, we started the long walk towards Todaiji temple (500 yen entrance fee). We slowed down to see the tame deers and pagodas in temple complex. Todaiji temple’s main hall was huge and had some spectacular statues inside. We then walked over to Nigatsudo Hall which is towards left of the main temple. Away from the hustle bustle, views from the balcony were worth the short hike up.
- While walking back to station, we stopped over for traditional okonomiyaki at a small establishment. Hot food was all that we needed to end the day!
Day 4 – Hiroshima and Miyajima
- Started early at 8 am and set off to Miyajimaguchi station (1 hr 45 mins direct train to Hiroshima and then 30 mins local train to Miyajima). Right across from the station (2 mins walk) is the ferry terminal. We then took the ferry to the island. Take the ferry on right which is free for JR pass holders.
- 10 minutes’ walk from ferry terminal (on Miyajima side) is the famous floating Torri gate (Itsukshima Shrine). Tide was low so we directly walked up to Mt Misen ropeway station (don’t waste your time waiting for shuttle) – took total 25 minutes from ferry terminal. There was really long waiting line at ropeway, so we took tokens, bought the tickets (1800 Yen) and headed over to kill time in the adjoining national park. The park was pretty with a small river flowing down the slope and picnic tables alongside. After half hour wait, it was our turn to go up the two ropeways up to Mt. Misen !
- While there is an observatory right where the ropeway ends, we decided to trek up 20-25 mins further up to the top. We were met with 360 degree views of the lake, island and surrounding areas! On the way back to ferry we stopped to click pictures with the floating torri gates (dint go inside the temple)
- For the second leg of the trip, we headed over back to Hiroshima (ferry and then train) in the afternoon. We took the Loop bus (meipuru-pu bus), which is free for JR pass holders, to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We saw the dome which is a remnant from bombing, various memorial monuments and then headed to the museum. The entire experience was humbling and makes you see why ‘world peace’ is so important.
- We grabbed a quite bite at the Mexican joint, Otis near the park. Then took the Loop bus back to station (remember to save the timings before hand). There were no direct trains to Kyoto at this hour, so we had to change at Osaka to go back.