Kyoto with Kids

The first and last time I was in Kyoto was 10 years ago and I wasn’t married or had kids yet. And that trip was so different to this trip for many reasons from accommodations (I stayed in a ryokan 10 years ago and I can’t do that anymore!), to places to go (they have to be worth the kids’ while as well), and – much to my chagrin – to places to eat (bye bye Kikunoi).

So, I researched and read. Scoured, eliminated, and starred places on Google Maps to be able to come up with an itinerary that kept the kids interested as well as the hip adults (:p).

First up, we turned to Airbnb (see my directory at the bottom for all the links) for our accommodations. I found a spacious house that had 5 rooms. One room on the first floor had tatami mats and futons (perfect for our 8 month old baby). This is how the house looked like:

The place was near a bus station that either led to Nijo Station (which further connects you to the rest of Kyoto) or towards Kinkakuji. There were convenient stores nearby and even a 24-hour gyudon restaurant (which saved us when we arrived at the Airbnb the first night at 10pm).

Here are some of the places we went to in Kyoto with our 3 kids (ages 6, 3, and our 8 month old baby).

Sagano Train Ride

If you’re planning on a trip to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest this is really a great, scenic prelude: You take a yellow/red art deco train called the Sagano Romantic Railway towards Kameoka Station. Then you ride a boat ride back on the Hozugawa River back towards Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The Sagano Train Ride starts here at Saga Torroko Station.

Cross your fingers that you get on the open-air car called “The Rich” so you can get an unobstructed view of the river and the trees.

 

The train ride is 25 minutes long. If you want to skip the boat ride, you can always take the same train ride back or a more straightforward JR train back to Arashiyama Station.

Hozugawa River Ride

I have to admit that while I was fixing this itinerary up months ago, I was a bit hesitant of doing this ride with my 8-month-old in tow. Some of the photos on their website looked like rapids and I didn’t know if it would be too turbulent. I’m glad however that I did get to read one review of the ride where they also brought their baby and loved it (thank goodness for reviews from real people, am I right?).

The boat ride along Hozugawa River is manned by 3 Japanese men who manually row the boat and steer it using long bamboo sticks. Here’s the thing however, the ride is about 120 minutes long. Make sure your kids use the toilet beforehand!

Towards the end of the boat ride, another boat will approach you selling refreshments like grilled mochi, grilled squid, hot and cold canned drinks. And, yes,  there are restrooms once you dock.

Anju

Right when you dock, you can take a route through the Bamboo Forest. The great part here is you’re actually going against the flow (meaning it’s a bit faster and less people your side). Follow the path all the way to the main road that leads you to the Arashiyama station. If you’re anything like us, you’d be feeling a bit peckish by this point so this restaurant will definitely fulfill your cravings.

Anju serves Wagyu beef sets (together with rice, soup and tofu). Not only was it filling for us, but the kids loved it too!

Kimono Forest

This attraction is at the Arashiyama Station and is usually overlooked by tourists. It’s short but beautiful. There are colorful pillars made of patterns and prints used in making Kimonos that lead you to the Pond of the Dragon (legend has it that if you dip your hand in its icy cold water from Mt. Atago, your mind will be filled with peacefulness and happiness). This place is also worth a look at night when the pillars light up.

Hello Kitty Saryo

If you’re in the Ginza/Ninenzaka area this could be a nice little spot to keep the kids and non-kids amused. My wife absolutely loved it, that’s for sure. This cafe circles around the popular character Hello Kitty and they serve coffee, matcha lattes, parfaits, and pancakes. There’s a store nearby as well that sells everything Hello Kitty and Totoro.

 

There’s even a nice garden where you can eat in. It was quite chilly that evening so we stayed indoor.

D&Department Kyoto

If I asked my son which place he loved the most in Kyoto, he probably would say D&Department. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from Shijo Street. Some of the street scenes you’ll pass by:

That looks like a raven perched on a branch coming out of a house??

Once you approach a gigantic temple in the middle of a residential area, you’ll know you’ve reached your destination.

There’s a large gingko tree in the middle of a gravel covered lot. There’s a restaurant called DD Shokudo where you can grab some lunch. It’s a restaurant with tatami mats and they can provide small chairs for kids. They serve traditional Japanese food that I found quite interesting and tasty. I ordered the set that included steamed chicken balls, soup, shredded beef and mushrooms. My wife got a bowl of udon with tofu skin (she never orders udon but she loved this!).

  

They had some local craft beer on hand as well. You might as well!

Our set came with a coffee and some yummy, milky soft serve.

After you eat, check out D&Department – a store that is curated by Kyoto University. It’s set in a preserved Machiya (a traditional Japanese house) and they sell artisanal craft made in Kyoto and neighboring regions. Some of the things that I bought were some chili sesame oil, Nakayama roasted coffee, and some Aomori Apple Juice. They also sell some handmade kitchen ware made of copper wire and ceramics.

 

One of the things that they had in the store was this apple juice made in Aomori, Japan. I also got to pick up some locally roasted coffee beans and chili oil.

Nishiki Shopping Street

This is parallel to Shijo street and covered (perfect for a rainy day). There are stalls here that have existed for 400 years! Many of the food stalls also give out free samples which my kids partook of! They’re picky eaters but since the food was bite size, they just ate it! I thought it was a perfect way for them to sample all different types of food before buying a pack.

Of course, this street is also paradise for adults. Namely for the food, yes. But one store you should go into while the kids are busy looking at souvenirs next door is Aritsugu. Aritsugu is a centuries old store that sells knives. If you love cooking, this would be a great souvenir to bring home with you. They will even engrave your name on it (in under 10 minutes!).

Inobun

Ok, this probably is more for the adults. This store along Shijo Street (and next to a Starbucks) is a 4-level building that sells everything from fashion to kitchen ware to toys. I asked my wife if there was a store she’d wish she’d have more time to explore in Kyoto, her answer was Inobun.

On the 4th level, there’s a nice rooftop garden where your kids can take a break (if they get bored while their parents are shopping).

Hello Cafe Bibliotic

We ended one night in this cozy cafe. It has a large wall full of books and magazines and a bakery on the side. They serve sandwiches, pasta and of course coffee. This place looks great in the day time too. Their storefront is lined with banana trees and their menu was charmingly handwritten on post it notes stuck on a binder. This place had a great vibe. (Note: As many places in Japan, sometimes smoking is allowed in certain establishments. While we were at Hello Cafe Bibliotic, someone wanted to smoke in the table in front of us. Of course, there was nothing we could do except to move to another table farther away. So that kind of messes up the vibe with your kids.)

Their bakery next door:

The menu:

Their wagyu cutlet sandwich (super great after a long day!):

Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku-no-michi)

Named after a Philosophy teacher from Kyoto University who walked this path every morning for a clear mind, this quiet street has gotten so popular because of how beautiful it is. Even Architectural Digest named this street as one of the most beautiful in the world. During the spring, the street is lined with cherry blossoms and in the autumn a thick foliage of fiery leaves. We arrived a tad bit late for the autumn leaves, so many trees were bare.

Nevertheless, it’s a great place to stroll as it is also lined with cafes and shops.

We started with coffee in a place called Sagan (which opens every day at 7am). We wanted to start early to avoid the crowds.

At the north top of the street, you’ll see this man making a Kyoto snack – a biscuit made with crispy, dried soy beans.

One shop along The Philosopher’s Walk was this Kimono rental:

Mo-an Cafe

Near the northwest of Philosopher’s Walk is Yoshida Hill. On top of this hill sits Mo-an Cafe – a wooden teahouse that serves light snacks like pita sandwiches, cakes, and coffee and tea. Google Maps sent us to a steeper trail up the hill, but this led to a clearing in the forest with what looked like granite seats in rows like a theater.

A bird’s eye view of the theater like set up in the middle of the forest.

And a man was playing a flute with leaves snowing around him. Picture it for a second – your heartbeat is up and you are out of breath from climbing up all those stairs and you hear the most heavenly sound while streaks of sunlight pierce through the thick of the trees. It was quite magical.

Mo-an isn’t far from this clearing. But if you were to take the main route going up to Mo-an, you’ll see these signs along your hike:

Reaching it really feels like a reward (go ahead and order that cheesecake and latte). A nice seat is by the window where you face the beautiful, panoramic view of Mt. Daimonji.

They discouraged customers from taking too many photos while inside the cafe. But after you see the view, you’ll understand why they are trying to preserve the solemnity.

Going here will definitely will give you street cred for knowing some deep, hidden Kyoto spots.

Kyoto Botanical Garden

This is such a pleasant stroll. You might not be into plants all that much, but before you know it you’re soaking up all the energy they give off. I swear! Plus, at the main gate there’s a little playground for your little ones while you stop and literally smell the flowers. The main gate is near the Kamo River (which is in itself a great stroll).

There’s a restaurant at the North gate called In The Green that serves Italian. They have brick-oven pizzas and some of the best pastas we’ve ever tasted (again, I swear!). I really enjoyed the tent they put up as an extension to the restaurant that makes you feel like you’re eating al fresco in the middle of the forest.

Garden of Fine Arts

For architectural buffs, you’ll love the fact that this structure was built by iconic Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Raw concrete is the backdrop for the recreated masterpieces like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Directory:

Airbnb in Kyoto

Airport Limousine From Kansai Airport to Kyoto (a great way to bring you and all your luggage to and from the airport)

Hozugawa River Ride

Sagano Train Ride

Cafe Bibliotic Hello!

Garden of Fine Arts (Japanese Only)

In The Green

Going Tokyo with kids? Check this out.

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