Places to travel – Kyoto (Nijo Castle, Arishayama, Osaka)

Last week I started a short series on our week long holiday in Kyoto last September. It really is a beautiful place and well worth a visit if you’re able. In the last post I covered the practicalities of visiting Kyoto, but this week I’ll start telling you about what we actually did and saw while we were there – this is the fun part!

Our twins were less than two years old when we went to Kyoto, which made sightseeing a little difficult. For some reason they just weren’t interested in zen gardens and temples! But having said that, they did enjoy running around lots of new places, and they did allow us to drag them around quite a lot, so we did manage to see quite a few different things.

Day 1

We wanted to break ourselves in gently so on our first morning in Kyoto we wandered over to Nijo Castle, which was about a 20 minute walk from our townhouse. As a castle, I wouldn’t say it was particularly impressive, it was actually more of a place for visiting dignitaries to stay. However, it was a great introduction to traditional Japanese architecture and beautiful gardens. There were very few people there too so it was very peaceful! One of the key attractions is an area of squeaky floorboards in the main building (to prevent unwanted visitors) which we read about in a guidebook but wasn’t even mentioned in the building itself! But they were quite squeaky :)

View over Castle Nijo in Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

One point to note for other visitors with small children is that Nijo Castle isn’t very stroller friendly. There are a few steps into the buildings and around the grounds. Also, you can’t take your stroller into the main building, but there is a place to leave it.

After Nijo Castle we headed back down the quiet streets in search of somewhere for lunch. (As an aside, these streets were so lovely to walk down, you could just do that all day – traditional style shuttered houses, narrow lanes, and so quiet!) We had spotted a restaurant with some English outside(!) on our way to the castle so we headed in that direction and managed to find it again – it was called Noodles Near Nijo (cute name!) and I think it was on Kuromon Dori. We both had udon noodles in soup and they were delicious.

After a break back at the townhouse we headed to Omiya station and took the metro to Kawaramachi. We were heading to the traditional Shinbashi area so we left the station by exit 5 (which doesn’t have a lift), went over the bridge and turned down the 3rd left turning which takes you to Shinbashi Dori. This is a very beautiful area and apparently very strongly protected so the houses here cannot be updated. The peace was slightly ruined by the presence of a large Chinese tour party but otherwise it was very quiet. It’s not very big so it won’t take you long to walk around.

Shinbashi Dori Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

We then headed east to the end of Shinbashi Dori, crossed the road and kept going until we got to the entrance of the Chion-in temple complex. Unfortunately by this time of day it was shut (we got there after 5pm) so we turned right and went into Maruyama Park instead. This is a lovely park with small winding lanes in every direction. We had a wander round and then headed back to Kawaramachi in search of dinner.

Maruyama Park Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

We had heard that there were some nice but not too pricey restaurants on the 7th floor of the Takashimaya department store so we went there. We picked an Italian restaurant (I can’t remember the name) and very much enjoyed our dinner. They had high chairs which was a real bonus for us!

Day 2

We took a very old fashioned train from Shijo-Omiya to visit Arishayama, which is at the other end of the line. It’s a nice, slow ride through the neighbourhoods of Kyoto, but it doesn’t take too long (maybe half an hour). When you come out of the station you really get a sense that you’re on the edge of Kyoto! It’s very green and quiet. It also feels quite touristy, with lots of tourist shops and restaurants. But having said that, it was pretty empty when we got there, at about 10am and it had a lovely atmosphere.

We turned right out of the station and took a very short walk to Tenryu-ji. We’ve seen a lot of temples in our time so we just bought a garden ticket. The garden was very nice to walk around, with this stunning view in particular…

Tenryu-ji Gardens Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

…although the twins were more interested in playing with the gravel!


The garden wasn’t particularly big so it didn’t take long to explore. (N.B. the garden is not very stroller friendly!) Once we were done we went out of the North gate, which just happened to coincide with the entrance to the bamboo grove. This is a pretty awesome sight and not one to miss if you can help it. Having said that, it isn’t that huge and you can walk through it in about 5 minutes (just in case your expectations were like my husband’s, who was a bit disappointed when we came to the end!).

Arishayama Bamboo Grove  Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

At the other end of the bamboo grove is the entrance to Okochi-sanso. If you like gardens or beautiful scenery, I think you will like this, it was so beautiful. It’s the house and grounds of a film actor (although you can’t go in the house) and is landscaped in a really lovely way.

House at Okochi-sanso gardens Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

It’s a bit pricey to enter (compared to most of the other attractions we visited) but you do get tea and cake included in the price! It is very hilly so if you don’t like hills or have a stroller or a wheelchair, this isn’t for you – but otherwise I’d really recommend it.

View from Okochi-sanso gardens Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

After exiting Okochi-sanso from the same place we entered it, we went back through the bamboo grove and just kept following the path (round a few bends) until we came to the main road again. Then we turned right and went back towards the station, stopping for lunch at one of the restaurants (standard Japanese food) before catching the train home.

The train to Arishayama Kyoto - The Little Koo Blog

In the evening, we went back to Kawaramachi and turned north up Kiyamachi Street (the last turning on the left before the bridge, which has many restaurants on). At the end of this street, we turned right onto Sanjo Dori and our destination, Genko Sushi, was very close by on the other side of the road. We read this article which suggested it would be quite a child friendly restaurant, and it did have a children’s menu but disappointingly no high chairs. Having said that, the food was pretty good and the children were fairly well contained in our booth. And you can’t come to Japan without having some sushi!

Day 3

We headed to Osaka for a day trip on the metro which runs from Kyoto right to the centre of the city. We got on the Hankyu line at Omiya station and stayed on until the end of the line in Osaka (Umeda station). From there we took the underground to Osakako station, and then a short walk to Osaka Aquarium. We found the underground fairly easy to navigate, although as before, it’s best to plan your journey before you go so that you know when to change.

The Aquarium was really good fun and our children loved it (actually their favourite was the otters which was the first thing they saw!). My husband was most impressed by the massive main tank with whale sharks in. It’s a large aquarium, and we spent a couple of hours inside even though we rushed through the last half as the twins were getting restless. One thing to note is that the Aquarium is fairly stroller friendly (there are lifts), but we found it easiest to check in the stroller at the entrance and just wander round on foot.

Penguins at Osaka Aquarium - The Little Koo Blog

Whale sharks at Osaka Aquarium - The Little Koo Blog

For lunch, we went to the nearby Kuma Cafe (it’s on the same road as the Aquarium, not far away). We chose this place as it’s highly recommended on Tripadvisor and whilst I would question whether it really has the best food in all of Osaka, if you’re looking for some yummy comfort western food in a very friendly, relaxed environment I’d recommend it too! The brother and sister who run the cafe were really lovely and very tolerant of our young children. They recommended that we visit the animal petting zoo in the mall opposite (which also houses Legoland Discovery Center Osaka), but we had already planned to visit somewhere else so we didn’t try it. But you might want to take a look if you have young children!

Instead, we headed back into central Osaka on the metro and went to Kid’s Plaza, which we heard about here. If you’ve got fairly young children (I think it’s mainly aimed at under 10s) then it’s a great way to pass an afternoon. When we went, it was a weekday and it was pretty quiet. The middle area is a Gaudi-inspired feature that our children loved climbing and exploring.

Tree house at Kids Plaza Osaka - The Little Koo Blog

On the two floors around the outside are various educational areas such as a street of shops to play in, one area with instruments from around the world, and another hands-on science area. Even though our children were a little young to really understand the educational areas, they had a great time trying out all the different things, and the staff were very friendly and helpful too.

Playing instruments at Kids Plaza Osaka - The Little Koo Blog

Days 4-6 follow in the next post!

Thanks for reading!