Japan is a rich, dense nation deeply routed in buddhist and shinto culture. Tokyo makes it incredibly easy to forget such roots with it’s metropolis of high rise developments, huge business and city life. Kyoto, Japan’s former capital however, offers a charming insight into Japanese culture.
As a UNESCO world heritage site, Kyoto is home to some of Japan’s oldest, most beautiful buildings. Traditions such as tea ceremonies and kaiseki dining offer tourists an opportunity to encounter such a beautiful culture. Kyoto mixes history, beautiful architecture, religion and natural beauty within a city demographic.
Kyoto’s charm and beauty is displayed throughout the city but the three most incredible and enchanting spots have to be, the Gion District, the Nansen-ji temple and the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
The Gion district is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Gesiha are entertainers who perform theatre and dance in tea houses. Traditionally, many women use to train at a young age and become Geisha. Performing for those in high society, it is still one of the best and most well-respected jobs a woman in Japan could have. A stroll by the river and then along the little lanes of ancient wooden houses can lead you to stumble across Geisha, dressed in typical kimono. The Gion is also home to one of the ‘most beautiful Starbucks in the world’ which offers a tatami style (typical of Japan) seating.
Kyoto is home to so many incredible temples. The Nansen-ji temple is one of the most impressive just by shear scale. A walk around the grounds is a pleasant stroll or you can head up the Philosopher’s Path, which is a hike up the mountain giving spectacular views of the temple and city from above. I didn’t get chance to do the hike but it’s definitely worth it if you happen to have time spare in Kyoto.
Kyoto’s must see attraction is the Fushimi Inari Shrine dedicated to the God of business. Many businesses donate a red torii gate, writing their business name on it. 10,000 of these gates create a trail up the mountain and it makes for a beautiful walk. The attraction is extremely busy however the further up the trail you get, the less people and the views are an added bonus!
Kyoto is beautiful. The heritage of the city is enchanting. Its also the place for souvenirs, Japanese food markets and good speciality coffee. Not to mention the stunning Arashiyama bamboo forest…
I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to visit Kyoto and I wish I could have spent longer there. It’s taken a piece of my heart!
The people of Japan are incredible! They are some of the healthiest people on earth and are very active. I couldn’t wait to get to Japan – it is a brilliant place for street photography. I’m calling this collection ‘Humans of Japan.’ I capture subjects unaware in order to reflect and document Japanese culture.
Please do not reproduce or republish these photographs.
Tokyo is an explosion of high-rise technology, conservative culture and tasty food. If you’re a fan of all things instantaneous and a sucker for a quirky vending machine, then Japan’s capital is for you!
Upon arriving in Tokyo, you are bombarded by bright reds, crazy billboards and colour-coded metro mazes. Restaurants displaying plastic models of the food on offer are juxtaposed next to huge department stores and office blocks. Locals move effortlessly through the crowded umbrella tetris, always dressed formally in navy, black and white.
Tokyo is made up of a number of districts, each entirely unique. The most famous, Shibuya filled with offices and the busiest intersection in the world is home to some of the largest sky scrapers. Crossing the intersection is compulsory. Yoyogi Park and the 1964 Olympic stadium are nearby. Yoyogi is the perfect picnic spot and often hosts festivals; a walk through the park leads to the Meiji Shrine and the famous Harajuku shopping district.
Another beautiful district is Ueno, home to Ueno park, Japan’s first ever public park. In these grounds you will find a vast number of museums, an art college, a few shrines and even the Ueno Zoo! Behind the park sits Ueno lake which again is a beautiful spot to experience Japan’s greenery. Ueno and Iriya offer some great accommodation options just along from Asakusa (Taito City), Tokyo’s beautiful old town and close to the Tokyo sky tree.
If red is more favoured, head to Shinjuku the famous red light district. The government metropolitan building offers a free trip up to the observatory. If you want to see the real electronic Japan, spend the day in Akihabara. Akihabara is Tokyo’s entertainment district and filled with arcades, anime shops and electronic stores. You’ll also find the freakishly Japanese maid cafes here. Many Japanese men pay to dine in maid cafes, where the waitresses flirt as they serve. I certainly did not try it but if that’s what floats your boat… A friend did try it and left saying, “that was the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life!“
The Hidden Districts
Tokyo has umpteen districts to discover. A couple more include the Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza (home to the Tokyo International Forum) and Minato city. These are less touristic but worth a visit, especially Minato (home to google HQ and a large number of embassies) home to design sight, a pleasant sculpture park housing a Tadao Ando art gallery.
What about the food?
Now, you can’t come to Japan and avoid the food. It’s a no go. Whilst the capital does offer western alternatives, it’s basically a crime to eat in these when there is so much Japanese delicacy to try! Districts such as Ueno and Asakusa are brilliant for your cheap, authentic Japanese dinner plates: rice, meat, and miso soup. If you want incredible ramen, I heard you’re best off heading to Shibuya and Shinjuku. All department stores have basement food halls where you can pick your way through soy bean dumplings, takiyoka (octopus in batter) and all things sweet.
If you do your research (or just check tokyocheapo), you will be able to hunt down a street festival and grab at the street food! Also, you have to try the freshest sushi breakfast at Tsukiji.
(Please avoid the tuna – it’s definitely not a sustainable choice!)
On the note of sustainability
It was regrettably difficult to eat responsibly. Most fish is over fished, Blue-fin Tuna being close to extinction after falling by 96%. All restaurants use disposable chop sticks that have been chemically processed. Pretty much everything in sight comes wrapped in excessive plastic.
A few things you can do include:
- taking a reusable water bottle (all tap water is safe).
- buying reusable chopsticks in a 100yen store.
- refusing plastic bags in stores.
Some vending machines offer canned drinks which is at least better than plastic. Keep hold of the can and take it to the next vending machine as you often find recycling bins next to them!
Tokyo is a great place to explore regardless of the weather. I actually turned up during June’s rain season. Whilst it’s humid and you will be armed with umbrellas all day, it’s a cheaper and much quieter season. Alternatively you could battle the crowds in May to see the cherry blossoms or pay the price in August / September.
To go to Tokyo?
Everywhere you look, there is a building to surprise you, a colourful craze to gaze upon and a delicious meal to eat. I’d argue that Tokyo is a perfect city break with the addition of rich culture and new experiences!
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Dublin to me, seems a combination of Amsterdam’s creative culture and America’s enthusiasm. It’s also been called a ‘little London’ in the making.
Beth and I flew to Dublin for a city break. In just 48 hours we caught a glimpse of the crazy, poetic city. During this time we visited the Little Museum of Dublin where we were told all about the people of Dublin. Ireland as a nation has been through all sorts of tragedy and this tragedy informs various literature.
Ireland is apparently famous for rain. We certainly discovered this however it made for some beautiful photographs. Wandering the cobbles of Temple Bar (a region populated by pubs hosting live folk music all day long), we dipped in and out of shelter. Grabbing a drink in The Temple Bar Pub was compulsory. Here we sat and listened to a brilliant guitarist and the lively atmosphere was the best welcome to such a vibrant city!
What’s on the List?
As with any city, there’s a huge list of incredible buildings and sites to see! 48 hours wasn’t really enough to see everything but this is what we did see:
- Ha’penny Bridge
- The spire
- Trinity College
- Dublin Castle
- Fusilier’s arch
- St Stephen’s Green
- The National Gallery of Ireland
- Christ Church Cathedral
- The National History Museum
The Long Room
The best thing we saw has to be the Long Room! As part of the Book of Kells exhibition, the Long Room is a library containing over 200,000 books. Architect Thomas Burgh has definitely left himself a legacy with this incredible space! It’s seriously like something out of beauty and the beast – there are even secret passageways located in the bookshelves for passing from alcove to alcove.
Colour and Culture
Dublin makes for a colourful city break! There is so much to do and see – just make sure you take an umbrella. Spend your time dashing in and out of museums, see how many different buildings you can find and enjoy the Irish culture.
If we’d stayed another day we probably would have travelled further out to see the Kilmainham Gaol and Phoenix Park area.
The greatest thing? Dublin is a maze to get lost in. Each time you turn a corner, the streets look different. One minute you are by a Thames-like river but before you know it, you could be in Amsterdam, or somewhere else!
One thing I find so interesting is how Bath is home to the only hot, freshwater spring in the UK. The Romans discovered this and had the initiative to create the famous Roman Baths. I recently visited the museum that is there today and found myself learning some much about the ancient city.
These baths are not just the old leisure centre that gives the city its name. Attached to the ancient architectural complex was a temple to the gods. People would make pilgrimages to come and worship Aquae Sulis, bathe in healing waters and enjoy the luxuries of a spa treatment.
You can wander around what’s left of the old ruins. The museum even uses projection technology to make the temple remains come to life, allowing you to move through the space with an understanding of where the temple sits in relation to the rest of the complex. The free audio guide is also brilliant!
I love Bath and the bath stone combined with the turquoise water still to this day creates a tranquil environment. One feels as though they have stepped away from the hustle and bustle of life and entered a paradise. For years thousands of people have journeyed to these baths and I would argue that they still do, as they walk through the museum and literally stand where people once bathed.
If you’re heading to Bath, then I would definitely say that this is the best museum in the area. Also essential to understanding the city, it is great value but do make sure you book your ticket the day before!
Last week I made it to Edinburgh for a December day trip. The Christmas markets were calling me and I just had to check them out. Since it’s only 90 minutes on the train, I made it to the city by 9:30, giving me the entire day to explore.
I’m pretty familiar with Edinburgh and so I spent most of the day just taking in the atmosphere. However, I have never really ventured up to Nelson’s monument so this time, my friends and I made sure to head up there.
The views are stunning! We timed the walk for sunset and the winter skyline was worth the wait! From this point you get a 360 degree view of the city and you can even look over towards Arthur’s seat.
Once the sun had set, I spent some time in the Edinburgh Christmas markets. It’s safe to say, it’s definitely bigger and better than most – it even beats Bath! However, there were so many people that I got barely any photographs. But sometimes you just have to put the camera down and enjoy the experience…
It is so nice to escape to Edinburgh every now and then! What a great city it is!
I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got bored of being settled. Six weeks after moving down south, I was desperate to get out and explore. The London docklands were calling my name. Seriously, I am suffering from some kind of “settled-down-crisis.” I thrive on new adventure.
Now that I’ve migrated, London is a really feasible distance and so at the start of November I escaped for a weekend. Whilst I have done London a few times, there is always more to discover and brand new attractions popping up all over the place.
The main purpose of my trip was to spend time with my wonderful family who all came to meet me. We were celebrating my beautiful Mum’s 50th birthday and since I’m now 6 hours away from ‘home,’ London proved to be somewhere accessible for all.
Forget tourist Thames-trips and London eye visits. We spent the weekend wandering around London Bridge, catching up with friends in the city and dining out. Using the docklands as a base was a bit of an experiment. Safe to say it’s more affordable and the new developments include some great hotels. However it does take a good hour to get across London to Paddington or Oxford Circus.
Despite this, a brand new attraction has been placed over at the docklands. Cable cars have been installed that transport you over the Thames towards the 02 arena. From these cars you get stunning views of Canary Wharf. Four weeks ago they opened an outlet shopping centre that sits on the circumference of the 02 arena. This has brought a fair bit of trade to the 02 pavilion and is a brilliant place to eat out. The riverside is also full of colour and as you can even climb up the 02 itself should you find yourselves daring for a challenge!
November in the city was just what I needed. I definitely recommend it if you’re a commutable distance because sometimes you just need to escape – right?
Hortus Botanicus is an amazing place!
Whilst in Amsterdam I visited the Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens and I set to work with all of the best macro techniques! They even have a butterfly house there which made for some truly beautiful shots.
I haven’t picked up my camera to do a themed series of photographs in so long! The photography section of this blog has been so neglected recently. Botanics are one of my favourite subjects; they are colourful and create brilliant abstract forms. Here’s a series I’ve put together from my Amsterdam trip!
- Bath – Royal Botanical Gardens
- Durham – University Botanic Garden
- Glasgow – Glasgow Botanic Gardens
- London – read this blog post: Top 10 Botanical Gardens in London
- Sheffield – Sheffield Botanical Gardens
If you are heading to Amsterdam, you can find more information regarding the cities “flower attractions,” here.
When in Rome do what the romans do
Rome. Straight roads, ancient architecture and empires come to mind. The capital of Italy is impressive and definitely worth a visit! This summer, we couldn’t hit Venice and Florence without going to Rome!
There were a lot of things that I loved and found to be unique about Rome:
- Hundreds of sites to see!
- A good range of restaurant types – in other Italian cities you are restricted to Italian restaurants alone.
- There is a brilliant contrast between ancient and modern architecture, educational museums/art galleries and family friendly attractions.
However, some things to be aware of are:
- Metro Tubes and Buses get VERY busy and are rather claustrophobic.
- It’s difficult to find somewhere inexpensive to eat unless you go out into the suburbs.
Sites and attractions
You can’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum! The largest amphitheatre ever built is one of Italy’s most renowned attractions and built beside the Forum and Palatine, makes an exciting day out.
On Palatine Hill you get some incredible views of the city and the forum ruins!
You can buy a combined ticket that grants a pre-selected, timed entry into the Colosseum and then also one entry into the Forum and Palatine. This ticket lasts two days to enable you to take your time in each since the Forum takes up a vast expanse of landscape itself.
However, don’t be fooled! Whilst the ticket is a two day entry, you can only go in once – no return. We discovered this when we came back a day later to finish seeing the Palatine, not realising that the Forum and Palatine Hill don’t have separate entries. Thankfully we managed to persuade the staff to let us in as the ticket was not very clear.
The Pantheon was built as a roman temple to the gods. It has no windows and it’s only light source is a huge hole in the top of the domed roof. Apparently it does rain into the Pantheon but the floors are designed to allow the water run straight off towards the edges of the building.
Now the Pantheon is used as a church so you get free entry. Whilst statues of the roman gods have now been removed, the interiors are still very royal.
The fountain makes for a pleasant place to sit for a little while but I wouldn’t allow too much time there. It’s a very busy site and whilst beautiful, takes time to find and there’s not much else there! But if you fancy an ice cream, then why not?
The Spanish steps connect Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinita dei Monti, and are considered to be Rome’s most romantic spot. They were built to represent peace between France and Spain. From the top you get some lovely views of the city. The place seems to come to life during the evening where most people congregate to enjoy the fountain after dinner.
The Vatican is the state belonging the the Pope and technically the smallest country in the world. Here you can visit the Vatican Museum, St.Peter’s Basilica and the famous Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo’s incredible works can be found on the ceiling.
We didn’t get chance to go into any of these sites because we didn’t prebook fast enough – the earliest tickets (unless you want to waste 4 hours queuing in the sun) were for two weeks after our trip! However if you know you’re heading to Rome, I would definitely recommend the Sistine Chapel. Why? You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside and it holds some of the world’s greatest paintings – they are a must see and you won’t find any pictures of them online!
Bioparco Di Roma
A day out to a zoo always goes down well with the family! We find that it’s a relaxing break from site-seeing and something that all of us can enjoy. Bioparco is easy to get to on the bus and the animals are really well cared for. Every hour they have scheduled feedings, including hippo feeding! Tickets are €16 per adult which is amazing value and the park offers some good, valuable food choices too.
Why you don’t need an organised tour
So many people these days opt in for organised tours – you see offers everywhere! It’s almost as if people aren’t willing to ‘risk’ it and try to see the city themselves…
This is why you don’t need one:
- They are extremely expensive (€50-80)!
- Long and awkward hours: often tours last all day but start as early as 7am and finish at 5pm. This means you are up early and doing most of the tour in midday heat. Most places in Rome open late so it’s a lot better to go in the evening when it’s cooler.
- Large groups: I mean why do you want to be carted round in a group of forty, camera-clicking tourists? I’ve been there, done that and I can tell you that it’s one of the most stressful things ever!
Are the benefits actually benefits?
- “You get to skip the queues.” Perhaps it’s satisfying to skip the queue and not worry about handling tickets but you pay a fortune to do so. The best way to skip queues is to prebook tickets because you just pay a standard price.
- “It’s easy to use the hop on and hop off buses.” This is ridiculous! These sorts of buses charge a premium when you can buy a Rome day ticket for the metro and bus. You can buy a 24 hour pass for €7 or a 72 hour pass if you stay longer.
- “The audio guide provides all the information you need.” Most museums and sites will either sell a paper guide or have a free audio guide app – so you really don’t need a personal tour guide! Or save even more and buy a good Rome travel book!
Of course you want to know where to stay and eat…
We actually stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in the suburb of San Giovanni. It only took 15 minutes on the metro and since it was a more residential area, we found a brilliant pizza restaurant and bistro. It was a lot cheaper than central restaurants and greater quality too – we actually ate there twice after trying two not so great places in the centre.
over and out
That’s it for Rome! There are so many more museums and galleries that we could have visited but we didn’t quite have time. I would definitely recommend Rome if you are looking for a city break or holiday.
Our Italy blog ends here too. Of all the countries I’ve visited, Italy definitely wins for transport – the trains are irreplaceable! It makes touring the country easy, quick and affordable. If I were to pick a single destination, it would have to be Rome simply because of the range of sites to see – Venice is beautiful but at the end of the day, it is just canals and art galleries!
I definitely recommend splitting your flights and using the trains. We flew to Pisa, then went Florence, Venice and flew back from Rome. However there isn’t a great deal in Pisa besides the leaning tower so it might be worth flying to Venice first and passing through Florence on the way to Rome!
I hope you have found all the information and inspiration you need to hit Italy yourself!
Is there anything else you would like me to write about?
Your train arrives at 12pm and you have forty eight hours to explore the vast and beautiful city of Florence. What do you do? On the way to Venice, we stopped off in Florence for two nights. Working out what you want to see and how to see it can be a little confusing so today I’m sharing my experience of Florence! I’ll take you through a jam-packed forty eight hours and share a few tips and things I wish I’d done better.
First of all, I want to highlight how beneficial it can be to reduce the length of your trips when travelling. Not only does it save on accommodation, but it also motivates you to go and see more in a day that perhaps you usually would if staying for a week. Whilst you do have to prioritise and cut a few things from your list, it’s surprising how much you really can fit into a weekend in the city.
My train (from Pisa) arrived at 12pm and after dropping bags at the hotel, my family and I decided to explore and walk in the direction of the city centre. We were about fifteen minutes from the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and we ambled down Via Faenza.
Normally in Italy, you have to pay a cover charge and the nearer the centre, the greater this cost – we once got charged €4 each to sit down. Therefore, if looking for a place to eat, it’s definitely worth it to stop in one of the first cafes you see. We managed to find Caffe Sabatino on Via Faenza – they had very reasonable lunch prices!
After a spot of lunch, we walked straight through the city centre. With plans to return later, we headed for the river. Here we visited the Galileo Museum which I recommend to anyone interested in science. It’s home to many important instruments and the free museum app is a brilliant educational guide. After an hour or so in an air-conditioned museum, we headed towards the famous Ponte Vecchio. This medieval bridge is lined with jewellery shops and is certainly worth a visit!
We then continued over the Ponte Vecchio and with the aid of google maps, wandered through quieter areas to get our bearings. We decided to search for churches using google maps and see how many we could find in a circular route. You could choose anything from churches to art galleries, or even just public squares! On this walk we discovered a small square and accidentally walked onto a film set… oops!
By evening, it’s time to eat in one of the many restaurants. We decided to go to a pizza place but if you would rather save on the pennies, there is the “mercato centrale” food market which is basically a food court – but good food! There’s pizza, gnocchi, fresh handmade pasta, burgers, sushi and even a vegan restaurant! We actually ate here on our second night and wish we’d eaten there both nights. There are plenty of places to sit too!
After eating what better than to watch the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio? You could take a bus up onto the hill for panoramic views but just standing on a bridge further down the river gave a good enough view!
For your second day you might want to prebook a museum, gallery or cathedral visit. We chose to book the Uffizi Gallery – the Uffizi is Italy’s largest art gallery. We headed straight to the gallery to pick up the tickets and avoid queues, then spent some time in the Piazza della Signoria adjacent, where you can find many statues including Michelangelo’s David.
If choosing the Uffizi, you can easily spend three to four hours viewing the artwork and still leave some things out! It’s a great way to spend the late morning and escape the midday sun. However, after being on your feet so long a rest back at the hotel is certainly due.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to spend you last evening wandering through the centre before sunset. You may even stumble across the odd opera singer! Besides it’s much cooler and quieter at this time and a lot of street artists are about too.
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our train – you can get the tram from the station to a riverside park called Parco Delle Cascine. It only takes five minutes and is a lovely place to explore.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to spending forty eight hours in Florence! It’s a really beautiful city and it’s certainly possible to do it in a weekend!
P.S. Did you see the Venice Moments post? It’s worth a read!