Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cherry Blossom Season in Kyoto with Kids and Vegan Food

We've been to Kyoto a total of 3 times now and I cannot express how much I love this city. We did Kyoto with kids - little kids, and we found tons of delicious vegan food in Kyoto. I wouldn't exactly call this a destination for family travel but it certainly is a vegan mecca in Japan with everything from temple cuisine to vegan comfort food. I have TWO sample itineraries for 2 days in Kyoto to make sure you can see some beautiful things and eat some good vegan food while you are there.

What time of the year is best to go to Kyoto?

Anyone who knows Japan knows how brutal the summers can be and how cold the winters can get but how the week that Cherry blossoms are in full bloom is not to be missed and the peak of maples turning a fiery rainbow in the fall needs to be "bucketlisted" too. We have seen Kyoto in both of those weeks and although I don't have time to detail everything out for you, get your HappyCow app on your phone to find all your vegan food and check out our sample itinerary:


- Head over to Kinkaku-ji Temple
- Visit Hirano Shrine to grab lunch from vendors during sakura season. Other times there is a place called Ryoanji Yudofu - Seigenin at Ryoan-ji Temple right between Kinkaku-ji and Ninna-ji offering vegan temple cuisine although we haven't tried it.
- Go to Ninna-ji Temple
- Have dinner at.... Ukishima Garden or Veggie Cafe back in the heart of the city OR MUCH more kid-friendly Saizeraya (think Olive Garden) or Salvatore Cuomo (a nicer Olive Garden)


- Go to Daigo-ji Temple
- Grab lunch at Vegans Cafe and Restaurant or Veg Out
- Head to Fushimi-Inari Temple
- Have dinner at Choice Cafe
- Go to Nijo Castle for viewing sakuras at night (during cherry blossom season)
- OR head over to Kiyomizu-dera before dinnertime if the kids aren't slowing you down, shop the street then catch a sunset at the temple before heading back to Choice to eat all the good vegan cheese and food!

If you have an extra day or so in town or just time for an extra lunch, I highly recommend Morpho cafe between the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. If you are in the off-season or don't want to see Nijo Castle at night, you can visit either the Castle or the Palace during the daytime or visit any number of temples or shrines in the city.

Here's what we did this trip:

DAY 1 Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Temple "Temple of the Golden Pavillion"

This is a lovely temple to see and it is coated in 14k! There is a nice walk around the temple, some retail shops as well as gardens and grounds to see. The actual temple may be slightly less picturesque during the springtime as it is in the fall when it is surrounded by color so I would keep that in mind. There are many colorful trees around this temple in the fall that make for a much prettier picture but this place is impressive nonetheless.

Hirano Shrine

We actually happened upon this place because we needed to get to an ATM machine in 7 Eleven. That has been the only place that consistently works with our American ATM card so we went a little out of our way but boy was it worth it! We found roasted corn on the cob, beer, wine, and sake and baked potatoes so lunch was covered at a very reasonable price! Many Cherry Blossom locations are marked on Google Maps in Japan and vendors pop up in the parks, shrines, and temples during this time so it is something to experience if you get the chance.

Ninna-ji Temple

This temple is beautiful during cherry blossom season. With its 5 story pagoda and historic buildings offset with soft flowering trees, it is a photographers dream. MUCH less crowded that Kinkaku-ji but a completely doable walk between the two, even with little kids.

I'm obsessed with flowers and vegan food... she is obsessed with dress up and pebbles... the two do not go together at all. 

Dress - Old Navy
Pebbles - Everywhere

DAY 2 Kyoto

Daigo-ji Temple

My husband and our travel companions had the excellent idea of hitting Daigo-ji which is on the outskirts of the city, first thing in the morning. I'm glad they did. I was thinking Fushimi-Inari first but it worked out so much better this way because it rained a bit in the afternoon. This temple could be a whole day destination but even for the half day we set aside it was a total must-see. You get sakura lined walkways, a tall pagoda, gardens, grounds, and it all ends at a beautiful little pond with a temple and bridge. 

Again the bridge spot is known for its fall color so cherry blossom season it is pretty but not ideal. The rest of the grounds is cherry blossoms for dayssss so totally worth it. This is place was a little more expensive than some of the other places which are free or mere 400 yen. I want to say it was 1400 yen a piece but again - worth it.

Don't forget to eat!!!

Between Daigo-ji and Fushimi Inari there are several choices of great vegan food or you can just snack your way on the train to the next spot. 

Our day 2 was a big day, so this trip we skipped the fancy vegan lunch but it could be worked in. I highly recommend Veg Out cafe. You should probably get a reservation during sakura season but in the fall we were able to get a table both times without one. 

I've also been told by my local vegan cafe owner in Nagoya that Vegans Cafe and Restaurant is delish as well and both are perfectly located to do before heading to the next destination.

Fushimi-Inari Temple

This is the temple with all the torrey gates. In fact, they go way up the mountain and although we've been there twice, now, we have not gotten very far but it is a must-see. The cool thing is you can grab some sake or beer and snacks and other beverages along the way, but it would have been an entire day's excursion to complete the loop and with the little kids and a short trip, it wasn't happening. Still a beautiful little walk around though.

You can create a makeshift preschooler carrier with a backpack. 
True story:

Chat Noir bakery

Found in the subway station. NOT vegan but couldn't resist taking a picture of one of my favorite pets of all time - the black cat, just like my beloved Mister...

Nijo Castle (at night during Sakura season)

Finally, we made our way over to Nijo Castle for the night show and sakuras. This was quite a treat! Projections accompanied by music decorated buildings and trees inside the castle grounds all lit up until late at night. Even the babies and toddlers stayed up late and were entertained!

Where to find Vegan Food in Kyoto

Get your Happy Cow app on your phone and start searching there are LOADS of places. I mentioned a few in the sample itineraries above but we actually loaded up on packed lunches and picked up easy snack food with the kiddos on this trip.

Also, there are fruit stands here and there and when you see one, grab some. This will keep you going.

What to do in Kyoto with Kids

So I mentioned in the beginning of this post that we did this all with kids. Do I recommend Kyoto with kids? Not really. But if you have kids and want to see some of the most beautiful, historic sites, and National Treasures of Japan, then you will drag them here and they will LIKE it! Okay not too sure about that either but just make it fun and be patient with your little explorers...

Here are a few survival tips for Kyoto with little kids:

- We brought a scooter and let our son ride it on long walks from A to B. There are no helmet laws in Japan, and people are not overly safety conscious because kids are taught to use their own common sense. If your kid will listen to your safety instructions, you will not have a heart attack, and you have a fold-able or compact scooter, it cuts down on complaining BIG time.

- Bring snacks and food with you. Should be a no brainer with kids but chocolate bars in my purse saved my life several times from embarrassing meltdowns and let me squeeze in that one last look.

- Temples have gift shops. Visit them. Buy something. Bribes work.

- You can ring bells and gongs at the temples and shrines. People allow children to do this respectfully. Small donations of coins and a short sweet prayer are appreciated then they can try to shake a rope to make a bell ring it and make their day!

- Baby carrier/umbrella strollers - if you have littles, even on the bigger side, I suggest a baby carrier and NOT an expensive annoying travel stroller. You will take public transport to many of these places, find elevators, with a long walk/climb combo and trying to maneuver or fold up a stroller is a joke. Plus, temples are all pebbles and stairs so forget it! On the flip side, a CHEAP umbrella stroller that folds up and can even shove into a backpack would be something to consider. We didn't bring one (we had the scooter) but if I were to do it again and my 2 year old had outgrown the carrier I would definitely try it.

- Eat at a Saizeriya. It is not very Japanese, it is more like a Spaghetti Factory of Olive Garden but it is loud, easy, fast, and CHEAP! Plates of spaghetti, bread, pizza, pasta are just a few hundred yen and as a vegan/vegetarian family they are a chain that we have never had a problem asking them to hold the cheese or meat in English. 7 of us ate for less than $55 and there were leftovers on the table!

- Bring PB and J - we travel with jars of Peanut Butter and jelly. Although you can find it in Japan - especially if you go to a Seijo Ishi or Supermarket in the train stations which I recommend it is not as common so bring it with you. You can find break at bakeries, convenience stores, or markets but we travel with ours too. This keeps the kids (and the grown-ups) going and keeps them out of the serene restaurants with the spa music and away from the junk and fast food.

- Pack your poncho - especially if you go during rainy season or if it is expected to rain. Raincoats are bulky and annoying. Umbrellas and little kids are a disaster. Ponchos are compact and a life-saver. Rainboots are a nice to have too, but at the very least, perhaps pack an extra pair of socks if your kids are likely to puddle jump.

Where to stay with kids in Kyoto?

We've been to several trips to Kyoto and each time we've stayed at a different places.

This time we stayed at an apartment we rented on Airbnb. We found a great little place right in the center of the city and we saved money by bringing a lot of our own food (great for kids!) Not only can you save money at an Airbnb but if you are going to Kyoto during the time when the leaves are turning in the fall or the cherry blossoms are blooming, you may not find a single hotel room regardless of budget. Use my link and get an automatic credit applied to your first stay. (I may receive a commission if you book.)

We've also stayed at Guest House Hotel Shijo Omiya which was also a great location, a very minimalist room that could accommodate a large group. There was no restaurant or breakfast but it was an excellent value and very clean.

Finally, we stayed at Hotel Mystays which was very reasonably priced and modern attractive decor, definitely the nicest looking room of the 3 but also the smallest. This hotel had a Japanese style breakfast which was not suitable for vegans. 

Airbnb would probably be our #1 choice for a place to stay with kids out of these three in Kyoto.

Enjoy Kyoto! And please - Feel free to ask questions and drop tips in the comments. We love feeback!

Where to stay in Kyoto:

We recommend Airbnb for vegans visiting Kyoto in order to cook some of your own food.

Get $34 Airbnb credit when you use my link
( you will receive an automatic $33 credit applied to your first stay)

Loews Hotels are a favorite PET-Friendly chain we LOVE.

They have a location in Kyoto and although we have stayed at Loews hotels, we didn't get to stay at this one (they're always really nice in our exerience, though).
Get 10% off Loews.

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