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City Guide to Kyoto, Japan

I have visited Kyoto many times since I moved to Japan, yet it will never stop to amaze me. This former Japanese imperial capital is full of mysterious temples, majestic palaces, beautiful Zen gardens, and picturesque back alleys with traditional wooden town houses. It is a big city with small town charm and immense cultural heritage. However, it can be quite overwhelming for a first time visitor, because there are so many places to see. I prepared this article to help you plan your stay, it includes not only my favourite places to visit, but I added some extra activities to make your trip more memorable.

Best Places to See

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most impressive and popular sights in Kyoto. This mountainside Shinto shrine is dating back to 711 AD and its main feature is a path made of thousands of traditional torii gates in vermilion colour. The area is truly picture-perfect and therefore very touristy. If you wish to get a photo without people, you have to come here very early in the morning, or you can try to come late at night as the shrine is open 24/7. In the evening the lanterns light up the way. Another option is to hike all the way up to top of the hill, where not many people go and the views are spectacular.

Fushimi Inari shrine is located on the south of Kyoto and you can get there by Nara Line from Kyoto station. The journey lasts only 5 minutes. The entrance to the shrine is free.

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion was named, together with Mt. Fuji, as one of the greatest sights in Japan and it is easy to understand why. Surrounded by stunning Zen Garden with its reflection in the pond, shining in the sun, this sight can honestly leave you speechless. The pavilion was built in the 14th century as a retirement villa for a military commander, but after his death his son turned it into a temple.

Golden Pavilion is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and the price is 600 yen per adult. To get there, you need to take the bus 205 which leaves from Kyoto Station from the B3 platform. Even though Kinkaku-ji is very popular and usually very busy, it is a must-see place in Kyoto and totally worth the longer bus ride!

The Path of Philosophy

The Path of Philosophy (also called the Philosopher’s Path) offers a quiet retreat from the city and it will lead you to many historic sites along the way. The stroll lasts approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your pace. It starts at the Eikan-do Temple, a lovely temple with famous Buddha statue looking over his shoulder and finishes at Ginkaku-ji Silver Pavilion. The path goes along a stream and it is lined with cherry trees, so this place is especially beautiful in spring when all the flowers are in bloom.

Gion District

Gion is very traditional neighborhood in Kyoto that has developed in Middle Ages as one of the most exclusive geisha districts in Japan. The chances that you will meet a geisha today are very small, but Gion is a lively and picturesque area to visit. The streetscape is very well preserved with high concentration of typical ochaya (teahouses) and machiya (merchant houses). Be aware though that many of these houses are private and their inhabitants do not wish people to take photos of them, so be respectful (you wouldn’t want to have masses of tourists in front of your house every day either).

The two most popular streets where you can take beautiful pictures are Ninenzaka and Sanenzaka.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki market, also called the “Pantry of Kyoto” is a lively place located in the city centre, where you can find hundred stalls with street food, fresh produce, sweets or handmade souvenirs. It is a perfect place to sample some unique dishes and enjoy the atmosphere. If street food is not directly your cup of tea, there are also many restaurants nearby.

Kiyomizu Dera Temple

Kiyomizu Dera Temple is one of Kyoto’s most famous and enjoyable temples. It was founded in 778 AD, and it’s a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main hall, situated on the hillside of Mt. Otowa, has a large wooden veranda from where you can enjoy epic views over the city. The entrance fee is 300 yen per adult and it is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm. It is walking distance from Gion, or you can take one of the city buses from Kyoto station (numbers: 106, 110, or 206).

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine was modelled after the ancient Imperial Palace and it is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned in Kyoto. It belongs to the newer shrines in Kyoto, with its history dating back only about hundred years, but it has very impressive spacious grounds featuring a gorgeous garden full of weeping cherry trees that bloom around mid-April. There are a couple of museums in walking distance from the shrine, where you can hide in case of rain, and at its entrance you will also find some food trucks with Japanese and international dishes so you can take a nice break here when sightseeing all day.

Heian Shrine can be reached by Kyoto city bus number 5 or 100. The entrance to the temple is free, but if you want to visit the gardens you have to pay 500 yen per person. The shrine is open daily from 6 am to 5 pm (hours can differ during public holidays).

Top Things to Do

Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that can be found all over the country. They offer you more than just a place to sleep, you will get here the opportunity to experience the real Japanese lifestyle and hospitality. In a classic ryokan, you will sleep on futon beds in tatami rooms, you can soak in famous Japanese bath and sample the local cuisine. Staying at least one night in ryokan is a must when visiting Japan.

Relax in an Onsen

Onsens are Japanese natural hot springs containing distinctive minerals. Soaking in an onsen after a busy day of sightseeing is one the essential experiences to have in Japan. Onsens can be public, or private as a part of ryokans. Kyoto is not very rich in onsen, but there are still a few to found around the city. Before visiting an onsen it is important to mention that there is an etiquette to follow – you have to take a shower first and you go inside without a bathing suit. Some more traditional onsens can forbid people with tattoos to enter.

Try a Kimono on for a Day

Nowadays, kimonos in Japan are used mostly for special occasions like weddings or official holidays. It is very rare to see young people wearing this formal attire daily. However, Kyoto is one of the cities where this tradition hasn’t quite disappear and people use kimonos frequently. There are many shops and kimono rentals so it’s easy to pick one and get the real kimono experience in the streets of Kyoto’s historical old town. The kimonos are beautiful and you usually get the full “make-over” including hairdo like geisha, make-up, wooden slipper shoes and little pouch for your necessities while browsing the city.

Kaiseki Feast

Kaiseki is a celebration of Japanese tradition, fresh seasonal and local produce and haute cuisine. It is traditional Japanese multi-course high dining with a long history that originated centuries ago in tea ceremonies and later it evolved into exclusive cuisine popular among aristocratic circles.

Kaiseki can be quite pricey and intimidating, if you haven’t got this experience before. The elegantly presented dishes often look like a piece of art and some restaurants don’t appreciate if you take photos of them. That is why I would recommend booking a food tour that takes you to kaiseki, where an experienced tour guide will lead you through each dish and tells you more about its cultural context.

Join a Food Tour

Japanese cuisine is very complex, it goes way beyond sushi, miso soup and ramen that are popular all over the world. Each Japanese city and each region have their own local cuisine and they take a great pride in using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. If you are a foodie and you would love to know more about Japanese food, I am sure you will appreciate a good food tour, where you will discover the whole philosophy behind each dish and its cultural and historical background.

There are plenty of food tours or cooking classes to choose from in Kyoto that suit all the budgets.

Getting Around Kyoto

The city centre of Kyoto is compact and easily walkable, however, if you want to get to further destinations such as Fushimi Inari Taisha or Bamboo Forest, you will have to use the public transport. Metro, trains and city buses are the most convenient way to get around. Taxis are very expensive in Japan so if you are traveling on budget, I wouldn’t recommend using them.

For international travellers the most convenient mean of transport are the city buses that have commentary in English and they take you to all the important sites. One journey costs 230 yen for an adult and you pay directly to the driver at the end of your journey, or you can buy a daily ticket in the office at the Kyoto station for 600 yen. Kyoto city buses are green and easily recognizable. They operate with numbers 5, 17, 100, 204 and 205.

Best Time to Visit

Kyoto can be visited and enjoyed in any season, but the best time to visit is spring and autumn. At the end of March and beginning of April, the cherry blossoms are in bloom and everything is covered in light pink. It is simply spectacular! Beginning of November is just as magical when all the leaves turn red, orange and yellow. Also the temperatures are moderate with little rainfall. However, keep in mind that these seasons are also the busiest.

Summers in Kyoto can be very hot and humid. The rainy season starts in June and continues until the end of July. Winters are relatively mild with January and February being the coldest months of the year.

Unique Souvenirs to Buy

Green tea – Japan, and Kyoto especially, takes pride in its green tea – matcha in Japanese. You can find matcha and matcha-related products anywhere in Kyoto, from convenience stores to high quality green tea leaves sold in big department stores.

Kimono or Yukata – Kimono and yukata (lighter kimono worn in summer) are also great souvenirs to buy in Kyoto, as there are many shops that sell them. Kimonos can be pretty expensive but yukata is usually a cheaper alternative.

Hand-made hand fan – summers in Japan can get very hot and you will see many people using hand-fans. They are colourful, cute and beautiful, and apart from being useful during hot summer months, they also make a beautiful souvenir to remind you of your trip to Japan.

Umbrella – I don’t mean the Japanese paper umbrella to protect you from the sun, but proper umbrella for the rain. In Japan you can buy high quality umbrellas in specialty shops that will protect you even during a typhoon. They usually have twelve collapsible ribs for extra protections against the wind and many of them have also UV protection against the strong sun.

Unique Kit-Kat chocolates – famous Kit Kat is one of the most popular sweets in Japan because its name is pronounced similarly to ‘kitto katsu’ which means good luck. You can find here many different flavours that you cannot find anywhere else in the world – from green tea, to sake, to soy bean paste, to apple pie, you name it! You won’t know which one to choose!

Kanzashikanzashi are traditional hair ornaments often worn with a kimono. They are very fine and usually hand-made. It can be difficult to attach them at first, so make you sure you ask for instructions in the shop how to use them. They are a very unique special gift.

 

I hope this guide to Kyoto will help you to plan your visit! Kyoto is very popular and beloved tourist destination for a good reason. I love to come back every time I get a chance! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. Have you ever visited Kyoto? Or would you like to go there?

 

*This post is for the inspiration for your future travels. As per 10th August 2020, Japan remains closed for international visitors until the end of this year.

 

 

 

North America Travel Planning

A First Timer’s Guide To New York City

NYC is my forever home, and I’m so proud of my city. The hustle, the diversity, the beauty… I love it all so much. Every day I seem to discover a new side to New York, and I’ve been here for years! First timer’s in the city might feel overwhelmed by all there is to see and do in dear ol’ NYC – but today, I’ve gathered up my top recommendations. (After hosting many friends and family members, it’s always nice to have a go-to itinerary suggestions!) Without further ado, here is my first timer’s guide to NYC! Filled with must-do activities, some hidden treasures, my absolute favorite eateries, rooftop bars and photo stops as well.

To Do

Use The City Sightseeing Pass

If it’s your first time in NYC and you’re not keen on taking the subway just yet and not interested in wasting tons of money on expensive cabs and Lyfts all day, hopping on the Hop On / Hop Off bus on The Sighseeing Pass is one of the best ways to get around. ​​​​​​​

We know, we know… it sounds touristy, but it’s an efficient way to see majority of the city in a short time frame (especially if it’s your first time in the city). It also helps you get a the lay of the land. Just leave your bags with an NYC luggage storage company and start riding! This is super helpful, because you can mental notes of where you’d like to go back to visit and spend more time. The stops are in the most convenient locations and the buses run frequently too!

Head Downtown

Consider spending time in Downtown as the area has grown quite a bit over the years since 9/11. There are tons of things to do! Be sure to stroll along Stone Street and stop at the many bars and restaurants. Don’t miss out on check out the beautiful architecture at the Oculus (which also serves as a mall and a train station). Shopping at Brookfield Place is a treat… and afterward, I’d recommend heading to Pier 17 to catch stunning views of Dumbo and the water.

Rooftop Cinema

A movie night on the rooftop? Rooftop Cinema has a mission to transform nights at the movies to cinematic events like no other. Starlit evenings, cocktails, snacks, and a great movie selection… what’s not to love?

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Best Observation Deck – Top Of The Rock ​​​​​​​

Getting an iconic shot of the New York City skyline is a must for first timers, if you ask me! Because you want a view of the city with the iconic Empire State Building in it, Top Of The Rock is my top recommendation of observation decks. Plus, it’s the only deck with epic views of Central Park.

Insider Tip: reserve tickets in advance because they sell out! I personally love coming to Top Of The Rock at 8am because it’s the only time you can get photos without crowds in them!

Runner Up For Best Observation Deck – The Empire State Building 

Just as beautiful as Top Of The Rock’s perspective, and you’ll get a chance to see the well-established and world famous Empire State Building from the inside out. Every inch of the building is filled with such history!

One World Trade Center 

No modern trip to NYC for a first timer is complete without paying homage to the One World Trade Center. It’s such an emotional experience learning about the history here… and the architecture is simply stunning. It’s a fantastic place to people watch and have a moment of reflection. I also adore the viewpoint from One World Trade Center because you can see both downtown and uptown views, Brooklyn, New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

P.S. I’d highly recommend coming to these places later in the evening. Observation decks are best to visit and photograph during golden hour/sunset!

Brooklyn Bridge

Sitting at 6,000 feet long, the Brooklyn Bridge has become just as recognized as the Manhattan skyline… and it’s simply not to be missed. No first timer’s guide to NYC would be complete without a recommendation to see the Brooklyn Bridge for yourself. Seeing the bridge early in the morning is an incredible experience. Minimal crowds, cool air and a stunning sunrise – it’s a photographer’s delight.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Little Italy

Little Italy is perhaps the most charming of the Manhattan neighborhoods This Italian immigrant haven has transformed over the years in Lower Manhattan, but it’s retained its traditional flair and commitment to the families, restaurants and businesses who brought it to life.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Williamsburg

Take a trip to the other side! If you have the time in your itinerary, I’d highly recommend exploring Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. P.S. a trip to Williamsburg’s William Vale is the perfect vantage point to get a look at the Manhattan skyscrapers from the riverfront.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

The Vessel

New to the NYC skyline is the modernist structure you’ve probably seen scattered around Instagram… the Vessel! Created as part of the Hudson Yard’s Redevelopment Project, this climbable landmark is the perfect place to people watch. The sculptural, honeycomb-esque design is truly unique against Manhattan’s skyscrapers and it’s the perfect backdrop for some photos too!

Dumbo

Once home to the ferry landing, Dumbo has become such a trendy part of NYC! I have a soft spot for it’s cobblestone streets, chic converted Brooklyn warehouses and up and coming cafes and restaurants. You’ll find people from all walks of life here, including many photographers soaking in the beauty.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Where To Eat & Drink

Au Za’atar

Au Za’atar has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in the city! Their Lebanese/Middle Eastern menu is so special. Fresh ingredients, homemade recipes, an inviting space and a great vibe – I couldn’t recommend it more and their table side shawarma makes it such a fun experience!

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Supermoon Bakehouse

Famous for its cruffins (a delicious mix of croissant and muffins) – Supermoon Bakehouse puts a twist on traditional pastries and then some!

Mexicue

What once began as a Mexican BBQ food truck is now a full fledged staple in the city! Tacos, tequila, lots of interesting combinations of Americana/Mexican staple foods… it’s simply a great spot to meet up with friends.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Eggloo

Hong Kong’s famous egg waffles right in the heart of NYC! Their ice cream concoctions are so much more than just photogenic, they’re incredibly delicious.

The Loeb Boathouse

The Loeb Boathouse is one of my all-time favorite spots in New York City. The restaurant is set on the most peaceful pond where you can watch the row boats go by while having a drink outside on their patio or lunch/dinner inside of the restaurant. It’s my go-to destination to take New York first timers to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Queensyard

Queensyard has one of the best views of The Vessel – and its British inspired menu is top notch! It’s the perfect mash up of English classics with an American twist. It’s an excellent brunch spot!

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Mister Dips

An airstream trailer serving burgers, fries and soft serve ice cream? Yep! You read that right. Only in New York! Mister Dips is parked at the William Vale hotel, a 15,000 square foot public outdoor park overlooking the Williamsburg waterfront. It’s the perfect little spot to enjoy the weather, catch a view of the water and catch up!

Sadelle’s

Come here for one of the best bagel experiences in the city! Sadelle’s is a New York establishment with lots of history. A first timer’s trip in New York without a delicious bagel would be a sin.

Van Leeuwen

Vegan ice cream that actually tastes even better than the real thing (trust me). Van Leeuwen must do some kind of magic to create such delicious flavors!

Brooklyn Bagel

Another exceptional spot for a New York bagel! This time with a dash of more color and pizzazz. Brooklyn Bagel’s doughy goodness is hand rolled, kettle boiled and the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy. It’s a great breakfast spot!

Black Tap

The best burgers and milkshakes place! Black Tap has such a cool vibe. Their Soho menu is top notch and in a great location too! Be sure to order one of their infamous Crazy Shakes.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

I hope you enjoyed this first timer’s guide to NYC! There’s no place quite like New York, that’s for sure. Be sure to check out more of our NYC posts!

Asia Insider Tips

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China’s Southern Capital

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Just a few hours train ride away from Shanghai… Nanjing awaits. Recognized as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Nanjing is nestled on the delta of the Yantze River and boasts the perfect mix of a modern city with hundreds of years of history.

Nanjing might not be one of every traveler’s radar. With big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and many others, China is busting its seams with cities to explore! But after visiting this gem of a city thanks to Cathay Pacific and an utterly easy flight thanks to Cathay Dragon, I have no doubt that Dame Travelers will fall head over heels for it’s understated charm and history.


Nanjing’s rich and deep history begins in ancient times, as long ago as half a million years ago. (Yep, you read that right, half a million years!) Because of it’s perfect location along the Yangtze River and halfway down the Chinese coastline, Nanjing has been the capital of China for over ten dynasties and regimes… making it the perfect place to gain a greater sense of China’s deep history and vivid culture.

Should you find yourself exploring Nanjing, here are thirteen of our favorite unique sights to see in China’s southern capital!

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Confucius Temple

During the Song dynasty, this temple was built along the Qinhuai River almost a century ago! The original temple may have been destroyed in World War Two, but what was reconstructed (and built out) is a sight to behold. Today, visiting the Confucius Temple houses the largest statue of Confucius in the world. The spanning, enormous space is also home to an outstanding collection of panels of jade, gold and silver that detail Confucius’s life and legacy. The area surround the Confucius Temple is almost worth separating into it’s own category for this list! Quaint riverboats, footbridges and the babbling Qinhuai River (known as the “mother river”) line the outside of the temple. It’s a gorgeous relic to an amazing philosopher deeply tied to China’s history and culture.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Ming Tomb

An awe-inspiring sight with such thoughtful intent and rich history behind it. The tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, has been buried here for over 600 years. Walking through the Sacred Path leading to the tomb is simply breathtaking. I can only imagine seeing it through the various seasons of the year! The half mile walking path where four pairs of stone warriors and twelve paris of mythical creatures serve as guards for the emperor’s tomb feels so sacred. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an iconic sight of China’s history.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Plum Blossom Hill

Nanjing’s flower, the plum blossom bursts with vivid color and fragrance each spring on the Purple Mountain. It’s a sight to behold! The 35,000 trees bloom a spectrum of purples, pinks, oranges and magenta that are a feast for the eyes. Seeing the Plum Blossom Hill in its prime with traditional music and dance feels like a scene of ancient China bursting into life.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Bao’en Temple

This museum is built on the original site of the historic Porcelain Tower (which is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world) on the south bank of the Qinhuai River. Besides the stunning architecture and exhibits, it’s amazing to know that a few years ago archaeologists found a golden box with a piece of Gautama Buddha’s skull on the site! After finding it, donations starting pouring in to rebuild the tower and modernize its inside. The galleries will leave you breathless!

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Usnisa Palace

The 197-acre area Usnisa Palace is located in is now open to visitors. And it is filled with architectural details that will make you swoon. From opulent stonework, murals, paintings, etchings and so much more… no stone was left unturned in this palace. Favorite spots include the Thousand-Buddha Hall, a 360 degree panorama of luxury and elegance and showcasing towering Buddhas above, and the sprawling Sakyamuni statue, rotating slowly on a lotus shaped pond. Elegance and opulance abound!

Nanjing Impressions

This restaurant is best known for it’s tiny bites and traditional Nanjing culinary treats. These street side snacks are pretty much the perfect mid day bite to grab on the go. It’s really no wonder why it’s been listed as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in China”!

Nanjing is known as the birthplace of Peking Duck. And thank goodness for that! Make sure to tuck in to some famous Nanjing Salted Duck. Other local delicacies include dishes that include river fish, shrimp and crab.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park

This is a relatively new sight to see in Nanjing! Niushoushan Cultural Park is so gorgeously landscaped and features many sacred artifacts of the Niushou Mountain (an ancient Buddhist site). Explore the Pagoda of Hongjue Temple, the nine story tall Usnisa Pagoda and finally the Usnisa Temple – a monetary with monks and a meditation hall. Make sure to visit the stunningly ornate and intricate Buddhist place which is six floors underground and built into the side of the mountain! It’s truly a gem.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Rain Flower Terrace

Home to a ton of historical monuments and flanked by nature in its purest form, the Rain Flower Terrace is irresistible. It’s an excellent place to find some peace and mindfulness in your busy travel schedule. Budding flowers and the laughter of the children in the amusement park nearby will make you feel close to all that is good in life.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Frenzy Fountain

New to the Nanjing restaurant scene, this fabulously pink and Instagrammable restaurant serves up delicious Western cursing and features a cute little tea house. It’s a ‘grammer’s delight!

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

 Dinner on the 1912 Block

Right by the famous Nanjing Presidental Palace, this famous bar street is a great peek into local nightlife. Named after the year when the Republic of China was founded, it’s an awesome place to grab a bite or a drink with friends.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall

After learning about the horrific stories of the Imperial Japanese Army occupying Nanjing and the atrocities that followed, visiting the Memorial Hall is a commemorative way to honor the city’s history. Built on the “pit of ten thousand corpses,” where thousands of bodies were buried, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall gives homage to the significant and horrifying six-week Japanese invasion. The hall’s collection of historical letters, documents, art, photographs and testimonies will leave you utterly moved.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital 13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Zhonghua Gate and Nanjing’s City Wall

The remnants of the Ming dynasty’s 14th century city walls remain towering and aged. The wall, that was ordered to be built by Emporer Zhu Yuanzhang when invaders were rumored to invade Nanjing. Made of more than 300 million bricks and soaring up to 39 feet high, the Nanjing City Walls are some of the longest in the world.

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

Lao Mengdong Area

A photographer’s delight! The Lao Mengdong Area is a gem. The block-paved streets and ancient walls, textures, buildings and restored boutiques and restaurants will make you go absolutely snap-happy. The weaving back-allies, hanging red lanterns and etched carvings that line the walls of the homes and buildings will set you heart pitter-pattering.

Jiming Temple

The Jiming Temple is one of the most famous temples in Southern China. The sky-high tower, built in 527, became known for its strict vegetarian diet ordered by monks who lived and worked there. Be sure to visit the vegetarian restaurant close to the temple! The climbing stairs, colorful pagodas and blooming lotuses that lead to the temple area will make you immediately imagine ancient China in its heyday.


Nanjing, the southern capital of bold and beautiful China, is the perfect location to gain a deeper understanding of China’s sprawling and ancient history and radiant, lively culture. 

Have you ever visited Nanjing?

 

Trip sponsored by Naning Tourism.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. All opinions are my own

 

 

13 Unique Sights To See In Nanjing: China's Southern Capital

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Guides Insider Tips Middle East

Amman City Guide

Amman is easily the most underrated city in the Middle East. With neighbours like trendy Beirut and cosmopolitan Dubai, as well as historically dazzling capitals like Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus, Amman has a modest reputation. Even Lonely Planet dubs it “the forgotten city of the Middle East.” As a Jordanian writer focused on alternative travel, I hope uncover the true beauty of this hilly capital, encouraging young travellers coming to Jordan not to overlook exploring this eclectic city.

With the growth of social media accounts encouraging travel, Jordan is gaining traction as a promising destination in the Middle East. It might even surprise some that the Instagram account of the Jordan Tourism Board has over 100,000 followers and counting. Yet, despite Jordan’s growing popularity as a travel destination, Amman continues to be a pit-stop for travelers making their way to Petra and the Dead Sea. I write this guide hoping to uncover an alternative face to this beautiful city, and share with you the reasons Amman continues to capture my heart over anything.

Amman’s charisma can be better understood within the context of the region. The Middle East is known for its rich history of artists including poets, writers, and musicians that used their craft as a way to make sense of our complex region. Decades of war, occupation, and struggle have given birth to generations of artists taking refuge in Jordan’s capital. Unlike many parts of the Middle East, Amman continues to be a haven for those looking for amnesty, and till today hosts more refugees than any other city in the world. Amman is now home to a tapestry of artistic and cultural life waiting to be discovered.

Understanding the geography of Amman is the first step in unpacking its true charm. Amman is made up of two distinct districts — West and East Amman. Any Ammanite would tell you the difference between the two: West Amman being Jordan’s urbanized, affluent centre and East Amman its less fortunate counterpart. Amman’s downtown “Al Balad”, the oldest part of the city, currently serves as a checkpoint between the two. Al Balad currently has the highest density of refugees living in an urban setting in the Middle East, and is home to Amman’s art and cultural scene.

The following guide will outline some of my favourite spots around in Amman, mostly situated in downtown or “Al Balad”. I will highlight interesting places to eat, where to find Middle Eastern art, and other places worth seeing around the city.

Go to Amman to… Eat.

Jordan has always been a foodie’s dream. Food lovers from across the region have always been attracted to Amman’s high-quality food.

Beit Sitti

Just north of Al Balad, in Jabal Lweibdeh, is an eccentric restaurant named Beit Sitti (Arabic for “my grandmother’s home”), where tourists and residents can sign up for Levantine cooking classes. Beit Sitti is the home of Jordanian sisters Maria, Tania and Dina Hadadd’s late grandmother, who started the restaurant as a way to commemorate her life. The restaurant supports Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian female refugees by hiring them to teach Arabic cooking techniques to tourists. The restaurant has been reviewed recently by Vogue magazine as one of the top 7 global cooking schools, and cites Maria Haddad saying that the “ restaurant allows travelers to have an open forum to discuss political, cultural, and intellectual issues openly and without hesitation; through our food, travelers connect more deeply with Jordan.”
Shams El Balad

Shams El Balad is another favourite of mine. Internationally recognized by the New York Times, Shams El Balad is the perfect breakfast spot serving Levantine delicacies. Its stunning views of Al Balad (that’s where they got the name) and its farm-to-table concept make it a must-visit. Although I would say that a plate of hommus at Shams El Balad is slightly pricey-er than the average, I still recommend it.

Cafe Rumi

Last, but certainly not least, is Cafe Rumi. Cafe Rumi was recommended to me by a close friend, and is in fact where my infatuation with Amman began. The cafe is tucked into a street corner right off of Square De Paris in Jabal Lweibdeh. Inside the cafe, you’ll find artwork inspired by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. Sitting on the bar stools are young artists and travelers discussing politics, social movements, learning languages, and meeting people. Inside the cafe, the cliques of Amman’s social scene melt away and everyone’s open to meeting someone new. I recommend trying their Arabic tea, which comes in a charming red Levantine tea-pot.

Go to Amman to… see art.

Amman is a haven for contemporary art… if you look hard enough. Nestled in the heart of Al Balad is a variety of art galleries dedicated to showcasing the work of artists from the Arab world. Head North of Al Balad to find street art, galleries and cafes dedicated to showcasing the eccentric side of the region.

Darat Al Funun

The first stop on your itinerary should be Darat Al Funun. Darat Al Funun is easily Amman’s most prized art gallery held inside a 6th century Byzantine church. The gallery showcases contemporary art and conducts workshops, exhibitions and other art-related activities open to the public. Darat Al Funun has become one of the Middle East’s most prestigious institutions supporting arts in the region and is respected across world.

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