Kyoto is a mandatory visit if you come to Japan, period.
Kyoto is famous by its hundreds and hundreds of shrines and temples (around 1600 temples & 400 Shrines). But, even if you were allergic to them Kyoto would still worth a visit.
I recommend to get the 1-2 days bus passes as they are cheap (around 500-600 yen) and they drop you in front of the main attractions.
Normally when doing tourism, besides visiting the must see spots, I like to start walking randomly until I get lost. This way I make sure I visit some authentic parts of the city far from the hordes of tourists. Kyoto (I could extend it to the whole country) is a perfect place for such practice as you don’t have to worry about ending in a dangerous street and you can just enjoy these silent-clean-ordered Japaneses neighborhoods which I personally love.
The bus passes only work for the main area of the city so, whenever I had to go further I preferred to take the train… did I say I like to take pics of stations at night?
Kyoto Station, which is situated just in front of Kyoto tower, well worth a visit too. It has some stair lights and a skywalk which I never could see as I was always too late… As I said the architecture of the station well worth a picture, even better if you have a model in a very natural pose for a picture…
Besides the main temples, there are two must see around Kyoto that you should not miss or you will regret. One is Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is a shrine located at the base of a small mountain. Which makes this place pretty special is the thousands of Torii that you have to go trough while going to the top of the mountain. The whole walk takes around 2h but if you travel with a photographer friend be prepared to spend more than that 😉
Lately, no visit to Tokyo is finished until you visit Arashiyama. It’s a bit far from Kyoto center but with metro or train it will take you less than 1h. What is so special about Arashiyama? Well, is a good place to see the Sakura if you are lucky of being in the correct season, is a peaceful place, surrounded by a river and a lush mountain and, as you could imagine, there are some temples too…
If I have convinced you to come until here is mostly for two places: The Bamboo Forest & Otagi Nenbutsu-ji.
The Bamboo path doesn’t require much explanation, the only advice I can give you is to go the sooner the better or your will barely take pictures without a dozen of persons in it.
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is a small temple famous by its hundreds of Rakan sculptures. Perfect place to spend time taking pictures and, as it’s a bit far from the main touristic area, you can more easily being alone there. To reach it, you basically turn right after The Bamboo Forest and keep walking for about 30 minutes
Living in Osaka is pretty easier to reach Kyoto so I was lucky enough to go several times, all pics here