Kyoto embodies 1,200 years of Japanese history and tradition as capital of Japan. 17 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites are situated in a cityscape dominated by 2,000 temples and shrines.
The friendly city of 1.5 million people offers endless opportunities to gain a meaningful hands-on experience of rich Japanese culture through tea ceremony, sake brewing, kimono wearing, swordsmanship and more. Japan is renowned for its safety and the compactness of Kyoto makes for wonderful strolling during free time.
Tokyo has its flashy robots and neon everything, but after a few days in Kyoto, it’s easy to see its centuries-old shrines, beautiful ryokans and rich geisha culture as the heart of Japan.
A country that may be the epitome of cool, but Kyoto is like no other city on the planet. Hop on the bullet train from Tokyo station and you’ll arrive in under 3 hours.
Things to see in Kyoto
A large wooden structure built in 1913 in front of the Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine to celebrate the enthronement of Emperor Taisho. Acknowledging its historical and cultural values, Shorenin Temple decided to relocate and rebuild the structure on the summit of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. Here it houses the national treasure Ao Fudo, a blue-colored depiction of a Buddhist deity. The vast wooden terrace is a popular location to enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the city.
The Daigoji Temple UNESCO World Heritage Site is the head temple of the Daigo School of the Buddhist Shingon sect, built in 874 in the south east of Kyoto City. Its five-story pagoda is the oldest wooden structure in Kyoto. Its Reihokan Hall houses breathtaking Buddhist statuary and some of the temple’s approximately 150,000 other national treasures and important cultural properties. The temple is surrounded by the cherry trees of the Kenjinrin-en garden and is nearby the Sanboin gardens and the Ugetsu Chaya Onshikan, a building that was originally part of the Imperial Palace.
Kenninji Temple, located in Gion, is Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, founded in 1202 by the Zen master Eisai. Soutatsu Tawaraya’s gold leaf covered folding screens depicting the Wind and Thunder Gods are national treasures. The great ceiling painting of the twin dragons in the temple’s hall was completed over a period of two years by and was installed in 2002 in commemoration of the 800-year anniversary of the founding of the temple.
With seemingly endless arcades of vermilion torii (shrine gates) spread across a thickly wooded mountain, this vast shrine complex is a world unto its own. It is, quite simply, one of the most impressive and memorable sights in all of Kyoto. The entire complex, consisting of five shrines, sprawls across the wooded slopes of Inari-san. A pathway wanders 4km up the mountain and is lined with dozens of atmospheric sub-shrines. Furthermore, you can hike to the top, the views are incredible (and you get a workout). Pro tip: Go at night or early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Things to do in Kyoto
- Tea Ceremony – Time out to relax and reflect
- Kimono Wearing – Completely enveloped in Japan
- Calligraphy – Learn the ancient art
- Japanese Pottery – Enjoy a chance to learn from a master
- Meeting Maiko (Geisha) – Only in Kyoto
- Zen Meditation – Find your inner peace
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – a nature path lined with one-thousand-feet tall bamboo stalks that are believed to ward off evil.
- Ceramic shops – Kyoto is like one giant trove of local, handcrafted trinkets you’ll want to buy in bulk. A charismatic street sloping down from the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, is where all this is found
Where to eat
- Nishiki Market is one of the city’s oldest markets and is a paradise of locally grown and prepared foods. Take your time, or make a second trip, you don’t want to miss anything.
- Burnt ramen? Yes. Kyoto Gogyo’s specialty is their Burnt Miso Ramen Dish – if there is something that defines Umami, this is it. Ramen and sushi are everywhere in Japan, but local Japanese street food is next level. Go to Gion Tanto for the best Okonominyaki in Kyoto.
- Have you ever tried the tempura? Yoshikawa restaurant is the specialist on that; with counter seating attached to a lovely ryokan.
- Looking for a café and a sweet taste? Kagizen Yoshifusa and Toraya Karyō Kyoto Ichijō are the most-well recognized cafés in town, with a warm and classic atmosphere, a place not to be missed.
- Fine Dinning is your preferred experience? Don’t miss the best restaurants in town: Roan Kikunoi, Shoraian, Hafuu Honten. You will definitely enjoy some of the very best Japanese cuisine that Kyoto has to offer.
Kitcho Arashiyama is the place to be if you want to have stunning garden views from your private dining room.
- Glistening metropolises of neon lights, tropical beaches to the south, breathtaking snow-capped mountains to the north, with countless adventures and experiences to undertake in between; there are endless ways to discover Japan.
- Tours will be provided in the coming months.