This now modern city is filled with historical treasures, seventeen of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At first sight, it’s not the picture postcard perfection one might imagine but if you look a little deeper, it’s full of sublime delights.
Renowned for being the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is rich in exquisite temples, shrines and gardens that were mercifully spared in the Second World War. One could spend a week exploring this extraordinary city and still not have enough time to take it all in, but suffice to say a few days gives the finest flavour of the country’s long heritage. With its lovingly landscaped havens, atmospheric side streets and central canal, there is always something beautiful to catch the eye in the world’s second most-visited city. Home to the largest Geisha quarter in Japan, Kyoto is the ideal place for spotting graceful Geisha flitting by in elegant kimono, intricate wooden sandals and flawless hair and makeup. If one is lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these fabled women, it really is a magical sight.
It’s no wonder that the main hotspots attract visitors from far and wide, for they really are astounding up close. While the manicured Ryoanji rock garden, atmospheric Bamboo forest of Arashiyama, seemingly infinite orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kinkakuji Golden Temple are all extraordinary, we recommend visiting off-the-beaten-path gems too. To fully admire Kyoto in all its glory, head to the more secluded sights; our favourites include the lesser-known Gio-ji Moss Temple, Katsura Imperial Villa and Daigo-ji Temple.
The Old District, Higashiyama, is a beautiful puzzle of historic streets lined by traditional teahouses, merchant shops and tucked away temples. In particular, the well-preserved roads that lead back to the modern city – Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka – lend an Edo-period feel with their cobbled paths and charming wooden lattice-fronted buildings. Kiyomizu-dera Temple stands proud at the top of the hill, complete with a vermilion pagoda and immense viewing platform. The panoramic view of the city offered here is especially impressive in the spring and autumn months when vibrant foliage abounds. If visiting on a weekend, you might be lucky enough to witness a quintessential Shinto wedding at this temple, believed by many to bring about long-lasting love.
Follow in the footsteps of old academics by strolling down Tetsugaku-no-michi or ‘Philosopher’s Path’, a small scenic canal renowned for becoming a wonderful cherry blossom walkway in the spring. At the end of this footpath, find yourself at the humble but equally striking Ginkaku-ji Temple and its celebrated garden.
Giant Buddhist figures and the grand wooden temple of Todai-ji is a short distance away in Nara park where tame deer will be looking out for snacks! Located only an hour away by train, Osaka is also easily reachable from here and makes for a perfect evening’s entertainment with its fabulous food scene and buzzy Downtown.
Features in the following itineraries
- An Art Lover's Tour of Japan
- Autumn Leaves in Japan
- Experience Japan
- Family Adventure in Japan
- Following the Cherry Blossom through Japan
- Gardens, Architecture & Customs of Japan
- Japan's Coasts and Countryside
- Japan: A Perfect Introduction
- Sake, Snow, Shrines, Sand and Sushi
- Seeking Ancient Japan: Follow in the footsteps of Stanley Stewart
- The Length of the Bullet Train Line in Japan
- Ultimate Luxury Tour of Japan