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The romantic vision of Japan as a land of ancient temples and wood-panelled houses becomes a reality in the breathtaking city of Kyoto. Here, in a city that emerged miraculously unscathed from World War II’s bombing raids, Japan’s rich history has been beautifully preserved.
Combine this old-world atmosphere with some of Japan’s most stunning scenery and a diverse, delicious foodie scene and you’ll soon have an idea of just why Kyoto is so alluring. This is the place to be for any travellers who want to experience the colourful culture and layered history of Japan.
Leave your hotel in Kyoto and it will only be a couple of minutes before you see your first temple. Hardly surprising; this city is said to have some 1,600 Buddhist temples within its limits. The most iconic of them all is Kinkaku-ji Temple, the ‘Golden Pavilion’, a gleaming, two-tiered place of worship positioned between a lake and forests. While this is the obvious first stop for tourists, there are many more temples to discover. Visit Daitoku-ji for Zen gardens and Honen-in for quiet contemplation in a woodland setting.
In Kyoto, the past can be experience by simply walking around and some of the oldest shopping streets here feel like they haven’t changed in centuries. The most well-preserved and arguably most atmospheric district is Gion, where geisha still welcome patrons to traditional teahouses. Perhaps the most scenic street is Shimbashi, where historic houses line the riverside.
Climb up Mount Daimonji, which takes about two hours from Ginkaku-ji Temple, for views of the whole city below. For a more serene scenic escape, drift along the Hozugawa River on a traditional, flat-bottomed boat or stroll through forests of bamboo stalks. There’s no best time of year to visit Kyoto, because it looks different and equally beautiful in every season. Autumn here is famous for its spectacular foliage, while the mountains in spring bring pastel-hued blossoms.
Many visitors to Kyoto come for the temples but stay for the food. Snacking is popular here and the quintessential meal is a hearty bowl of ramen noodles at one of the many stalls or restaurants scattered around the city. Kyoto also offers fine dining for anyone seeking a taste of luxury. Try kaiseki, a multi-course dinner comprised of elaborate and highly refined Japanese dishes.
The Kyoto Railway Museum is a fascinating, family-friendly attraction that focuses on the city’s long-standing and efficient transport network, which still exists today. You won’t struggle to get around Kyoto, which is covered in bus and rail routes. There are six train lines, two subways and a system of buses that can take you just about anywhere in this beautiful, historic city.