Temples, Shrines & Gardens
There are said to be over 1000 Buddhist temples in Kyoto. You’ll find true masterpieces of religious architecture, such as the retina-burning splendour of Kinkaku-ji (the famed Golden Pavilion) and the cavernous expanse of Higashi Hongan-ji. Within the temple precincts are some of the world’s most sublime gardens, from the Zen masterpiece at Ryōan-ji to the riotous paradise of moss and blossoms at Saihō-ji. And then there are the Shintō shrines, monuments to Japan’s indigenous faith. The mother of all shrines, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, has mesmerising arcades of vermillion torii (shrine gates) spread across a mountainside.
Few cities of this size offer such a range of excellent restaurants. Work your way through the entire spectrum of Japanese food, from impossibly refined cuisine known as kaiseki to hearty plebeian fare like rāmen. There’s also a wide range of French, Italian and Chinese restaurants, where the famed Japanese attention to detail is paired with local ingredients to yield fantastic results. Best of all, many of Kyoto’s restaurants are in traditional wooden buildings, where you can gaze over intimate private gardens while you eat.
The Japanese Way of Life
While the rest of Japan has adopted modernity with abandon, the old ways are hanging on in Kyoto. Take a morning stroll through the textile district of Nishijin and watch the old Kyoto ladies emerge from their machiya (traditional townhouses) to ladle water onto their stoops. Visit an old shōtengai (shopping street) and admire the ancient speciality shops: tofu sellers, fishmongers, pickle vendors and tea merchants. Then join the locals at a local sentō (public bath) to soak away the cares of the day.
The Changing Seasons
No educated Kyotoite would dare send a letter without making a reference to the season. The city’s geisha change their hair ornaments 12 times a year to celebrate the natural world. And Kyoto’s confectioners create seasonal sweets that reflect whatever is in bloom. Starting in February and lasting through the summer, a series of blossoms burst open like a string of firecrackers: plums, daphnes, cherries, camellias, azaleas and wisteria, among many others. And don’t forget the shinryoku (the new green of April) and the brilliant autumn foliage of November.
Why I Love Kyoto
By Chris Rowthorn, Author
I love Kyoto because it’s rich, deep and incredibly liveable. I’ve spent almost 20 years in the city and I still make new discoveries every day. If I vary my daily walking route just a bit, I am bound to find something new: a secret temple, an interesting shop or a great place to eat. The city is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the hiking is excellent. It’s also one of the most bike-friendly cities on earth. I love the people and the dialect they speak. Finally, it’s just the right size: not too big and not too small.
Best places to stay in Kyoto
Kyoto city guide
Kyoto is the Japan of your imagination: quiet temples, sublime Zen gardens, colourful Shinto shrines and narrow alleys where geisha scurry to secret assignations.
Gion Matsuri: tips for viewing Kyoto's float parade
'En-no-Gyouja Yama (役行者山)' by MShades. Creative Commons Attribution Location: Shijo-dori, Kyoto, Japan Date: 17 July Level of participation: 2 - be thankful you’re not chigo Japanese culture often confuses the outsider, and Kyoto’s multifaceted float parade-come-kimono display is no exception...
Temples and shrines of Kyoto
Kyoto's ryokan and traditional accommodations
Kyoto - Planning (Chapter)
Your journey to Kyoto starts here.
Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages): a procession of history in Kyoto
Men's KIMONO (Kamishimo) by gintacat. Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 2...
Kyoto - Northern Higashiyama (Chapter)
Stretching from Nanzen-ji in the south to Ginkaku-ji in the north, this area is thick with first-rate attractions and soothing greenery.
Kyoto and Nara 2-Day or 3-Day Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo
Leave Tokyo on the bullet train to visit the heritage-filled cities of Kyoto and Nara, staying overnight in Kyoto, on your choice of a guided 2-day or 3-day excursion. Visit Nara’s many gorgeous temples and shrines on the first afternoon, then have a full-day tour of Kyoto’s highlights on the second day.
Kyoto Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo
If you want to see the highlights of beautiful Kyoto but have limited time, zip there and back by bullet train (Shinkansen) on this full-day tour from Tokyo. See Mt Fuji from the train, then visit Kyoto highlights including Sanjusangen-do Hall, Heian Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera Temple on an afternoon city tour with an expert guide.
Local flavour on Kyoto’s Kiyamachi street
Kiyamachi, Kyoto's biggest nightlife strip, is a one kilometre stretch running parallel to the central Kamo River between two main boulevards, Sanjō and Shijō. On one side of the narrow street, slick-fronted concept restaurants promise cheap drinks and no cover charge...
Kyoto - Arashiyama & Sagano (Chapter)
These adjoining neighbourhoods form the city's second-most-popular sightseeing district, boasting Tenryū-ji.