Perhaps no other Japanese city is as much a living showcase of the island nation’s history as its imperial capital of Kyoto. Temples, gardens and shrines are as abundant as traditional multi-course kaiseki restaurants and teahouses, and geishas fill the streets with fashion shows of shimmering kimonos and washi umbrellas.
Quiet and beautiful and best traversed by bike, it feels a world away from the bright lights and sprawling wards of Tokyo, despite the two-hour bullet train that connects the two.
But as much as it is a beacon of the past, Kyoto has a contemporary culture tucked between its rock gardens and bamboo groves. A new flock of trendy hotels is catering to the increasing number of visitors from overseas – which has almost tripled in the last five years and will only continue climbing with the 2020 Olympics in view – and Japan-made sake, whiskey and craft beer bars have created a nightlife that revolves less around neon and karaoke than local bands (the city has Japan’s highest concentration of universities) and classic jazz.
While its flat grid can be covered in just a couple of days, there’s enough to explore in this city to last for much longer, including no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sights. From the vast grounds of the Edo period-built Imperial Palace to the 1,200 smiling Buddha statues of Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji temple in the silent surrounding forests, and from the best matcha soft-serve in the geisha district of Gion to the world-famous Ippudo Ramen near the markets of downtown, Kyoto honors the past and embraces the present to be what may well be called Japan’s capital of culture.
Find out more about Kyoto City here.
Kyoto is a tourist hotspot with a very broad range of budget, luxury and boutique hotels with further options to rent accommodation or stay with locals.
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