A former capital of Japan and the cultural epicentre of Japanese culture, a trip to Kyoto is a must for any Japan travel itinerary. Boasting 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as hundreds of temples and shrines, this ancient city may have had a more modern makeover in recent years, but it’s still a treasure trove of cultural and historical wonders.
Kyoto is a city of splendid colour, with major attractions including a walk through the eerie green light of the photogenic Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, tunnels of red lacquered Torii Gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the opulent gleam from the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion. To experience everything that Kyoto has to offer, we highly recommend taking a private tour with a local guide.
No trip to Kyoto is complete without a walk around the historic Gion district, home to Japan’s last remaining geisha population. The narrow streets and traditional ochaya teahouses will transport you to another time, though you’ll be lucky to get a glimpse of a geiko (geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha), as these gatekeepers of Japanese tradition are notoriously mysterious and elusive.
The city is also a central base from which to take day trips out to nearby destinations, including Nara (for friendly deer and ancient temples), Osaka (a modern city with great food), Kobe (for the famous Kobe beef), Himeji (for the postcard-perfect White Heron castle) and Hikone (for the scenic castle on the edge of Lake Biwa). All of these can be reached by train, with the journey only taking an hour or less.
Rich in Japanese culture and history, and with so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that Kyoto is often the highlight of a trip to Japan for many of the visitors that come here. Ancient temples, shrines, geisha, Japanese cuisine … Kyoto is the Japan you came to see.