Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is famous for its Buddhist temples, imperial palaces, gardens, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden houses. The city on the island of Honshu is also known for its kaiseki dining and geisha. Kyoto is a city of the past with a rich history and a touch of modern flair. The vibrant city is worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. Here’s how to plan your vacation to this Japanese city.
Best Time to Visit
March to May and from September to November are the best times to visit Kyoto since the weather is mildest. The cherry blossoms in the spring and fall foliage draw in lots of tourists, so be prepared to pay higher hotel rates. During the summer and winter, there are fewer crowds, but in June it’s humid and in January it’s cold.
How to Get Around
The best way to get around the city is by bus or on foot. The bus systems are easy to navigate because there are tons of English signs and announcements. Taxis are also an option, especially at night.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
Located in Kyoto’s temple district, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is “a modern garden sanctuary draped in history”, according to the hotel’s website. The 5-star hotel has an 800-year-old Shakusui-en, a pond garden, and it’s surrounded by bamboo and cherry blossoms or red foliage depending on the time of year. Highlights of the hotel include a zen meditation, a rickshaw tour, a ninja experience, lantern classes, and a Kyoto-style kaiseki dinner.
Suiran- A Luxury Collection Hotel- Kyoto
This 5-star hotel has 39 rooms in a three-story Japanese-style building. The amenities are designed in Japan’s six traditional colors (violet, indigo blue, vermilion, jade green, gold, and moon white) and they have accents of the icons of Arashiyama. Suiran- A Luxury Collection Hotel- Kyoto has three dining options and a spa.
The Ritz-Carlton- Kyoto
The Ritz-Carlton- Kyoto, a 5-star hotel is built on a site favored by Japanese nobility since the 17th century. Set against the Kamo River, the spa is super relaxing and there are even spa rituals inspired by Japan’s wellness traditions. The hotel is within walking distance of Gion, the region’s luxury shopping and entertainment district.
What to Do
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine, a 1,300-year-old temple is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake, and it’s one of the most special Shinto shrines in Kyoto. The shrine dates back to the eighth century. Most people come to visit the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the path up to Mount Inari.
This temple‘s situated on Otowa Mountain in eastern Kyoto, and its landscape is absolutely beautiful. The stage sits on huge pillars more than 40 feet above the hillside, making for amazing views of the surrounding forest. You can also drink from the Otowa Waterfall which is divided into three streams, which are said to bring longevity.
The neighborhood of Gion is known for its historic features like historic tea houses, willow-lined roads, kaiseki restaurants, wooden ryokan, and craft and antique shops. The real draw to the area is the geisha, who dress extravagantly and move between the tea houses.
What to Eat
This approach to dining features a multi-course haute cuisine served in many restaurants and inns in Gion. The meal includes sakizuke (appetizer), nimono (a soup or simmered dish), mukozuke (a sashimi dish), hassun (a dish made with seasonal ingredients), yakimono (a grilled dish), hanmono (a rice dish), and a dessert.
Kyozushi is a variation of sushi made with fish cured with salt or vinegar. One of the most popular types is sabazushi, a cured mackerel sushi.
Yudofu and Yuba
There are also plenty of options for vegetarians like yudofu, which is cubes of creamy boiled tofu, and yuba, which is soybean sheets. Yodofu is commonly served with broth and dipped in a citrusy ponzu sauce. Yuba can be served in stews with rice.