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Kyoto Travel Guide

About Kyoto

Ruling as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years, Kyoto is a city steeped in historic lore and legacy, where ancient cobbled streets echo with the click-clack of geisha clogs, world-renowned art adorns majestic palaces, and bamboo screens conceal serene teahouses brewing ceremonial matcha according to age-old customs and aesthetics.

Unlike other Japanese cities, Kyoto escaped the mass destruction wrought by WWII, allowing it to remain a well-preserved window into the country’s mystical past. Visitors can pick between an overwhelming array of 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but it’s equally as enthralling to get lost among its labyrinthine backstreets uncovering hidden gardens, local markets and offbeat museums along the way.

Those with little time should make a beeline for easterly Higashiyama, the city’s richest sightseeing district, known for its picturesque wooden machiya townhouses occupied by tofu sellers, tea merchants and kimono rental shops. Sightseers can learn more about the Japanese way of life through the city’s thriving cultural scene, particularly in the geisha neighbourhood of Gion where time-honoured theatres stage all kinds of kabuki dance-drama, stylised puppetry and traditional court music.

For all its ancient allure, the cosmopolitan metropolis has its fair share of high-tech, high-octane draws, as anyone arriving on the futuristic Shinkansen (Bullet Train) can vouch. Add to this a dynamic nightlife of sake breweries and cocktail bars, a glittering dining scene boasting over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants, and a trove of stunning ryokan (traditional inn) accommodation, and it’s easy to see why travellers of all types are spellbound by the city.

While Kyoto is perennially popular, its busiest periods are during the springtime cherry blossom season (March to April) and in autumn (October to November) when advance bookings are vital.

Key facts

Population:
1,474,000.
Latitude:
35.007795
Longitude:
135.768419

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Nishiyama Ryokan

Adding a modern twist to the traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), Nishiyama offers affordability, comfort and welcoming staff. The Japanese and Western-style rooms are spacious and relaxing and there are shared baths (separate men and women), a dining room and a comfortable lounge with laptop ports. The ryokan is conveniently located downtown close to shopping, sightseeing and nightlife.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto

A leader for luxury in Kyoto, the Hyatt Regency is superbly located next to the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple, with the Kyoto National Museum across the road and the Gion district within walking distance. The 178 rooms and suites are tastefully decorated with natural tones and traditional Kyoto fabrics. There are various in-house restaurants and bars, a Japanese garden, a relaxing spa and yoga studio.

Hiiragiya Ryokan

The Hiiragiya is one of the most exclusive ryokans in Kyoto. Since the mid-19th century it has hosted the rich and famous in its exquisitely decorated rooms. There are two wings – the oldest is full of traditional aesthetic charm and the more modern (completed in 2006) is a compliment of modern Japanese design. The service is impeccable and truly an experience in itself.

Shunkoin Temple Guest House

For a sacred night's sleep, Shunkion is located within the Myoshin-ji temple complex in the northwest of the city. Its eight simple and serene rooms are decked out with tatami mats and offer shared kitchen facilities; some have en suite bathrooms. The real draw is that guests can enjoy morning meditation classes and strolls in the temple by night. There's also free bicycle rental on offer.

Hotel Mume Kyoto

Set in a sleek four-story building in Gion, this warm and welcoming boutique stay has seven rooms decorated around the nature-inspired concept of 'ka-cho-fu-getsu' (flower, butterfly, wind, moon). In Flower, guests gaze up at cherry blossom karakami ceiling panels, Butterfly is defined by sumptuous red antique furniture, Wind is bright and breezy and Moon plays on a lunar theme with monochrome tiling.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto

A well-designed hotel for both business and leisure, Hotel Granvia Kyoto is conveniently located in the JR Kyoto Station building. The hotel is spread across 15 floors with 545 tastefully decorated rooms, an indoor pool, sauna, and fitness room as well as 12 different restaurants and bars. Local artwork is on display in the lobby and guest rooms.