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World Travel Guide > Guides > Asia > Japan > Kyoto

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Things to do in Kyoto

Catch a J-League game

The oldest football team in Japan’s J-League, the Kyoto Sanga (www.sanga-fc.jp) is the place to go if you want to see some live football. The small stadium attracts some lively crowds, and the team is made up of mostly seasoned Japanese players, with a pinch of Brazilian flair in the squad.

Discover the history of sake

Hidden away in the pretty Fushimi ward in the south of Kyoto, Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum (tel: +81 75 623 2056;www.gekkeikan.co.jp/english) has been brewing sake since 1637. In their museum, you’ll see the tools used to create this unique drink over the years, before thankfully concluding with a tasting.

Relax in an onsen

Onsen, public baths with an emphasis on relaxation, are great places to see Japan at its most chilled. Kyoto has a limited amount of geothermal activity under the city; nevertheless, there are plenty of onsen to choose from. Among the best is Funaoka Onsen (tel: +81 75 441 3735;funaokaonsen.net). A real local spot, it has indoor and outdoor baths, as well as an electric bath for added frisson. Remember, visitors must bathe naked, and tattoos may need to be covered up.

Swim at a Blue Flag beach

Japan is the first Asian country to obtain the Blue Flag award for its beaches, one of which is Wakasa Wada Beach in Takahama town, just a short two-hour train ride away from Kyoto. Swimming here is excellent, with mountain views and sandy beaches, while the surrounding translucent waters are best explored on a kayak or a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP).

Take an old boat ride down a very old river

This riverboat ride is a two hour, 16km (9-mile) ride from Kameoka (around 35 minutes from Kyoto) to Arashiyama, through a twisting ravine with water rapids and stunning views of the mountainous Japanese landscape. It’s undertaken in wooden boats that you’d be worried about if it wasn’t such a popular attraction (tel: +81 771 22 5846; www.hozugawakudari.jp).

Take on Kyoto’s cycling trail

Biking around Kyoto is a breeze, with wide, flat main roads and plenty of streets free of traffic. If you’re pressed for time, Urban Adventures (tel: + 81 80 3550 8449; www.urbanadventures.com) offers a superb three-hour trip taking in the Heian Shrine and gardens, Kamo River and Nanzenji Temple, before heading down the cherry tree-lined Path of Philosophy.

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Capsule Ryokan Kyoto

A seven-minute walk from JR Kyoto Station, these ryokan-style capsules offer traditional tatami beds inside compact rooms to create something both unique and quintessentially Japanese. Space is cleverly used in the private rooms, which have air-conditioning, televisions and en-suite shower facilities, while free Wi-Fi and refreshments are available in a communal lounge area.

Iori Kyoto Townhouse Stays

A machiya (a traditional merchant townhouse) is an excellent hotel alternative, especially for group rental. Try one of the eleven Iori residences found dotted across central Kyoto, each one luxuriously restored and decked in Asian art. Varying in size, the houses combine traditional architecture, such as beam-work and tokonoma alcoves, with modern conveniences, to give a taste of traditional Japanese living in lavish style.

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.