Kyoto is one of Japan's most beautiful city, with its historic architecture, ancient history, and many shrines and temples. The city of Kyoto previously served as the Imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and when many other Japanese cities suffered destruction from bombings during World War II, Kyoto was spared for its historical value, with its many traditional structures and religious sites. For this reason, the city is home to some of Japan's oldest and most important sites, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, first-time visitors to Kyoto may be surprised to see that the city renowned for its historical and sacred sites appears, at first glance, to be a modern metropolis, and those famous sites take a bit of searching to find. Exploring Kyoto can certainly be a spiritual experience that stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming modernity of Tokyo, with its flashing billboards, robots, and towering skyscrapers. Kyoto's quiet Philosopher's Path, meandering between shrines and temples, and the Gion districts preserved history where some are fortunate enough to spot a geisha, can offer a welcome break to rejuvenate and entice travelers.
Kyoto is located on the Japanese island of Honshu, in the Yamashiro Basin, surrounded by the mountain ranges, Higashiyama, Kitayama, and Nishiyama, and the hills of Arashiyama. The city itself has a low average elevation, of about 55 meters (180 feet) above sea level. The mountains and hills around Kyoto are covered in lush forests, including bamboo and the famous cherry trees (and plum trees) which blossom annually creating gorgeous views. The main rivers in the area are Kamogawa, Katsuragawa, and Ujigawa.
How to get there
Though Kyoto does not have an airport, the nearby city of Osaka has two that are easily accessible from Kyoto. Kansai International Airport is Osaka's main airport, while Itami Airport (also called Osaka International) handles many of the domestic flights to and from Osaka. From there, travelers can take a train to Kyoto. Japan is world renowned for its efficient train system, and its bullet trains, known as Shinkansen. Trains can travel between Kyoto and Tokyo in just under 2.5 hours, though some take longer. Japan's railway service is extensive, though it can also get expensive without a rail pass. However, train is one of the best ways to travel within Japan, as it is quick and efficient while allowing travelers to take in the sights in the countryside between cities. There is also bus service between Kyoto and many cities, offering comparatively inexpensive transportation, including overnight trips from Tokyo.
When to visit
Kyoto is beautiful year-round, with each season offering a different version of the scenic city's landscape. The most popular time to visit Kyoto is during cherry blossom season when the streets are lined with the flowering trees, especially in Maruyama Park. It may be tough to time it perfectly, but the peak bloom typically occurs in early April and lasts for about two weeks. Another great time to check out Kyoto is during plum blossom season, which falls in late February or March.
Golden Week is a very busy time to visit Kyoto, as the Japanese have several holidays during that week and many take that week, which lasts from April 27 to May 6, to vacation.
What to see
There are so many temples, shrines, landmarks, and other attractions in Kyoto, it can be difficult to see everything in one trip. Kyoto's most famous attraction is Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, a gilded temple built in 1397 as a shogun residence, set with the scenic backdrop of a forest and lake. Though Kinkaku-ji is a splendid site, some prefer the understated beauty of Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, which despite its name is not silver plated, though it was intended to have been. From Ginkaku-ji, a peaceful walk along the tree-lined river leads to shops, galleries, and many temples and shrines.
Another famous attraction in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, where visitors can walk through a seemingly endless path under torii (vermilion gates or arches), which leads a hike along the hillside. On the other side of town, Arashiyama holds Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the ethereal bamboo forests. A unique temple in Kyoto is Sanjusangen-do, dedicated to the Thousand Armed Kannon with 1,000 statues constructed of cypress with 28 additional statues of the guardian dieties. Nijo Castle in the center of town was the one-time home of Tokugawa shoguns, not far from the Imperial Palace.
Where to stay
There are many options for lodging in Kyoto, from hostels to luxury hotels and ryokan, which are traditional inns in which guests sleep on tatami mats and futons, and enjoy baths and meals served right to the room. Inexpensive options are the Eco and Tec Kyoto and K's House Kyoto, a hostel. Some other hotel options include Hotel Mume, Royal Park Hotel, Hotel Granvia, and the Gion Maifukan.
Last Updated : July 28, 2014