Trending Destinations: Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto
Kyoto //Photo by nicholashan/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

While Tokyo is known for its bright lights and modernization, the city of Kyoto is known as a more traditional Japanese city. While there are still all of the modern conveniences, there are also hundreds of temples, shrines, and gardens surrounded by traditional Japanese accommodations and restaurants. 

Kyoto is in the Kansai region of Japan, about two-and-a-half hours by bullet train from Tokyo and nearby the Osaka airport (Kansai International Airport). Like many Japanese cities, there is ample public transportation as well as bike rentals available. Many visits to the temples double as hikes up mountains and provide excellent views of the city. Since Kyoto is fairly spread out, make sure clients know how they’re getting around the city before they leave. 

For travelers looking for a traditional Japanese experience, full of historical locations, Kyoto is the perfect city. 

Arashiyama// Photo by SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Neighborhoods to Visit

Southern Higashiyama 

The Southern Higashiyama sits at the base of the Higashiyama, or Eastern Mountains. At the northern end of the district is Gion, famous for its traditional geishas. Those spending time in the area might spot a geisha in traditional dress and makeup. There are lots of places to see geisha shows, and there’s even a place where you can be dressed up like a geisha. Maica offers guests the chance to dress up like a geisha or samurai complete with kimono, wig, and makeup. 

Also in Higashiyama is Kennin-ji Temple, the oldest zen garden in Kyoto. Built in 1202, the temple allows guests to take a walk through the Zen garden and check out the famous two dragons painted on the roof. 

Another thing worth checking out: Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, streets that have been preserved from old Japan. The pedestrian-only streets are lined with traditional shops, restaurants, and tea houses. 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. While it’s a bit touristy, it still offers views of the entire city as well as multiple well-preserved buildings to check out. It was built over 1200 years ago and is one of the 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. The temple is also a great place to go during cherry blossom season. 

Arashiyama 

Located at the edge of the city, Arashiyama is about a half-hour outside the center of the city. It’s worth the trip though for the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Visitors walk through a long path surrounded by tall bamboo looming on both sides. 

The grove is also next to the Tenryu-ji Temple. The temple was originally built in 1339 but after fires and wars many of the original buildings were destroyed. Buildings that are there now were built between the late 19th and early 20th century. The gardens, however, did survive and are the original. Tenryu-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Also located in Arashiyama is the monkey park. The park is about a short hike uphill and opens onto an area where a hundred monkey live. It also offers views of the city. 

Downtown Kyoto

While there aren’t many historical sites in downtown, there are lots of restaurants and shops, including the Nishiki Market. It’s the city’s largest traditional food market and houses traditional vegetable, tea, fish, and meat stands as well as a few restaurants and take away stalls. 

Also located downtown is the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It’s housed in a former school building and has a collection of over 300,000 manga (Japanese comic books). If clients are there on a weekend, it might be worth mentioning the workshops held at the museum for a rainy day option. 

On the outskirts of downtown is the Nijō Castle. Built as a residence for the shogun in 1603, the building is surrounded by gardens and a moat and divided into five buildings. Since it’s one of the more popular destinations in Kyoto, make sure clients know they should get there early to beat the crowds. 

Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto

Accommodations

Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto

While the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is new (opening just last fall), Kyoto’s signature traditional elements are still felt throughout the hotel. Located in the center of the property is the 800-year old pond garden, and many guest rooms overlook it. Located in the garden across a glass bridge is the traditional tea room, and guests can take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Traditional aesthetics follows guests into their rooms with washi-paper lamps, fusuma screens, and urushi lacquerware. But of course, there are still modern amenities like Wi-Fi, sauna, indoor pool, and spa. 

The Millennials Kyoto

The Millennials knows its demographic so well, it’s named after them. Great for younger clients who would rather spend more time exploring the city than in the hotel, The Millennials is a smart-pod hotel. A popular type of hotel in Japan, rooms are just large enough for a bed and just tall enough to stand in. Some pod hotels are even smaller and only offer enough room for guests to sit or lay. The Millennials however, does come with a bed (a Serta bed to be exact) as well as all the modern conveniences one needs. The smart-pods can be operated by the iPod given to guests at the beginning of their stay. The iPod is used as the room’s key and controls the light, fan, and alarm, which doesn’t actually make noise but wakes guests up but inclining the bed and slowly turning on the lights. Pods come with an amenity kit that includes a robe, towels, toothbrush, and hair brush. High-speed Wi-Fi is also provided and can be used in the hotel’s public spaces. 

Tawaraya

For those who want more traditional accommodations, a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, is worth checking out. Tawaraya is a 300-year-old ryokan and considered one of the best in the country for its hospitality alone. As per tradition, there is very little furniture in the room and floors are made of tatami (rice straw mats), but every room does have its own Zen garden and bathrooms have their own hot tub with views of the garden. Rates often include authentic meals – delivered right to guest’s rooms. Here, guests dine in traditional fashion, sitting on the floor, and take part in Kaiseki – a multi-course meal that can last hours. For an authentic traditional Japanese experience, Tawaraya is the place to be. 

Kobe beef // Photo by EvanTravels/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Where to Eat

Premium Pound Sanjo-Kiyamachi

Kyoto is home to plenty of restaurants, from street food to fine dining. One of the most popular meals is the legendary Kobe beef. A highly rated option is Premium Pound Sanjo-Kiyamachi. The restaurant serves multiple course meals around their aged beef. 

Shojin Ryori

As you may have guessed, with so many temples in Kyoto, there’s a fair number of Buddhists. Shojin Ryori is traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and is often served in the temples (Tenryu-ji Temple has a restaurant). There are also plenty of independent places to check out. 

Hyotei

Haute cuisine, or kaiseki, is also a popular in Kyoto. It often refers to a multi-course meal that combines different taste, texture, and colors. There can be more than a dozen courses comprised of a small appetizer, seasonal sashimi, soup, grilled fish, and more. Hyotei is a three-Michelin star restaurant at Nanzenji Temple that serves the traditional Japanese meal. 

 
Kyoto's Cherry Blossoms // Photo by Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

When to Go

Cherry Blossom Season

One of the most popular things to see in Kyoto, and Japan in general, is the cherry blossoms. The best time to see them is usually late March and early April. However, Mother Nature isn’t always so consistent and trees will sometimes bloom at different times. Also, because it’s such a popular event, make sure trips are booked well in advance as hotels will sell out.

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