Home to no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the ancient city of Kyoto is rightly considered Japan’s historical gem. Kyoto was the Emperors’ residence for over 1,000 years between 794 and 1868, and Japan’s beautiful former capital is home to an incredible 2,000 different temples and shrines. In our latest blog post we give a Backyard Travel low-down on the historical city, giving our insider knowledge on the very best sites to visit and how the beautiful city changes from season to season.
Which sights can’t be missed?
Kyoto has approximately 1,000 Buddhist temples and shrines so it can be hard to know which ones should be at the top of any list to visit if you are limited on time. Starting at the stunning Buddhist Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) Temple is a good a place as any. The impressive temple is surrounded by the elegant Muromachi Gardens and it’s a relaxing place to spend an hour or two. Also not to be missed is the Kiyomizu Temple, otherwise known as ‘Pure Water Temple’; you can enjoy sublime views over Kyoto from the 13-meter-high veranda which, like the temple itself, astonishingly was built without the use of any nails.
Nijo Castle, famous for its creaking ‘nightingale’ floors is understandably a popular attraction. Built in 1603, the Castle is a great example of the Japanese Feudal architecture, known as ‘Momoyama’, and sits on a huge 275,000 square meter site surrounded by painstakingly manicured gardens. The large walled temple complex of Daitoku-ji Zen is also well worth a visit. Built in 1309 it comprises a main temple, 22 sub-temples and one of Japan’s most famous Zen rock gardens.
Finally, sitting in the Southeast part of Kyoto, the mystical Fushimi Inari Shine is possibly the most impressive attraction of all. With over 10,000 closely-spaced orange torii gates, the shrine runs for kilometers and forms an almost continuous tunnel filling the hills of Inariyama.
Soak up the atmosphere
Located on Japan’s largest Island, Honshu, Kyoto not only offers a wonderful glimpse into Japan’s past through its stunning temples, but also via its cultural charm and old-world feel. One district where these traits are in abundance is the Geisha area of Gion, which is bursting with character through its cobbled streets and quaint traditional tea-houses. It’s a wonderful place to just wander through, soaking up the atmosphere and catching a glimpse of the iconic Geisha Girls. Also not be missed is the historic district of Higashiyama, which is packed full of similar unique charm. With its narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional shops, it’s Japan from a bygone era. As Kyoto is one of the most bike-friendly cities on the planet, we suggest exploring these charming districts on two-wheels.
A foodie’s delight
Kyoto is rightly famed for not only the extraordinary quality of its food but also the variety. The city has a legendary amount of Michelin stared restaurants, more than anywhere else in the world (including Tokyo), but it’s not all high end dining as there street-food bites to enjoy like tasty Ramen noodle soup.
One way of learning more about the city’s love of food is to take part in a unique food tour and cooking class. You’ll visit a former sake brewery for a tasting tour and then be guided through the Nishiki Food Markets, where you’ll purchase your produce for the cooking class. Taking place in a traditional wooden house, the teacher will explain complicated Japanese cooking techniques from how to make sushi to the secrets of a delicious miso soup.
When is the best time to visit?
Kyoto has four very distinct seasons so you have to be careful to pack the right clothing depending on what time of year you are traveling. The most popular time to visit Kyoto (and Japan as a whole) is undoubtedly in spring when the Cherry Trees blossom and the city looks resplendent. At this time of the year accommodation can be exceedingly hard to find though, so make sure book well in advance. The second most popular time to visit is in the autumn when the temperatures are comfortable (between 15 – 20 degrees centigrade on average), and the city’s trees change color making Kyoto look like a patchwork of spectacular autumnal shades of brown, red and yellow. If you are to travel to Kyoto in either spring or autumn then it is best to try and avoid the weekend, as although still busy in the week, it will be that slightly less touristy and so a little bit easier to find accommodation.
Between June and August, temperatures can get very high (mid-thirties centigrade) but summer is also one of the quietest times to travel, so if you don’t mind the heat it’s a very rewarding time of year to visit. Our favorite time of the year to travel though is actually in the winter though which is partly down to the incredible crystal clear blue skies that you can witness at this time of the year. The winter season also brings more attractive prices, and like summer, a lack of tourists meaning you won’t be sharing all those magnificent sites with the masses.
If you’d like to include a visit to historical Kyoto on a tailor-made trip, be sure to consult with one of our Japan Travel Specialists who will be happy to tailor any of our Japan tours to your personal preferences.