Kyoto is where you’ll find ancient and contemporary Japan collide in a fascinating cultural hub. The former imperial capital was spared much of the destruction of World War II and the city is unique for its abundance of prewar buildings including grand palaces, traditional “machiya” townhouses and ornate, ancient shrines. But as the country’s seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people, it’s put on a thoroughly modern face.
Sprawling out from the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station at the centre, you’ll find traditional ryokan inns featuring centuries-old craftsmanship jostling for position with skyscrapers. It’s also one of the few cities in Japan where traditional geisha still live and practice, and it’s not uncommon to see kimono-clad women shuffling along narrow, lamp-lit streets alongside captivated tourists.
Kyoto is known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines and some of its unmissable sights include the magnificent wooden Kiyomizu-dera, the Golden and Silver Pavilion Temples and Ryoan-ji with its celebrated rock garden.
A city of sacred temples and serene gardens, peaceful Kyoto is the complete antithesis to Tokyo. Make sure you take a walk through the Gion district in the early evening to try and catch a glimpse of an elusive Geisha, dressed in her traditional finery.
What to do
- Catch a glimpse of a geisha
- Visit Kyoto's celebrated shrines
- Tour the Kyoto and Sento Imperial Palaces
When to go
Summers (June to August) are hot and humid, with the rainy season beginning around the middle of June, lasting until the end of July. Kyoto is prone to typhoons during September and early October. The weather will clear up nicely for October and November, and is also lovely in April and May. Winters (December to February) are relatively cold with occasional snowfall. It is not recommended to travel to Kyoto between Christmas and New Years.