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The former capital of Japan, Kyoto is the classy older sister of Tokyo and the know-it-all cousin of Osaka, which almost became the capital. With a nickname like “City of Ten Thousand Shrines” and more than 15 World Heritage Sites, you can tell you’re in for a getaway that will really make history.
But it’s not all traditions here. Kyoto is racing into the modern age with up-and-coming fusion restaurants, vibrant nightlife and world-class shopping. Here, you can experience the best of the country, all in one place. Ready to get your Japan holiday off to an incredible start? Book one of Wotif’s hotels in Kyoto and get ready to see it all!
Your trip will be “golden” with a visit to Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion, which not only gleams in the sun, but also seems to float on water. Channel your inner shogun as you walk through the temple’s gardens, then wish for good fortune at the coin toss.
If it’s more temples you seek, accommodation near Fushimi Castle will suit you as perfectly as a samurai’s armour. Visit the grounds of this storied temple and learn about its history as a warlord’s retirement home (yes, even warriors need to retire sometime) and popular target of sieges.
Still not feeling peaceful enough? At Ryoan-ji, which translates to “Temple of the Peaceful Dragon”, even mythological beasts can find their centre. While it’s home to the mausoleums of some of Japan’s great emperors, the real draw is the Zen rock garden. It’s beautiful, but also incredibly mysterious: No one knows who built it or what it represents, making it the perfect place to meditate on these questions. Just don’t fall asleep till you get back to your Kyoto accommodation.
International flights to Kyoto are serviced by Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka. Kyoto is about 90km northeast, but you can get there quickly thanks to Japan’s excellent railway lines. Use the subway to hook up with the Shinkansen Bullet Train, which will get you to Kyoto Station in under an hour.
From there, the subway can take you to popular attractions like Imperial Palace Park and Southern Higashiyama, with its geishas and temples. However, there are only two lines, so if your accommodation in Kyoto isn’t near the subway, just catch a taxicab outside the train station—easy!
Everyone knows about Japan’s fabulous cherry blossom season during the spring, but its fiery fall foliage is more of a secret, a special treat for locals and those in the know—which now you are! You can catch this stunning display from November to mid-December at many temples and parks around the city. The Japanese Maple Garden is especially nice for a stroll, while Chion-in Temple and Shoren-in Temple are the viewpoints most easily accessible from the subway at Higashiyama Station.
Partiers will have a ball joining in the Japanese New Year celebrations around 1 January. Enjoy traditional o-sechi ryori at a fancy hotel restaurant, then get into hatsu-mode (first shrine visit) at one of the city’s grand shrines. If you can’t wait that long to book Kyoto holidays, the Jidai Matsuri on October 22 will satisfy your festival cravings. One of the city’s “three great festivals”, this one is a huge celebration of Japanese history, including a historical re-enactment parade with people of all ages dressed to the nines in traditional clothing. Ever heard gagaku? It’s a type of Japanese classical music, and it’s nicer than it sounds. Book Kyoto hotels near Heian Shrine so you can get to the best spots early.
Kyoto has so many beautiful parks, it’s hard to know which one to recommend! Here’s a deal: We’ll give you two that are on the same subway line, and you decide. Kyoto Imperial Palace Park is the undoubted favourite of locals and visitors alike, with its shady plum trees, ponds filled with lazily lounging carp and wide boulevards with chatting residents.
The Kyoto Botanical Gardens are more often overlooked, though they definitely shouldn’t be. Head north on the subway from Imperial Palace Park and you’ll soon be in another world. Explore huge groves of cherry trees, rolling fields of flowers and wooden bridges over lily-pad-covered ponds. If it sounds like something out of a Japanese storybook, that’s because it is. Don’t be surprised to return there in your dreams long after you’ve gone home.
Not content just strolling through the park? Take a hike—an easy hike, that is. The path to the top of Yoshidayama starts near Kyoto University, and you’ll find tons of treasures at the top: two temples, three shrines and some great views.
This city is chockablock with must-sees, so planning one day in Kyoto at a time and picking things that are relatively close together is a good strategy. You can check three spots off your list right away with the Kyoto Morning Tour: Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and the Imperial Palace.
Ryoan-ji is also in this part of Kyoto, and you can easily hop on the train to Arashiyama. Rent a bicycle or a “pleasure boat” and explore this western district, which is home to Kyoto’s famous bamboo groves.
Eastern Kyoto is another awesome one-day itinerary. It is, of course, filled with temples, so start off at Kodai-ji, built in the lavish Rinzai style. “Rock” out in the gravel Zen garden and take some snaps in the hill garden.
Speaking of hills, you’ll need to climb down a few steps to get to the shopping streets of Higashiyama District. Shop till you drop, then enjoy a traditional dinner in Gion, the famous geisha district. Some of the best food in Kyoto can be found on Hanami-koji Street, but be warned—it doesn’t come cheap.
Ready to experience the yin and yang of Japan’s capital city? Check out Wotif’s selection of places to stay in Kyoto, then get ready for temples, traditions and toasts with new friends—yours should be “kampai”!
Hotels in Kyoto start at NZ$64 per night. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.