Discover this beautiful imperial city
The former capital until 1867 and long regarded as the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto boasts 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and innumerable temples and shrines. It is also famously home to the historic geisha district of Gion.
- Explore the evocative geisha district of Gion with its charming wooden merchant houses and traditional tea houses
- Incredibly, there are over a thousand temples in Kyoto. Highlights include Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) – a Zen temple adorned with gold leaves, and the 15th-Century Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) which is set in tranquil wooded gardens
- Visit Nijo Castle which dates from 1603 and is a designated national treasure with splendid architecture and interior design
- Take a tour of the Imperial Palace, the former residence of Japan's royal family
- The Philosopher's Path bursts into colour in April and follows a canal lined with cherry trees to the Heian-jingu Shrine
Best time to visit Kyoto
Spring (from March until May)
Kyoto holiday highlights
The city is a proud guardian of its ancient traditions and its winding alleys lead to tranquil gardens and the famous geisha and maiko district of Gion which whisks you away to a bygone era with its charming wooden merchant houses and traditional 17th-Century tea houses. You may catch sight of beautifully dressed geishas or maikos (trainee geishas) with white-painted faces, traditional wooden shoes and colourful parasols, on their way to social engagements. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture, visit Kanikakuni – a former geisha house. Here, you can dress up in a kimono and learn about the history of this traditional form of entertainment.
Kyoto is famously home to more than 1600 temples. Highlights include the beautifully ornate 15th-Century Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) which is set in peaceful gardens and the iconic Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) which lies on the shores of a picturesque lake, is adorned with gold leaves and contains sacred relics of Buddha. Walk to nearby Daitoku-ji, a vast walled temple complex with beautiful gardens and a serene ambience – it serves as the headquarters of the the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. The calm and tranquil setting makes it the ideal place to experience chado, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with a tea master. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is one of the city's most popular shrines. A two to three hour hike up the mountain takes you along a winding path lined with thousands of distinctive red torii gates.
Explore Nijo Castle where each step on the ‘nightingale floor’ omits a squeak designed to warn against intruders. Discover magnificent audience halls that were built for the Tokugawa Shoguns – Japan's rulers during the Edo Period.
Kyoto is renowned for its beautiful gardens and there are so many that visitors are spoilt for choice. Konchi-in, a sub-temple of the Nanzen-ji temple complex, is a famous Zen garden arranged in the shape of a crane and tortoise, a pairing which symbolises good fortune in Japan. The Rokuon-ji temple offers a perfect example of a Zen rock garden and the Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Gardens are home to over 120,000 plants representing 12,000 species. Learn about Japan's Shinto roots at the gardens of the Heian-jingu Shrine and enjoy a glimpse of how Kyoto looked in its earliest days.
A 45-minute train journey from Kyoto takes you to the charming temple city of Nara, the site of Heijo-kyo, Japan’s first capital, which was established in 710. Legend tells of a deity that arrived in the city on a white deer to protect the capital; since then, deer have been considered sacred and today they roam the city freely.
Visit the Todaji Temple – the world’s largest wooden structure and home to the Great Buddha, the biggest statue in Japan. Explore Nara Deer Park, which covers 1250 lush acres and is home to over 1000 tame deer that will eat out of your hand. Kasuga Taisha Shrine is home to a collection of 3000 antique stone and bronze lanterns.
As the final destination on the famous Silk Route, Nara adopted influences from a wealth of different cultures and it is a veritable repository of cultural and historic treasures including some of the country’s oldest temples. The fascinating sights of this compact city can easily be explored in a day.