You can visit Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka and other famed Japan cities, and they all offer culture and impressive sites. But Kyoto, the capital of Japan way back in the day, has many ancient stories to tell through its historic attractions and traditional temples. When you step off the train at Kyoto Station, you’re transported to old Japan, where Geishas roam the streets and stories of goddesses trickle down through generations. Cherry blossoms turn the city a cotton candy pink in the spring, and some of the best traditional food is served in little izakayas. The city has many special nooks, all with their own unique offerings, so if you are here to experience it for the first time, these are the best places to stay.
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Nishijin is located near the Imadegawa-Horikawa intersection and happens to be famous for crafting kimono textiles since the 1600s. Culture and history are deeply rooted along the streets of traditional homes, temples and shops. Visitors can truly sense old Kyoto when staying in this district, and can even visit the Nishijin Textile Center, or the Orinasu-kan to dive further into the past. Wind down after a day of site-seeing at Funaoka Onsen, a piping hot Japanese public soaking establishment, then grab a bowl of highly famous soba noodles from Kanei.
Southern Higashiyama is a vast neighborhood which even houses other significant areas. Brimming with temples and picturesque streets like Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, that completely embodies the Kyoto feel, it’s quintessential Japan. Kennin-ji Temple, Entoku-in Temple and Kiyomizu-dera Temple exude culture, while The Kyoto National Museum also provides a clear depiction of the town through the ages. Spend the afternoon reflecting on the day’s discoveries at Maruyama-koen Park, where there’s plenty of space to stretch out and have a picnic. Later, catch a dance-drama performance at Minamiza Kabuki Theatre.
Kyoto Station is the second-largest train station in Japan, but the surrounding area is equally as impressive as the transportation hub itself. Even though the billboard laden exterior of the building isn’t all that awe inspiring, inside the station is brimming with fun shops filled with souvenirs galore. Make your way outside, and the ornate Higashi-Hongan-ji temple is a short walk away, along with temples Nishi-Hongan-ji and the massive To-ji. If you’re a train buff, a stop at the Kyoto Railway Museum is more than warranted. Get a better view of everything from the Kyoto Tower, one of the more unmistakable additions amongst the city. The Cube Food Court inside the station offers a diversity of both traditional, and not so traditional cuisine. While different from other experiences in Japan, Kyoto Station is now a unique part of the region.
Arashiyama is likely most significant for its Instagram haven, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The mountain accented Kyoto district is a goldmine for site seeing, attracting tourist by the droves for a reason. Togetsu-kyo Bridge is near the Main Street of Arashiyama, and a list of temples and charming villas make fighting crowds so worth it. One can find a bit more solace amongst the vibrant green, bamboo lined paths of the grove. See it all from a different perspective by renting a boat and rowing lower Hozu-gawa. Arashiyama is also home to another rejuvenating onsen. Be sure to try the Buddhist dish of broth simmered tofu at Yodofu Sagano.
Lush and green, Kibune is located along a river in the mountains of Kyoto. Home to Kifune Shrine, which is an ode to the god of water and rain, those who visit can retrieve magic fortunes on paper that only reveals the message when immersed in water. Kibune is a serene escape filled with classic ryokan lodging and unique restaurants, many of which build dining platforms directly over the river, through the warmer months, for the most amazing views during your meal. The cluster of eateries in Kibune are all magical. Hiking is a must in the naturalistic nook, where shrines and riverside scenes are abundant—this is a beyond mesmerizing disconnected gem. To get here, you’ll need to take the Eizan Kurama train.
Northern Higashiyama keeps with the theme of Kyoto, displaying the depthful history and centuries old tradition of the Japanese culture. The edge this district has is the abundance of art woven into everything else. Not only are modern museums at your site seeing fingertips, but Fureaikan Museum of Traditional Crafts, a fascinating display of native crafts through the year to present day, is also an attraction to further sink guests into the environment. Top it off with a further abundance of significant temples and shrines and you have another winner for a phenomenal place to stay in Kyoto.
Gion sits on the edge of Southern Higashiyama, but is so unique and symbolic it deserves its own mention. Gion is where you’ll find something quite iconic to the area—Geishas. Geishas are highly trained in music, dance and other arts, and are essentially educated performers that hold true to ancient Japan practices. So seeing one of these exquisite ladies is quite exciting, and places even offer geisha makeovers so you can have your own photo shoot in full makeup and kimono. Also taking authenticity to another level, Hiyoshido Massage takes guests through the real deal of Japanese wellness via massage and age-old treatment.
And that brings us to Downtown Kyoto, the heartbeat of the entire area. Markets, markets everywhere—a good bite to eat is always around. Nishiki Market, aka Kyoto’s Pantry is overflowing with interesting snacks essential to Japan, and Daimaru has a basement level which serves as a huge food market, as does Takashimaya. Ramen, dumplings, sushi, tea, tofu, street food—you’ll find it downtown. Japanese comic stores and arcades fulfill the Manga nerd in us all and are an experience all of their own. Unique shopping rounds out the hub, which is the ultimate place to go when the weather isn’t the best because much of what is offered is indoors. A day of eating, shopping and playing video games sounds pretty sweet to us.