Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is still one of the most iconic cities in the country. This city of 1.5 million inhabitants has an exciting mix of traditional Japanese culture and a modern Japanese metropolis, and is one of the most well-visited tourist destinations in the country.
Mention Kyoto and the images that will spring to the minds of most is of Geishas and temples, narrow lanes of old “machiya” townhouses, and young girls dressed in kimonos. While the city still to a large extent lives up to this stereotypical image, it also has a plethora of other things to do.
For a start, Kyoto is a city where the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive. The streets in the central part of town are full of cafes and interesting shops selling everything from designer clothes and accessories to the produce of local craftsmen. Especially the area in downtown Kyoto, a few blocks west of the Kamo River, is full of interesting small streets where one can spend hours just walking around and exploring all the interesting things this town has to offer.
But the main draw to the hordes of tourists coming here these days is the fact that Kyoto is a city with a very rich history, and the place where many aspects of what makes Japan such an unique and interesting country developed throughout the centuries.
For over a thousand years, or more exactly from 794 until 1868, Kyoto was the capital of Japan, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is also the birthplace of many aspects of Japanese culture that are strongly rooted here, in particular, the Maiko and Geisha that can still be seen on the narrow streets of Gion.
Kyoto is also known as the city of 1000 Buddhist temples. Some of the most prominent ones are Kyomizudera in the eastern part of Kyoto, as well as the golden Kingakuji and the ones in the mountainous areas of Kurama and Kibune.
There are also several Zen buddhist temples in and around Kyoto, some of which offer outsiders the chance to join their meditation sessions. Most of these, however, require you to make a reservation in advance.
Kyoto is located in the Kansai region of Japan, between Japan’s biggest lake, Biwako, and the sprawling metropolis of Osaka. It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Kyoto from Tokyo by Shinkansen. From Osaka, the trip takes a mere 15 minutes. The nearest major airport is Osaka’s Itami airport, and the ride from the airport to downtown Kyoto takes 50 minutes by bus.