The best of Kyoto

The one-time Japanese capital - it was the seat of government from the ninth to the 19th century - draws huge numbers of foreign tourists every year.

The one-time Japanese capital - it was the seat of government from the ninth to the 19th century - draws huge numbers of foreign tourists every year.

Yet what the brochures don't tell you is that much of antique Kyoto has been devastated by bad planning or is hidden behind veils of secrecy. The best traditional inns (ryokans) and restaurants frequently refuse to serve foreigners and the city has recently closed its only tourist office. Don't let this put you off. Kyoto is incredibly rewarding, but you'll need to persevere to unlock its secrets.

Best hotel

Every visit should include a stay in a ryokan. One of the finest is the elegant Hiiragiya Ryokan, Anekouji agaru, Fuyamachi (00 81 75 221 1136; Hiiragiya's 33 tatami-mat rooms, complete with paper latticework, lacquered furnishings and comfy futons, are set amid serene gardens in an original 19th-century wooden building. There are en-suite facilities, a communal same-sex ofuro (hot bath) and the per-person rate, 30,000-60,000 yen (£150-£300), includes two kaiseki meals (Japanese haute cuisine). The excellent and cheaper Motonago Ryokan, 511 Washio-cho, Kodaiji-michi (00 81 75 605 0072; charges Y10,000-Y20,000 per person (£50-£100). For Western-style accommodation, Kyoto's top ranked hotel, the Westin Miyako, Sanjo, Keage (0081 75 771 7111, offers doubles from Y26,500 (£133).

Best restaurant

Kyoto is famed for its kyo-ryori kaiseki dining. Nishisaka, Gion Hanami Komichi, (00 81 75 533 2433) serves superb kyo-ryori - several courses of soup, tempura, fish and tofu - Y4,000-Y9,000 (£20-£45) per head. Another version of kaiseki is shojin-ryori (temple food). You'll find the best in the calming environs of Chosho-in, a sub-temple of the great Zen Buddhist Nanzen-ji temple ( A set lunch of tofu, fu (wheat gluten) and mushrooms is Y3,000 (£15).

The Ponto-cho entertainment district is where you'll find dozens of cheap noodle bars and izakayas (pubs with food). There are two Y120 (60p) per plate kaiten (conveyor-belt) sushi bars at the junction of Kawaramachi-dori and Sanjo-dori.

Best cultural attraction

Kyoto is the crucible of many of Japan's traditional arts - there's no better place to sample the refined culture of kabuki (theatre) and the geisha (performer). The Gion district is the home of Minami-za (00 81 75 561 1155), Japan's oldest kabuki theatre.

The atmospheric back streets of Gion are where you're likely to see geishas and maikos (apprentice geishas). Kyoto Sights and Nights (00 81 90 5169 1654 can arrange private engagements with geishas or maikos for Y20,000 (£100).

Best shopping

The main shopping precinct is found at the junction of Shijo-dori and Kawaramachi-dori. There are dozens of craft shops just west of the river on nearby Sanjo-dori. In east Kyoto, pottery and antiques are sold in the lanes leading up to Kiyomizu-dera temple. Kyoto specialities are lacquerware, silk brocades, pottery, hair ornaments and bamboo utensils.

Best sightseeing

Start in Kyoto's heart at the Imperial Park (open daily, dawn to dusk, free) where there are perfect expansive lawns and the austere Imperial Palace (tours only, 10am and 2pm, Monday-Friday, free, bring ID to apply for permission before entry). Nearby is the more impressive Nijo-jo castle (daily, 9am-5pm, Y600/£3), the opulent home of Shogun Ieyasu. Head east for the celebrated sand gardens of the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuju Temple) (daily, 9am-4.30pm, Y500/£2.50) then follow the Path of Philosophy to the Zen gardens of Nanzen-ji temple (daily, 8.30am-4.30am, Y500/£2.50). Take the tracks at the back of Nanzen-ji into tranquil forests filled with Shinto and Buddhist shrines.

Further south is the awe-inspiring Sanjusangen-do (daily, 9.30am-5pm, Y420/£2) filled with 1,001 gilded statues of the 1,000-armed Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon. The shimmering Golden Temple (daily, 9am-5pm, Y400/£2) is in the north-west and, nearby, the Daitoku-ji temple complex houses the famous Zen stone gardens of Daisen-in (daily, 9am-4pm, Y400/£2).

Best nightspot

The Gion and Pontocho districts are stuffed with bars and clubs. But in traditional izakayas, foreigners are often greeted with suspicion and may not get served. The less traditional haunts are more welcoming. Just north of Sanjo-dori is the pan-Asian Katsuryoku-ya isakaya - great for nibbles and a beer. An alternative is 1950s-inspired Kentos, Hitosujime nishi-iru, and for British beer there's the Pig and Whistle, 115 Ohasi-cho.

Best way to get there

Finnair (0870 241 4411; flies three times a week from Manchester and London Heathrow via Helsinki to Osaka, 60 miles south-west of Kyoto. Return fares from £600 until 30 May. JAL, Japan Airlines, (08457 747 700; also flies from Heathrow to Osaka.

There are direct trains, Y3,500 (£17.50) for a 75-minute journey, and two shared limo-van services which take you anywhere in Kyoto for Y3,000 (£15), a two-hour journey. Japanese National Tourist Organisation (020-7734 9638;

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam