Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)

Make this your first stop in Japan’s former capital. Not even the crowds of tourists — and they come by the thousands — can detract from Kinkaku-ji's undoubted splendour. The current gold leaf-coated reconstruction was unveiled in 1955, five years after the 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple's monks.



This is one of Japan’s best preserved historic districts and attracts a lot of tourists and Japanese who get dressed up in kimonos and walk around town like their ancestors. Make sure you take a rickshaw ride through the town’s fantastic bamboo forest.


The traditional Japanese inns abound in Kyoto and they are more temples than hotels. They range from quaint to over the top luxurious. Most are very basic but give you a glimpse into ancient life in this amazing country.


Ryoan-ji Temple

Its dry rock garden is a puzzle. Nobody knows who designed it or what the meaning is of the 15 rocks scattered across its expanse of raked white gravel. Some academics say they represent a tiger carrying a cub across a stream; others believe they depict an ocean accented with small islands or the sky dotted with clouds. There's even a theory that the rocks form a map of Chinese Zen monasteries. The only thing scholars do agree on is that Ryoan-ji is one of the finest examples of Zen landscaping in the country.



This geisha district is a collection of streets defined by its old wooden buildings, teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, and it’s by far the most famous in Japan. Spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you'll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their cumbersome zori sandals and exquisite kimono.


Nichiki Market

If you're interested in seeing all the really weird and wonderful foods that go into Kyoto cuisine, wander through Nishiki Market. It's in the centre of town, one block north of (and parallel to) Shijō-dōri, running west off Teramachi shopping arcade. This market is a great place to visit on a rainy day or if you need a break from temple-hopping. The variety of foods on display is staggering, and the frequent cries of Irasshaimase! (Welcome!) are heart-warming.


Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)

Ironically, the Silver Pavilion doesn't have a trace of silver on it. When the temple was built in the 1480s as a retirement home for the then shogun, the plan was for it to be coated in silver leaf. Scholars believe he ran out of money before they got to that part of the project. And when he died a few years later, the silver-less pavilion was converted into the Zen temple it is today.


Tea ceremony

Kyoto is a town of traditions and there’s no bigger tradition in Japan than tea. The cleansing of the tea utensils, the gentle bow as you receive your cup, the three clockwise turns before you take a sip: it's not difficult to see how deeply rooted the slow and graceful movements of the tea ceremony are in Zen Buddhism. Try visiting En, a small teahouse in Gion with tatami tearooms and English-speaking Kimono-clad servers. You'll find it next to Chionin Temple, a short walk from the Chionmae bus stop on route number 206 from Kyoto Station.



Shijo is Kyoto's brand-name adorned central shopping precinct. It begins near Shijo Station, with the Daimaru department store, eight floors of cosmetics, jewelry and fashion that are topped off by a restaurant floor. Fifteen minutes east, by Kawaramachi Station, the edge of the district is marked by the larger Takashimaya department store, which sits directly across from Koto + (pronounced Koto Cross), home to eight narrow floors of fashion, beauty salons and cafes aimed at a young female crowd.


Toei Kyoto Studio Park

It’s a bit tacky, but dressing up as a samurai and watching TV actors hamming it up on set does hold a certain charm. The Park is a working TV and movie set that doubles as a theme park, where besides dressing up in period costume you can wander around a mock-up Edo-era samurai town and take in exhibitions of the well-known TV series and films shot here.