By Kate Springer
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Elite Traveler.
Established in the 7th century, Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and home of the Imperial family. Today, the city is still considered the epicenter of culture in Japan, boasting more than 1,600 temples, 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites and countless Zen gardens. Though postcard images of quaint flagstone lanes and graceful geishas might lead you to believe Kyoto is a tiny town, that perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Since its Imperial days, the city has grown to become the country’s eighth largest, with more than 1.4m residents. Despite its size, Kyoto is easy to navigate thanks to a user-friendly subway, pay-as-you-go rental bikes and tidy taxis. Still, the best way to explore is on foot, particularly in historic districts such as northern and southern Higashiyama, where you’ll find tree-lined temples, Kyoto National Museum, the geisha neighbourhood of Gion and Ishibei-koji Lane — said to be the most beautiful and best-preserved street in all of Kyoto. Whether you have five days or five weeks, there’s much to explore in this cultural wonderland.
When to go
To make the most of Kyoto, visit during spring or fall. Not only will the air feel fresh and crisp, but these are the best times to spot spring’s baby-pink sakura (cherry blossoms) and the fall’s blazing foliage.