Reflecting customs and traditions bequeathed from one generation to another, Kyoto bears the iconic allure of the original Japan. And if neon-lit skyscrapers, slick anime and advanced technology are Tokyo’s trademarks, Kyoto, unlike its Eastern counterpart, is predominantly renowned for its idyllic gardens and poignant temples.
But the city is not only that. As the former capital of Japan, it is the country’s cultural hub and a sprawling metropolis littered with vestiges of a Buddhist-centered culture. Having a fair share of cutting edge areas, it blends perfectly fetching districts imbued with a typical Japanese flair and dramatic high-rises. I wouldn’t be surprised if in Shinkyogoku, the city’s hectic shopping district, a geisha made an appearance in her flamboyant costume.
The diversity of the neighborhoods is Kyoto’s main peculiarity. Gion district, one of the city’s hanamachi, aka ´flower district`, exerts its pull on tourists due to its wooden buildings and a major concentration of Geishas – or geiko, as they are called locally – and tea-houses, offering a deep insight into thousand-year old traditions.
South of Gion, in Kyoto’s Easternmost part, stretches another area of iconic importance and beauty that has gained popularity among an increasing number of tourists thanks to its elaborate temples and shrines. Fushimi Inari-Taisha, in particular, is Kyoto’s landmark, and, nestled at the foot of a mountain, is a most-loved religious sight wonderfully composed of endless red-coloured shrine-gates.
Northern Kyoto, a rugged landscape of vast greenery and uncanny charm, on the other hand, could not be more different. A reign of tranquility spread over a vast area, it houses several UNESCO World Heritage sites and a long list of temples of unrivaled beauty. Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Golden Pavillion, sits lakeside amidst lush vegetation and, as the name suggests, bears top-floors covered in sparkling gold leaf.
A thorough experience of Kyoto must also include a journey through Japan’s culinary traditions. A foodie’s paradise, the city boasts a whole range of local delicacies and tongue-tickling classics, encompassing noodle dishes, mouthwatering seafood or the most-loved sushi adjusted to fit Kyoto’s own flavours and techniques. As there is no such a thing as a most-favourite food-focused destination in town, down-to-earth eateries and fine-dining restaurants are scattered throughout the city’s entire area. The staples of sushi or ramen can be found anywhere, just like dried seafood or Japanese-style treats. The bustling Nishiki Market, a food aficionado’s must, is crammed with food hawkers and traditional knickknacks, in a colourful array of wonderfully varied oddities.