What to do and Where to stay in
With its ancient temples, traditional teahouses and glorious gardens, Kyoto offers a glimpse into old Japan. This was the capital for more than a thousand years (from 794 to 1868) and the city is still packed with culture and legacy of this history. You’ll find 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, fascinating architecture and a vast range of shops and restaurants at every turn. Kyoto is also renowned for its geisha, who scurry through the narrow streets wearing ornate kimonos and cherry-red lips.
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Experiences in Kyoto
Most of Kyoto’s attractions are in the northern section, though the futuristic steel-and-glass train station is quite a sight to behold. Catching sight of a “shinkansen” (bullet train) from the platform will excite pint-size train fans. Take it a step further at the family-friendly Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. Housed inside the former JR Nijo Station, it’s home to vintage locomotives dating back to 1914, and also offers ten-minute rides on a smoke-billowing train.
One of Kyotos’s most impressive sights is Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Walk beneath arcades of vermilion “torii” (shrine gates), spread across a thickly wooded mountain. Children will enjoy spotting hundreds of stone foxes, said to be the messengers of Inari, the god of cereals. Active families could also hike in other hills (try the two-hour walk to the top of Kurama-yama, an easy half-day trip out of the city), or cycle the backstreets of bike-friendly Kyoto. Pause to picnic by the river beneath the shade of cherry blossom trees or in the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park.
In Gion, the entertainment quarter on the eastern bank of the Kamo-gawa, listen out for the click-clack of “geta” (traditional wooden sandals) as geisha pass in a flourish of colourful silks. Later, you could book to have tea with a geisha, or learn how to be like a traditional Japanese warrior a Samurai class. Immerse yourself in the green wonderland of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and stroll along the Path of Philosophy, named after Nishida Kitaro, a 20th-century philosopher who meandered along the trail lost in thought.
Another great place to take children is the International Manga Museum, where you can soak up everything you can about these Japanese comic books. Set inside an old school, it has a children’s library and puts on occasional performances of “kami-shibai” (traditional sliding-picture shows). Afterwards, delve into Japanese cuisine in downtown Kyoto, where you’ll find the thickest concentration of restaurants, cafes and “izakaya” (small Japanese pubs). Explore Nishiki Market (“Kyoto’s kitchen”), slurp steaming bowls of ramen and sample delicate tempura, before rounding it all off with matcha (green tea) ice cream.
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