Japan’s old capital, with over 2,000 shrines, is a must-see city. It’s just over 2 hours on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo but feels a million miles away from the city of lights. I loved the windy streets of the Pontocho neighbourhood, the fantastic food, the Geisha district and the shrines and temples everywhere you looked. My husband loved Tokyo, I fell in love with Kyoto. These are my must-visits:
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Mume was not only my favourite Hotel in Japan, it is quite possibly my favourite Hotel in the world. Boutique style accommodation with only 7 rooms, book in advance but it’ll be worth it, stylish modern rooms with antique furniture and the staff act like your personal concierge. Every evening between 5pm-7pm you can enjoy free drinks as the staff help you decide where to visit, print maps and give personal recommendations. Everywhere they suggested was out of this world. It is also in a great location on a cute antique street right by the Gion area (Geisha district).
WHERE TO VISIT
Fushimi Inari Shrine
By far my favourite shrine, it has a wonderful loud, market street leading up to it with music, shaved ice (essential if you are there in the summer), matcha (green tea) ice cream, street food and trinkets. Then behind the shrine is an incredible length of the famous red Tori gates, which are seemingly endless.
|Strawberry shaved ice|
The Golden Pavilion
Okay so it burnt down a couple of times and is actually not as old as first thought but it’s still pretty incredible, almost entirely covered in gold leaf. And it has beautiful gardens, too.
|Me at the Golden Pavilion (feeling very zen)|
A little way out (we had to get a local train) but well worth it for a day, I would rent bikes as there are lots of nature trails here. It’s a bit like a giant national trust park, with lakes, places of astounding beauty, and behind one of the shrines is the most amazing ‘bamboo forest’, which is definitely worth some snaps.
|Rivers and bamboo forest of Arashiyama|
This is the traditional geisha district of Kyoto, and here you might see a Maiko (Geisha in training) or even a Geisha roaming the streets. It has beautiful cobbled streets and is easy to walk around, you can also see the small red bridge from the film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.
|Part of the Gion festival|
WHERE TO EAT
Kappa Zushi – a restaurant in the Pontocho district and recommended to us by our Hotel and probably the best sushi I’ve had in my life, and roughly £50 for two of us. We sat at the bar and the chef made each dish in front of us, and gestured us how to eat each item – some items needed no sauce and others should be eaten all in one go etc. It made us really appreciate the food.
Must try: the fatty seared tuna…
Kokoraya – this is a typical Japanese Izakaya (like a Japanese pub) where food is simple, tasty and you can drink more than you would in a restaurant. You would generally order drinks and then keep ordering small dishes to accompany. They’re often more local and in this one we had to take our shoes off and eat sitting on floor level. Try: sake with water.
|With Meg at The Golden Pavilion|