Kyoto was the historic capital of Japan, and is pacted full of history but is also incredibly modern. This is where Super Mario was developed!
There are lots of fab places to see a short train ride from the city but the city itself has plenty to keep you occupied, largely because it escaped bombing during WW2
Kyoto is the home of the Geisha culture. The Gion District with its super discreet and exclusive wooden tea houses are still their stomping ground. There were about 250 Geisha entertaining patrons before Covid. No one is quite sure how many of the Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) will return.
You might be lucky to spot one if you are around the Gion, (I wasn’t) They are literally works of art, with their kimonos alone costing up to £10,000. I’d definitely recommend watching Memoirs of a Geisha to get an idea of the place. It’s really common to see young couples in traditional dress (you can rent kimonos) while site seeing and being given tours in rickshaws.
The city is awash with breathtaking palaces (the imperial palace is located here) and temples. We visited Nijo-Jo Castle, which is a UNESCO heritage site. It was built 400 years ago by the first Tokugawa Shogun, who’s family ruled for 14 generations and was also a samurai garrison. The castle complex is made up of graceful gardens and richly decorated audience halls with fabulous gold murals (unfortunately photography is not allowed inside). The buildings have what are referred to as “nightingale floors”. The floors are laid in such a way so that the chirp when walked upon, as an early warning system so they could hear intruders.
Food is also fantastic in Kyoto, and a speciality of the region is kaiseki. This is a multi course meal and these can be up to 11 courses, many are less than this but all are beautifully presented and change with seasons.
We treated ourselves to one of the more modest versions that included the usual miso soup and rice, as well as sashimi, marinated whitebait, tofu, and a beef hotpot. We decided to go native and the restaurant we visited served the food on low tables and we sat on cushions on tatami mats (not be recommended if you’re full of aches and pains from 2 weeks non stop site seeing) .
Nishi food market and the surrounding shopping district is also worth visiting, but go early because it gets extremely busy with locals and tourists. It’s a great place to pick up food souvenirs or try new things like squid lollipops.