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8 Reasons to Visit Kyoto in 2017

Centuries-old rock gardens and shrines, sublime festivals and legendary blooms await.

U.S. News & World Report

8 Reasons to Visit Kyoto in 2017

A traditional treet of Gion in Kyoto. It is called "Gion Ishi-bei Kouji(it means a stone wall narrow street)". Japanese style restaurants form a line on both sides of this way.

Explore historic geisha-filled districts, brush up on Japan's rich culture and history and peruse vibrant markets on an unforgettable vacation.(Getty Images).

Kyoto's storied Buddhist temples, impressive museums, architectural treasures and elaborate gardens are often overshadowed by Tokyo's sprawling skyscrapers, buzzing city streets and legendary sites, but the former imperial capital of Japan is well worth a visit. In a few days, you can travel to centuries-old Shinto shrines, stroll along a willow-canopied and geisha-filled road before visiting a traditional wooden tea house and touring Zen temples in ornate gardens, among other activities. Plus, you can count on memorable meals and a mix of traditional and modern-day allures as you travel to the city's diverse neighborhoods. To experience the best of the city's fascinating temples, shrines and cultural attractions this year, consider this your ultimate Kyoto guide and start mapping out your trip.

The Culture-Rich Districts

The image of elegant geishas has been encapsulated in numerous cultural artifacts, but there's only one district in all of Japan where geishas can be spotted: the Gion District. If you're lucky, you'll not only spot geishas popping in and out of traditional tea houses, but also enjoy shopping for wares and crafts and savoring authentic kaiseki Japanese meals. There are is also offer plenty of entertainment and diversions for travelers in Gion year-round. And in July, the annual Gion Matsuri festival attracts nearly a million tourists for its elaborate floats and traditional musical performances.

The Vibrant Markets

The Nishiki Market, a 400-year-old market in the heart of the city, runs between Teramachi and Shinmachi, and is Kyoto's largest food market. A variety of traditional city culinary staples are sold here in the shotengai (shopping streets). Delicious Japanese sweets including wagashi, as well as tea, fresh fish and yakitori and sashimi can be purchased as well. And if you're looking for a great souvenir, you can also buy keepsakes like beautiful wooden chopsticks, along with a variety of other locally-produced handcrafted items during your visit.

The Ornate Temples and Gardens

One of the 17 historic UNESCO-designated monuments, and former home of the imperial Tokugawa, Nijo Castle is a not-to-be-missed place. Built in the 17th century, the impressive grounds include two layers of walled fortifications, beautiful gardens with cherry and plum trees and elaborate wood carvings. You'll also want to leave time to visit the area's ancient shrines, including the Fushimi Inari shrine. The Shinto construction of the shrine, which dates back more than 1,300 years, is notable in-and-of-itself, however, it is the torri pathway flooded by 10,000 orange gates which really make this a must-see on your Kyoto trip. It takes two hours to walk up to the shrine, making the gates seem endless and ethereal.

The High-End Hotels

If you want to stay in the lap of luxury, you don't have to slip away to Tokyo or another Japanese city to stay in a lavish hotel. In Kyoto, you'll have a variety of top-notch hotels to pick from, including the Four Seasons Kyoto. Five years and almost $400 million was spent to build this architectural feat. One noteworthy feature is the 800-year-old ikeniwa (pond garden) at its center. And you won't want to skip savoring delicious cocktails as well as the signature sushi experience at the hotel at Sushi Wakon, from Rei Masuda, the acclaimed master chef behind the two Michelin-starred Sushi Masuda in Tokyo. Other superlative hotels include the Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Hoshinoya, Kyoto.

The Dynamic Dining Options

While Japan is mainly known for its specialty sushi creations, at Seike, tourists discover yuba. Perhaps the most enticing yuba dish is the yuba steak, sautéed over a live fire with butter. The crunch of the heat along with the richness of the yuba make the dish hearty and flavorful. What's more, the venue's 38 seats, buttressed by two traditional gardens, offer an intimate and memorable atmosphere for travelers. Another standout for an authentic (albeit expensive) multi-course meal is Kinmata Ryokan, located near Nishiki Market, where you can delight in seasonal specialties such as baked red snapper head, a miso-marinated Spanish mackerel and steamed sushi.

The Elevated Cocktail Scene

While this ancient capital is old, there is nothing antiquated about the atmospheric bars flooding Kyoto's popular Shimogyo district. Standing heads and tails above its competitors is L'EscaMoteur Bar. Here, you'll find whimsical, French-inspired décor, a convivial atmosphere and strong drinks infused sweet, smoky and unique ingredients. Another must-visit is Bar Bunkyu, a whiskey destination with a sophisticated, yet laid-back atmosphere.

The Centuries-Old Castles and Shrines

One of the 17 historic UNESCO-designated monuments, and former home of the imperial Tokugawa, Nijo Castle is a not-to-be-missed place. Built in the 17th century, the impressive grounds include two layers of walled fortifications, beautiful gardens with cherry and plum trees and elaborate wood carvings. You'll also want to leave time to travel to the area's ancient shrines, including the Fushimi Inari shrine. The Shinto construction of the shrine, which dates back more than 1,300 years, is notable in-and-of-itself, however, it is the torri pathway flooded by 10,000 orange gates which really make this a must-see. It takes two hours to walk up to the shrine, making the gates seem endless and ethereal.

The Traditions

Kyoto is well-known for its unique traditions and well-preserved cultural heritage. During your trip, you won't want to skip savoring a leisurely tea ceremony. Travel to Ippodo Tea Co. for a cup to remember. Set in the heart of the city, the tea emporium has been serving tea for three centuries. Enjoy a variation of green tea, ranging from the sweetened matcha to Uji-Shimizu. Another classic tea spot is Ran Hotei, a gallery and tea house that features workshops in English.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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