Kyoto is located in the Kansai conurbation on the main island of Honshu in Japan. The city is located about 400 km from today’s capital Tokyo and 40 km from Osaka. About 1.5 million people live in Kyoto on an area of about 830 km². The former capital is surrounded on three sides by mountains, only the south is accessible – this area is also called Rakunan, the traditional access area of the city. Besides its wealth of temples and shrines, and numerous educational establishments, Kyoto is known for its sake production, silk textiles, the special Kyo-Yuzen dyeing technique and its outstanding cuisine.
Kyoto is the sister city of many world-famous cities, such as Prague, Paris, Florence, Zagreb, Kiev and Cologne. It also maintains an official partnership with Istanbul, Qingdao and Viantiane, among others. Read more about Japan’s metropolises Tokyo and Kobe.
The highlights of Kyoto in 4D
Kyoto is Japan’s number 1 destination for tourists from all over the world. The former capital offers so many different impressions and experiences, something new, exciting or unusual can be discovered in every corner of the city. From a bird’s eye view Kyoto is breathtakingly beautiful – Fushimi-Momomiya Castle and the paradisiacal mountain village Miyama are a real insider tip! Arashiyama has been a popular excursion destination since the 8th century and has lost nothing of its beauty to this day. The Zen Buddhist temple Tenryuji, for example, impresses with its beautiful gardens, designed by the famous Japanese Muso Soseki, who was the first abbot of the temple. At least as worth seeing is the small temple Senkoji. The river Hozu invites you to extensive sightseeing from a boat, while the Togetsukyo bridge may be familiar to some from historical Japanese films. Simply beautiful!
From Miyama to Senkoji – the enchanting Arashiyama in the West of Kyoto
Kyoto 794 – the imperial residence
As “Heian-kyo” Kyoto was the second permanent capital of the country since 794. At that time, Japan’s political power essentially originated there, which is why it also served as the imperial capital. When the emperor moved to Tokyo 400 kilometres away in 1185, Kyoto lost its position of power and the slow and gradual decline of the city began. 1568 came with the first Christian place of prayer, Namban-ji, then also the Christian influence to Kyoto. Only in 1580 did the reconstruction of the city begin and the first temples were built within the city – this had previously been strictly forbidden. Kyoto recovered and flourished and was one of the few cities in Japan to be spared from nuclear bombs and air strikes during the Second World War due to its cultural importance.
Kyoto Cultural Center – nearly 1,600 temples and more
Today Kyoto is the best preserved city in the country and is known as the cultural centre of Japan. Inside the city there are about 1,600 Buddhist temples and another 400 Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens. Many of these shrines and temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Kyoto” and are therefore particularly protected. This is one of the reasons why many of the country’s most famous buildings are located in Kyoto. The most important sights are in the east, north and west of the city – the majority of the temples are a bit remote in the north and on the surrounding mountain slopes. Every year Kyoto hosts the “Gozan no Okuribi” festival – large fires are lit on the mountain tops in the north whose flames simulate Japanese characters seen from a distance.
Ghostworld & Beacon – how to celebrate Gozan no Okuribi in Kyoto
Excessively polite in dialect
In Kyoto dialect is spoken, especially by the older inhabitants of the city. What distinguishes the Kyoto dialect from other language variants of Japanese is its strong historical influence, because here the old courtly culture is reflected in a form that cannot be found anywhere else but within the former capital. That is why the Kyoto dialect is also regarded as the higher variant of the generally regionally widespread Kansai dialect.
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The most beautiful buildings in the 11 districts
The city of Kyoto is divided into 11 districts, all of which are worth a visit. – Because in every district there are beautiful temples and shrines and many other attractions and tourist destinations.
Fushimi – the best water of the country
The district of Fushimi is known for its particularly soft and clear water, which is of great importance for sake production. That’s why this is also where sake producer Gekkeikan is based. Also worth seeing are the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Fushimi Castle, Teradaya Inn, Gokogu Shrine and the ruins of Yodo Castle.
Kamigyo – from Imperial Palace to University Campus
The high-quality silk textile Nishijin-Ori has been produced in the district of Kamigyo for centuries. The old architecture of the Imperial Palace as well as various temples and shrines, including the temple of Shokoku-ji and the shrines of Kitano Tenman-gu and Seimei, meet modern structures such as the Imadegawa Campus of Doshisha University.
Kita – golden pavilion and oldest shrine in Japan
Kita belonged to the district of Kamikyo until 1955 and is rich in sights. Here is the Daitoku-ji and the Imamiya Shrine with its famous Yasurai Festival and Japan’s oldest shrine, the Kamo Shrine. There is also the golden pavilion Kinkaku-ji, the mountain Funaokayama and four large universities.
Higashiyama – National Museum Kyoto
The entertainment district of Gion is located in the heart of Higashiyama. There are numerous temples including Kiyomizu-dera, Tofuku-ji, Kennin-ji, Kodai-ji, Imakumano Kannon-ji and Sanjusangen-ji.
Minami – the southern city entrance
Until 1955 the municipality was still part of the Shimogyo district. Minami is located in the south of Kyoto, the only area of the city that is not bordered by mountains. Here is the former southern entrance to the city, Rajomon, as well as the famous temple complex To-Ji, where monk Kukai taught. By the way: Minami is home to the Zainichi, a population group with Korean roots.
Nakagyo – the tourist center of the city
The district of Nakagyo is located in the city centre of Kyoto and is therefore also the hub for administration, consumption, tourism and entertainment. Three of the city’s most famous festivals are held annually in Nakagyo: the Aoi-Matsuri, the Gion-Matsuri and the Jidai-Matsuri. Of particular note in Nakagyo are Nijo-jo Castle, Tokugawa’s former seat of the Shogunate, the Rokaku-do Temple, rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1877, and the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
Nishikyo – the Imperial Katsura Villa
The district of Nishikyo is of particular importance because of the imperial Katsura Villa, which was built over the Katsura river of the same name. The old moss temple Saiho-ji and the Yoshimine-dera are also located here.
An ode to Katsura Rikyu
Sakyo – rice fields and botanical garden
The district of Sakyo is very close to nature. It is the only district of Kyoto that has been able to preserve its rice fields and prevent new development areas and high-rise buildings due to urban planning restrictions. The wood industry has also been a constant in Sakyo for many years. Besides temples and shrines like Ginkaku-ji, Nanzen-ji, Kamo Shrine, Heian-Jingu Shrine, Kurama-dera, Kifune-jinja, Sanzen-ji and Manshuin Temple there is the Imperial Villa Shugakuin and the botanical garden of Kyoto. The Kyoto International Conference Center, in which the famous Kyoto Protocol to the climate protection agreement was adopted, and the Kyoto University for Art and Design are also located here.
Shimogyo – Shopping, Travel, Rivers
Shimogyo is home to the large Kyoto railway station and the city’s largest shopping district at the corner of Shijo Street and Kawaramachi Street. Three rivers flow through the district and the famous Kyoto Tower rises far beyond the city.
Ukyo – Bridge to the Moon
The temple complex Ninna-ji, the Zen temple Ryoan-ji, Daikaku-ji as well as Koryu-ji and the bridge with the mystical name “Bridge to the Moon”, Togetsu-kyo are located in this district. The Kyoto Prefecture University is also located here. By the way: Ukyo is also seen as the centre of the Japanese film industry and is home to one of the two film studios Toeis.
With Kenny Lee in Arashiyama: from the bamboo grove to the “bridge to the moon”
Yamashina – the oldest imperial tomb of Kyoto
Yamashina station is only one stop from Kyoto station in Shimogyo. As a former imperial residence, a number of emperors have of course also been buried in Kyoto. In fact, the oldest imperial tomb in the city, the tomb of Emperor Tenji, together with that of General Sakanoue no Tamuramaro and other important historical figures are located in the Yamashina district. The famous Oishi Shrine is also located here.
The Top 10 City Attractions
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- The golden pavilion Kinkaku-ji
- Sanjuzangdo Temple
- Shoren-in Temple
- Emperor Shugakuin Villa
- Imperial Katsura Villa
- Ninna-ji Temple
- Sanzen-in Temple
With Shan Axe in Kyoto – 11 recommendations in less than 3 minutes!
University City Kyoto – Studying at the highest level
Due to its status as a university city, Kyoto is home to many young people, but in fact the students are not only city residents and regional residents, they come from all parts of the country to study at one of the approximately 40 universities and colleges in the city. Since the opening of the first Shinkansen line in 1964, Kyoto can also be reached by high-speed trains, which makes commuting much more pleasant. The main station in Shimogyo was completely rebuilt and modernised in 1997, which makes it more attractive to the young population, but in the eyes of many it is too much in contrast to the traditional Kyoto architectural style.
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Japan’s Top 5 Universities & Colleges
According to a foreign ranking of Japanese universities and colleges from April 2018, the national universities of Tokyo, also known as Todai, and Kyoto, aka Kyodai, ranked first for the first time together; until now, the national university of the capital was considered Japan’s undefeated top university. In the 2018 global ranking, however, Todai is still one step ahead; with 46th place on the world list of universities, it is 28 places ahead of Kyodai (74th). By the way: the universities of Oxford, Cambrige and Stanford occupy places 1-3 in the worldwide ranking.
- 1st Tokyo University & Kyoto University
- 3rd University of Tohoku
- 4th Tokyo Institute for Technology
- 5th Kyushu University
Catch your dream! Studying at Kyoto University
The three pillars of Kyoto – Tourism, Tradition & Modernity
Its long-lasting architecture and the many historical sites of Kyoto make the city Japan’s most popular tourist destination. In fact, tourism is the city’s main source of income and the tourist infrastructure is well developed here.
2. traditional handicraft
There are also many small businesses and family businesses dedicated to traditional Japanese crafts, for example Kyoto is famous for its silk manufacture and the production of kimonos, which are often worn here for festive occasions, but also in everyday life. A very special dyeing technique, called Kyo-Yuzen, was passed down from the 17th century and was developed many years ago by Yuzen Miyazaki in Kyoto. Outside Kyoto there are few practitioners, most of them in Kanazawa – but even within the city, Kyo-Yuzen is only used by a few.
The third pillar, besides sake production of course, is electronics. The headquarters of renowned companies such as Nintendo, Murata Eletronics, OMRON, Wacoal, Kyocera and many others are located in Kyoto. Nevertheless, many of the working population have to commute daily to Osaka, 40 km away, since the jobs in the city centre are no longer sufficient.
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Eating in Kyoto – a culinary feast for all the senses
Kyoto is also famous for its excellent cuisine. The stylish, often simple dishes focus on mainly vegetable ingredients such as pickled vegetables, called tsukemono. Many vegetables, which are seasonally found in the city’s specialities, come from the immediate vicinity of Kyoto and are known for being somewhat smaller in growth, but also significantly more intense in taste than in the rest of Japan, thus giving Kyoto cuisine a very special touch. By the way: a popular souvenir from Kyoto is the candy Yatsuhashi.
Most poular: Nama Yatsuhashi
Kaiseki Ryori – luxury dinner in several courses
Kaiseki Ryori is a multi-course and often expensive menu whose origins lie in the traditional tea ceremony. In the course of time it enjoyed great popularity at the Imperial Court and became increasingly pompous and extravagant. A variant of Kaiseki Ryori is Kyo Kaiseki, which is primarily based on seasonal vegetables from the Kyoto region.
Shojin Ryori – pleasurable modesty
The Shojin Ryori comes from the abstinent monks in Buddhist temples. The simple dishes consist exclusively of vegetarian ingredients, but are still rich and filling. A popular example of Shoji Ryori is a vegetable broth with tofu, called yudofu.
Obanzai Ryori – Food like Mum
The Obanzai Ryori is originally traditional cooking at home. Typically it consists of several small dishes that are not very complex to prepare. Restaurants that specialize in Kyoto cuisine often create a homely atmosphere to create a sense of home and togetherness among their guests.
Kawayuka – Food above the water
Kawayuka or Kawadoko refers to food in nature. But not somewhere, but on wooden platforms floating above rivers! These platforms are built by restaurants all over Kyoto during the summer season as a kind of terrace over rivers and streams, offering a refreshing alternative to stuffy restaurants and oppressive heat. The culinary district of Pontocho in the city centre is particularly suitable due to its proximity to the Kamogawa River, but also the two mountain villages Kibune and Takao in the mountains north of Kyoto invite you to Kawadoko from May to September – an absolute recommendation!
Streetfood in Kyoto: Yakitori, Okonomiyaki & Dango
More about Japan: Travel tips for vacation or weekend
Not enough of Japan yet? The Land of the Rising Sun has several other exciting, colourful and fashionable cities to offer with unforgettable sights and events. Of course, we have already compiled more information about Japan for you:
- Tokyo Experience: Travel tips & Field reports from Adachi to Taitō
- GlamHate: New Collection Vampyre by Dice-K in Tokyo, Japan
- Kobe Travel Guide: Sightseeing, Fashion Week & Lifestyle in Kansai
- Amazing Osaka! Between Samurai & Shopping in Japan’s #2 Metropolis