Discover Japan’s ancient city
When you think of travelling to Japan, many look to immerse themselves in the buzzing metropolis of Tokyo, but if you head to the ancient city of Kyoto, you can discover the traditions of old-school Japan which may normally be missed. This sleepy city is a treasure trove of delights to be found, take your time and walk around, and see what you discover. And for a little inspiration, take a look at some of our top picks for the city below:
Read more: Sassy Travel Guide: 48 Hours in Kyoto
How to Get There:
The main ways to get to Kyoto are by air, or by train.
Either take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto City Station, which should take around two-hours and twenty-minutes from Tokyo. Alternatively, fly into Osaka Kensai airport, which is about an hour and a half drive from Kyoto City.
When to Go:
Sakura season is always a popular time to visit any city in Japan. Typically taking place from the end of March through to the beginning of April, the city streets will be lined with the gorgeous pink cherry blossom. Although this time of year is beautiful and picture-perfect, it is worth bearing in mind that it may be more expensive and busier than other months.
If you’re looking for a peaceful break and to avoid the crowds, head to Kyoto in autumn, from October to November, as the weather will be cooler and the tourists sparse. Kyoto’s famous fall foliage will also be in its full glory from this time, with the pink hues of spring replaced by rusty tones.
Where to Stay:
Noku Kyoto is a boutique hotel, with just 81-rooms, located adjacent to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. With some rooms even overlooking the imperial gardens, and with the hotel situated right next to Marutamachi subway station (just eight minutes from Kyoto station!), Noku is the perfect place to explore and enjoy the city, away from the main hustle and bustle.
The rooms at Noku Kyoto are all designed in keeping with traditional minimalistic Japanese design interiors, with unique accents adding to the charm of each space. From specially designed headboards, in a range of different fabrics brightening up the simple rooms, to the handpicked and carefully curated art work, specially selected for each space, working to make each room one of a kind and welcoming.
Every room also comes complete with a cute (and super useful!), walking tour map of Kyoto city, highlighting local favourite restaurants, stores, hidden gems and more. The staff at Noku will go above and beyond to help you with any bookings or recommendations for during your stay. Just ask at the front desk, and the warm and friendly staff will be happy to lend a helping hand, epitomising the hospitality and warmth of the people of the city. As the hotel is located away from the busy downtown area of the city, you will be able to explore the real traditions and authenticity that is still very much alive today, here and all over Japan. With many mom and pop shops which have been owned and operated for generations, all in walking distance of the hotel, take a wander along the quiet and sleepy streets surrounding Noku and see what you discover…
Noku Kyoto, 205-1 Okura-Cho Karasuma-dori Marutamachi Sagaru, Nakagyo-Ku Kyoto-City 604-0861, Kyoto, Japan, www.nokuroxy.com
What to Do:
It’s worth noting that some business in Kyoto are closed mid-week (usually Wednesday or Thursday), so always check the opening hours before visiting to avoid disappointment!
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Just a five-minute walk away from Noku, the monumental Imperial Palace is a must see in Kyoto. Unchanged from the era of ruling emperors, the monumental building is not actually open for access to tourists, but sits in the impressive Imperial Gardens, which guests are free to walk or cycle around.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Known for its vibrant orange pillars, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is on many tourists must-visit list for Kyoto. From Noku Hotel, you can take the subway to Fushimiinari station, which is about 5 minutes-walk from the shrine.
Known for its temples and shrines, of course there are many others to explore in Kyoto, such as the Shimogamo Shrine and the Yasaka-jinja Shrine, the Tofuku-ji Temple and the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion).
WAK JAPAN is just a short stroll from Noku hotel and offers a variety of Japanese cultural experiences such as tea ceremony, calligraphy, kimono wearing, origami, Japanese cooking and sushi making classes. Housed in a traditional building, the space and activities on offer at WAK JAPAN will give you a true taste of the historic city.
WAK JAPAN, 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-0812, Japan, wakjapan.jp
One street over from WAK JAPAN, this traditional lacquer ware store is worth a visit if you’re looking for traditional souvenirs. Owned for many generations, the shop sells a selection of authentic lacquer ware items, from bowls, plates and platters, to pocket mirrors.
Okamura Shikki, 587 Ebisu-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Across the road from Okamura Shikki you will also find local stores full to the brim with crockery, along with a plethora of antique furniture shops. Worth keeping in mind if you’re looking for some unique pieces for your home!
Whilst in Japan, trying out the ancient practice of bathing at an Onsen is an experience for many travellers. The oldest bathhouse in Kyoto features fragrant bath waters and a hand-carved ornate interior. This is located just a 5-minute subway ride from Noku (head towards Kuramaguchi Station), with a 15 minute-walk from the station to the Onsen itself.
Funaoka Onsen, Murasakino Minamifunaokacho 82-1, Kita Ward, Kyoto, www.funaokaonsen.info/en
What to Eat:
Recommended by the staff at Noku Hotel, Kawamichi is a good choice if you’re looking for modern, yet authentic Japanese cuisine. Sit in a private room can try a selection of traditional “kaiseki” dishes from sashimi and meats, through to steamed egg in dashi stock and plum cake for dessert. Closed every Tuesday.
Kawamichi, Suncity gosyo nishi, 1F 328 Ima-kusuriya-cho, Kamigyoku, Kyoto, Japan
If you’re in Japan you’re going to need to get your hands on some ramen, and Kyoto has plenty of offerings. Close by and recommended by Noku is Takakura Nijo ramen, which serves up authentic tonkotsu ramen, or dipping noodles. Alternatively, about a 30-minute walk away (or just eight minutes on the train!), you’ll find one of Kyoto’s most recommended ramen houses, Ramen Sen No Kaze. With three delicious varieties of tonkotsu soup, from the slightly salty Shio, soy sauce-based Shoyu, and the popular Miso flavor-based. The gyoza dumplings here are also some of the best I’ve tried!
If you’re travelling to or from Kyoto by train, make sure to check out the famous “Ramen Alley” in Kyoto Station. Located on the 10th floor of the station, it is a corridor full of ramen shops, showcasing various varieties from across Japan. With most you order from the traditional ramen “vending machines” outside the shopfronts, it can be a fun (and delicious!) experience whilst waiting for your train.
Takakura Nijo Ramen, 64-1 Kannoncho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan
Ramen Sen No Kaze, 580 Nakanocho (Shinkyogokudori), Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8042, Japan, ramensennokazekyoto.com
As well as stocking a vast selection of teas for you to buy and take home, Ippo-do Tea in Kyoto has a small tearoom where you can choose from a selection of traditional tea sets to enjoy in house. Tea enthusiasts and novices alike will love the selection and the care in which the tea is prepared in front of you. Take yours alongside a traditional sweet mochi or brown sugar candy for a truly authentic taste. Ippo-do tea also offers group tea classes, perfect for loves of tea to learn the full process of preparing the perfect Japanese green tea.
Ippo-do Tea, Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0915, Japan, www.ippodo-tea.co.jp
Although historically a tea drinking country, Kyoto city has many independent coffee shops and cafés popping up along the sleepy streets. There’s a plethora to choose from which can easily be explored as you make your way around the city. Popular Kyoto bakery Hitsuji Café serves up fresh and delicious donuts – not something I was expecting to find just minutes away from my hotel!
Hitsuji Café, 1-5 Kamitachiuricho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan
Beer and Sake
Whilst wandering the streets surrounding Noku, I came across one or two craft beer spots that are worth a try if you’re looking for an evening drink. Before 9 is a newly opened, cool and contemporary craft beer and sake bar, and Takanoya also offers a great selection of craft beer and is conveniently located from Noku. Converted from an old Kyoto house into a modern craft beer pub it’ll give you a taste of modern Kyoto.
Sake fans should also check out Sake Bar Yoramu for an education on Japan’s most famed drink. Try a selection of sake (a tasting of three starts at 1,200 yen – around $85), accompanied by a food menu designed to complement different varieties of the drink.
Before 9, 545 Nijoden-cho, Karasumaoike-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, www.sakahachi.jp/before9
Takanoya, 534 Makieya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, www.facebook.com/gosyominami
Sake Bar Yoramu, 35-1 Matsuya-chō, Nijō-dōri, Higashinotoin, Higashi-iru, Kyoto, Japan, www.sakebar-yoramu.com