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Cultural Treasures

Perhaps no city in Japan is more steeped in tradition than Kyoto. Although it’s known as “The City of the Thousand Temples,” the number is actually closer to 1,600 — and that doesn’t include the imperial palaces and the breathtaking gates. And there’s more. Walking down the street you’re sure to cross paths with a procession of geishas in full attire. Artisans are reviving ancient craft traditions and, in fact, improving upon them with modern touches. Oh, and the food, (don’t miss out on an authentic kaiseki), served with the highest attention to detail.

Small silver teapot pours green tea into a white ceramic bowl next to two dark green cubes on a white saucer

Day

1

MORNING
  • Explore One of Kyoto’s Most Picturesque Temples.

    It’s called the Silver Pavilion, but Ginkaku-ji Zen temple doesn’t actually have any silver. Rumors say the shogun ran out of money before the temple could be coated with silver leaf. What it does have is a dreamy reflection pond, a raked sand garden and a canopy of meticulously manicured trees.

MIDDAY
  • Admire the Local Artists.

    The National Museum of Modern Art showcases the work of 20th-century artists from the Kyoto area who have used traditional mediums (bamboo, ceramics, lacquer) and traditional techniques, like the nihonga style of painting done on fine washi paper.

  • Wait for Exceptional Udon.

    The Yamamoto Menzou udon shop is famous in town and thus often has a long, worth-it wait. The house specialty: the extra-spicy Akai Menzou, which is prepared with a mix of red peppers, crispy fried garlic and the perfectly chewy noodles.

AFTERNOON
  • Experience a Traditional Tea Ceremony.

    Enter the small tatami-mat teahouse of En and ask the kimono-clad servers for chado — the traditional Zen tea ceremony. With mindful hands, they’ll whisk matcha in a cup and deliver the extra-grassy, local green tea brew to you with a bow.

EVENING
  • Eat Some of the Best Dumplings of Your Life.

     Half the fun of Chao Chao Sanjo Kiyamachi is the gyoza dumplings, which are filled with pork or shrimp and pan-fried with a just-right crisp. The other half is the colorful crowd, laid-back and full of life.

  • Explore the Bustling Gion Neighborhood.

    At night, the streets of Gion are lined with lanterns, geishas shuffle along the streets on the way to shows, and karaoke bars are filled with energetic singers.

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Day

2

MORNING
  • Visit an Off-the-Beaten Path Buddhist Site.

    Wake up early and hire a car to drive you to nearby Shiga. There, take the cable car up to Hieizan, a World Heritage Site, which is perched at the top of a mountain. When you disembark, just follow the sounds of the gongs, which lead to Enryaku-ji Temple where you can observe monks chanting.

  • Hike in the Mountains.

    The village of Hieizan has a half-dozen monastic temples but also boasts trails lined with Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees. From many of the paths you get a clear view of Lake Biwa and Kyoto below.

MIDDAY
  • Browse the Stalls of Nishiki.

    Nishiki Market has been around 400 years. Five blocks long, the market easily deserves a few hours of browsing (maybe even multiple visits). Snack on bites of baby octopus, rice balls and mocha (rice cake that involves pounding).

AFTERNOON
  • Fall in Love with New Colors.

    The master dyer from Tezomeya uses ancient techniques to squeeze unusual colors from sources such as sea snails, insects and palm tree nuts. With these beautiful dyes, he makes tees, dresses and pants, and sells them in his studio.

EVENING
  • Experience a Kaiseki Dinner.

    At The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, the Mizuki restaurant hosts a Kaiseki — a multicourse dinner traditional to Kyoto — in a serene setting. A few of the small plates you’ll enjoy: miso grilled salmon, steamed rice with roe, and deep-fried tofu topped with bonito flakes. 

  • Listen to Music in an Old Sake Brewery.

    Venue Jittoku still maintains traces of its past as a traditional sake warehouse, including the seats you sit on (old sake barrels). The owners host local musicians who play folk, blues and other mellow genres ideal for sake sipping.

Two men and a woman attired in flowing Japanese robes perform a samurai dance with swords

Day

3

MORNING
  • Have a Sweet Start.

    Parfaits are ubiquitous in Kyoto, and the tea lounge Koishi makes exceptional ones. Its Suisen is a beautiful display of spongy matcha (green tea) pancakes, matcha soft serve and matcha tea cake.

  • A Shrine to Remember.

    You wouldn’t expect to find one of Kyoto’s most beautiful and important shrines along a busy street but such is the case with the red-gated Yasaka Shrine, which is adorned with hundreds of paper lanterns.

MIDDAY
  • Find Comfort in Ramen.

    Enter Ayam-Ya and go to the machine. Select the ramen you want from the menu — portions are large, and chicken is a specialty — and then just hand the ticket it spits out to the staff.

  • Purchase a Handcrafted Souvenir.

    The craftsman behind Kaikado comes from a long line of metalworkers. Today, his studio produces handmade tea caddies out of brass, copper and tin that have a gorgeous patina.

AFTERNOON
  • Dance, with a Sword.

    To get ready for battle, samurai soldiers used to perform kembu, a traditional sword dance still practiced by martial artists today. Learn some of these moves by booking the Samurai Experience at the hotel.

EVENING
  • Enjoy a Unique Dining Experience.

    At Jiki Miyazawa you dine kappō style — meaning you sit face to face with the chef as your meal is created. In this case, that meal will likely include sea bream with freshly grated wasabi, a mizuna hot pot and an array of delightful pickled veggies.