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KYOTO

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KYOTO

THE ANCIENT HEART OF JAPAN

Kyoto is almost surreal: Ancient temples shrouded in greenery still lie at the end of winding mountain paths; Geiko (the Kyoto term for geisha) still eloquently shuffle along lantern-lit alleyways at night; Elegant bars and restaurants still sit behind secret doors, tucked away in narrow backstreets.

But Kyoto is not stuck in the past. Today, the city is also home to a wave of young creatives, who - while always mindful and respectful of its traditions - are injecting a new life and energy into the city...

The golden pavilion of Kinkaku-ji  is one of the most visited sights in Kyoto. Although the original structure was tragically burned down  in 1950, the reconstruction is still an arresting sight, especially on a sunny afternoon.

1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto // 

Northern Kyoto //

shokoku-ji.jp //

KINKAKU-JI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

These sprawling vermillion Torii gates are one of the iconic images of Kyoto. It's impossible not to be amazed by the beautiful, winding mountain pathways of Fushimi Inari-Taisha. You'll need to allow a half-day to explore the whole place.

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku // 

South Kyoto //

inari.jp/en //

FUSHIMI INARI-TaISHA

DETAILS

TEMPLE

Yontomi Kaikan is not easy to find. The building - close to Nishiki Market - is crammed full of tiny bars and restaurants, each seating only a few people. It comes alive at night, when customers walk down the long, dimly-lit corridor to enter their chosen watering hole.

between Nishikijikoji and Shijo streets  // 

Downtown Kyoto  //

YONTOMI KAIKAN

DETAILS

EAT

Hidden away on an otherwise unassuming residential street, Kazumasa Yamashita's quirky 'Face House' stands out next to its neighbouring structures. Built in 1974, the building has found fame in recent years - and is now also home to OOO Creative Studio on the ground floor.

740-1 Tatedaionjicho, Nakagyo-ku // 

Central Kyoto  //

FACE HOUSE

DETAILS

ARCHITECTURE

This narrow alleyway running alongside the Kamagawa river is lined with restaurants, bars and boutiques. It has long been a key part of Kyoto nightlife, famous for being one of the geisha districts. Ponto-Cho comes alive at night when it is lit by traditional paper lanterns.

Ponto-cho, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

ponto-chou.com //

PONTO-CHO

DETAILS

PLACE

Beautiful cafe located in the Shimabara district, just around the corner from the Sumiya Ageya Pleasure House. The dark interiors and rough concrete floors combine with original features, such as the tiled staircase, to create a surprisingly calming and cosy atmosphere.

 74 Nishishinyashiki Chūdōjichō, Shimogyō-ku  //

Shimabara //

@hyggehygge //

HYGGE

DETAILS

CAFE

Massively popular with tourists, Kiyomizu-dera is one of the key sights in the city. A temple has stood here since  AD 778, but it has been rebuilt several times due to fires. The current main hall dates back to the 17th Century, and the temple offers stunning views across Kyoto.

1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashi-ku  // 

Southern Higashiyama //

kiyomizudera.or.jp/en  //

KIYOMIZU-DERA

DETAILS

TEMPLE

Without doubt one of the most 'instagrammable' coffee stands in the city, Nijo Koya Coffee Stand is housed in a tiny shack, tucked away in a small car park close to the castle. Despite its humble appearance, this place serves up some serious drip coffee.

 382-3 Mogamichō, Nakagyō-ku //

Central Kyoto //

@nijokoya  //

NIJO KOYA

DETAILS

COFFEE

This classic old sweet shop located on Kiyamachi-dori sells traditional handmade wagashi (Japanese sweets). It is run by  an elderly couple who busily buzz around  behind the counter, while the sweets are made at the back of the shop.

Kamiosaka-cho, Kiyamachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku  //

Downtown Kyoto //

TSUKIMOCHIYA NAOMASA

DETAILS

SWEET

This beautiful temple in the south east of the city is notable for the fact that its five-storey, 38-metre-tall pagoda - built in AD 951 - is the oldest structure in Kyoto. The lush green gardens turn amazing shades of fiery red and orange in the autumn.

 22 Higashi Oji-cho, Daigo, Fushimi-ku  // 

South East Kyoto //

daigoji.or.jp/ //

DAIGO-JI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

Speakeasy-style cocktail bar hidden behind a secret entrance (look for the yellow door and the bee sign!).  The menu features interesting concoctions like the 'Not Godfather', made up of apple and cinnamon-infused rye whiskey, Amaro, select bitters and cinnamon wood smoke.

3 6 4 Kamiyacho, Nakagyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto //

bees-knees-kyoto.jp/  //

BEE'S KNEES

DETAILS

BAR

Tenryu-ji is the most important temple in the Arashiyama district. The temple's spectacular landscape garden - designed by Muso Soseki - has survived the centuries in its original form, with a large pond surrounded by rocks and pines, and the borrowed scenery of the mountains behind.

6 8 Sagatenryuji, Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku  // 

Arashiyama  //

tenryuji.com/en/  //

TENRYU-JI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

This amazing gallery / boutique is hidden away along a narrow alleyway. Owner, Kawara-san, personally selects the items sold in the store, from ceramics and fashion, to prints and zines, by artists and artisans from across Japan.

47-12 Oji-cho, Shijo-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto //

voukyoto.com  //

VOU

DETAILS

SHOP + GALLERY

To See is well worth seeking out in the backstreets.  This cool, minimalist 'community store'  and gallery is run by a group of friends  who carefully choose the small  but unique selection  of products on offer, and serve up decent coffee too!

244-3 Tamauecho, Nakagyo-ku // 

Central Kyoto //

t-o-s-e-e.jp/  //

TO SEE

DETAILS

SHOP + GALLERY

Wandering through the bamboo grove in Arashiyama almost feels like you've stepped into another world - which explains why it's so incredibly popular as a tourist destination. If you want to experience it properly, get there super early before the crowds descend.

Saga Ogurayama-cho, Ukyo-ku  //

Arashiyama //

sagano-kanko.co.jp/  //

ARASHIYAMA BAMBOO GROVE

DETAILS

GREEN SPACE

This arts and gastronomy venue hosts a variety of interesting events, exhibitions and talks which aim to introduce and promote the work of young Japanese and international talents in contemporary art, design, fashion, performance and music.

2 0 9-2 Nabeyacho, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

forumkyoto.com  //

FORUM KYOTO

DETAILS

EVENTS SPACE

The streets of Gion can offer an insight into the history of the city. As one of the city's main geisha districts, these tiny alleyways are lined with discreet entrances to high-end restaurants, bars and teahouses. Massively crowded by day, so venture out at night instead!

Gion-machi, Kyoto // 

Gion //

GION-MACHI

DETAILS

PLACE

Ginkaku-ji (the 'Silver Pavillion') is a Zen temple located in Higashiyama. Originally the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, it was converted into a temple after the shogun's death in  1490. Famous for its unique dry sand garden.

2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo-ku  // 

Northern Higashiyama //

 

GINKAKU-JI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

This small eatery specialises in Onigiri - fresh, warm and delicious with a whole variety of fillings, from the traditional to the more unusual (chicken curry, or cream cheese and bonito flakes). You can grab onigiri to take away or sit down and order a set lunch. 

39-3 Jōdoji Shimominamidachō, Sakyō-ku  // 

Northern Higashiyama //

aonigiri.com  //

AO ONIGIRI

DETAILS

EAT

Climb this hilly park to reach an observation deck from which a breathtaking view of the whole of Arashiyama unfolds. Get there early in the morning to catch a few moments alone with just the breeze, the birdsong, and those views.

Kamenoo-cho, Saga, Ukyo-ku  // 

Arashiyama  //

KAMEYAMA PARK

DETAILS

GREEN SPACE

Three-storey design cafe and store by Japanese product design guru, Shin  Nishibori, who made a name for himself at Apple. The beautifully decorated cafe sits on the banks of the Kamogawa river, with views across the wide expanse of water and a comforting international menu.

798-1 Nishi Hashizume-cho, Shimogyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

shinproducts.com //

EFISH CAFE

DETAILS

EAT

Completed in 1964, Kyoto Tower is the city's tallest structure and - if you're arriving by train - it will probably be one of the first things you see. Visitors can head to the 100-metre-high viewing platform of the retro tower for a 360-degree view of Kyoto.

Karasuma-dori, Shichijo-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku  // 

Kyoto Station Area //

KYOTO TOWER

DETAILS

SIGHT

Behind a discreet entrance in a secluded alleyway in Gion, lies this high-end, exclusive bar. Located in a renovated 100-year-old ochaya (a teahouse where geisha used to perform), friendly bilingual staff serve up classic cocktails and spirits.

 570-8 Gionmachi Minamigawa  // 

Gion //

gion-niti.com   //

GION NITI

DETAILS

BAR

Higashi Honganji was built as the head temple of the Otani faction of Jodo-shin Buddhism in the late 1500s. The temple's Goeido (main hall) is the largest wooden structure in Kyoto and is dedicated to the leader of the sect.

7 5 4 Tokiwacho, Shimogyo-ku  // 

Kyoto Station Area //

higashihonganji.or.jp/  //

HIGASHI HONGANJI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

A little off the beaten path, this tiny shop and coffee stand is one of our favourite places in Kyoto. Featuring pieces by local artisans and craftspeople, and the coffee comes from five of Kyoto's best roasters, as well as one blend that is unique to Dongree itself.

214-4 Ikedonocho, Higashiyama-ku  //

Southern Higashiyama //

dongree.work //

DONGREE

DETAILS

SHOP + COFFEE

Beautiful stroll garden in the grounds of an elegant villa built in 1896. Murin-An features a grand, Western-style residence, as well as beautifully preserved wooden buildings and a teahouse, with stunning views across the garden.

Nanzen-ji, Kusakawa-cho, Sakyo-ku  // 

Northern Higashiyama //

murin-an.jp/en/  //

MURIN-AN GARDENS

DETAILS

GREEN SPACE

When naming her creative studio and store, owner Tomoyo-san simply took the vowels in her name: OOO. She sources pieces by designers from around the globe, all fitting her bright, cheery, pop art aesthetic. The store is housed on the ground floor of the iconic Face House.

740-1 Tatedaionjicho, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

creativeooo.com //

OOO CREATIVE STUDIO

DETAILS

SHOP + GALLERY

Sumiya Ageya, located in the historic pleasure district of Shimabara, is the last remaining example of an 'ageya' - an elegant restaurant where banquets were held in the company of geisha, who would perform tea ceremonies, sing and dance. The exquisite interiors are open to the public - but only at certain times of the year. Bookings are required.

Nishishinyashikiageya-cho 32, Shimogyu-ku  //

Shimabara //

sumiyaho.sakura.ne.jp/ //

SUMIYA AGEYA

DETAILS

ARCHITECTURE

This 1923 sento (bathhouse) has been converted into a quirky cafe, and the pristine, bright interiors still boast many of its original features. Welcoming staff and a comforting menu - think teas, coffees, pasta and pancakes - make this a great place to take a break.

4-3 Imahori-cho, Sagatenryuji, Ukyo-ku  // 

Arashiyama //

sagano-yu.com //

SAGANO-YU

DETAILS

EAT

Hachi (meaning 'eight' in Japanese) is a small, quirky bar with a rotating selection of 8 craft beers on tap, constant music, and video projections on the wall.  Head up a makeshift staircase to a tiny - but well-stocked - record store. Open from 14:00 until late.

19 Hiraicho, Shimogyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto  //

sakahachi.jp //

HACHI 

DETAILS

SHOP

Dating back to the mid-13th century, Nanzen-ji is one of the most important Zen temples in the whole country. Located at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains, the temple is well known among visitors for its imposing 'Sanmon' entrance gate, constructed in 1628.

Nanzenji-Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku  // 

Southern Higashiyama //

nanzen.net/  //

NANZEN-JI

DETAILS

TEMPLE

Okochi Sanso is the former home of  late Japanese actor, Denjiro Okochi. The sight is famous for its beautiful gardens and stunning views across Kyoto - Get there early in the morning to wander through the gardens alone and soak it all in.

 8 Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamachō, Ukyō-ku  //

Arashiyama //

kanko.city.kyoto.lg.jp //

OKOCHI SANSO GARDEN

DETAILS

GREEN SPACE

Y Gion is a zakkyo (a Japanese term describing a building complex where many different businesses, people and products come together) established by creative director, Takuma Inoue, to fuse together different creative spaces, including galleries, bars and a record store.

19 Benziten-cho, Higashiyama-ku  // 

Gion //

ygion.com  //

Y GION

DETAILS

EVENTS SPACE

This quaint stationery shop is located in a 100-year-old machiya at the far end of a narrow Gion alleyway. It's one of the most hidden-away stores in the whole city, but it's worth hunting out - a modest space filled with beautiful, crisp stationery in a variety of unique prints.

4-297 Miyagawa-suji, Higashiyama-ku  // 

Gion //

uragu.com  //

URAGU

DETAILS

STATIONERY

Owner, Koichi Yoshimura started this cafe next door to his shop selling rare shells, fossils and other natural objects. The result is a clean, beautiful space that feels part-cafe, part-museum, with glass tables doubling up as showcases for dried urchin shells.

37 Nishinokyo Minamiharamachi, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Central Kyoto //

usaginonedoko.net/en/ //

USAGI NO NEDOKO

DETAILS

SHOP + CAFE

This beautiful bar is the very definition of minimalism: A discreet, unmarked entrance leads into the bar area - a long, low bar with designer chairs in a cleanly-decorated room punctuated only by a hanging flower. There are no menus -  just ask the owner.

Sanjo-dori, Shinmachi  nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

SHUTO YANAGINO

DETAILS

EAT

Bungalow serves up a great range of decent craft beers and natural wines, alongside a menu of tasty dishes. The two-storey, industrial space features an open-air ground floor, ideal for people watching over a few drinks.

15 Kashiwaya-cho, Shimogyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

bungalow.jp/ //

BUNGALOW

DETAILS

BAR

The finest in fine dining, Kyoto Kitcho possesses 3 Michelin stars. Opened in 1930, the restaurant is now run by third-generation  owner / chef, Kunio Tokuoka, who follows the principles of kyo-ryori (a version of kaiseki specific to Kyoto) in an absolutely stunning setting.

58 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku  // 

Arashiyama //

kyoto-kitcho.com //

KYOTO KITCHO

DETAILS

EAT

Maruyama Park comes alive in April during sakura (cherry blossom) season, when it becomes one of the most popular spots in the city for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. The centrepiece of the park is a tall shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), which is illuminated at night.

Maruyama-cho, Higashiyama-ku  // 

Higashiyama //

MARUYAMA PARK

DETAILS

GREEN SPACE

Enjoy the crazy decoration as much as the stock itself at this quirky second hand records and book store on the second floor of a building in Downtown Kyoto. Usually open between 15:00 and 21:00, look out for the mural and climb the stairs to the store.

271-4 Kitakurumayacho, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

hitozoku.com  //

HITOZOKU RECORD

DETAILS

SHOP

We love the concept behind this coffee-stand-cum-gallery: Owner Masaki Okada apparently set up Wanderers' Stand as a gathering place for wandering souls. As well as serving up great coffee, the space acts as a gallery for young artists. 

58 Yaoya-cho, Shimogyo-ku  // 

Central Kyoto //

@wanderersstand //

WANDERER'S STAND

DETAILS

COFFEE

The Philosopher's Path is an approximately 2-kilometre-long path lined with hundreds of cherry trees, that runs alongside a canal in northern Higashiyama. The path gets its name from philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who would practice meditation while strolling along the route.

Sakyo-ku (close to Ginkaku-ji)  // 

Northern Higashiyama //

PHILOSOPHER'S  PATH

DETAILS

SIGHT

Owner Kenji Tsubokura sets the scene in this softly-lit cocktail lounge with a long bar, dark tones, an open fire with rocking chairs, and some serious expert mixology. Tucked away in the quiet backstreets, it's not easy to find - but well worth the hunt.

434-2 Tachibanacho, Shimogyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto //

bar-rockingchair.jp/  //

BAR ROCKING CHAIR

DETAILS

BAR

The restaurant at this spectacular ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is open to non-guests, so it can be an interesting way to get a sneak peek into the ryokan experience. The restaurant specialises in dishes featuring yuzu (a citrus fruit very common in Japanese cuisine).

5 4 5 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku  // 

Gion //

kiwa-group.co.jp  //

YUZUYA RYOKAN

DETAILS

EAT

Hiroshi Uijita's restaurant is almost as famous for its interiors as its exquisite sushi. The cleverly-lit, bare concrete and wood space provide the perfect surroundings to experience some of the city's best sushi.

35-2 Ichijoji Hinokuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

awomb.com  //

AWOMB

DETAILS

EAT

This historic public bathhouse has been given a new lease of life by young owner, Sanjiro Minato. Minato-san organise movie nights and live events at the sento, and he plans to rent out the upper floor to local artists. Open from 14:00 to 02:00 - and on weekend mornings.

175 Iwatakicho, Shimogyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto //

 

SAUNA UMEYU

DETAILS

WELLNESS

This stunning and serene gallery is a bit under-the-radar but definitely merits a look if you're in the area. Slip off your shoes and enter the pristine gallery to view their incredible selection of ceramics, furnishings and unique lighting.

717 Nijoshincho, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Central Kyoto //

takahashitoku.com  //

GALLERY YDS

DETAILS

GALLERY

Founded over 1350 years ago, Yasaka-Jinja is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. Every July, the shrine plays host to the Gion Matsuri, a summer festival dating back over a thousand years and arguably one of the most famous festivals in Japan.

625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, // 

Gion / Higashiyama  //

yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/  //

YASAKA-JINJA

DETAILS

SHRINE

This famous restaurant is reported to be the birthplace of Shabu Shabu (extremely thin slices of beef boiled in hot water for just a few seconds). Junidanya is located in the heart of the Gion district, and the building features traditional fine interior decoration.

570-128 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku // 

Gion //

junidanya-kyoto.com //

JUNIDANYA

DETAILS

EAT

Long, narrow shopping street lined with hundreds of stalls and shops, many specialising in a particular foodstuff or Kyoto culinary delight. This retail market is now a popular tourist destination and can get very busy - it's best to get there early or visit in the evening.

Nishikikoji Teramachi-Takakura, Nakagyo-ku  // 

Downtown Kyoto //

NISHIKI MARKET

DETAILS

MARKET

We don't usually include hotels in our guides, but 9 hours (9h) is impossible to ignore. This place is a contemporary take on the iconic Japanese capsule hotel, with clean, white interiors, slick sleeping pods and cleverly designed signage. Well worth a look!

588 Teianmaeno-cho, Teramachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku // 

Downtown Kyoto //

9hours.jp/  //

9H

DETAILS

SLEEP

F1FTY City Guide // Kyoto

This guide has been edited with great care. Content was compiled based on facts available at the time of going to press. But cities live and breathe, and information is subject to change , so travellers are advised to check for updates from the respective locations  before your visit. All of the businesses mentioned in this guide were chosen at the discretion of F1FTY. None of the brands or businesses featured paid for mentioning in any way.

All photos featured in this guide are copyright 51 Squared B.V., with the exception of: Fushimi Inari-Taisha (Copyright Oneinchpunch); Kyoto Tower (Credit: Yohei Shimomae); Kiyomizu-dera (Credit: Su San Lee).  Some images have been manipulated with Framatic.