Kyoto, formerly the Japanese capital, flourished for centuries as the country’s centre of culture, religion and economy. This era is preserved by intricate Buddhist temples, palaces, beautiful gardens and time-honoured traditions like the geisha of the Gion district.
In fact, there are 17 locations that make up the 'Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto', found all across Kyoto city. The gold leaf-covered Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion) – said to have been burned to the ground by a monk who thought it was ‘too beautiful’ – is a popular place to start. So too is the Kiyomizu-dera, known for its wishing wells, wooden veranda and sweeping views of cherry and maple trees.
In spring and autumn, these trees blossom into canopies of pink and red, while the towering bamboos of Arashiyama stay bright green all through the year. This colourful canvas extends to another of the city’s top attractions: the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which features 10,000 orange ‘torii’ gates that form a tunnel through the surrounding forest.
Japan is renowned for its food, and Kyoto is its best advert. Nishiki Market is packed with Michelin-starred restaurants, sushi bars and ‘izakaya’ bar, where you can sample everything from Kitsune Udon noodles to ‘kaiseki’ – Japan’s take on haute cuisine.