Kyoto is enchanting – there really is no other way to put it. From the moment you step off the train, you are immediately put at ease and welcomed into a city that melds the old and the new – flawlessly. Kyoto has no airport, so the best way to arrive here is by train. The Japan Rail Pass on the JR system is fast, easy, efficient and economical. For a set duration, you can purchase your pass an travel throughout the country – up and down. But, upgrading to the more expensive pass is absolutely worth the money so you can traverse Japan’s incredible countryside on the famed bullet trains.
Boarding at Tokyo Station, you can reach Kyoto in a mere two-and-a-half hours. It is easy and a pleasant experience. In fact, sitting on the train, you can order snacks and saki, do a crossword puzzle and talk with friends – in no time flat you will find yourself in a city with more temples that trees, and a magic all its own.
I traveled to Kyoto in Autumn – October to be exact. This is the perfect time, aside from the well-known Sakura, or cherry blossom season in spring. The weather was flawless during my stay, not too hot and not too cold. I planned on being in Kyoto for two night, which gave me enough time to see a few temples, walk the streets, absorb the culture and dive into a few hidden gems that might not make it on everyone’s to-do list unless they know about them.
I stayed at the stunning Suiran Hotel, a member of the Luxury Collection. This was the perfect base to be close to the city and all is has to offer, while simultaneously be tucked-away in the nature that infiltrates Kyoto at every turn. A few things I recommend travelers headed to Kyoto to see include, of course, the famed bamboo forest, Arashiyama – which is perfect for a morning stroll.
Taking a boat or kayak up the Kamo River in the morning or early evening is a great way to see the city. For those with an artistic knack and who would like to learn the age-old art of inlay, you MUST spend an afternoon with a family, Sagaraden Nomura, who have been in the business of Mother-of-Pearl inlay since 1868. You can sit with the family and learn, first-hand, how to draw, design, cut and lay the material into trays, jewelry and other items.
For those looking to see one of the finest examples of Kyoto’s traditional Japanese gardens, in all its glory with design and layout as close to perfect as possible, visit Murin-an. Here you can sit in the simple house and gaze-out over the greenery, water and mountains – lulling yourself into a state of complete zen.
If you’re looking to truly integrate, but not sacrifice on luxury – try to organize a stay at Tabikyo temple. Just outside the city, a very exclusive and limited number of guests can integrate themselves into temple life, monk life, really, and truly weave themselves into the fabric of Kyoto.
Here you can learn how to chant, meditate and live as a Japanese monk, take-in millennia-old art, matcha making and more.
Staying here is actually luxurious with radiant heated floors, Apple TV, koi ponds, private gardens and a vegetarian-based diet. This is truly a place to disconnect in the city.
The sheer magic of waking-up in the morning to your own private garden with koi and Japanese maple trees is pure heaven. Sip your cup of coffee or matcha with the sound of a babbling brook in the distance.
Learning how to make matcha the correct way is unforgettable.
But, of course, you’ll still want to indulge in Kyoto’s incredible food scene. Don’t miss the family-run noodle shop, Omen. The noodles and broth are absolutely incredible.
After coming to Kyoto from Tokyo, it takes a minute to slow down. But, after a day or two, you begin to get into the groove, a slower way of life. You can easily spend weeks here an d not see everything, including all the temples, palaces and gardens on offer. But, take little bits at a time and don’t be overwhelmed. Enjoy Kyoto in slices and it will be good to you. Take little bites, one at a time, to truly savor everything this amazing city has to offer.