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Kyoto was founded in the eighth century in the Kansai region of Japan and has been a thriving merchant city for much of its existence. This commerce brought affluence and the elaborate architecture that you can still see in the historical buildings today resulting in a refined, cosmopolitan city with plenty to explore. Here are some of our suggestions for a memorable vacation in Japan’s former capital:

  • Captivating culture: Kyoto boasts a wealth of certified UNESCO Heritage Sites, from ancient temples to imperial palaces

  • Curated cuisine: Dine inside a 450-year-old tearoom or at an intimate sashimi counter that garners the highest praise from foodies

  • Sensational shopping: Elite levels of craftsmanship are available in older parts of Kyoto, but you can also find designer names in its more modern quarters


Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient temples and historical neighborhoods, Kyoto is the Japan of your dreams. Walking around, you can see modern-day geisha going about their days in the Gion district, or you can imagine the regal lives of the nobility while on a private tour of the city’s grand Imperial Palace. Generations of emperors lived here for over five centuries, reflected in the grandeur of the ceremonial halls, the elaborately decorated screen doors and the serene aesthetics of the surrounding gardens.

There’s also tranquility to be found in the bamboo grove at Arashiyama or under the cherry blossoms at Ryoan-ji temple’s Zen rock garden.

For sheer majesty, it’s hard to beat the iconic rows of red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine or the glistening Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, one of the most famous landmarks in Japan. Originally built in 1397, this Zen Buddhist temple is covered in gold leaf that reflect onto the still waters from its island home. The architecture blends with nature and it’s one of the most dazzling sites in the country.

If you have a particular cultural interest, the knowledgeable concierge at ROKU KYOTO, LXR Hotels and Resorts, can help with reservations and introductions. The property’s collection of bespoke experiences includes expert-led Kintsugi (reviving broken pottery with gold and lacquer), washi paper or handicraft porcelain-making workshops and an authentic Japanese tea ceremony in a historical teahouse, the Hogyoku-tei guesthouse or the renovated sake cask-turned Sakadaru tea ceremony room. For guests with kids, there’s also a complimentary family-friendly treasure hunt around resort grounds.


Like most Japanese cities, Kyoto has its own regional delicacies and a host of evocative restaurants. These include centuries-old dishes such as boiled tofu, mackerel sushi and eel rice bowls. This rich gastronomic history can best be sampled at high-end restaurants such as Hyotei. This 450-year-old, three-Michelin-starred tearoom is set back in magical-looking, traditional gardens. The tatami-clad dining room, garden views, doting service and elegantly presented dishes make for the ultimate Japanese fine dining experience.

Isshi Soden Nakamura is a similarly desirable traditional dining room, and one that has maintained its multi-Michelin starred status for over a decade. Fiercely guarded preparation methods and a family line of owner-chefs mean that specialties like their white miso draw fans from around the world.

Plan ahead to enjoy the equally in-demand Mizai. This compact but beautiful restaurant is set on the edge of Maruyama Park (known as the epicenter for cherry blossom viewing) and scales the pinnacle of tradition and taste. The sashimi, including choice cuts of sea bream and yellowtail, is regarded by many as the best in town, but there are limited spots at the counter so book early.

The Tenjin Chef’s Table at ROKU KYOTO features an 11-course tasting menu highlighting the region’s rich flavors in a chic, contemporary setting. The chef blends French and Japanese culinary techniques to deliver a truly memorable meal. Enjoy a tranquil moment at The Bar, which offers lighter cafe fare, afternoon tea service, signature cocktails and savory dishes.


Thanks to its status as a former capital and trading city, Kyoto has a wealth of world-class craftsmanship on offer. From decadently lacquered writing sets to tiered bamboo vegetable steamers, there’s a pronounced focus on beauty and design here — a sense of impeccable taste that has been honed through the ages.

To get a true sense of the history, head to Teramachi Street, one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets. Here you’ll find artisan ateliers and intriguing boutiques as well as the city’s most popular department store, Takashimaya. To fully appreciate the city’s contrasting neighborhoods, start at the ultra-modern designer stores around Kyoto Station. Explore Isetan Department Store for names such as Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Gucci. Across the Kamo River you’ll find one-of-a-kind, high-end kitchen knives, ceramics and lacquerware in Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, Gion.

After a busy day shopping, slip into Kyoto's only outdoor natural onsen pool open year-round at the spa at ROKU KYOTO. After a restorative soak, indulge in one of the curated spa treatments, designed around the concept of natural local elements and seeped in the healing traditions of Ayurvedic philosophy. If you’re in search of a particular souvenir or kimono, your concierge will be happy to point you in the right direction.

If you’ve never been to Japan before, Kyoto is the city that will most likely fulfill your expectations. Its long history means that a lot of the city has wonderful examples of ancient Japanese architecture, and it has captivating culture and craftspeople to complement the aesthetics. Authentic and memorable, Kyoto has everything you might want from a getaway in Japan.

Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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ROKU KYOTO, LXR Hotels & Resorts

Nestled deep in rolling mountain foothills sits ROKU KYOTO, a naturally secluded and intimate retreat in Kyoto. Enjoy peaceful moments at our wellness spa, seasonally inspired menus with locally sourced ingredients, and rich cultural experiences beneath the breathtaking panorama of the Takagamine mountains and Tenjin River.

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