Kyoto has a great mix of old and new, with each of its most popular neighbourhoods presenting a different look, from scenery that's what you would expect from the former capital of Japan through to much more modern aspects. Take a walk through history as you tour shrines and temples while visiting shops and restaurants en route. Kyoto is full of places that are just waiting to be discovered, and each of the four seasons paints the city in a new light.

    Of course, it's super photogenic too. Check out the hottest areas to capture the architectural beauty, vivid flora and vibrant streets to record the best moments of your trip.

    1

    Gion

    Enjoy delicious food on streets lined with traditional Kyoto houses

    Gion is one of Kyoto’s world-famous geisha districts. The streets of Hanamikoji-dori and Shimbashi-dori are especially famous, with many restaurants giving a taste of Kyoto, quaint Kyoto townhouses, cobblestone pavements, and swaying willow trees combining to brilliant effect. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to see maiko and geiko wearing kimono as they pass by the teahouse district.

    Taking pictures of maiko and geiko without their permission is strictly off limits. Instead, why not try the area’s make-up and kimono dressing experience services? The streets look different somehow when strolling around wearing a kimono.

    Location: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0036, Japan

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    2

    Arashiyama

    Get away from the city and immerse yourself in a deep Kyoto atmosphere

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    Arashiyama is an area rich in nature located in the western part of Kyoto, known for its cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. Togetsukyo Bridge over Katsura River and the trolley train to Kameoka are famous highlights. The bamboo grove pathway (Chikurin no Komichi) is another highly Instagrammable spot. There are many atmospheric restaurants here, with a particular focus on tofu dishes and Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.

    Illumination events are held at night in December, and Japanese flower arrangements are displayed, changing Arashiyama into something special and different. It looks gorgeous at night and the atmosphere is great too. This is one of the most romantic areas Kyoto has to offer.

    Location: Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 616-0000, Japan

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    3

    Higashiyama

    A classic tourist destination with World Heritage Sites

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    With its many famous temples, Higashiyama has always been a popular area for tourists. From the cobblestone streets you’ll see scenery typical of Kyoto everywhere, including the many shops and restaurants of Ninenzaka Slope and Sannenzaka Slope, which are designated as an important preservation district for their historic buildings.

    Leading temples include Kiyomizudera Temple, famous for its Kiyomizu stage, and Yasaka Shrine, known for its vermilion-lacquered main hall, a national treasure, and Gion Festival. Kodaiji Temple, Kenninji Temple, and Chionin Temple are also ones to add to your list.

    Location: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0036, Japan

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    4

    Sakyo Ward

    An area full of nature at the foot of Mt. Hiei

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    Sakyo Ward is an area that contains Nanzenji Temple and Jishoji Temple. Nanzenji Temple is famous for Hojo Garden, its traditional Japanese rock garden, which is said to have been created by Enshu Kobori, and Jishiji Temple is well-known for its Ginkaku Pavilion. Sanzenin Temple, with its beautiful garden of autumn leaves and flowers, is another popular sightseeing spot.

    Philosopher's Path, a small path along a canal, is a great walking route where you can enjoy seasonal landscapes such as rows of cherry trees. Kyoto City Museum of Art, Kyoto City Zoo, and Kyoto Botanical Gardens are loved by the local community and have become places of relaxation for the Kyoto people. Sakyo Ward is a great spot for families to visit and experience the charm of Kyoto, which goes way beyond visiting temples and shrines.

    Location: Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 606-0000, Japan

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    5

    Fushimi

    Inari faith and sake brewing are kept alive in Fushimi

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    Fushimi is the area where the Battle of Toba-Fushimi took place. Teradaya Inn, known for the attack on Ryoma Sakamoto, has also been reconstructed here. It’s also the birthplace of sake manufacturers such as Gekkeikan and Kizakura. The source of the famous water that supported the traditional sake-making is still alive today.

    Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, a famously photogenic spiritual site, is where you’ll find the 1,000 torii gates standing in row like dominoes along the approach to the inner temple on Mt. Inari. Fushimi flourished as a river port town in the Edo period, so the best way to absorb its history is by taking a boat ride.

    Location: Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0000, Japan

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    6

    Pontocho

    A perfect night spot for grown-ups

    Pontocho, one of Kyoto’s geisha districts along with Gion, is essentially a cobblestone passage along the Kamo River that can be accessed from Kawaramachi Station, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Sanjo Station, and Gion Shijo Station. Even today, it’s a crowded downtown area. The stages for the Kamogawa Odori dance by maiko (apprentice geisha) and geiko (female Japanese performing artists, also known as geisha) have become an early summer tradition.

    The atmospheric streets lined with Kyoto townhouses goes to another level when the sun sets and the lights start to be turned on. Izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) and great bars guarantee a special Kyoto nightlife experience.

    Location: Pontocho-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8013, Japan

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    7

    Shimogyo Ward

    Excellent access for sightseeing around Kyoto Station

    Shimogyo Ward is the central area where Kyoto Station is located. There are many tourist attractions that can be easily accessed here, and it’s convenient for the bullet train too. Kyoto Tower Sando is a popular commercial facility with a variety of local restaurants and gift shops. It’s a handy spot for a quick meal or to grab some souvenirs.

    Nishi Honganji Temple, a World Heritage Site, and Higashi Honganji Temple are located within walking distance from the station. Kyoto Aquarium and Kyoto Railway Museum are great options if you’re traveling with children.

    Location: Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 600-0000, Japan

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    8

    Nishijin

    Enjoy shopping in a classic textile production area

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    Nishijin is an area that houses many factories producing Nishijin textile, which is designated as a national traditional craft. You can learn about its history and experience its depth through the actual woven kimono and belts for kimono on display at Nishijin Textile Center and Orinasukan Handmade Fabrics Museum. Affordable ties and drawstring bags are popular souvenirs.

    The calm townscape of old Kyoto townhouses is extremely photogenic. Mikamike-Roji is an alley of terraced houses where craftsmen used to live, as well as stylish shops, coffee shops, and galleries.

    Location: Tatemonzencho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 602-8216, Japan

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    photo by At by At (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    9

    Kamigyo Ward

    Enjoy the four seasons of Japan around Kyoto Imperial Palace

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    Kamigyo Ward is an area that down to this day conveys Japanese court culture before the Meiji period. Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kyoto Gyoen National Garden are particular standouts. The residences of emperors and members of the imperial family and court nobles were located here until the Edo period. The architecture and gardens that reflect the historical atmosphere of the time are well worth seeing.

    Also famous are Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, famous for blessings in education, and Seimei Shrine, dedicated to Abe no Seimei, a Yin-Yang Master in the Heian period. These sites become crowded with tourists especially in the autumn, when the leaves start changing colours. Also make sure you check out Rozanji Temple, famous for its Chinese bellflowers, associated with Murasaki Shikibu.

    Location: Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0000, Japan

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    10

    Minami Ward

    Find a little-known spot for sightseeing on the south side of Kyoto Station

    Located in Minami Ward, Toji Temple is one of the remains of ancient Kyoto and the first esoteric Buddhism temple. It’s one of the most famous tourist attractions in Kyoto, known for its five-storied pagoda, but the area around it is about to be transformed. OMO3, a hotel managed by Hoshino Resort, has opened here, bringing the south side of Kyoto Station a lot of attention.

    In fact, there are quite a few famous long-standing restaurants in the area, as well as izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) popular among the locals. Take a deep dive into the area and you’ll discover little-known features of ancient Kyoto.

    Location: Minami-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 601-0000, Japan

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