At first sight Kyoto is more traditional and quiet than Tokyo. While we did see more people wearing kimono's there's nothing quiet about the city. It's very much alive, vibrant and charming. As intellectual center Kyoto was original considered as a target for atomic bomb and was in the ends replaced by Nagasaki upon insistence of US Secretary of War.
Today this former imperial capital with its 1.5 million inhabitants has a lot to offer. Its cute mix of traditional and modern culture and rich history give a feeling that every stone has a story to tell. Also - Kyoto gives you 3 hours of free internet every day.
It's mostly known for temples, zen gardens and cuisine. It is also the place of Japan's highest pagoda and two most famous pavilions: golden and silver one.
To set straight the rivalry between the two pavilions, the silver one is really just a nice wooden house in a beautiful zen garden. While golden one is really a wow - must see.
Kyoto's food is simply delicious, from fish dishes to deserts of strange colors and shapes. Vegetarians might struggle a bit, but there is always enough of tasty bean-curd skin to make your mouth water. Soy dishes, ramen noodles (with strange sour plum spice that you get used to) and green deserts with red beans. It's all delicious, thought admittedly sometimes a bit weird.
While you can't go much wrong with eating in Kyoto, I'd strongly recommend avoiding restaurants in shopping streets (especially if they're trying to lure you in). You'll just get pricy food that is below Japanese standards. The best rule is to eat at the big train stations and shopping malls. It might sound strange but food there is really very tasty and cheap. If you like to dine with a view, then you will love eating at the top floor of Kyoto's train station.
Museum of Kyoto offers great overview of city's history and friendly volunteers are happy to guide english speaking visitors through the first part provide interesting historical insights. Our guide (who was around 70 years old) shared few enthusiastic stories about the city's history and gave good recommendations on which of Kyoto's 1600 temples are worth visiting.
The city is also the birthplace of the first novel The tale of Genji, writen around year 1000 by female writer Murasaki Shikibu. Museum of Kyoto hosts also interesting temporary exhibitions (e.g. Japanese comics about space travel).
Philosopher's path is names after Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who walked alongside the canal, probably thinking deep thoughts. The path is well worth taking even if you're not into philosophy: enjoyable stroll along the river is accompanied by many cute cats, little craft shops and interesting opportunities, like 30 minute pottery classes, where you can make your own tea cups.
One of city's biggest attraction is of course the bamboo forest or Chikurin No Komichi, real treat for all nature lovers that want to take a walk among magnificent bamboos. It's enjoyable and free.
Just a few kilometers from the forest is Iwatayama, a hill that we lovingly referred to as the Monkey mountain. This hill is full of cute wild (but seriously introvert) monkeys that you can feed (in a secure way) but not touch, cuddle, talk to or stare at. They'll go after white plastic bags, thinking it's food.
However, once you're there, you can buy fresh snacks and feed them safely from behind a net. No worries, there will be plenty of instructions on how. From the top of the hill you can also enjoy one of the nicest views on the city.
Kyoto, yes definitely. As our guide in Museum of Kyoto explained, some people believe Kyoto will be Japan's capital once more. And in a way it already is. Since Tokyo actually means East Kyoto.