Before Tokyo, Japan's capital for more than a thousand years was the beautiful city of Kyoto, and the historic remnants in both its old-world heritage buildings and traditional culture are as apparent as ever still today. As a breathtaking melting pot of Japanese history and culture, Kyoto offers the most perfect retreat to intrepid travelers desiring to experience the very essence of Japan in its purest form - and there's a lot more to do and see in and around the city than appreciate its stunning cherry blossoms.

Who would've thought that just a few hours on the bullet train from Tokyo's staggering skyscrapers and bright neon lights would be one of the country's most authentic Japanese cities - and one that's an entirely different world to the country's high-tech futuristic metropolises for which it's globally famed. But what exactly is it in Kyoto that captivates visitors from far and wide? Some of the following amazing things to do and see in the area may help to answer that question.

10 Behold The Golden Temple

It's not at all surprising that Kyoto's huge golden temple is one of Japan's most visited monuments. Known in Japanese as "Kinkakuji" - which translates to the "Golden Pavilion" in English - the imposing structure is a Zen temple with two lavish top floors completely covered in gold leaf. Previously in historic times, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which after his death in 1408 became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect.

The entire building and its stunning grounds of gardens and ponds is the pinnacle of Japanese ancient architecture and landscaping, offering glorious views straight out of a postcard, along with bucket list-worthy Instagram shot opportunities. Throughout the centuries the temple has burned down many times; twice during the Onin Civil War that destroyed much of Kyoto; and again in 1950 after an extremist monk set it ablaze. Despite being rebuilt a few times throughout history, the monument yet retains its mesmerizing beauty, along with its tranquil gardens that are sensational to walk around.

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9 Graze On Grub At Nishiki Market

Travelers who've always wanted to sample Japan's weird and wonderful need look no further than Nishiki Market when in Kyoto. If one can think of it, it's probably available; from octopus tentacles and delicious tempura to pufferfish, Japanese sweet treats, and an abundance of green tea, Nishiki Market is the ultimate place for trying out Japan's delectables - both delicious and daring. Most market vendors sell small plates, skewers, and hand-held street food, which means the busy hive is ideal as a walk-about grazing lunch spot for trying an interesting roster of different snacks and light meals in lieu of a sit-down evening dinner.

8 Meander Through The Historic Geisha District

Gion is one of the most famous geisha districts in Kyoto and features charming narrow streets lined with imperial buildings, beautiful temples, and quintessential Japanese izakayas, which are a kind of traditional pub and eatery. Visiting Gion grants visitors a true feel for what ancient Japan was like with people donned in traditional attire, and showcasing historic hairstyles and makeup whilst going about their day just as they did in old times. Any time of the day is magical to stroll along the canal and through the streets that echo times of the past, however, inarguably the best is the early evening as the sun sets and the glowing lanterns create a fantasy-like ambiance.

Also, Geisha fans can enjoy a unique experience in which Japanese makeup artists and stylists dress up customers in traditional Geisha makeup and dress. Customers receive a full historic and cultural makeover to be fully transformed into a Geisha or Maiko, which is then followed by a professional photo shoot in costume around Kyoto's streets or in the stunning gardens.

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7 Visit Some "Deer" Friends

Located about 40 minutes by train south of Kyoto, Nara used to be the capital of Japan around 1,200 years ago and thus boasts some of the most historically significant and cultural sites in the country. But another incredible thing the place is renowned for is the herds of friendly deer living freely in Nara Park and the town center.

The majority of the park's sights are on its east side where the Todai-Ji with its whopping 50-foot buddha awaits, as well as the tranquil wooded Kasuga-Taisha temple. There's also the lovely Yoshikien Garden to see on the way to the park from the train station, which isn't just stunning, but best of all, free of charge to visitors.

6 Bamboo Forests And Family-Friendly Fun In Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a pretty suburb to the northwest of Kyoto that's home to lots of family-friendly attractions, such as the serene Tenryu-Ji temple and the mighty bamboo forest right next door that's one of the area's main spectacles. The Kimono Forest installation is also worth a visit, along with the picture-perfect Togetsu-Kyou Bridge that provides access to the very entertaining Arashiyama Monkey Park. On the other hand, for something totally different, the hilariously fun Rilakkuma café nearby is an idyllic place to stop at, relax, and refuel in between exploring Arashiyama and its sites.

5 Marvel At History At Nijo Castle

This flatland castle is one of the seventeen assets of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and has been privileged with the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Nijo Castle was originally built on the orders of the first Tokugawa shogun, and even today the site still showcases the fascinating life of the country's imperial elite who lived at the time.

With its ornate external architecture, huge gold panels, and expansive palace rooms inside, the castle is an amazing feat of its time, and its elaborate elegance affords majestic photography perfect for any travel blogger's Instagram reel. The centuries have indeed taken their toll on the building and its intricate details, thus a significant amount of the panels and decor displayed today are actually reconstructions. But guests can still admire many of the originals that are kept in the on-site museum, where the history of the castle can also be learned about in-depth.

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4 Unwind In Kyoto Gyoen

Surrounding the old imperial palace is Kyoto's primped and primed public garden - Kyoto Gyoen - that boasts seasonal flora, beautiful public buildings, historic monuments, and numerous pretty streams coupled with charming arched bridges. The park is utterly stunning year-round with its ever-changing colors throughout the seasons, but even with that being so, springtime between March and May undeniably shows off some of its most scenic vistas when the cherry blossoms come out to play.

3 Release Your Inner Kid At Round One

For the ultimate day out gaming and partying like a Japanese, Round One Kawaramachi is the top place to be. Think multiple floors of arcade games and attractions, bowling alleys, and iconic Japanese photo booths that provide excellent souvenirs of the day. This insanely fun establishment also offers karaoke booths for singing one's heart out over a beer or two - which is, in all accuracy, quite probably one of the most "modern fun" Japanese things to do when in Japan!

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2 Devour Decadent Donuts

Nestled in the bustling covered markets near Naramonocho main street, hungry tourists can find a small hotspot brimming with decadent sweets and desserts that'll make any sugar addict foam at the mouth. Situated in Kyoto's fashionable Shingkyogoku shopping street, it's desserts, donuts, ice cream, milkshakes, and teas galore at Koe's Donuts - a super modern store setting that's exceptionally different from the rest of Kyoto's charming old streets and traditional architecture.

Alongside Koe's Donuts's indulgent menu, what's so great about their goodies and the shop's beautiful, artistic interiors is that it's all locally and ethically sourced and produced - and knowing that local producers are being supported does handily remove some of the calorific guilt after overindulging in their irresistible selection of the sweetest treats in the region.

1 Discover Mountain Trails And Glorious Gates

The ancient Fushimi Inari-Taisha is as beautiful as it is old. Dating back to the year 711, it's one of southern Kyoto's most important Shinto shrines dedicated to Inari - the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are said to be Inari's messengers, which is why there are lots of fascinating fox statues dotted all over the area to be admired when wandering through.

On a global scale, the entire shrine and its grounds are world-famous for the many thousand bright vermilion torii gates, which are beautifully set in front of a network of gorgeous mountain trails. After marveling at the large red gates, visitors can then follow the 2.5 miles of trails into the wooded forest of the sacred 233 meter-high Mount Inari, which is also part of the shrine's grounds. Whilst the trails don't sound too long, they can require a bit of stamina and take a couple of hours for the average person to complete at walking speed.

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