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As Japan's former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto offers a rich culinary tradition. The local food culture is diverse and ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course dinners to the vegetarian shojin ryori of monks and the simple obanzai ryori home style cooking.

While some restaurants look to the past for inspiration, others experiment with new flavors. Fusion restaurants, that combine ingredients and techniques of Kyoto cuisine with cooking styles from other parts of the world, can also be found in the city. The Pontocho nightlife district is one of the best places to find good fusion restaurants alongside traditional establishments. Not far away, the Gion district also offers a wide range of interesting dining opportunities, as does the Kyoto Station area.

Regular Japanese food that is not necessarily associated with Kyoto in particular, such as ramen, sushi and udon, is also available across the city. Food fans should not miss a visit to the Nishiki Market in central Kyoto, which has been serving the city for many centuries.

Kaiseki Ryori

Kaiseki ryori has its origin in the traditional tea ceremony, but later evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles. Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (kyo kaiseki) is particularly refined, placing an emphasis on subtle flavors and local and seasonal ingredients. A kaiseki meal has a prescribed order of courses which is determined by the cooking method of each dish.

A common way for travelers to enjoy kaiseki is by staying at a ryokan where a kaiseki dinner is included with the stay. But kaiseki meals can also be enjoyed at restaurants, including high end ryotei, many of which can be found in the Pontocho and Gion districts of Kyoto. A good kaiseki meal usually costs around 10,000 yen per person, but prices can go as high as 30,000 yen or as low as 6000 yen. Some restaurants depart from tradition and include elements of foreign cuisines.

Shojin Ryori

Whereas kaiseki developed out of the affluence of the aristocrats, shojin ryori developed from the austerity of Buddhist monks. Prohibited from taking the life of other living creatures, Buddhist monks had to make do without meat or fish in their diet. Consisting of strictly vegetarian dishes, shojin ryori can nonetheless be savory and filling. Travelers who spend the night at a temple lodging will be able to enjoy a meal as part of the stay.

A common ingredient in shojin ryori is tofu, which is a local specialty of Kyoto. The preparation of tofu is so common that it can also be referred to as Tofu Ryori ("tofu cuisine"). One popular dish that is widely served at restaurants is Yudofu, soft tofu simmered with vegetables in broth. A meal of Yudofu usually costs 1500 to 2000 yen, but the price can be higher or lower depending on the quality of the restaurant. The Nanzenji and Arashiyama districts are particularly famous for tofu cuisine.

Obanzai Ryori

Obanzai Ryori is the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto. It is made up of multiple small dishes that are usually quite simple to prepare. Local produce that is in season is best suited for the dishes. Although the cooking methods are usually not complicated, obanzai dishes can be made very rich by chefs skillfully bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Restaurants that serve obanzai ryori can be found all over Kyoto. Many of them have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that reflects the home style of cooking. A full meal usually costs 2000 to 3000 yen, but can vary depending on the number and type of dishes ordered.

Kawayuka/Kawadoko

Kawayuka, or Kawadoko as it is known outside of central Kyoto, is the summer pasttime of dining outdoors on temporary platforms built over flowing water. Developed as a way to beat the summer heat, kawayuka is a great way to experience one of the traditional Kyoto cuisines listed above while taking in the cooling effects of the flowing water and lively summer atmosphere.

The most famous area to experience kawayuka is along the Kamogawa River in central Kyoto, especially around Pontocho. From May to September, restaurants here construct temporary wooden decks over the canal on the river's west bank. Many places serve kaiseki meals, however other types of cuisine are also available.

Kibune and Takao in the forested mountains just north of central Kyoto, are also popular places to try kawayuka, although here it is called kawadoko. In Kibune especially, the platforms are built just centimeters above the river and provide almost complete relief from the summer heat.

Terrace dining is popular, especially along Kamogawa River in the evenings on weekends and during holidays, when advance reservations are a must at most river facing restaurants along Pontocho (usually in Japanese by phone).

Hotels around Kyoto

Top rated in Kyoto
Budget:
    • Guesthouse Engawa
      Budget-friendly
      Guesthouse Engawa offers accommodation in Kyoto. Guests can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of Kyoto in their rooms. Each comes with a flat-screen TV, and an electric kettle will be provided upon request. Bathroom facilities are shared with other guests. Free toiletries and hairdryers are also available. There is luggage storage space at the property. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 600 metres from Guesthouse Engawa, while Heian Shrine is 2.4 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Ryokan Mugen (Adult Only)
      Mid-range
      Mugen is a property that was built 160 years ago, situated in Kyoto, 1 km from Nijo Castle. Every room at Mugen features an en suite shower room, toilet, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Free WiFi is available throughout the entire property. You will find a shared lounge on site and a bar at the annex building. The ryokan also offers bike hire. Imperial Palace is 1.1 km from Mugen, while Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is 1.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guesthouse tu casa
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively located in the Higashiyama Ward district of Kyoto, Guesthouse tu casa is situated 1.2 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, 1.4 km from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and 1.9 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a shared kitchen and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The guest house has family rooms. At the guest house rooms are equipped with a shared bathroom. Samurai Kembu Kyoto is 2.2 km from Guesthouse tu casa, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • Mitsuki Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      Set in Kyoto, within 600 metres of Kyoto International Manga Museum and 1.7 km of Nijo Castle, Mitsuki Kyoto offers accommodation with a garden and free WiFi throughout the property. The property is located 2.1 km from Kyoto Imperial Palace, 2.3 km from Heian Shrine and 2.3 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The accommodation provides a concierge service, ticket service and luggage storage for guests. At the ryokan every room has a private bathroom. An Asian breakfast is available every morning at Mitsuki Kyoto. Guests at the accommodation will be able to enjoy activities in and around Kyoto, like cycling. Shoren-in Temple is 3.2 km from Mitsuki Kyoto, while TKP Garden City Kyoto is 3.4 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 39 km from the ryokan.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and room service for guests. At the guest house every room comes with a shared bathroom with free toiletries. A continental breakfast is available daily at guesthouseoumi. Nijo Castle is less than 1 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 37 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie
      Luxury
      Ideally situated in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie is situated 1.3 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.3 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Boasting family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation features a 24-hour front desk, a concierge service and luggage storage for guests. All rooms are fitted with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a fridge, a kettle, a bidet, a hairdryer and a wardrobe. Featuring a private bathroom with a shower and free toiletries, rooms at the hotel also feature free WiFi. Shoren-in Temple is 2.7 km from Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandere, while Nijo Castle is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • IMAYA Hostel Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively situated in the centre of Kyoto, IMAYA Hostel Kyoto features air-conditioned rooms, a bar, free WiFi and a shared lounge. The property is around less than 1 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, a 16-minute walk from Nijo Castle and 2.4 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The accommodation provides a shared kitchen, a concierge service and ticket service for guests. The rooms at the hostel are fitted with a flat-screen TV and a kitchenette. The shared bathroom is fitted with a bidet, a hairdryer and free toiletries. All guest rooms will provide guests with a microwave. Kyoto Imperial Palace is 2.9 km from IMAYA Hostel Kyoto, while Heian Shrine is 3.1 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • Hotel Muso
      Mid-range
      Well located in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Hotel Muso is located 1.8 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. The 3-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom and free WiFi. The hotel features family rooms. The rooms in the hotel are fitted with a kettle. Guest rooms in Hotel Muso are equipped with a flat-screen TV and a hairdryer. The accommodation offers a hot tub. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 2 km from Hotel Muso, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the hotel.
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