Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto, Japan (PhotoDisc)

Dog Temple in Kyoto, Japan (Nathan Borchelt)

Path through bamboo grove, Kyoto, Japan (Fabian Gonzales/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty)

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What to do in Kyoto

At first glance, Kyoto seems like any modern metropolis of 1.5 million. But exploring it feels like going on a treasure hunt. Nestled in the hillsides that ring the City of History—and hidden behind massive gates on quiet side streets—are more than 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, and scads of palaces and gardens. Don’t miss the waters of Kiyomizudera, believed to promote longevity and love; Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple; the white-sand rock gardens of Ryoanji; and Fushimi Inari Taisha, surrounded by thousands of orange torii gates. But it’s not just architecture that gives Kyoto its diverse cultural heft. Museum collections feature everything from fine art and Japanese dolls to sake and manga comics. Geisha and their maiko (apprentices), textile designers, potters, tea ceremony masters, and artists keep Kyoto traditions alive.

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