Things to do in Kyoto

A visit to Japan would not be complete without a trip to Kyoto, the country’s cultural capital. From Tokyo you can hop onto the high-speed train and reach Kyoto within 3 hours, and it is so worth it even if just for a couple of days. The air feels cleaner, the streets are calmer and the Japanese traditions are much more present in even the smallest details. It is real Japan without the hype and chaos.


To Stay

The Suiran – The recently opened Suiran hotel is on the outskirts of town surrounded by significant temples and gardens. Located in the beautiful Arashiyama area, the district was once the destination for the emperor’s summer holidays. This boutique hotel is traditional but luxurious with open-air baths, an authentic tearoom and a Kaiseki (multi-course menu) restaurant. Be sure to leave time to visit nearby attractions like the Monkey Park, Tenryu-ji temple and the magical Sagano Bamboo Forest.

Hotel Anteroom – The accommodation options in the historic city of Kyoto vary from exclusive traditional ryokans to cheap, trendy hostels. Hotel Anteroom is a brilliant option for those desiring the privacy and comfort of a hotel at low cost. Design conscious bedrooms, stylish common spaces and an art gallery on site, it is a great base for chic travellers who want to explore the city.


To Eat

Yamamoto Menzo(u) – A favourite with tourists and locals for unbeatable traditional udon. After waiting in line patiently you will be pleased to get inside to feast on the flavoursome noodles and burdock or chicken tempura. The daily-made noodles have an amazingly light and bouncy texture and the broth has the perfect balance of umami.

Kappa Sakamoto – I can highly recommend this tiny, family run restaurant as a great place to try the traditional Kaiseki style of dining. Sakamoto was founded in 1977 by Keisuke Sakamoto and his son Ryuta is now the chef. In 2010 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin-star. Sit at the counter and let the chef treat you to a meal of his finest seasonal dishes.

Ten-yu – This famous tempura restaurant only has ten seats at the counter. We ordered the simple lunch menu, Tempura with rice donburi. The tempura was light and delicious, especially tasty when dipped in the sauce and daikon. The restaurant is minimalist and stylish, needless to say, we were the only tourists in a room of locals.


To Drink

Tsubomi – This quiet, unsuspecting, little shop and cafe is the perfect place to stop for afternoon tea and cake after a long day of sightseeing.

Arabica% – A trendy speciality coffee shop in the Arashiyama area. This small contemporary cafe serves amazing coffee to go that will warm you up as you wander through this enchanting part of Kyoto.

Gion Niti – A hidden bar in the Gion district ideal for a nightcap or light dinner. We enjoyed the strong Charlie Chaplin cocktail and Italian food snacks like martinated eggplant and Jamon Iberico pizza.

Rocking Chair – Recognised as one of the best cocktail bars in town, this stylish establishment is frequented by discerning drinkers. Let the experienced mixologists make you their own creation, I opted for a Japanese Hibiki whiskey based drink.

Ogawa Coffee – A modern coffee house in Kyoto station serving some excellent coffee. Go for their house blend which is smooth and flavoursome.


To See & Do

Shoren-in Garden – A buddhist temple built in the late 13th century, it is a quiet and intimate building to wander round and is surrounded by colourful tranquil gardens.

Geishas in Gion – It is amazing to see a Geisha shuffling through the Gion district of Kyoto, but sightings are rarer and rarer as they try to avoid the tourists by using quiet backstreets to move about town. If you buy a place at a prestigious tea ceremony with a Geisha it will cost you over £100! Instead head to Gion Corner where you can buy a ticket to a cultural show to learn about tea ceremonies, traditional flower arranging and the Geisha customs.

Fushimi Inari Shrine – This is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, in Kyoto. It has become one of the most recognisable images from Japan. The shrine sits at the base of the Inari mountain and includes trails and paths through the hundreds of wondrous red gates.

Funaoka Onsen – This is one of the oldest and most authentic bathhouses still in operation in Kyoto. Since 1923 locals and travelers have been coming here to soak their bodies in the waters and relax in this retreat. The baths are separated by gender and you are expected to go into the waters completely naked!


To Shop

Ichizawa Shinzaburo – This family-run canvas bag company has been in business for over 100 years producing aesthetic, simple and functional products. The bags are handmade from the finest strong canvas in a variety of colours and styles.

Morikage Shirt Shop – I fell in love with the unique and stylish shirts in this small boutique. The shop opened in 1993 as a made-to-order, customised shirt company. Now you can also buy them off the rack in a variety of materials and designs. I bought a green shirt with ruffles that is now a treasured part of my wardrobe.

Kyoto Design House – An emporium in the centre of town filled with hand-crafted products from designers across Kyoto and Japan. Pick up an inspiring gift for friends like the little boxes of traditional sweets.

Pass the Baton – Found in a redesigned traditional wooden townhouse, this diverse concept store stocks fun vintage accessories and modern homeware. There is also a tea and sake room on the premises.

Aritsuga Knives – Japan is known for the quality of its knives, and Aritsugu, a knife specialist in Nishiki Market, makes some of the best in the country. When you visit, the staff will examine your hands to ensure you pick the perfect knife for you. 

Nishiki Market – This bustling marketplace in downtown Kyoto sells every food product you could ever imagine. Wander through trying delicacies as you go, soaking up the atmoshere.

Kira Karacho – This sophisticated stationery brand is headed up by a husband and wife team. The intricate patterns made from woodblock printing and beautiful papers will captivate you. 


To Escape

Osaka – Osaka is the second largest city in Japan, after Tokyo, and to me it felt like the Japanese equivalent to Manchester or Liverpool, with lots of young people and a cool vibe. The food scene is thriving and we ate extremely well in our few days here. Try buckwheat soba noodles at Ayamedo, sweets from the Japanese confectioner Mochisho Shizuku, Kansai-style tempura at the 2-Michelin starred Yotaro Honten, and coffee at Moto Coffee. The Horie neighbourhood & Orange Street are lovely to wander around and explore, especially during the week when everyone is at work. I loved the variety of beautifully designed shops: Evam Eva for tailored clothing, Yumiko Iihoshi for stylish porcelain Ajikitcho, and Winged Wheel for appealing paper and envelopes of every colour. Hostel 64 is a reasonably priced, super hip hostel.

Hiroshima – This chilling city has a tumultous and heart-breaking history. While in town there are lots of war memorials to visit including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Children’s Peace Monument and Aioi Bridge. When it comes to meal times it is essential to try the famous Okonomiyaki dish at Mitchan Sohonten, and for a superior cup of coffee visit Obscura Coffee Roasters. If you have time take a day trip to the ethereal Miyajima Island to see the Itsukushima Shrine & O-torii gate.

Things to do in Tokyo

Japan has been at the very top of my destinations list for a few years. I knew a country that excels in food, design (and stationery) would suit me perfectly. When I arrived in Tokyo I found myself completely transfixed with the fascinating culture and customs that are in stark contrast to the rush of mad modernism and futuristic fun. If you are brave enough to try strange cuisine and get involved in local traditions you will unravel a magical and memorable world beyond all imagination. 

To Stay

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo – From the ground floor, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is just like any other high-end luxury hotel. But the real experience begins at floor 38 where the panoramic city views will leave you lost for words. If you are lucky Mount Fuji will be glinting majestically in the distance too. The rooms are divinely luxurious and there are numerous fine food options within the hotel.

The Peninsula Hotel Tokyo – The ornate glittering lobby welcomes you in style to the Peninsula Tokyo. The hotel is a favourite with business and leisure guests thanks to its impeccable attention to detail and thoughtful luxury. Don’t miss trying the legendary Kobe beef at Peter restaurant.

Zabutton Hostel – This hip hostel in Azabu, central Tokyo, opened in 2015. There is a coffee shop on the ground floor, and dorms and private rooms on the floors above. We enjoyed the experience of sleeping on traditional tatami beds.

To Eat

Birdland – There are two branches of this popular yakitori restaurant. The Michelin-starred Ginza branch has a U-shaped bar surrounding the dramatic open kitchen. The little skewers of chicken are absolutely delicious and the poultry is so fresh that you can even try chicken sashimi.

Higashiya – This Ginza boutique sells beautiful Japanese confectionery (wagashi) and also operates as a tea house. It is a great place to pause and recuperate after a busy day’s shopping. Try the famous mocha; pounded sticky rice sweets.

Tsuta (Japanese Soba Noodles) – Getting a seat at the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant is definitely a challenge. I arrived at 7am to pick up one of the last tickets for lunchtime, then spent the next seven hours exploring the city until it was time for my allocated slot. The understated eatery seats just 9 diners at a time and guests sit in silence while they slurp their flavour-packed bowl of ramen. Tsuta’s signature soy-based broth is aged for 2 years and all noodles are made in-house, a bowl costs just £6. There are a few variations to choose from, I would recommend the most popular variety with four pieces of pork and a boiled egg.

Kanetanaka Sahsya – The original Kantetanaka is one of the city’s most distinguished traditional tourist restaurants. This more casual branch is harder to find, upstairs in an office/retail building near Omote-sando station, and is more popular with locals. There is a large, minimally-designed space has stylish furniture and tableware and a communal table looking out to a small rock garden. I recommend visiting for the reasonable set lunch menu.

Tempura Tsunahachi – This tempura institution has been making amazingly light tempura for 93 years. Sit at the bar and pick a selection of seafood and vegetables, which the chef will cook in front of you before serving with dipping sauce and salt. Don’t get confused with an uninspiring restaurant of the same name on the 13th floor of a tower building nearby.

Fureika – When you need a break from Japanese cuisine visit Fureika, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Azabujuban. Opt for the dim sum set lunch for around £20 and relish the endless courses of miniature treats.

Kyourakutei – Yet another casual Michelin-starred eatery, hidden away in the Tokyo backstreets. Kyourakutei serves comforting soba noodles and delicious tempura. Their noodles are freshly milled on the day so they are wonderfully fresh and bouncy. Order the Kamo Zaru (cold soba with hot duck broth, duck meatball and Japanese leeks).

Libertable – This luxurious cake shop and café serves creations by Kazuyori Morita. We tried the Luxe; a decadent chocolate and truffle masterpiece.


To Drink 

High Five Bar – Cocktail making is a fine art in Tokyo and the best bars are not cheap. High Five is an intimate hideaway, with a few cosy tables and a beautiful bar. There is no menu so speak to Hidetsugu Ueno (the owner and head bartender) about your favourite flavours and he will create you something magical. We tried sake and Nikka whisky based drinks, strong and sensual cocktails that were stylishly presented.

Gen Yamamoto – Serious cocktail drinkers will love this bespoke experience. Gen Yamamoto is the owner and sole member of staff at this incredibly exclusive bar. A flavour connoisseur, Gen offers tasting menus only, all based on seasonal local produce.

About Life Coffee – This small takeaway kiosk opened in May 2014 and is now known as one of the best coffee venues in Tokyo. They use beans from a few hand-picked roasters and host international guest baristas and roasters such as Market Lane Coffee from Australia.

Toranomon Koffee – From the same people as the celebrated (now closed) Omotesando Koffee, this hip outlet is located in the business district in the Mori building. The café is beautifully designed in minimal sleek wood and metal and serves tasty coffee and delectable bites. Don’t miss the addictively good pain perdu.

Golden Gai – There is nowhere quite like the Golden Gai. Found in the Shinjuku district this atmospheric area consists of six narrow alleys with over 200 bars and eateries. Some ramshackle venues only seat one or two guests, most bars have a cover charge, but wherever you end up you are sure to have a memorable night!

To See & Do 

Nezu Museum – Found in the Minato district, this chic museum houses Nezu Kaichiro’s private collection. We saw their exhibition to welcome the New Year called “Pine, Bamboo and Plum”, explaining the symbolic importance of different plants and animals. The impressive new building was designed by renowned Japanese architect, Kuma Kengo, and opened in 2009. I loved walking around the calming garden.

National Art Centre Tokyo – One of the largest exhibition venues in Asia, the NACT has no permanent collection but houses exciting temporary exhibitions and events. The museum is currently showing an Issey Miyake exhibition.

Tsukiji Fish Market – Often voted the number one thing to do in Tokyo, Tsukiji Fish Market is an unmissable experience. If you don’t mind (very) early starts queue for the famous Tuna auction which only allows 120 tourists per day. Many head to the market at breakfast time to try the freshest sushi from Sushi Dai.

Scai The Bathhouse – This former Bathhouse has been transformed into an intimate private gallery that displays Japanese contemporary art. Be sure to pop into nearby Kayaba Coffee and their new bakery, both just a few minutes’ walk away.

Yushima Tenjin – The shrines in Japan are serene and stunning. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the God of Learning and was founded in the year 458. Around exam time many students hang a small wooden plaque (called an Ema) with their prayers and wishes on it for good luck.

Sumo – Sumo tournaments take place three times a year at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. The afternoon and evening matches are the most important and the ringside seats are the most sought after and expensive. Each ‘bout’ (fight) lasts only a few seconds but is surrounded by an extended period of stretching and ritualistic ceremony.

Imperial Palace East Gardens – This is the only part of the palace that is open to the public. It is all calming and peaceful, but my favourite part was the Ninomaru Garden that features a tree to symbolise each prefecture of Japan.

Museum of Contemporary Art – Located in Kiba Park, east of central Tokyo, the iconic MoT shows both local and international contemporary art. When I visited they had an amazingly comprehensive Yoko Ono exhibition.

To Shop

Itoya – this stationery supermarket is a mecca for pen and paper addicts like me. Stock up on stylish Japanese staplers and rulers before visiting the Paper Concierge for a bespoke experience.

Uniqlo – I couldn’t resist visiting the flagship Ginza store whilst in Tokyo. This 12 floor clothes shop stocks a vast range of cheap tailored garments that you won’t find in the UK stores. I particularly loved their selection of dark blue jeans.

Spiral Market – Found on the second floor of the Spiral Building, this carefully curated shop stocks a wide range of design-focused homeware and stationery. I wanted it all.

Bloom & Branch – This Aoyama lifestyle concept store stocks beautiful tailored clothes from their house brands as well as international designers. After perusing the garments enjoy a coffee at the instore Cobi café or perfect your look at the shoe-polishing bar by Brift H.

Maison Koichiro Kimura – Lacquerware legend Koichiro Kimura has a tiny psychedelic shop stocking his bold and brilliant creations. He combines 400 year-old family techniques with ‘high technology’ to create avant-garde items.

Stalogy Laboratory – A small aesthetically pleasing boutique in Daikan-yama selling colorful stickers, simple stylish diaries and functional pens.

Okura – The best place to buy authentic Indigo garments in Tokyo. Browse the beautiful blue clothes whilst chatting to friendly staff (who speak very good English). Fashionable tourists will find the perfect souvenir here.

Our Favourite Shop – this little shop is not easy to find, hidden in a suburban area of town. Offering a carefully curated selection of inspiring and creative local designers, like pottery from Marushi Porcelain and Kikof tableware.

Kappabashi – Known as ‘Kitchen Town’ Kappabashi is the catering street of Tokyo. The shops here are a mecca for keen chefs, with world-class knives and weird and wonderful cooking utensils.

To Escape

Hakone – this beautiful destination is just 100km from Tokyo so makes a perfect escape from the fast-paced city. Overlooking Lake Ashinoko with views of snow-capped Mount Fuji in the distance, it offers postcard picturesque views all year round. The town is most famous for hot spring onsen bathhouses. We visited the lovely Narukawa Art Museum and the educational Tokaido Museum, which explains the history of the area. Nadaman Garden at The Prince Hotel serves a delectable traditional Kaiseki lunch.

The Peninsula Hotel, Tokyo

Peninsula Tokyo

The Peninsula Hotels is a brand you can trust, wherever you are in the world. In Japan, service and hospitality are of a higher quality than anywhere else in the world, but The Peninsula Tokyo stills outshines many of its competitors with impeccable attention to detail and thoughtful luxury.

The hotel’s prime location gives guests easy access to many of the city’s most celebrated sightseeing highlights. Opposite the property the Imperial Palace and Hibuiya Park are particularly pleasant in warmer weather, whilst retail and food lovers will enjoy the glamorous Ginza district for shopping and dining. Business visitors will find themselves conveniently close to the Marunouchi area.

In winter, Tokyo can be a punishingly cold place to be and after travelling across town I was delighted to be stepping inside the warm and welcoming Peninsula palace. At the entrance a white-uniformed bellboy opened the door to the glistening golden lobby. A balcony in the ceiling concealed a band of live musicians who provided atmospheric entertainment throughout the day. Check-in was quick and organised and we were soon admiring the views from our room on floor 20.

Peninsula bedroomPenCities Tokyo

The Grand Deluxe Rooms are the ideal balance of cosy homeliness and spacious comfort. Sophisticated shades of cream and silver give the room a stylish and relaxed feel, with plush furniture and attractive decorative subtle artwork. The Peninsula Hotels make their rooms memorable with extra indulgences and amenities… the free VoIP internet phone allows guests to call internationally free of charge, a nail dryer offers female visitors a convenient beauty tool and the in-room printer-fax-scanner complex was extremely useful for me to sort out last minute travel documents.

The bathroom is not dissimilar to a mini spa. The big bath offers a range of mood-enhancing settings and options, from lighting to music. Separate his and hers sinks ensure there are no arguments here! The Peninsula Hotels have a unique collaboration with Oscar de la Renta, so all bathrooms include fragrant toiletries from this high-end designer.

A meal at Peter offers the chance to try Japan’s most prized Kobe and Wagyu beef. In short, it was the best steak I have ever eaten. The Kobe was melt in the mouth velvety soft meat, whilst the Gifu Hidagyu A5 Tenderloin (Wagyu) was evenly and finely marbled to give optimum flavour. Served with handcut chips and a seasonal salad; it was a truly memorable meal. Desserts were a unique mix of Japanese and European flavours. White chocolate and green tea dessert was a beautiful dish, but the unique taste of green tea is definitely an acquired taste.

Breakfast is best enjoyed in the enviably prestigious lobby. Order from the extensive menu of continental and traditional Japanese recipes. We tasted the indulgent French toast with caramelised banana, a bowl of Muesli with yoghurt and berries, and enjoyed the freshly prepared bakery basket of flaky French pastries. It was the perfect sustenance before a morning of outdoor exploring.

Peninsula Hotels work closely with Luxe to present guests with up-to-date guides for their relevant cities. This fold-up companion impressed me, the suggestions were unusual and exciting, with a good mix of local must-sees to hidden insider secrets. It is another initiative that illustrates how Peninsula helps guests enjoy the destinations as well as the offerings inside the hotel.

More information and book a room at The Peninsula Tokyo here.