Culture runs through Kyoto’s veins. Don’t be fooled by the concrete-chic railway station: Japan’s ancient capital is a treasure chest of history, mercifully spared destruction throughout the ages and beautifully framed by mountains. It’s the city that best conjures the Japan of the imagination: magnificent vermillion temples, perfectly pruned gardens, winding lamp-lit streets and shuffling geisha. Yes, there are modern malls and tacky souvenirs, but wander a while and you’ll soon stumble upon street corner shrines or kimono-clad locals haggling at markets.
Once the centre of everything from politics and religion to art and food, the city lays claim to the beginnings of many Japanese staples - from the tea ceremony to Kabuki – and houses a staggering 2,000 temples and shrines. Thanks to its cultural credentials, it sometimes swarms with an almost intolerable number of visitors, especially during the spring blossoms and autumn turn. We prefer to visit in the winter, when the city is quieter - and at its most authentic and you might just get to see the glittery golden pavilion of kinkaku-ji rising from a sea of snow.