Kyoto is famous for its Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, traditional wooden houses, kaiseki dining, and Maiko. It is one of the world's most culturally rich cities and the place most travelers dream of when thinking of Japan. It is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years. Today, it remains the heart and soul of traditional Japan. Nowhere else will you find so many Japanese art forms as you'll find in the ancient capital of Kyoto. On this exclusive ‘Inside Kyoto’ hosted tour, we'll learn about the ‘Ways’ of Kyoto.’ The culture of green tea, incense appreciation, and the art of flower arranging, better known as Ikebana. We will learn to make wagashi (Japanese sweets), and see an array of Kyo-yaki, aka pottery created in Kyoto. We will visit incredible gardens and temples, wander the famous Nishiki market, and take a day in the country, visiting the stunning Miho Museum. Along the way, we'll enjoy various culinary specialties, including Kyoto sushi, Obanzai Ryori (the traditional home-style cooking of Kyoto), shojin ryori (vegetarian Temple cuisine), and kaiseki (a multi-course gourmet meal). This immersive deep dive into Japan's wonderous culture is perfect for first-time or returning visitors to the Japanese Islands. *Please note: Wheat is a primary ingredient in soy sauce. Because so much Japanese food includes soy sauce, this is not a good trip if you are gluten-free or allergic to fish/shellfish.
Here's a day-by-day itinerary of the trip.
Arrive in Tokyo
Arrive in Tokyo, pass through immigration, collect your luggage, and clear customs. If you have booked an arrival transfer through us, an assistant will meet you outside the secure area and take you to the hotel by private van transfer. You can also arrange transfers on the advice of our concierge.
Check into the Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza and take some time to relax. Your host will be there to greet you. We’ll start our Japanese adventure with a ‘Welcome Dinner’ in Zen House at the hotel. This is a perfect opportunity to meet each other and discuss our plans for the week ahead.
The best way to discover a city is by walking it and riding its rails. Today, we do both. Our first stop is a visit to the Tsujiki Outer Market on the edge of Tokyo Bay. While the big fish market has moved elsewhere, what remains is a lot of fun. The market is a maze of streets where you can feast on fresh sushi or pick up unique souvenirs, ranging from seaweed to sushi knives to handmade ceramics. (Take time to admire the knives at one of the city’s fabulous knife shops.)
From here, we return to the Ginza district, Tokyo’s most famous up-market shopping, dining, and entertainment district. It is known for its architecture, dining, tea rooms, and varied entertainment. We’ll stop at Ginza 6 to visit Tsutaya – one of Tokyo’s divine ‘design’ bookstores. We’ll visit the Mitsukoshi Ginza Depachika Food Hall. The in-house food halls – or depachika – are known for their gorgeous sweets and confectionery, immaculately packaged food, ready-to-eat dishes, and picture-perfect bento.
Lunch is at a local sushi restaurant, after which we’ll stop at Itoya – one of the city’s most beautiful stationery shops. It’s also well stocked.
We’ll stroll past Ginza Place, Louis Vuitton Ginza, and Mikimoto. Then, we'll hop onto a train to Shibuya to see the famous crossing. A visit to the 360° open-air observation deck at the Shibuya Sky Tower is next on the agenda. Shibuya Sky is more than just an observatory. It spans three floors. It has an indoor section that incorporates dazzling digital art displays that encourage you to see the city differently. We’ll sit back with a drink and enjoy Tokyo’s aerial views from the café or bar on the 46th floor, then return to our hotel.
Tonight, you're free to dine where you like. Find a local restaurant or relax with room service.
Breakfast & Lunch
Tokyo to Kyoto. Zen & Chadō - "The Way of Tea"
This morning, we’ll board our Shinkansen train to Kyoto after a short taxi ride to Tokyo Station. The train trip takes about two hours. We’ll travel first class, enjoying an onboard lunch from the Bento boxes we buy at the station before the trip. Our local guide will meet us on arrival in Kyoto. We’ll check into the Nogha Hotel before we head off on our adventures.
Our first visit is to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, perhaps Kyoto’s most iconic site. Originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun, it became a Buddhist Temple after the Shogun’s death. Today, the Golden Pavilion is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Our next stop is the serene UNESCO World Heritage Ryoanji with its famous Zen rock garden.
The Japanese tea ceremony, Chadō or “The Way of Tea,” is a tradition steeped in history. Beyond serving and receiving tea, one of the primary purposes of the tea ceremony is for the guests to enjoy the host’s hospitality in an atmosphere far removed from the fast pace of everyday life. This afternoon, we immerse ourselves in a traditional Tea Ceremony in an old machiya house in the Gion district. You have the option of wearing a kimono to get into the spirit of the ceremony.
We’ll return to our hotel and prepare for a dinner focusing on Kobe Beef near our hotel.
Kado, the “Way of Flowers”, Handi-Craft & Pontocho
Our guide will meet us after breakfast for a morning class of ikebana, also known as kado or the “Way of Flowers.” This floral art form is more than just putting flowers into a vase. Japanese flower arranging requires patience and discipline. It is an authentic Japanese art through which you appreciate the beauty of simplicity. Everything to the smallest detail is considered, including the size and shape of the flowers, trunks, leaves, and branches. Ikebana encourages you to slow your thoughts, release stress, and get in tune with nature.
Lunch is at a tranquil restaurant where the inventive meals feature the natural bounty of Kyoto prefecture’s Tango peninsula. The main ingredients include rice cultivated in-house and vegetables procured from nearby farmers.
The Kyoto Handicraft Center is our next port of call. The store has seven floors of beguiling crafts ranging from key chains to hand-painted fans and swords.
We’ll return to the hotel to rest & refresh. After an evening stroll through the atmospheric, lantern-lit alleyway of Pontocho, we’ll stop to taste whiskey at the Bar Liquor Museum. Dinner this evening is at a refined Japanese kaiseki restaurant in the lively Pontocho area featuring Kyoto kaiseki dishes using seasonal ingredients.
Shibori & Maiko
This morning is all about Shibori at Aizen Kobo. After breakfast, we’re off to the Aizenkobo workshop, a famous indigo dyeing shop and workshop highly regarded for its beautiful, dyed works. We'll tour the building and discover the processes.
Next up - the Nishijin Textile and Weaving district. At Orinasu-kan, we’ll learn about the Nishijin district’s long history as the center of Kyoto’s textile industry.
Lunch will consist of soba noodles at a small, much-loved local restaurant. The restaurant is the bridge between farmers and customers, a place where you can experience the flavor of the land in the Japanese buckwheat.
You’ll have time to rest and refresh this afternoon. We can meet in the hotel bar for a cocktail (own account) in the early evening. Then, we're off to our wonderful Maiko evening. Japan is associated with images of elaborate hairstyles, white-painted faces, and the bright red lips of geikos (a geiko is a geisha from Kyoto) wrapped in elegant kimonos. This evening, we’ll have dinner with a “maiko,” an apprentice geiko. We’ll dine on kaiseki ryori (a traditional multi-course dinner). During the dinner, you’ll have ample opportunity to interact with the hostess and ask questions about her craft and the world of maiko. She will perform traditional dances and invite guests to play Japanese drinking games.
After this unforgettable experience, it is time to return to the hotel and wind down after the day’s events.
Kodo, the “Way of the Fragrance” & Markets
After a lazy breakfast, we will focus on how traditional incense is made. Kodo (Koh-do) means “Way of the Fragrance.” We’ll take a fragrance factory tour at the Shoyeido Incense Company store. The factory has crafted sensational scents since it opened in 1705, and even today, master crafters continue to preserve the art of ancient incense while constantly adding new, sublime fragrances.
We’ll lunch on seasonal tempura at a restaurant a cut above your usual tempura restaurants. Then, we’ll visit a 200-year-old incense company and participate in a traditional practice called kneaded incense. You’ll have a chance to create an original blend of kneaded incense after learning about the ingredients.
Before returning to the hotel, we’ll walk through the Nishiki-koji food market, known to the locals as Kyoto daidokoro or Kyoto’s kitchen. We’ll explore the local vicinity and the wonderful depachika (underground food hall) at one of Kyoto’s best department stores.
Dinner this evening is an Omakase menu at restaurant Gion Motose or similar.
Countryside, Museums and Ceramics
Today, we’ll drive out of Kyoto for a day trip to the Miho Museum. The museum was designed by internationally recognized architect I.M. Pei, who also designed other famous structures, including the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The museum is named after Koyama Mihoko, one of the wealthiest women in Japan and the museum’s founder. The most appealing aspect of the museum is its structural design and how the structures integrate with the natural surroundings. This is highlighted in the museum's approach, which leads through a mixture of man-made and natural environments.
Lunch is at a café in Shigaraki town. The café’s concept is to serve organically grown Koshihikari brown rice and fermented cuisine. Sit back and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and enjoy the wonderful garden.
We’ll use the afternoon to discover Shigaraki town, home of the world-famous Shigaraki-yaki (Shigaraki ware). On a stroll around the area, we visit some local pottery artisans and view their kilns, workshops, and galleries. Most potters attach their studios and galleries to their homes so you can see their workspaces and experience parts of the artisan families' daily lives. When we return to our Kyoto hotel, your evening is free.
Wagashi, the ‘Way of Sweets’, Temples & Gion
Today, you’ll experience "Kyogashi" at Kanshundo in Higashiyama. Wagashi, or traditional Japanese confectionery sweets, are an essential part of Japanese culture. Kyogashi is a type of wagashi made and created in Kyoto by specially trained artisans. Every season offers a new way to enjoy kyogashi. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to make a few delicate Kyoto-style wagashi as the teacher instructs us on the techniques used to shape the pieces. You’ll enjoy your finished creations with some delicious matcha green tea as a reward for your labors.
We’ll stroll through the Higashiyama area and enjoy a wonderful udon noodle lunch. Then we’re off to the Gion area.
Shinbashi-Dori, Kyoto’s most famous antique street, which runs straight to the Tatsumi Bridge. We’ll wander around the area, take in the sights, and make one last stop at Kagizen Wagashi Shop, one of Kyoto’s oldest and most esteemed tea and sweet shops. It has a serene tearoom where you can enjoy traditional sweets with cups of thick matcha tea. We return to the hotel to rest and refresh.
We’ll meet at the hotel bar for a cocktail tonight before enjoying a last magnificent meal at Cenci Kyoto.
It is time to pay tribute to our week in Japan and say farewell to new friends.
It's time to bid farewell to the captivating cities of Japan. Take a moment to reflect on the unforgettable experiences and cherished memories gathered throughout your journey.
As you prepare for your transfer to Osaka Airport or Tokyo Airport, let the excitement of your adventures linger in your heart. Enjoy a delightful breakfast as you say goodbye to this remarkable land, carrying with you the spirit of Japan and the promise of future explorations.
Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo is a trendy, minimalist-inspired accommodation in Ginza, a vibrant neighborhood best known as one of Japan's foremost shopping and entertainment districts.
Nohga Hotel KIYOMIZU KYOTO is decorated with arts and crafts made by creators from and based in Kyoto. Their music, art, space design, and products are scattered around the property, demonstrating Kyoto's diverse culture.
Jemma grew up in Australia, and after graduating from the Sydney College of Fine Arts, she started boarding planes and never stopped. She has lived in Mexico, France, England, and New Zealand. Through a lifetime of amazing travel, she nurtured her longstanding love of photography, art, food, textiles, and architecture.
She loves encouraging experiential travel and is passionate about cultural exploration. She believes in being a traveler, not a tourist. She leads women-only tours all over Asia, Australia, and beyond.
Kyoto delivers pure magic
This incredible tour is perfect for first-time or returning visitors to Japan, for those looking for a quick but in-depth taste of Japanese culture in a fantastic city, or for returning visitors who need an immersive deep dive into an incredible culture.
A small group experience
Expert Local Guides and Tour Host
Wine or beer is served with dinner (2 glasses per person)
Entrances, excursions and workshops as per itinerary
All transportation during the trip (except arrival & departure transfers)
First Class Shinkansen Tickets – Tokyo to Kyoto
Public Transport tickets in Kyoto
All meals except where indicated
Drinks not specified
All personal souvenirs
Travel and Medical Insurance (required)
Any necessary Visa fees
Arrival and departure transfers
Fly into Tokyo's Narita Airport.
The trip officially starts on Saturday, April 6, but if you are traveling across an ocean to get to Tokyo, consider arriving a day early so you have time to relax and adjust to the local time. If you decide to arrive early, please let us know, and we will take care of the booking.
We will have a zoom call about 6 weeks before the trip starts to discuss all that information and give you a packing list. Here is a great website that we love that will help you with packing and travel trips.
The mornings might start on the cooler side, but the temperatures will rise during the day. Expect mid-60s. Bring a light raincoat, just in case.
Wheat is a primary ingredient in soy sauce making it not gluten-free. Therefore if you have a gluten free intolerance this trip may not be for you