No matter how great Tokyo is, we sometimes forget that one of the most beautiful cities in the world is within easy reach. Kyoto may be filled with gorgeous temples and shrines, but there’s also a local culture that’s well worth a peek. Avoid the swarms of tourists and experience Kyoto like a local by hitting those spots in the old capital. Don’t forget to rent a bicycle—it’s the best way to navigate Kyoto!

By Vivian Morelli

Kyoto Nama Chocolat Organic Tea House

This charming cafe, located near Heian Shrine, is the place to go if you want time to stop for a few hours. Located in a traditional machiya (one of those old wooden townhouses), there are only a few tables in a tatami room, and if you’re lucky, the cat will be sleeping next to the heater. The friendly Canadian owner and her Japanese chef husband have an incredible menu of heavenly organic chocolates and green tea, as well as healthy lunch sets. By far our favorite discovery in Kyoto, and nothing beats to big brown dog welcoming guests in the entrance. Address: 76-15, Tenno-cho, Okazaki, Kyoto

Sake Bar Yoramu

The perfect spot to spend a quiet evening sipping on some rice brews. Even if you’re not an expert connoisseur of the different kinds of nihonshu, Yoram—the Israeli owner of the shop—will serve you according to your taste. Just tell him what you generally like—whether it’s fruity, dry, or heavy—and your tastebuds won’t be disappointed. The bar carries an impressive range of aged and unique sake, along with a selection of nibbles. We recommend the tasting set of three (¥1,200). Address: Located on Nijo-dori, east of Karasuma (map here).

Cafe Bibliotic Hello!

In between temple visits and cycling about, treat yourself to some rest and reading at this library-like coffeehouse. Hidden behind a façade of huge banana leaves, the stylish interior hosts a variety of designer furnishings, two stories of books and magazines for your browsing pleasure, and an extensive menu. Their cappuccinos are some of the tastiest around (try the cinnamon flavor), and they even have an in-house bakery. Address: 650 Seimeicho, Nakagyo, Kyoto.

Mount Kurama

Not only does it have a giant Tengu greeting you at the foot of the mountain, but the scenic view is exceptional. Ditch the cable car and hike all the way to the top of Kurama—the whole hike takes about two hours. Mount Kurama is considered the birthplace of spiritual practice reiki, as well as the  home of Sojobo, also known as the King of Tengu. To get there, get off at Kurama station on the Eizan Electric Railway, and make sure you take a stroll in the historic town of Kibune post-hike.

Hosomi Museum

This museum’s design was inspired by the traditional Kyoto machiya, in a fusion of traditional and modern. The three floors host treasures of all eras of Japanese art, ranging from the Yayoi period to the Edo period. Hosomi Museum presents seasonal exhibits, and its convenient location (right next to the Heian Shrine) makes it a convenient spot to quickly escape the crowds. Address: 6-3 Okazaki, Kyoto 

Honke Owariya Soba

This is probably some of the best soba you’ll ever taste in your life- no wonder the Imperial family visits the shop when they travel to Kyoto. It’s also the oldest noodle shop in the city, as it’s been around since 1465. It was originally a confectionary shop, and although it has expanded to noodles, you can still taste the sweet treats. We highly recommend the seiro soba, with a side of vegetable tempura. Address: 322 Kurumayacho-Nijo, Nakagyo, Kyoto.

Main image: mTaira /