Kyoto (tours from Maizuru), Japan

Maizuru is known for its red-brick buildings and nearby natural attractions. It’s also your gateway to Kyoto, Japan’s capital for 1,000 years and laden with sacred temples and other historic sites.

For many, Maizuru is an invitation to head to wonderful city of Kyoto, birthplace of the tea ceremony and the Geisha tradition. You could watch a demonstration of samurai kembu, the traditional sword dance of the samurai, while any discovery here will include Shinto shrines, Zen gardens and incredible temple complexes. In fact, Kyoto is home to an astonishing 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One of the most famous on the list is Nijo Castle, a former residence of the first shogun, or supreme military dictator, of the Edo period (1603-1867). It features grand gates and some of the finest surviving examples of feudal palace castle architecture. It’s all encased in moats, mighty stone walls and gardens featuring ponds, ornamental stones and cherry trees.

One of the most famous, and favorite, on the list is the fabulous Kinkaku-ju Temple. More commonly known as the Golden Pavilion, its serene gilded balconies contrast beautifully with the surrounding greenery, and the whole scene is reflected in the still waters of the lake on which it stands.

There are some dramatic places not on the list too. The Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is one of the city’s most spectacular sites, especially its sloping walkway framed by hundreds of bright red Tori gates. The Fushimi district is also Kyoto’s sake producing area, and home to several breweries, as well as a network of tree-lined canals.

Maizuru itself can delight visitors with its own temples and castles, albeit on a smaller scale than Kyoto.

The modern port of Maizuru grew out of its establishment as a naval base in 1901. It played an important role in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, when Japan defeated Russian naval forces on several occasions. The city contains interesting former naval buildings, and several intriguing museums – the Brick Museum being a somewhat unexpected example.

Nearby you’ll find the Amanohashidate Sandbar, which stretches for two miles across Miyaza Bay. Covered with thousands of pine trees, with ribbons of beach visible on either edge, it’s considered one of the Three Scenic Views of Old Japan.

Another viewpoint is the Goro Sky Tower. While this may look like the control tower at an airport, it delivers up a truly magnificent perspective over Maizuru Bay, where the verdant islands and headlands create their breathtaking patterns against the deep blue waters.

To the north, Ine promises to captivate you with its “funaya” the traditional fisherman’s houses, with moorings for their boats underneath, and which huddle photogenically along the shore.