When we were researching a visit to Kyoto we found Inside Kyoto to be an invaluable resource. It’s run by Chris Rowthorn, an American who has been in Kyoto for more than 20 years. Rowthorn is also the editor of the Lonely Planet guidebooks for Japan and many southeast Asian countries, and even offers private tours of Kyoto and other cities. Rowthorn shared his hometown with us, helping us explore highlights of must-see tourist destinations as well as the little-known. In between we spent a lot of time checking out Kyoto’s cafés. Here are our favorites.
Discreetly nestled inside Maruyama-koen park, one of the most scenic in Kyoto (especially during cherry blossom season), you’ll find Sakamaruyama, a 12-seat café that calms and nourishes the spirit. Enjoy tea and artisanal Japanese sweets in this picture-perfect garden hideaway.
Ippodo Tea Room and Shop
Tea is core to any visit to Japan, and Kyoto’s Ippodo Tea Room and Shop is among our favorite purveyors. The staff is very friendly and helpful in demystifying the varieties and grades of tea available, and anyone looking to learn more can take one of their tea classes. An adjoining tea room offers samples of the shop’s best teas, including sencha, matcha and gyokuro. Tea from Ippodo makes a thoughtful (and lightweight) gift, and they’ll wrap any purchase.
Cafe Bibliotic Hello!
This lush space features books, a gallery and a bakery in addition to the café. Airy and comfortable with good food, Cafe Bibliotic Hello! is an ideal place to pause between shopping and sightseeing.
Cafe Kocsi is one of Chris’s favorite lunch places and we instantly fell in love with its charm. A well-worn, comfortable escape from the hustle of the city and tourists, it’s a perfect spot to recharge, enjoy a snack, lunch or a late-night bite.
Japanese people obsess over coffee as much as they do tea, and % Arabica delivers both through their coffee roasting and preparation—all inside a unique environment. While both Kyoto locations are worth a visit, the Arashima location sits on the Katsura river, offering spectacular mountain views. It’s right next to the must-see Bamboo Forest and Tenryu-ji gardens and temple.
Cao Cafe Ishikawa
This modern space was created to celebrate moments connecting with friends over drinks and snacks. Located in a more residential neighborhood, Cao Cafe Ishikawa offers a modern take on Kyoto style, with fewer tourists.
Images and additional reporting by Josh Rubin