Should You Visit Kyoto? Yes, You Should Even Visit Paris.

Should you, should I or should anyone visit Kyoto? It may come off as absurd yet somehow – with all the over-touristy talk and often degrading remarks found online – an urgent question to answer. Yes, I strongly believe that you should visit Kyoto, the last historical capital of Japan. Not only because I do not have the heart (and hopefully the arrogance) to tell anyone not to visit Kyoto after having been there almost ten times myself but also because it is a very beautiful city.

You should visit Kyoto just like you should visit Paris, Rome, Istanbul, San Francisco, Venice, Thai islands – all those over-touristy places where you will be surrounded by many other tourists, possibly wait in line to get into the famous landmarks and have a hard time finding a seat at popular restaurants.

Touristy places are touristy for – often – a valid reason

While none of these places will offer you a secluded experience, there is often a very valid reason that makes these places globally desired destinations. A reason that rises above most of the hurdles that you will be facing during your visit. A very simple reason that all the hype about the “off-the-beaten-track travel” often makes us forget or overlook: these are exceptionally beautiful and unique places home to some of the best human made and/or natural wonders of the world. And I do not think that there is any shame in wanting to see these places and even enjoying their charm. It sure does not make any of us less of a traveler.


I honestly do not think that I could have developed the appetite and understanding to appreciate the under-the-radar places if I had not acquired the taste of travel by being exposed to such classic, magnificent, and yes very touristy, places. The places that are so captivating that they require so little effort, experience and even knowledge to be appreciated. That almost effortless joy that they pass on to the visitor is often strong enough to get one immediately hooked on the addictive happiness brought by traveling.

There is only one Kyoto, Paris, or Istanbul

The same joy that often makes me overlook the negativity brought on by the so strongly despised “touristiness”. I always find the first view of the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral sitting by the equally captivating Seine River soothing enough to forget about the crowds. In the same way that seeing the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, two of the most impressive religious architectures in the world, respectively saluting each other (unaware of the manipulative political drama that they are in the center of) makes you forget the struggle of walking through hundreds of people in the street leading to the Grand Bazaar during the busy season (actually in any season). Just like how one dip in the blue waters of Koh Phangan makes you not care about the fact that you are one among the one million tourists who visit the island each year.

And during a recent visit to Kyoto, one look at Golden Pavilion – for maybe the fifth time – on a sunny day with blue skies, instantly made me forget about the chaotic atmosphere at the train station and even the unbearable summer humidity in Japan – not an easy feat. I was so moved by the excitement that I felt at a site that I already visited many times that I decided to double down and visit even more “touristy” and “not off-the-beaten-track” places. And I enjoyed it immensely.

Experiencing that kind of beauty, especially when that beauty is even further emphasized by the perfect natural conditions, cotton clouds, and blue skies, is something hard to get tired of. It has been a week since I got back from Kyoto but I still carry that high brought on by those picture-perfect sceneries.

Classic v. invented tourism destinations

Granted that not all “most-visited” or “touristy” places come with human-made landmarks or nature wonders that make all the trouble worth it. I call those places “invented” tourism destinations. Destinations that draw visitors not only because they are inherently rich in terms of the sites that draw attention but because they have been designed to attract that attention.

Take the example of my country, Turkey. In addition to the sites that will always shine because of their inherent uniqueness, the country is also home to many towns that draw millions of visitors each year for no apparent or “organic” reason. One of the most visited summer destinations in Turkey is Alacati, a town that was originally home to a series of authentic stone and picturesque houses. Yes, charming but honestly not particularly special. Alacati is now full of boutique hotels and unbelievably overpriced restaurants that are hosted in newly built stone houses that imitate the original ones. The old town, the main draw for the visitors as a summer destination, is not even located by the sea. I call Alacati an invented destination.

Hotel Anteroom

On the other hand, the destinations that I root for in this article are the “classic destinations” – those places that draw people because they are home to sites and/or experiences that only they can offer. Destinations that will never fall out of fashion. Destinations that cannot be replicated. If I had even the slightest understanding of fashion (and I do not), I could probably say that these destinations are as classic as the Birkin bag by Hermes or the 2.55 bag by Chanel. Always desired, never uncool.

So I think you should definitely visit Kyoto – the last historical capital of Japan home to more than 2000 temples packed in a valley overlooked by beautiful mountains. Yes, there are many other wonderful places in Japan but what Kyoto offers can only be experienced and found in Kyoto. So there is no other place like Kyoto – just like there is no other place like Paris or Istanbul or San Francisco or Bangkok. They are all classics for very valid and not “invented” reasons.

In this separate post, I listed some of my tips for Kyoto.

P.S. While I appreciate the thoughtful discussions about the issues caused by over-tourism and our, as travelers, impact on our destinations, this post intends to cover a different topic and perspective: our desire to visit or, more often lately, not to visit the very popular destinations and whether off-the-beaten-track experience is the absolute must for our travel itineraries.