Where to Stay
Located in the same building as the city’s main railway station, the sleek, impeccably run Hotel Granvia Kyoto has seven large family rooms with four single beds, and families can also opt for a standard double and add a bed for $75. Baby cots are free. The hotel can provide warm milk and sterilize bottles, and will dispose of dirty diapers upon request (81-75-344-8888; doubles from $470).
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto is one of the city’s plushest. Many of the rooms look out over a gorgeous koi pond and can accommodate an extra bed (81-75-541-1234; doubles from $430).
What to Do
Popular with kids ages 2 to 10 and with train aficionados of any age, the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum traces the history of the Japanese railway starting in the late nineteenth century and has no fewer than 18 steam engines on display. Three times a day, a steam engine offers ten-minute rides to give visitors a taste of old-world travel (81-75-314-2996; adults, $5; kids 4-13, $1).
A guide in full black ninja garb leads children to the underground Ninja Kyoto Labyrinth while playing a traditional flute. At the entrance to the maze, they’re issued mini flashlights and bingo-style cards to keep track of each kanji symbol they find. Ninjas materialize in the dark—sometimes from the ceiling—to help them, and kids who succeed in matching the symbols can win a prize. The complex also has a dessert buffet and a restaurant where ninjas come to the table to perform magic tricks. Don’t miss the black ice-cream crêpes made with charcoal, which health-conscious ninjas used to detox back in the day (81-75-253-0150; entrées from $12; admission, $4).
Japanese people love all things small and cute, so it’s no surprise that kids are welcomed everywhere: Children will love snacking on sweet, sticky mochi and green tea ice cream at the Nishiki food market, and glimpsing the geishas in Gion.
At Haru Cooking Class, Taro Saeki and his wife, Yoshiko, give visitors of all ages lessons in everyday Japanese cuisine, showing them how to prepare dishes like fried tofu with ginger sauce, omelets made with fish broth, and miso soup. Classes last about three hours and include a meal (Shimogamo, Miyazakicho 166-32; 81-90-428-47-176; classes from $59).
Nijo Castle is an alternative to the city’s many temples and has lots of kid appeal. With its moats, stone walls, and scores of murals and carvings, it transports visitors back to the feudal era. Kids will enjoy finding the secret rooms where guards were stationed (81-75-841-0096; adults, $8; kids, $3–$5).
Where to Eat
Moritaya is famous for its delicate, juicy slabs of marbled Kyoto beef. Kids will get dinner and a show as servers prepare sukiyaki—meat and vegetables simmered in a hot pot—right at the table (Kiyamachi-dori-Sanjo-agaru; 81-75-231-5118; entrées from $52).
Located on the tenth floor of the massive Kyoto train station complex, Kyoto Ramen Alley, a strip of noodle shops, is a fun way to test out a few of the many ramen varieties. Each shop has a vending machine with pictures of the various options and a corresponding button. Insert your coins, collect your ticket, and stand in line until seats open up. Avoid the crowds by visiting outside peak lunch and dinner times (bowls from $8).
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Courtesy Hotel Granvia
What Kids Won't Forget
The picturesque town of Nara, about half an hour from Kyoto by train, is full of deer that wander the many parks—deer food is available from street vendors. Japan Rail trains serve Nara, but the station for the private Kintetsu Railway is more convenient to the center of town (round-trip from Kyoto, $14; kids 6 and up, $7).
If you have children looking to practice their jab punch and side block, what better place to do so than in Japan, the birthplace of karate? Genbu martial arts schools offer free trial karate lessons to students of all ages at 15 branches across Kyoto (translation is available). Have your hotel concierge call Genbu’s main branch and find a suitable class time at one of the locations (81-75-415-0531).
What Parents Won't Forget
Celebrate the seasons with a traditional kaiseki meal at Kikunoi, a three-Michelin-star restaurant on the edge of a Buddhist temple complex. Kaiseki, a form of Japanese haute cuisine, is highly artistic, and the full meal at Kikunoi—up to 14 courses—can take four to five hours. Kimono-clad hostesses deliver beautifully arranged dishes made from local ingredients, such as a turtle soup decorated with flower-shaped turnips and dotted with gold leaf. Reserve a private tatami room for an intimate night out (459 Shimokawara-cho; 81-75-561-0015; kaiseki dinners from $109).