Photo/Illutration More tourists return to the area near Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto in September. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Although hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as have other tourist destinations, Kyoto still ranks as a world favorite for travelers.

The U.S. travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler has ranked Japan’s ancient capital as the world’s best large city in its 2020 readers’ choice poll, which excludes the United States. 

It is the first time its readers selected Kyoto as their top choice, although it ranked second the previous year.

The top honor comes with some irony in a year when foreign tourism practically vanished, but it also offers some hope for the city’s tourist industry.

Kyoto has struggled during the pandemic as foreign tourism to Japan nosedived this year because of the virus. The number of foreigners who stayed at major hotels in Kyoto in July dropped by 99.8 percent compared to July last year.

On the Conde Nast Traveler list, Tokyo had topped the rankings four years in a row, since 2016, but fell to sixth place this year.

The magazine surveyed its readers about their top travel choices outside the United States between April and June this year.

“Though it's still one of the most well-preserved cities in Japan,” the article states, noting the city’s famous geishas and temples, “Kyoto has also been reborn following a 2011 earthquake,” pointing to its vibrant arts and crafts scene.

Kyoto was also king of the hill two years in a row in reader polls by the U.S. travel magazine Travel+Leisure in 2014 and 2015, further proof that the old capital has become a fashionable, top-choice destination among tourists from around the world.