Kyoto Travel Guide

Mention Japan and Kyoto will come to mind to many people, dreamy yet modern, this previous capital of Japan for thousand of years is embedded with rich history and legacy. You will find the usual tourist attractions of Japan here – temples, shrines, castles, exquisite Japanese gardens, and beautiful nature of river and mountains. The most iconic building here is the Kinkakuji, that will leave all visitors with the memory of a shining golden temple floating on water. Another wonder that will remain in the hearts of its visitor is the thousand torii gates of Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Japan,also probably the most photographed place in Kyoto and probably the world! Our Kyoto travel guide will help to kick start your plan in visiting this beautiful place.

Where is Kyoto

Considered as in the center of Japan to some and especially travellers, Kyoto is situated in the middle between Tokyo and Hiroshima. Just an hour away is Osaka, one of the biggest city in Japan. Many set Kyoto as their springboard to their visit in Japan as you can get to many beautiful places from here like Nara, Osaka, Himeji, and Nagoya.

Kyoto Travel Guide Japan

Kyoto Travel Guide

Why go to Kyoto

If the idea of Japan for you is the old cultures and traditions, with Geishas daintily strolling down cobblestone and peeking out from their papered umbrellas, then Kyoto is the nearest you can get to it. You may still wander the cobblestoned paths here in search of yesteryears, and may find glimpses of it, but you may also be surprised by the elegantly blended new modernity and fashion of current times.

When is the best time to go to Kyoto

Many claim that the best time to visit Japan is during Spring or Autumn. For me personally, anytime is a good time to visit Japan and Kyoto. Every season brings with it a little something different and don’t let it be the reason to visit or not to visit Kyoto. The usual time to avoid tourist crowds in Kyoto would be around the Sakura season (mid-March to mid-April) but which is also the time to visit if you want to do some Sakura viewing.

Kinkakuji Temple in autumn, Kyoto, Japan

Kinkakuji Temple in autumn, Kyoto. Photo by Esmond Goh

What to see in Kyoto

There are of course numerous things to see in Kyoto, but here are my personal top few that you should not miss:

Kinkakuji Temple – the most iconic golden building in Kyoto, now a Zen Buddhist temple, that perched on the bank of a serene pond. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan.

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha shrine – the one with the thousand gates lining up from the foot of the hill to the shrine.

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto, Japan

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto. Photo by Rachel

Kiyomizu-dera Temple – probably the next most famous temple in Kyoto after Kinkakuji is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and it is also another UNESCO world heritage site. Many come here to marvel at its wooden terrace that seems to extend out of the hillside.

Gion – the geisha district of Kyoto with the street lined with old wooden buildings and teahouses. You may also catch glimpses of some of the Geishas hurrying by but please do respect them and observe quietly.

Nishiki market – take some time to go around this market and marvel at all kinds of Japanese specialties.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto. Photo by Esmond Goh

What to do in Kyoto

Cycle along the river – one can cycle practically all the way along the banks from Gion-Shinbashi to Tenryuji Temple. It is a beautiful route and a good and slow way to soak in what Kyoto has to offer. Also, you may explore the different areas of Kyoto easily with a bicycle without needing a guide.

Walk the Philosophy Path – this is personally my favourite as I am one for thoughts and contemplation but I believe many would also find it a really beautiful and calming walk. This path is named so after a famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to walk along this route for his meditation. It is also a good place for sakura or cherry blossoms viewing.

Wander in Bamboo Forest – one of the places where you feel like you have stepped into another world, with thick and tall bamboos surrounding you while you gingerly cut through them. The Bamboo Forest or Bamboo Grove is located in Arashiyama area of Kyoto, if you are around remember to also check out the long wooden bridge.

Bamboo garden, Kyoto, Japan

Bamboo Forest, Kyoto. Photo by Esmond Goh

What and where to eat

If you are on a budget, then like everywhere else in Japan, your best bet is either from the ubiquitous small ramen or udon restaurants or the local fast food like Sukiya and Yoshinoya.

As for Kyoto, if you want to splurge a little, then you may want to try Kaiseki-ryori, which it is famous for. This is a refined multi-course cuisine and one has to try it to feel the true Japanese spirit in the importance of a meal. Another must eat would be Sukiyaki or Shabu-shabu, beef, seafood and vegetables boiled in different types of broth and dipped in various sources before they made their way into your mouth!

Where to stay in Kyoto

As Kyoto is fairly big, there is no one place that would be the best to stay, but find one that is centered around the many areas and you would get around pretty fine with its well-networked public transports. We have stayed in two different places in Kyoto. One is from Airbnb * and it was a quiet place but still easy to move around with Kyoto’s many bus line. Another was one of the many Kyoto’s hostels* called Khaosan Kyoto Theater *, which was really central and just 5 minutes walk to the Nishiki Market. We enjoyed both our stayed and would definitely recommend it.

Geishas during Sakura season, Kyoto, Japan

Geishas during Sakura season, Kyoto. Photo by Kate Nevens

How to get to Kyoto

By Flight
The nearest airport to Kyoto is in Osaka. If you are flying in from International, you will arrive at Kansai International Airport, from here you can take a direct express train to Kyoto for about 90 minutes. If you are flying in from other areas of Japan domestically, you would arrive at Itami Airport and from here, the best way is to take a limousine bus from for only 50 minutes to Kyoto.

By Train
From Tokyo, you can take a Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train, and arrive at Kyoto in less than 3.5 hours! This is one of the wonders of Japan’s trains, but the price is steep at around 14,000 JPY (as of 2016).

By Bus
Another cheaper (but much longer) option would be to take an overnight bus of around 9 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto at around 4,000 yen.

Long wooden bridge in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

Long wooden bridge in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Photo by Esmond Goh

How to get around Kyoto

By Bicycle
Kyoto is relatively big yet not too big to be explored even on a bicycle. You would need few days though to really visit every area.

By Public Transports
Kyoto has an extensive network of public transports. There are the subways and bus lines that cover central Kyoto and all the surrounding important tourist attractions areas.

Where to go nearby Kyoto

Nara – just an hour ride from Nara, either by train or car, this old capital of Japan is definitely worth a day trip or more. Its main attraction is the Todaiji temple with the massive Buddha statue and the many deer that roam freely around the city and the beautiful parks.

Kyoto at night, Japan

Kyoto at night. Photo by Esmond Goh

Osaka – if you are arriving or leaving via here, then do take some time to also enjoy this beautiful city, which takes only an hour train ride to the center. It is not as hectic as Tokyo while also not as quiet as Kyoto. Definitely, an in-between that is interesting to soak in Japan’s culture and sights.

Kobe – 1.5 hours train ride away, you may find the well known Kobe beef here in its very own birthplace. Definitely worth a splurge if you are a fan.

Himeji – around 2 hours train ride away, many come to Himeji to marvel at the 400 years old famous white-egret Castle called Himeji Castle

Kyoto Travel Tips

Take time to walk around and get lost in Kyoto, you will be delightfully surprised what you can find here.
Plan your trip by covering an area each time to save traveling time between places.
Take note also of major tourist attraction’s opening hours.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Kyoto at Booking.com *

Related articles:
Osaka Travel Guide
Top 10 Things to Do in Osaka
Nara One day Trip Itinerary
Top 10 Must See and Things to Do in Nara



Author: Rachel

Japan, as one of her very first trip far away from home, Rachel found it to be eye-opening and awe-inspiring. She got so fascinated by the distinction of Japan, especially the people and how such country so unique from the rest can exist in this chaotic world, that she went back twice to further her endless discovery of it. With that said, there is still much to explore in Japan! Google+

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