Kyoto Travel Guide
Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
Welcome to the ultimate Kyoto Travel Guide! If you’re looking to explore the cultural capital of Japan, then you’re in the right place. This blog is your go-to resource for discovering the best Kyoto tourist spots, must-try Kyoto cuisine, and insider tips for planning your Kyoto itinerary. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveller, there’s always something new to discover in Kyoto.
With so much to see and do in Kyoto, it can be overwhelming to plan your trip. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you make the most of your time in this beautiful city. From exploring historic temples and shrines to indulging in mouthwatering local cuisine, we’ve got you covered. And with our insider tips, you’ll be able to navigate Kyoto like a pro.
So, whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the city’s rich cultural heritage or simply want to experience the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape, Kyoto has something for everyone. Let’s dive in and explore all that this incredible city has to offer!
Best time to visit Kyoto
Kyoto is a city that’s absolutely gorgeous throughout the year, but each season has its own special magic. In this Kyoto travel guide, I’ll take you through each of the seasons and what they have to offer. Let’s dive in and explore what each season has to offer:
Spring in Kyoto (March to May):
It’s hard not to fall in love with Kyoto in spring! The city comes alive with the famous cherry blossom trees blooming all over the place. The parks are filled with locals and tourists alike, enjoying picnics and taking pictures with the stunning pink and white blossoms. Make sure to check out the Kyoto Botanical Garden and the Philosopher’s Path, which are two of the most popular spots to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Just be aware that this is a peak tourist season, so expect crowds and book your accommodations well in advance.
Summer in Kyoto (June to August):
Summer in Kyoto can be hot and humid, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying all that this season has to offer. One of the highlights of the summer season is the Gion Matsuri festival, which takes place in July. This festival is one of the biggest in Japan and features stunning traditional floats, street food, and sake tasting. Be sure to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated as you explore the festival and the city.
Fall in Kyoto (September to November):
If you’re a fan of stunning foliage, then fall is the season for you! The trees turn into gorgeous shades of red, orange, and yellow, and the city takes on a whole new look. One of the best spots to enjoy fall foliage is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is absolutely stunning during this season. You can also visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is equally breathtaking with the surrounding trees turning into shades of red and gold. Keep in mind that fall is also a peak tourist season, so book your accommodations in advance.
Winter in Kyoto (December to February):
Although it can be chilly, winter in Kyoto can be magical. The city transforms into a winter wonderland with snow-covered temples and streets. One of the must-see spots during this season is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that looks absolutely stunning and is covered in snow. You can also check out the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, which is home to beautiful plum blossoms that bloom in January. Just be sure to bundle up and bring warm clothing!
How to get to Kyoto from Kansai Airport
Kansai International Airport is the main gateway to Kyoto for international travellers. Here are some ways to get to Kyoto from Kansai Airport and the cost for each option:
- JR Haruka Express Train – This is the fastest and most convenient way to travel from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station. The journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and the cost for a one-way ticket is ¥2,980. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can ride the JR Haruka Express for free.
- Limousine Bus – If you have a lot of luggage or prefer a more comfortable ride, taking the limousine bus is a good option. The journey takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the cost for a one-way ticket is ¥2,550.
- Taxi – If you’re travelling with a group or have a lot of luggage, taking a taxi may be a good option. The journey takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and the cost can range from ¥ 18,000 to 25,000 depending on traffic conditions.
How to get to Kyoto from Tokyo
Travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto is a popular route for both tourists and locals in Japan. Here are some ways to get to Kyoto from Tokyo and the cost for each option:
- Shinkansen (Bullet Train) – This is the fastest and most convenient way to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto. The JR Tokaido Shinkansen takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Kyoto Station from Tokyo Station. A one-way ticket for the regular non-reserved seat costs around ¥ 13,000, while a reserved seat costs around 14,000 yen. If you plan to visit other cities in Japan, it’s worth considering the JR Pass, which can save you money on transportation costs.
- Airplane – If you’re short on time, you can also fly from Tokyo to Osaka and then take the train or bus to Kyoto. Flights from Tokyo to Osaka take about 1 hour and cost around ¥ 10,000 to ¥ 20,000, depending on the airline and time of booking.
- Overnight Bus – If you’re on a budget and don’t mind a longer travel time, taking an overnight bus is a good option. The journey takes around 8-9 hours and costs around ¥ 4,000 to ¥ 7,000, depending on the type of seat and bus company.
How to get to Kyoto from Osaka
Getting to Kyoto from Osaka is relatively easy as both cities are well connected by various modes of transportation. Here are some ways to get to Kyoto from Osaka and the cost for each option:
- JR Train – If you have a Japan Rail Pass, taking the JR train from Osaka to Kyoto is the most economical way to travel. The journey takes about 30-45 minutes, depending on which train you take, and the cost is covered by your Japan Rail Pass. If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, a one-way ticket costs ¥ 560.
- Hankyu Railway – The Hankyu Railway is another convenient option that takes you directly to central Kyoto. The journey takes about 45-50 minutes, and the cost for a one-way ticket is ¥ 400-430, depending on which train you take.
- Keihan Railway – The Keihan Railway takes you to Kyoto’s eastern side and Gion area. The journey takes about 50 minutes, and the cost for a one-way ticket is
¥ 400-430, depending on which train you take.
- Bus – Taking a bus from Osaka to Kyoto is a budget-friendly option. The journey takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and the cost for a one-way ticket is around ¥ 800.
Kyoto travel Cost
Let’s talk about the most crucial thing that can make or break a trip – accommodation. In this Kyoto travel guide, I’ll share some approximate costs of accommodation. It helps you plan your Kyoto itinerary better.
Cost of accommodation in Kyoto
If you’re anything like me, or simply travelling on a budget, then hostels and capsule hotels are a lifesaver. Not only are they cheap, but they also offer a unique experience that traditional hotels can’t match. You can find many hostels in central areas like Kawaramachi, Gion, and Kyoto Station, starting from ¥ 2000-3000 per night. And if you’re looking for something even cheaper, then consider Couchsurfing or staying in a shared Airbnb.
I stayed at the Sakura Cross Hotel, which was a basic hotel in the Higashiyma district. I totally recommend the place in case you aren’t looking for room service, a bar/restaurant in the hotel. The rooms were very spacious, especially for a Japanese hotel! And the location was just perfect. I got a great deal ¥7300/night for double occupancy.
However, if you’re not on a budget and want to splurge a bit, then Kyoto has got you covered. The city is home to some of the most luxurious hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) that offer top-notch service and amenities. You can expect to pay anywhere from ¥ 30,000 to ¥100,000 per night for these accommodations, depending on how lavish you want your stay to be.
If you’re travelling with a group or family, then I would suggest renting a private apartment or vacation home. Not only do you get more space and privacy, but you also have the flexibility to cook your meals. You can find some great deals on apartments in the city centre and surrounding areas, starting from ¥ 10,000 per night.
Cost of food & drinks in Kyoto
Welcome to the food and drinks section of our Kyoto travel guide! One of the best ways to experience a new city is by trying out the local cuisine, and Kyoto definitely won’t disappoint.
For a budget-friendly option, you can find many food stalls that sell delicious street food for around ¥500-¥1000. If you’re looking for a unique experience, try visiting the Nishiki Market, also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. It’s a foodie paradise with over 100 shops and stalls selling everything from fresh seafood to traditional sweets. However vegan options at these street stalls are more of a snack than a whole meal. Expect to get dango, mochi, corn, chestnut, tofu doughnuts and sweet potatoes.
The city is known for its shojin ryori, which is traditional Buddhist cuisine that is completely vegetarian. You can find many restaurants that serve this type of cuisine, with prices ranging from ¥3000-¥5000 for 2 people. There are some high-end restaurants serving shojin ryori meals that starts from ¥4000 per person.
Kyoto has plenty of vegan/vegetarian restaurants a meal would start from ¥ 2500 for 2 people.
For drinks, Kyoto is known for its sake, a Japanese rice wine. You can find many bars and restaurants that offer sake tastings, with prices ranging from ¥1000-¥3000 per person. If you’re not a fan of sake, try out some of the local craft beers or green tea, another Kyoto speciality starting at ¥550.
Cost of activities in Kyoto
Kyoto is a gold mine of activities! When it comes to Kyoto tourist spots you’ll never get bored. If you’re a history buff, you can explore the Kyoto temples and learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage. If you’re more of an outdoor person, you can take a relaxing stroll through the Kyoto botanical gardens and immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere. For some unique Kyoto attractions, try a traditional tea ceremony or a kimono photoshoot.
But let’s talk about the cost. While some activities in Kyoto can be pricey, there are plenty of affordable options that won’t break the bank. Most of the things to do in Kyoto are absolutely free of cost. However, there are some activities that come with a price tag. For example, a ticket to enter the Nijo Castle costs around 1,000 yen, and a visit to the Kyoto Tower Observation Deck costs around 800 yen. But with so many free and low-cost options available, it’s easy to plan a Kyoto itinerary on a budget.
Suggested budget for Kyoto trip
Backpackers’ cost of travelling in Kyoto
Kyoto is a backpacker’s paradise, and with a little planning, you can explore the city without breaking the bank. To help you budget, plan on spending around ¥7,000 per day. This means staying in a cozy hostel dorm, grabbing cheap eats from local convenience stores or cooking some meals on your own, checking out the many free temples and museums, and taking advantage of the efficient public transportation system. If you’re keen on saving money, try to avoid too many boozy nights out on the town, as alcohol can add up quickly. With these tips, you can experience all of Kyoto attractions and activities without putting a strain on your wallet.
Mid-range cost of travelling in Kyoto
Looking to splurge a little on your Kyoto trip? A mid-range budget of ¥16,000 per day could be the way to go. With this budget, you can treat yourself to a private room at an Airbnb or a budget hotel, savour delicious meals at local restaurants, indulge in a few drinks, and explore paid activities like sake tasting or amusement parks.
Luxury cost of travelling in Kyoto
If you’re someone who loves to splurge on luxurious experiences, then a budget of ¥26,000 or more per day is perfect for you. With this budget, you can indulge in traditional Japanese accommodations or high-end hotels, savour gourmet meals at fancy restaurants, sip on unlimited drinks, enjoy paid tours, and even opt for more frequent taxi rides. And the best part? The sky’s the limit when it comes to the finer things in life – so go ahead and treat yourself to the ultimate luxury experience in Kyoto!
Remember that these budget estimates provided in my Kyoto travel guide are just rough approximations, and your actual spending may vary depending on your travel style, preferences, and itinerary.
Kyoto money saving tips
Yes, Japan is super expensive. Yes, you can plan your Kyoto itinerary on a budget! I love a challenge and when someone told me Japan is extremely expensive I decided to put my best budget hacking hat. My Kyoto travel guide takes you through some Kyoto travel tips that will help you make the most of you yen!
- Take public transportation:
Kyoto has an extensive public transportation system that includes buses and trains. Instead of taking taxis or renting a car, consider using these affordable options to get around the city. Each stop on the bus costs roughly ¥ 230. To make the most of your budget purchase a one-day bus pass for ¥ 600 or a one-day subway pass for ¥ 600 to ¥ 900 depending on the lines you use. A few buses do not accept the travel pass, you can use Pasmo/Suica cards or cash.
- Stay in a hostel or budget hotel:
When it comes to accommodation Kyoto is far more budget friendly than Tokyo. If you’re looking to save money, consider staying in a hostel or budget hotel. You can find dormitory-style rooms for as little as ¥ 2,000 per night, or private rooms for around ¥ 7,000 per night on double occupancy. I stayed at the Sakura Cross Hotel, a budget hotel with all the necessary amenities for just ¥ 7300/night for double occupancy.
- Eat like a local:
Kyoto is famous for its traditional cuisine, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to try it. Look for local restaurants and street vendors that offer affordable dishes like udon noodles, gyoza and tempura. You can also save money by visiting local supermarkets and convenience stores for snacks and drinks.
- Visit free attractions:
A number of Kyoto attractions are completely free to visit, such as temples, shrines, and parks. Some of the most popular free attractions include Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
- Shop at discount stores:
If you’re looking to bring home souvenirs or gifts, consider shopping at discount stores like Daiso or Don Quijote. These stores offer a wide range of products at affordable prices, including traditional Japanese items like tea sets, chopsticks, and kimono.
- Get a pocket WiFi:
Instead of relying on expensive data plans or roaming charges, consider renting a pocket WiFi device for your trip. These devices provide a secure and reliable internet connection for your smartphone or other devices, allowing you to stay connected without breaking the bank.
Where to stay in Kyoto
The city has several neighbourhoods that cater to different interests and budgets. Here are some of the top areas to consider when choosing accommodations for your Kyoto itinerary.
Kawaramachi is a bustling area in the heart of Kyoto and is perfect for those who want to be at the centre of the action. It’s filled with shops, restaurants, and bars, making it an ideal location for those looking to explore the city’s nightlife. Staying in this area also puts you within walking distance of some of Kyoto’s most famous tourist spots, including Nishiki Market, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Gion.
Gion, it’s another excellent area to stay in Kyoto. Known as the city’s geisha district, Gion is a great place to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. The streets are lined with traditional wooden buildings, and you might even spot a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) on their way to an appointment. Staying in Gion will give you easy access to popular attractions such as Yasaka Shrine, Hanami-koji Street, and the Gion Corner cultural centre.
This area is perfect for those who plan on using public transportation frequently to explore the city. Kyoto Station is a transportation hub that connects you to different parts of the city and even beyond, making it an ideal base for day trips to nearby areas like Osaka and Nara. Additionally, Kyoto Station is home to several shopping malls, restaurants, and other amenities, making it a convenient location for travellers.
Getting around Kyoto
Getting around Kyoto is relatively easy, thanks to its extensive public transportation network. Here are some options for getting around the city during your visit, in my Kyoto travel guide:
- Bus: Kyoto has an extensive bus network that covers most of the city’s major attractions. The buses are easy to use, with English signage and announcements. A single ride costs ¥ 230, and day passes are available for ¥ 600.
- Subway: The Kyoto subway system is limited, with just two lines, but it can be useful for getting to some of the city’s attractions that are not well-served by buses. The fare for a single ride starts at ¥ 210.
- Train: Kyoto is well-connected to other cities in Japan by train, with the JR Kyoto Station serving as a major hub. The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective option if you plan on doing a lot of travelling around the country. Local trains in Kyoto can be used with the JR Pass, and there are also several private railway lines that connect to various parts of the city.
- Bicycle: Kyoto is a bike-friendly city, with many rental shops offering bikes for rent. This is a great way to explore the city, especially in areas like Arashiyama or along the Philosopher’s Path.
- Taxi: Taxis are widely available in Kyoto, but they can be expensive. They are useful for short trips or if you’re travelling with a group and want to split the cost.
When planning your Kyoto itinerary, consider using a combination of these transportation options to get around the city efficiently and affordably. Don’t forget to take advantage of Kyoto’s flat terrain and beautiful scenery by walking or biking whenever possible.