Complete Travel Guide to Japan’s cultural capital -Kyoto

group of temples with an orange colour tall pagoda in tokyo

“Travel to Kyoto to be lost blissfully and found joyfully. “- They said.

And they were correct. Kyoto was just as I dreamt of – Japanese wearing Kimonos walking in the alleys in front of 1000 yr old wooden temple! Aromatic street food and amazing scenery were omnipresent.

Two Japanese girl in Japanese traditional dress Kimono walking in the old street Gion at Kyoto at Dusk

When tourists come to Japan, rarely does anyone miss out on travelling to Kyoto – Indeed, when you find history and culture with drool worth street food and kaleidoscopic foliage surrounded by mountains, you travelling to Kyoto becomes inevitable.

Here is our Tokyo Travel Blog that helps you plan better with every necessary info like – How to get around, where to stay, how much to spend and so on.


Is Kyoto worth visiting?

old street of kyoto at 
Shirakawa-dori filled with chinese lamps

If cities were spices, Kyoto would be the saffron of Japan. Just as a tiny bit of saffron can add depth and flavour to any dish, a visit to Kyoto can add richness and depth to your Japan travel experience. From stunning temples and shrines to picturesque gardens and traditional markets, Kyoto is a city that will leave you with a taste for more.

It is modern enough to make tourist’s life convenient. But not fast-paced like Tokyo to rush you. The laid-back vibe is just in the right amount to keep you relaxed yet not make it deserted like Kawaguchi. Somehow, Kyoto is a perfect combo of everything – Call it the Umami of Japan when it comes to places.

Is Kyoto foreigner friendly?

Smiling Japanese man with russian woman at a vegan restaurant entrance with indian couple at Kyoto

Yes! Japan and its people are friendly. Kyoto ranks number one in that! People don’t become friends just because they speak your tongue but how courteous they are when they see a stranger struggling.

Is Kyoto better than Osaka?

I don’t do well in a busy city – I am a small-town lover. So, for me, Osaka was an extended version of Tokyo but in a smaller size. Osaka is definitely interesting. But Kyoto is more cultural. Modernity has seeped into Kyoto, but its heritage fills 3/4th of the glass.

Kyoto moves at a slower pace. The city has a vibe which makes you feel like you were in old Japan, with all its modern facilities. No doubt I enjoyed the Cyberpunk style of Harajuku. The sensory overload at Akihabara was interesting. I even plaid Mario and Bomberman for an hour in Akihabara’s gamic arcade. But Kyoto’s simple life becomes one with nature. Buddhist /Shinto shrines and tourists in Kimono are what I love most. And hence Kyoto is better for us than Tokyo or Osaka.

Is Kyoto too crowded?

hundreds of yellow and black shinto gates in line at Fushimi inari shrine at Tokyo

Want to know how we got the most famous Fushimi Inari shrine empty?

Hundreds of people travel to Kyoto for various reasons like you and me. It is famous among all kinds of tourists. But if you stay here for more than 2 days, take things slowly and plan well, you can escape the crowd and enjoy a divine time here.

How many days in Kyoto is enough?

roadside signage showing "Deer Crossing" at Nara near Kyoto

Want to see some unique signboards?

A day trip to Kyoto shouldn’t be in your plan at all. Because you need at least 3 days here. If you want to make day trips from Kyoto to nearby places, keep 4 days. As we made a day trip to Osaka from Kyoto, we kept 5 days to Kyoto. So anywhere between 4 to 6 days is good to travel in and around Kyoto.

What is the best month to visit Kyoto?

Bamboo groves with some other trees yellow autumn foliage in the middle at Kyoto during december

Bamboo grove -Not at Arashiyama!

Of course, nothing better than seeing shrines behind Sakura flowers during March-May. I heard Kyoto looks like an unrealistically beautiful painting! So March-May is the best, most expensive and crowded month.

So I recommend October to December 2nd week as the best time to travel to Kyoto. There may not be bright pink cherry blossoms, but autumn foliage is equally thrilling. Post 2nd week of December, it gets colder and colourful leaves to start to vanish.

How to get to Kyoto?

entrance of JR Kyoto station and few travellers walking through.

If Kyoto is your first stop during your Japan trip, the nearest international airport is Kansai airport in Osaka which is 98km from Kyoto. There are dozens of local trains and buses to get you to Kyoto.

How To Travel From Tokyo To Kyoto?

european architecture style Tokyo station

The fastest way is to get on to a Shinkansen, AKA bullet train. Then, in less than 2.5 hours, you arrive Kyoto without any hassle. However, you must know that buying a JR Pass just for this ride isn’t useful. Hence, read our post here to see whether you need a JR pass for your Japan trip.

Getting to Kyoto from other cities.

maroon colour local ltrains parked in basement of Kyoto train station.

Shinkansen is the best way to travel to Kyoto, even from Hiroshima and Nagoya. Don’t take the bullet train if you travel to Kyoto from Osaka without JR Pass. Instead, consider Keihan Main Line or Hankyu line – These are cheaper than a bullet train and take less than 1 hour to reach Osaka from Kyoto.

How do you use public transport in Kyoto?

We were brimming with confidence and pride that we had mastered the art of using Tokyo’s public subways and trains. And hence, we were all ready to solve the maze of Kyoto’s public transportation! It turns out that getting in and around Kyoto is simpler than Tokyo and doesn’t require you to use lots of your brain, but indeed it demands money.

What is the best way to get around in Kyoto?

Kyoto is big. It is a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly city. So exploring Kyoto by foot is the best and cheapest way.

Kyoto is more like “Take a city bus” than “Catch a subway train.” Because the Kyoto Municipal Subway is an underground railway network with just two lines.

A private company runs a tram in the west of the city ( You will see it when you go to Arashiyama). Hence buses are your best friends in Kyoto.

How do you take the bus in Kyoto?

Kyoto city buses are fixed-price buses. You pay 230 yen for every ride – irrespective of the distance you travel! When you travel a longer distance, this feels good. But taking a bus in Kyoto on a rainy evening for 500m hurts your pockets!

To avoid this, you can buy Kyoto “Bus one Day Pass.” for 700 yen per person. Remember, it isn’t valid for 24hrs, but for the day it is purchased.

kyoto one day bus plus subway pas that allows you to travel in the city

Before buying any pass, think if you will take multiple or only two rides. For example, we spent one whole day in the Gion district. The total number of rides we took was just 2. In that case, it cost only 460 yen. So, buying a pass on that day isn’t practical. Similarly, you shouldn’t buy a Kyoto bus pass when making a day trip to places like Nara or Arashiyama.

Is Kyoto cheap to visit?

Good news, fellas: Kyoto is cheaper than Tokyo and Kawaguchiko. Because finding delicious street food is easier in Kyoto than in Tokyo. Business room hotels give a better deal when you book them outside tourist-oriented areas. Surprisingly, the room sizes are also bigger compared to Kyoto.

If you plan to explore the town on foot and buy a one-day bus pass for one of the days, stay in a budget business hotel, have breakfast with coffee at a convenience store and lunch at smaller restaurants, it costs you 25000-32000 yen per person for a day.

What part of Kyoto is best to stay?

The major chunk of your Kyoto Travel cost will be swallowed by accommodations. The divine-looking ryokans in old Kyoto can lure your attention away within a fraction of a second at the expense of your fortune. So choosing the correct locality and the right type of accommodation and booking them in advance is a must for Kyoto.

Some of the usual areas which tourists consider for staying are-

This map was created with Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android
  1. Gion and Southern Higashiyama – This is old Kyoto famous for ryokans. Good for a cultural enthusiast. But expensive.
  2. Downtown Kyoto – If you need a break from Kyoto temple and heritage, choose Downtown for great nightlife, malls, and chain restaurants – Basically, modern Kyoto is suitable for party lovers.
  3. Arashiyama – A small town 30min away from Kyoto, known for bamboo groves. The views are fantastic and come with a price.
  4. Central Kyoto – Combination of old and new! The Kyoto imperial palace lines with new office buildings! Good area to save money. But expect a crowd here.
  5. Kyoto Station – Stay closer to the station if you are in Kyoto for just 2 days. Kyoto station is huge, and it feels like a mall itself. The prices are higher, but convenient.
  6. Shimogyo – A kilo metre from Kyoto station, Shimogyo ward is the perfect locality for budget-oriented first-timers, in our opinion. The newer neighbourhood is quieter despite being new. There may not be the buzz of bars. But many restaurants where locals go to dine exist everywhere. It is even closer to the Shijo Omiya station.

We stayed at “The One Five Kyoto Shijo”. This is the best hotel in Japan we stayed in – The room was spacious, 7/11 was right next to the hotel, the bus stand was exactly opposite, and Shijo Omiya station was just 250m walking distance.

Kyoto city street with golden pink sky near Shijo Omiya station

What is there to do in Kyoto besides shrines?

If you have been our regular reader, you know me now – I am a history buff. Most of our travels revolved around experiencing new cultures and architectural heritage. That is why I fell in love with Kyoto. As a god believer and fairly religious, visiting shrines was enticing.

The atmosphere, calmness and smell of incense sticks are divine in Kyoto temples. I have stood and tried to decode joinery details at some temples. But how many temples and shrines can one visit without getting overdosed?

Is Kyoto the temple city?

Yes! There are over 1600 temples in Kyoto. But, like how travellers suffer from “Museum burnout in Vienna”, you may end up having “Temple burnout.”

Why are there so many temples in Japan?

As the capital city of ancient Japan, Kyoto became home to Buddhist and Shinto followers. It was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. The theatre artist “Geisha” was born here. Kabuki, sword fighting, tea ceremony – You name a cultural and traditional thing of Japan; it has its root (or at least a branch) in Kyoto. When a place has been so culturally rich for 1000 years, it ought to attract religious followers, and hence, there are many temples and shrines in Kyoto.

What is Kyoto most known for?

Kyoto reminded me of India’s state Tamilnadu – Full of rich history, heritage, mindblowing temple architecture, mouthwatering food, traditional outfits, etc. But, of course, as an Indian following the Hindu religion and architecture, I would get bugged. So choosing a few to see on a short visit to the city can be a daunting task. But you must do that and add “non-temple” places or a temple that requires you to hike along a beautiful path should be added to your itinerary.

Otherwise, you will be among those tourists who don’t plan well and find Kyoto boring. Trust me, Kyoto is not boring – It is calm yet happening. Charming yet divine.

What should I do first in Kyoto?

The best way to start your day in Kyoto is by going through the list of temples when you sit at a cafe for 30 minutes. First, you will know which are the ones that most tourists hit.

Then, depending on the season, choose the most colourful one. Or even ask the cafe waiter if they know autumn foliage is still there at a particular temple. Finally, pick only a few temples, preferably the ones that tourists don’t usually visit. And explore slowly at your pace. And do not buy “Temple Pass.”

Best Things to do in Kyoto during December.

Walking by the riverside, strolling in the ancient alley, exploring the new town vibe in the old town, that world-famous Omurice – The list of things to do in Kyoto in December can go on. Check our post here to get your five-day Kyoto itinerary in detail.

Found our Kyoto Travel Guide useful? Let us know in the comment section below.

Heads up – we are super honest and keep it no secret.

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Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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