Kyoto! A city full of numerous classical Buddhist temples together with easy access to some sensational traditional Japanese Gardens. It is absolutely soaked in history and traditions. In fact, this traditional Japanese city is peppered with about two thousand sacred temples and shrines including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Best Time to Visit
It really depends on what you’re visiting for, as Kyoto can be visited at any time of year because the weather is temperate. The Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Spring and the Koyo (Autumn colored foliage) in Autumn are extremely popular.
The cherry blossom season usually starts from mid-March until the cherry blossoms reach their full bloom around mid-April. If you want to see Kyoto in varied colors, visit around November to December due to the Autumn foliage.
However, the best time to visit is in May or November. That’s usually when you will find cheaper accommodation and the tourist attractions will be less crowded. The weather is usually warm or cool and sunny skies predominate.
Summer (June to August) in Kyoto is hot and humid with possible rain. The colder months last from December to February, and many of Kyoto’s highlights are even better in the winter months.
Nonetheless, whatever season you plan to visit Kyoto, you will not be disappointed, because Kyoto parades its allure all season.
How to Get to Kyoto
Kyoto does not have an international airport, the nearest airport to Kyoto is Osaka. If you’re flying in to Japan, then most likely you will be arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX), located in Osaka. It’s the main access hub to the Kansai area.
The fastest, most convenient way between Kansai Airport and Kyoto is the special JR Haruka Airport Express, it takes about 75 minutes and costs 2,980 yen for a non-reserved seat or around 3,500 yen for a reserved seat. There are departures every 30 minutes, and you can use the JR Pass for this train.
Alternatively, from Kansai Airport take the JR rapid train (require 1 transfer) to Osaka Station and transfer to a special rapid along the JR Kyoto Line to Kyoto. The one-way trip takes about 100 minutes and costs about 1,880 yen.
If you are travelling from Tokyo, the best way to travel is by bullet train (shinkansen). Tokyo and Kyoto are connected with each other by JR Tokaido Shinkansen. Nozomi trains and requires about 140 minutes to reach Kyoto from Tokyo. Hikari trains take about 160 minutes and Kodama trains about four hours for the same journey. A 7-day JR Pass costs about the same as regular round trip tickets. The JR Pass is valid on Hikari and Kodama trains, but NOT on Nozomi trains.
Which JR Pass Should I Get?
- JR West Kansai Area Pass – this is good if you are planning on visiting multiple cities within Kansai Region in a few days. The pass gives you unlimited access to JR trains in the region including the JR Haruka train to travel from Kansai Airport to Kyoto (or vice versa). You can use it to access some of Kyoto’s top attractions like Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tofuku-ji Temple and Arashiyama from Kyoto Station, as well as travel to nearby cities like Osaka, Nara, Uji, Himeji and Kobe.
- JR Pass (Nationwide) – this is a good option if you’re on a multi city journey across Japan. The pass gives you unlimited travel on almost all JR trains nationwide, including bullet trains, limited express trains, local trains, some JR buses and the JR ferry to Miyajima. But here’s the caveat: it only makes sense for multiple long-distance travels (beyond Kansai Region).
Note: JR passes are only available for purchase outside of Japan. These passes are only offered to foreign nationals travelling as a temporary visitor (tourist) in Japan. More info about Rail Passes here!
Kyoto is divided into districts, each with its own distinct personality. The top five districts in Kyoto are: Downtown Kyoto, Southern Higashiyama, Northern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station area and Central Kyoto. These are the most important sightseeing district in Kyoto. Kyoto contains everything from dazzling temples, to preserved lanes, to the city’s main geisha district. It’s also loaded with hotels, shops, restaurants, bars and clubs.
In addition to that, the other area of Kyoto also contains several of Kyoto’s most popular sights like Kinkaku-ji Temple (the Golden Pavilion) and Ryoan-ji Temple (the famous rock garden). In Northwest Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Zen world of Tofuku-ji Temple can be found. In Southeast Kyoto, Kyoto’s famed weaving district (Nishijin) and the famed Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama can be found.
There are five Kyoto districts that we recommend you to stay: Downtown Kyoto (best for nightlife), Southern Higashiyama (best for first time visitors), Kyoto Station Area (best for day trip and families), Central Kyoto (best for budget) and Northern Higashiyama (best for sightseeing), all for different reasons.
If you want particular hotel names per district, I advise you read our ‘Where to Stay in Kyoto’ article.
Here is a list of the different types of accommodation you can get in Japan:
- Ryokan – A traditional Japanese Inn and Kyoto has the Japan’s best selection of ryokan in all price ranges. Ryokan are not just places to sleep, but are an opportunity to experience traditional Japanese lifestyle, such as sleeping in futons on tatami mat floors. Ryokan usually include meals in their prices, but some places allow you to choose breakfast only or no meals. At the better ryokans, you are served your meals in your room, which is a wonderful experience. Although Ryokan tend to be expensive, we suggest you stay for one or two nights to experience this exquisite Japanese accommodation.
- Machiya – A traditional wooden townhouse found throughout Japan and they are especially typical in Kyoto. Machiya combine all the advantages of a vacation rental with the authenticity of a ryokan. The house is normally long (deep) and narrow and often contains a beautiful enclosed courtyard garden near the rear.
- Hotel – Kyoto has a wide variety of excellent hotels in all budget classes. Hotels in Japan are clean but small. Breakfast can be included depending on the type of hotel you are after. The rooms are fitted with air-conditioning and flat screen TVs. Beds are comfortable and toilets have a heated seat. Hotel rooms can be smoking or non-smoking, so be sure to request your preference.
- Guesthouse – A Guesthouse is a kind of lodging, it is a type of inexpensive hotel; like a private home that has been converted for the exclusive use of guest accommodation. It is a good choice for those who need to stay in Japan for longer periods and want to avoid the hassle of renting and furnishing a normal house. This type of accommodation is called “gaijin house” in Japan.
- B&Bs – Bed and breakfasts are usually family run accommodations that offer traditional rooms and include breakfast/dinner or both. B&Bs in Japan are a bit cheaper than ryokans but they also have fewer facilities. Often, these might have shared bathrooms.
- Vacation Rental – A Vacation Rental is the renting out of a furnished apartment or house on a temporary basis to tourists as an alternative to a hotel. It is similar to AirBnB in a sense. Where you and your friends and family can base yourselves while exploring the city, and have access to various facilities such as a kitchen, which can come in handy when you visit an expensive place like Japan.
How to Get Around
Kyoto has a very efficient transport system and is a relatively easy city to navigate. The trains connect each city or destination to another. It might look complex for a first-timer, but if you observe well and use the train often, you’ll get the hang of it. Same with buses, almost everything in Kyoto is connected by a network of bus routes.
The main train line is useful for getting to surrounding places, such as Fushimi Inari and Arashiyama.
One thing that has been helpful to us is Hyperdia. It’s a web-based search engine that gives you direct access to train information, prices, and average journey times. However, this is no longer the case, as the service that Hyperdia offers changed significantly on April 1, 2022.
One useful alternative to Hyperdia is Jorudan (Japan Transit Planner), which is available as an app or web service. Unlike Hyperdia, the free Jorudan app displays full timetables, and platform and station details.
Navitime (Japan Travel by Navitime) is another alternative trip planner which offers many of the same features as Jorudan. It also offers an exclusive JR Pass search option, which is free on both web and app.
The best way and cheapest way to get around Kyoto is with a Kyoto pass. You can choose between different types of Kyoto passes:
- Kansai One Pass – you charge it with 2,000 yen or 3,000 yen, and use it on city buses and subway lines, as well as the Hankyu Line, Keihan Line, and by showing it at the sightseeing spot, you may receive discount services. You pay per trip until the card is empty.
- Kyoto City Bus, All-Day Pass – 500 yen for adult and 250 yen for children. This pass gives you unlimited use on the same day on all buses inside Kyoto city. It is not valid for zones outside of Kyoto city, so it is not valid for Arashiyama (Bamboo Grove) or Fushimi Inari.
- Kyoto Subway & Bus Pass – covers all Kyoto City buses, all Kyoto Municipal Subway trains and some buses run by the Kyoto Bus and Keihan Bus companies. There is a one-day pass for 900 yen for adult or 450 yen for children and a two-day pass for 1,700 yen for adult or 850 yen for children.
- Kansai Thru Pass – this Pass enables you to ride on subways, private railways and buses throughout the Kansai district. Two or Three-day Pass Card; 4,000 yen for a two-day adult card, 2,000 yen for a two-day child card. Three-day card: 5,200 yen for adult, 2,600 yen for children. The Pass can be used on non consecutive days during its period of validity (though please note that the JR Line is not covered by this pass).
- ICOCA IC Card – The ICOCA IC Card isn’t a pass, it’s a prepaid IC card. It’s a contact-less travel card for Kansai trains, buses & shopping. Basically, the ICOCA IC Card covers the major cities of the Kansai region including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. To use this, just swipe the ICOCA IC Card and you can seamlessly hop aboard metros, buses, trains or even pay for your shopping. The card is preloaded with 1,500 yen, plus 500 yen for the card.
We hope you found this guide helpful. If you are wondering what to see and do in Kyoto, we suggest that you check out our ‘Things to See in Kyoto’ article.
Note: The information provided in this post was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service.