Complete Kyoto Travel Guide

Located in the heart of Japan, Kyoto is a city that blends ancient traditions with modernity. With its well-preserved historical sites, vibrant cultural scene, and breathtaking natural beauty, Kyoto has something to offer every traveler.

From magnificent temples and serene gardens to bustling markets and traditional tea houses, the city invites you to immerse yourself in its rich heritage.

Keep reading for a complete Kyoto travel guide, from how to get there to things to do, food and all the best travel tips.

Here is an overview:

How to travel to Kyoto?

When traveling to Kyoto, flying is often the most convenient option. The nearest major airport is Kansai International Airport (KIX), located approximately 100km southwest of Kyoto. In addition, KIX is well-connected with international flights from major cities worldwide.

You can take the Haruka Limited Express train directly to Kyoto Station from Kansai International Airport. It takes around 70 minutes, and trains operate regularly throughout the day. With comfortable seating and luggage storage, the Haruka train ensures a pleasant and hassle-free ride to Kyoto.

Of course, there are other ways to travel to Kyoto, such as buses or driving. Still, it depends on your preferences, budget, and travel time constraints. Each mode of transportation has its unique appeal.

Nevertheless, reviewing the visa requirements is crucial before embarking on your Kyoto adventure.

Read about Traveling by Rail in Japan with JR Pass.

Airport in Kyoto
Airport

Visa requirements for Kyoto

Whether you need a visa or not depends on your nationality and the length and purpose of your stay. Therefore, checking the specific visa requirements based on your country of residence is important.

You will generally be asked to submit certain documents when applying for a Japan visa. These typically include a completed visa application form, a valid passport, proof of your travel itinerary, and evidence of sufficient funds to cover your expenses during your stay. Additionally, you will need to provide a recent visa photo that meets the specific photo requirements set by the Japanese authorities.

Please remember that irrespective of your country of residence, you must apply for a Japan visa if you plan to stay longer in Kyoto (more than 90 days). This applies to all travelers wishing to extend their stay beyond the permitted visa-free period.

Banking and money

The currency in Kyoto is the Yen (JPY, ¥). Notes are in denominations of ¥10,000, 5,000, 2,000, and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of ¥500, 100, 50, 10, 5, 1. Regarding accessing cash in Kyoto, ATMs should be your go-to option. You can easily withdraw Yen using a regular bank (debit) card from ATMs within Kyoto as long as your account has sufficient funds.

Here are three important things to note about using ATMs in Kyoto:

Check your bank’s policies

Some banks have daily withdrawal limits or restrictions on overseas card usage. Before you leave, ask your bank about these limits and if your card can be used in Kyoto.

Convenient options

Use your bank (debit) card to withdraw cash from 7-11 and postal ATMs. You can also get a cash advance with your credit card but remember to know your PIN.

Choose suitable ATMs

Most bank ATMs in Japan only accept Japan-issued cards. Instead, use your bank cards at post offices and convenience stores in Kyoto.

Medical emergency information

If you fall ill during your visit to Kyoto, you can find medical supplies at local pharmacies. The city offers a range of healthcare facilities, from small clinics to larger institutions. In a medical emergency, dial the emergency number (119) to reach the fire department, which coordinates emergency medical services in Japan.

Furthermore, to assist foreign visitors in an emergency, Kyoto provides a telephone interpretation service in five languages (English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese) when calling 119. This service ensures effective communication and prompt assistance. For general assistance or to contact the police, dial 110 anytime.

Consider travel health insurance

According to VisaGuide.World, having travel health insurance is not mandatory, however, it is highly recommended when visiting Kyoto. It provides essential protection and offers a range of benefits, such as medical coverage, trip cancellation/interruption, baggage protection, coverage for travel delays, personal liability, and coverage for activities. Valid travel insurance is also essential as proof of insurance when seeking medical care in Kyoto.

Remember to carefully review your travel insurance policy’s terms and coverage limits.

Check out the travel insurance options for Japan from VisitorsCoverage.

Wi-Fi and Internet in Kyoto

The internet in Kyoto boasts high quality and reliability. You’ll find various options to stay connected in terms of internet and Wi-Fi connectivity in the city. For example, you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi device, purchase a local SIM card, or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi offered by cafes, restaurants, and public spaces.

Moreover, Kyoto has installed numerous free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city, providing a permanent network for the general public. With these options, you can easily stay connected and enjoy seamless internet connectivity in Kyoto.

Check out the benefits of getting an eSIM card for traveling.

With competitive pricing and global coverage in over 180 countries, the Travel Dudes eSIM card is the perfect solution for any traveler.

Transportation in Kyoto

In Kyoto, you’ll find a well-developed public transportation system that ensures easy and convenient travel. Whether you prefer buses, subways, trains, or taxis, there are options to suit every traveler’s needs.

Kyoto’s extensive municipal bus system covers central areas and famous sightseeing spots, allowing you to explore the city and immerse yourself in its rich culture. Taxis are also readily available throughout the city, providing convenient transportation around the clock.

To improve your transportation experience, Kyoto offers money-saving passes and reloadable IC cards for tourists. The Traffica Kyoto Card, for example, is a prepaid card that provides a 10% discount on bus and subway fares within the city. Alternatively, you can choose a one-day pass that covers buses and subways, giving you unlimited rides for 1,100 JPY (550 JPY for children).

If you prefer trains for your travels, Kyoto City Subway and other train lines offer efficient and reliable service throughout the city. Understanding the different lines and routes will help you navigate Kyoto quickly and make the most of your time here.

While public transportation is convenient, Kyoto’s compact size and concentration of major attractions make it a fantastic city to explore on foot. Strolling through its charming streets and neighborhoods allows you to appreciate the city’s beauty and discover hidden gems fully.

Food in Kyoto

Kyoto is a culinary paradise, offering diverse traditional and modern dishes to satisfy every food lover.

See also: The Different Flavors of Japan: What Makes Japanese Cuisine so Special

Food in Japan - Sushi
Food in Japan – Sushi

Here are some highlights of Kyoto’s vibrant food scene:

Check out: Most Popular Japanese Dishes to Try

Kaiseki

Kyoto is famous for its kaiseki cuisine, a multi-course dining experience beautifully showcasing Japanese cuisine’s seasonal flavors and artistic presentation. Each dish is meticulously prepared, incorporating local ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. While evening courses can be quite expensive, ranging from 10,000 Yen and up, lunchtime kaiseki offers a more accessible option, typically priced around 3,000 to 5,000 Yen.

Matcha and Wagashi

Kyoto holds a special place for matcha (powdered green tea) and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). Immerse yourself in the tranquility of a traditional tea ceremony, savoring the delicate combination of matcha and intricately designed wagashi. Don’t miss the famous matcha parfait, a delightful treat that highlights Kyoto’s high-quality matcha.

Obanzai

Obanzai refers to a style of Kyoto home-style cooking that focuses on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Enjoy a variety of small, seasonal dishes such as simmered vegetables, grilled fish, and pickled vegetables, all showcasing Kyoto’s traditional flavors.

Sushi

Kyoto offers its unique style of sushi known as “Kyo-zushi.” This refined approach emphasizes the natural flavors of the ingredients, with a focus on seasonal fish and meticulously seasoned vinegared rice. For an interactive sushi experience, visit one of Kyoto’s sushi boat restaurants. Watch as an assortment of sushi is elegantly presented on small boats, allowing you to choose your favorites and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a paradise for food enthusiasts, a bustling street with shops and stalls offering abundant fresh seafood, local produce, traditional snacks, and Kyoto specialties. Embark on a culinary adventure as you explore the market, sampling skewered grilled vegetables, delectable seafood, and many local delicacies.

Best Places to Eat in Kyoto

When dining in Kyoto, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Here are some top recommendations based on different preferences:

Sushi

  • Sushisei: Offering excellent quality sushi at affordable prices.
  • Azuma Sushi: A local neighborhood joint with delicious and reasonably priced sushi.
  • Den Shichi: Known for mouth-watering sushi served in a classic sushi-bar atmosphere.

Bars and Cafes

  • Gion Kappa: A popular bar known for its vibrant atmosphere and wide selection of drinks.
  • Wadachi: A cozy cafe where you can enjoy a relaxing ambiance and flavorful beverages.
  • Kurasu Kyoto: A coffee shop that prides itself on serving high-quality coffee in a welcoming setting.

Kaiseki Restaurants

  • Kikunoi: A renowned establishment that offers an exceptional kaiseki dining experience.
  • Roan Kikunoi: Known for its exquisite kaiseki meals and elegant ambiance.
  • Guilo Guilo Hitoshina: A modern kaiseki restaurant that presents creative and visually stunning dishes.

These are just a few of the many outstanding dining establishments in Kyoto. Explore the city’s culinary scene and indulge in the flavors that captivate locals and visitors alike.

PS: Make sure to check out Eating at Japanese Restaurants: What you Need to Know

Best places to visit in Kyoto

Kyoto is rich in cultural heritage and natural beauty, offering many fascinating attractions.

See also: Must Visit Sites in Kyoto

Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Here are some of the best places to visit in Kyoto:

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

This stunning temple is a true treasure of Kyoto. Its top two floors are covered in shimmering gold leaf, creating a magical sight that reflects on the surrounding pond. The well-manicured gardens add to its charm, making it an awe-inspiring place to visit.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

One of Kyoto’s most famous spots, Fushimi Inari Taisha, is known for its mesmerizing path with thousands of bright red torii gates. It feels like stepping into another world. Take your time to explore the winding trails that lead up the mountain, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking city views.

Kiyomizu-Dera

The “Pure Water Temple” is a must-visit. Its wooden terrace offers panoramic views of Kyoto, especially during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons. The main hall, supported by massive wooden pillars, exudes a sense of grandeur.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Prepare to be enchanted by the magical Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking through the towering bamboo stalks creates a peaceful and otherworldly experience. The rustling sound of the bamboo leaves in the wind adds to the serene atmosphere, making it a place of tranquility.

Gion District

Dive into Kyoto’s traditional culture by exploring the historic Gion district. This charming area is famous for its traditional machiya houses and is the heart of the geisha community. As you stroll along Hanamikoji Street, you’ll encounter teahouses and quaint shops, and if you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a geisha or maiko gracefully passing by.

Nijo Castle

Step back in time and immerse yourself in history at Nijo Castle. Admire the castle’s exquisite architecture, intricate details, and beautiful gardens. Don’t miss the famous “nightingale floors” that squeak underfoot, designed to alert against potential intruders. Exploring the castle will transport you to the era of shoguns and provide a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past.

When shopping in Kyoto, you’ll discover a remarkable blend of traditional and modern offerings. Explore the bustling streets of Shijo Kawaramachi and Teramachi, known for their vibrant shopping scene with a mix of local boutiques, department stores, and international brands.

Dive into the traditional atmosphere of Nishiki Market, where you can find a variety of fresh produce, snacks, and local specialties. Then, visit Kyoto Station Building or the Grand Kyoto Mall for a more modern shopping experience, with a wide range of shops and dining options.

Kyoto is the best place in Japan to find exquisite traditional goods like lacquerware, washi, incense, ceramics, and green tea. Embrace the elegance of kimono and yukata, and explore martial arts goods, antiques, woodblock prints, and other traditional art forms.

Nightlife in Kyoto

When the sun sets in Kyoto, the city comes alive with a vibrant and captivating nightlife scene, offering an array of exciting experiences. While renowned for its historical charm, Kyoto also boasts dynamic nightlife districts that are a must-visit for any nocturnal adventurer.

Laterns in Japan
Laterns in Japan

Immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of the Gion District, wander through the atmospheric Pontocho Alley, or embrace the lively energy of Kiyamachi Street. These bustling areas are filled with an eclectic mix of pubs, bars, restaurants, and clubs, creating an electrifying ambiance. Some well-known nightlife venues include World, Minami-Za Theatre, Club Metro, and Kyoto Concert Hall.

Beyond the traditional nightlife spots, Kyoto offers many attractive options to boost your evening adventures:

  • Stroll through the captivating Arashiyama Kimono Forest, where a pathway adorned with vibrant kimono displays creates a mesmerizing ambiance.
  • Witness the grace and beauty of the geisha district in Pontocho and Gion, where you may catch glimpses of these iconic figures.
  • Unwind along the picturesque Kamo Riverside, basking in its tranquil beauty, or
  • Partake in a traditional tea ceremony experience.

Is Kyoto expensive to visit?

The cost of visiting Kyoto can vary depending on individual preferences and travel styles. Kyoto is generally considered moderately priced compared to other major cities in Japan.

Accommodation costs can vary depending on the season and location, with options available for different budgets.

Dining in Kyoto offers many choices, from affordable street food to high-end kaiseki restaurants. Transportation costs can be managed using convenient public transportation options such as buses and trains.

Average Kyoto trip costs include the following:

The average cost for one person to visit Kyoto for a week – $1,481 – $2,859 (approx.)

Food, travel, and sightseeing $61 – $117 (per day, approx.)
Flights $568 – $1,332 (economy, approx.)
Lodging – $81 to $118 per night for a 2 or 3-star hotel, or $81 to $99 per night for a 1-bed vacation rental

The average cost for a couple to visit Kyoto for a week – $3,340 – $5,518 (approx.)
Food, travel, and sightseeing – $122 – $234 (per day, approx.)
Flights – $1,136 – $2,664 (economy, approx.)
Lodging – $81 to $118 per night for a 2 or 3-star hotel, or $81 to $99 per night for a 1-bed vacation rental

The average cost for a family (four members) to visit Kyoto for a week – $4,760 – $10,020 (approx.)
Food, travel, and sightseeing – $244 – $468 (per day, approx.)
Flights – $2,272 – $5,328 (economy, approx.)
Lodging – $162 to $236 per night for a 2 or 3-star hotel, or $130 to $158 per night for a 2-bed vacation rental

When is the best time to visit Kyoto?

Tree with blossoms in Japan.
Tree with blossoms in Japan.

The best times to experience the true essence of Kyoto are during two enchanting seasons: the cherry blossom season, known as Sakura, and the autumn season, referred to as Momijigari.

Imagine this: during the Sakura season, usually from late March to early April, Kyoto transforms into a breathtaking wonderland. Delicate pink cherry blossoms blanket the city, creating an almost otherworldly atmosphere. Parks, gardens, and temples are stunning, offering the perfect backdrop for a magical experience.

Now let’s talk about Momijigari, which typically occurs from late October to early December. This is when Kyoto reveals its vibrant autumn colors. Leaves transition into mesmerizing shades of red, orange, and yellow, painting the city with nature’s rich palette. Locations like Arashiyama and Tofuku-ji are particularly renowned for their stunning foliage displays.

While Sakura and Momijigari are undeniably the best seasons to witness Kyoto’s natural beauty, it’s worth mentioning that the city holds its charm throughout the year. So, whether you explore during these peak seasons or other times, Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage and picturesque landscapes will captivate you.

Remember that these magical seasons tend to draw more visitors, so expect a bustling and lively atmosphere during your visit.

Safety tips for Kyoto

When discussing safety in Kyoto, you can rest assured that the city maintains a low crime rate. While traveling to a new place can sometimes evoke concerns about crime, Kyoto is known for its safety. Like any other city, petty theft may occur, but it is a common occurrence that can be found worldwide.

By taking simple precautions such as keeping an eye on your belongings and being mindful of your surroundings, you can enjoy your time in Kyoto with peace of mind.

However, in isolated cases, there may be discrimination towards foreigners in public baths, restaurants, and hotels due to concerns about foreigners not understanding bathing etiquette. Therefore, it is essential to follow onsen etiquette and respect local customs.

Being mindful of cultural differences and embracing local customs will help ensure a positive and enjoyable experience in Kyoto.

Dos and don’ts of traveling to Kyoto

Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when traveling to Kyoto:

Do’s:

  • Dress respectfully when visiting temples and shrines to show reverence.
  • Try traditional Kyoto cuisine.
  • Try street food in Kyoto.
  • Attend a tea ceremony to appreciate Kyoto’s tea culture.
  • Explore Kyoto’s neighborhoods on foot or by bicycle to discover hidden gems and soak up the local atmosphere.
  • Participate in cultural activities, such as wearing a kimono, learning traditional crafts, or attending a Japanese theater performance.
  • Plan and research ahead, especially during peak seasons, to secure accommodations, tickets for popular attractions and make restaurant reservations.
  • Queue patiently when waiting for popular food establishments.
  • Return your tray or clean up after yourself in food courts or street food areas.
  • Respect local dining customs. For example, it’s common to say “Itadakimasu” before eating, which expresses gratitude for the meal.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t touch or disturb artifacts, statues, or displays in temples and shrines.
  • Don’t be loud or disruptive in sacred areas.
  • Don’t eat or drink while walking in public.
  • Don’t leave chopsticks sticking upright in your food; this resembles a funeral ritual and is considered disrespectful.
  • Don’t blow your nose or make loud noises while eating.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations or clarification about the menu.
  • Don’t forget to remove your shoes and use appropriate slippers when entering traditional establishments.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Don’t disregard local customs and etiquette. Be mindful of social norms, such as bowing to show respect and avoiding public displays of affection.
  • Don’t forget to carry cash.

Things to keep in mind before traveling to Kyoto

Before traveling to Kyoto, keep the following points in mind:

Visa requirements

Check if you need a visa to enter Japan and ensure your travel documents are in order. Verify the specific visa requirements based on your nationality and the duration of your stay.

Currency

Familiarize yourself with the local currency, the Japanese Yen. While credit cards are widely accepted in larger establishments, carrying some cash is always handy, especially for smaller shops, local markets, and public transportation.

Language

Although there is increasing English communication, learning a few basic Japanese travel phrases or carrying a phrasebook is helpful. The locals appreciate the effort to communicate in their language, even with simple greetings and phrases.

Cultural etiquette

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Japanese customs and etiquette to show respect for the local culture. Pay attention to practices like removing your shoes when entering certain establishments and using appropriate greetings and manners when interacting with locals.

Respect for heritage sites

Kyoto is home to numerous historical and sacred sites, and it’s important to show respect by observing the rules and regulations at temples, shrines, and other heritage locations. Pay attention to signs, follow instructions, and be mindful of maintaining the cleanliness and sanctity of these places.

Kyoto is a popular tourist destination year-round, so expect crowds, especially during peak seasons. Plan your itinerary accordingly and be prepared for queues and larger crowds at popular attractions.

Conclusion

Kyoto offers a captivating blend of rich history, cultural heritage, and modern charm that entices visitors from around the world. With its majestic temples, serene gardens, traditional tea houses, and vibrant cityscape, Kyoto provides endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

Whether you’re strolling through the narrow streets of Gion, indulging in authentic Japanese cuisine, immersing yourself in traditional arts and crafts, or simply taking in the breathtaking beauty of cherry blossoms and autumn foliage, Kyoto promises an unforgettable travel experience. Its warm hospitality, efficient transportation system, and unwavering commitment to preserving its cultural treasures further enhance the allure of this enchanting city.

Kyoto welcomes you to start an unforgettable journey through the heart of Japan’s cultural capital, immersing yourself in its rich history, cultural heritage, and modern charm.

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