Kyoto is a place like no other on the planet. Once the capital of Japan, it’s rich in history with a countless number of temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, traditional wooden houses and geishas! Do note, Japan is one of the most expensive countries in Asia, so budget accordingly! You can see all the major sights in 4 days, but I’d suggest 5 full days here, just so you don’t have to rush!

When To Go…

Kyoto is best visited in the fall (October, November) and spring (March, April, May).

How To Get Around…

JR Pass: This is a MUST purchase if you’re planning to travel all over Japan. It MUST be purchased prior to arriving in Japan and expires in 7, 14 or 21 (your choice) days from the date of activation upon arrival in the country. The JR Pass can be activated at any JR office, located at all major train stations throughout the large cities. There are different regions of passes, but I suggest to get the N-Pass (Nationwide), which worked well for the 14 days and multiple cities we explored. The cost ranges from $200USD-$500.  Be SURE to reserve your seats on long journeys on the bullet trains (Kyoto to Tokyo, Tokyo to Sapporo) ahead of time at the JR stations at no additional cost. There is no need to do this for short distances. Japan Rail Website

Subway: DO NOT be misled, just because you have a JR pass, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to purchase local subway transport in cities. There are special JR lines that go around the cities, but if sometimes you’ll need to purchase a subway card or individual ticket to get around. When you book your accommodation, I’d suggest ensuring it’s walkable to a JR line for more convenience. Each subway ride costs about $1.85USD/one way (ouch).

Walking: Bring GOOD walking shoes, as you’ll be walking more here than you ever had in your life! Our average distance per day was 8 miles, with some days reaching 12. If you’re going in the cold months, be SURE to wear warm shoes. I wore Converses in February and my feet were numb after 1 hour of being outside.

Taxis: Taxis in Japan are SUPER expensive. Each taxi driver wears a suit and tie, if that tells you anything! They all use meters, so it’s very safe and legit, but costly: for a 3.5 mile ride, we paid $20USD. Needless to say, we only took a taxi one time.

Bicycle: Kyoto is a bike-friendly city and you can rent bicycles all over.

Where To Stay…

Photo Credit: www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/5991224

Airbnb is the cheapest option in Japan, although the rooms are small. I HIGHLY recommend our Airbnb, as it was centrally located between all attractions and it included a kitchenette for cooking meals some days, which saved a lot of money. $52USD/night

For $36 off your first Airbnb booking, click HERE:

Airbnb Kyoto Link

What To Do…

Kyoto Central (Day 1):

Nijo Castle:

Cost: $600 Yen ($5.40USD)

Hours: 8:45 to 5:00 (last ticket 4:00pm), entry to Ninomaru from 9-4

Closed Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug and Dec, and following day if Tue is a public holiday. Dec 26-Jan 4

Tuesdays in January, July, August and Decembe

Location: Walk from Nijojo-mae Station (Tozai Subway Line)

A UNESCO World Heritage Sight, Nijo was built in 1603 for the first shogun Tokugawa Leyasu ruler, but, sadly, he died before the structure was fully completed. This is a must see, although was one of our least favorite.

Nijo Castle Website

Nishiki Market:

Cost: Free!

Hours: 9am-6pm, although each store varies

Location: Walk from Shijo Station (Karasuma Subway Line)

A really cool, outdoor, covered, five block long shopping street with over one hundred shops and restaurants. Here you can purchase street food, sake, fresh seafood, souvenirs, sushi and much much more!

Nishiki Market Info

Sento Palace:

Photo Credit: japan-guide.com 

Cost: Free! Tours held 4 times daily, but need to apply in advance with your passport at Imperial Household Agency’s office in Kyoto Imperial Park (M-F 9am-12pm, 1pm-5pm)

Location: Across from Kyoto Imperial Palace (see below)

Constructed in 1630, this place was constructed as a retirement palace for Emperor Gomizuno and later housed subsequent retired emperors.

Sento Palace Website

Kyoto Imperial Palace:

Photo Credit: japan-guide.com

Cost: Free!

Hours:  9-5 (Apr-Aug)
9-4:30 (Sept-Mar)
9-4 (Oct-Feb)

Admission ends 40 minutes before closing time.

Closed Mondays and next day following a public holiday.

Location: 10 minute walk from Imadegawa Station (Karasuma Subway Line)

Kyoto Imperial Palace Website

Pontoncho:

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Cost: Free!

Hours: Late night, varies by restaurant

Location: 5 minute walk from Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Line) or 15 minute walk from Shijo Station (Keihan Line)

The closest train stations are Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line and Shijo Station on the Keihan Line.

Pontoncho Info

Southern Kyoto (Day 2):

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine:

Cost: Free!

Hours: Always open!

Location: JR Inari Station (JR Nara Line)

One of the top sites to see in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari (Inari is the God of rice. ) is a Shinto Shrine that sits at the base of Inari mountain and is filled with thousands of tori (shrine gates), all donated by Japanese businesses.

Fushimi Inari Website

Gion (central):

The famous and entertainment district of Kyoto, this cobblestone street filled with geishas is a must see. Many tourists dress up as geishas and can be seen roaming around as well.

Gion Info

Eastern Kyoto (Day 3):

Kiyomizudera Temple:

 

Cost: $400 Yen ($3.60USD)

Hours: 6am-6pm (6:30pm on weekends and holidays from mid Apr-Jul and everyday in Aug/Sept)

Location: 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station (Keihan Railway Line)

One of our top favorite sites in all of Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kiyomizudera Temple (meaning Pure Water Temple) was constructed in 780. Be sure to see the Ottowa Waterfall at the base, where visitors can use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. TIP: Go first thing in the morning when they open, it gets crowded in the afternoon!

Kiyomizudera Website

Higashiyama District: 

Upon leaving Kiyomizudera Temple, you’ll wind along the beautifully preserved historic district of Higashiyama, with its narrow cobblestone streets, wooden shops and endless merchants with authentic Japanese items and souvenirs for purchase.

Higashiyama District Info

Chion-in Temple:

Cost: Free!

Hours: Always open

Location: 10 minute walk from Higashiyama Station (Tozai Line)

One of the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan, it houses the largest wooden gate (Sanmon Gate) in all of Japan. The gate measures 78 feet tall and 164 feet wide and was constructed back in the early 1600’s.

Chion-in Temple Website

Nazenji Temple: 

Cost: $500 Yen ($4.50USD)

Hours: 9am-5pm (4:30pm Dec to Feb), admission closes 20 minutes prior to closing time, Closed Dec 28-31

Location: 10 minute walk from Keage Station (Tozai Line)

Nazen-ji is one of the most important zen temples in all of Japan.

Nanzen-Ji Temple Website

Philosopher’s Path:

Cost:Free!

Hours: Always open

Location: Runs between Ginkakuji and Zanzenji neighborhoods and is a 10 minute walk north of Nazenji’s main temple. There are signs marked everywhere, making it easy to find.

The Philosopher’s Path is a walking path that follows along a canal lined with cherry trees.  It’s absolutely calm, quaint and picture perfect.

Philosopher’s Path Info

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavillion):

Cost: $500 Yen ($4.50USD)

Hours: 8:30am-5pm (0am-4:30pm Dec to Feb)

Location: Walk 30 minutes from Philospher’s Path from Nazenji

 Philosopher’s Path from Nanzenji in about 30-45 minutes.

Although there is no actual silver on this temple, this zen temple has absolutely beautiful grounds to stroll around and take photos.

Ginkaku Ji Info

Northern/Western Kyoto (Day 4):

Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama):

Cost: Free!

Hours: Always open

Location: 10 min walk from Saga Arashiyama Station (JR Sagano Line), 15 minute walk from Arashiyama Station (Henkyu Railway)

Arguably the most popular tourist attraction in all of Kyoto, this forest entirely surround with tall bamboo stalks, is like being in a dream.

Bamboo Forest Info

Kinkaju-Ji (Golden Temple):

Cost: $400 Yen ($3.60USD)

Hours: 9am-5pm

Location: Kitaoji Station (Karasuma Subway Line), then take a 10 minute  taxi ride for approx 1000 Yen ($9USD)

Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 260 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, 1000-1200 yen)

An absolutely beautiful zen temple, built over a large pond, that is entirely covered in gold leaf.

Kinkaku-Ji Temple Info

Where To Eat…

Ramen Sen No Kaze:

If you only go to one restaurant that I recommend, this MUST be it! This is one of the BEST ramen’s we’ve ever eaten (besides in Niseko). It’s a small restaurant that is family owned and run and it is VERY popular, so go early/between meal times, otherwise you’ll have to wait for 45+ minutes.

Ramen Sen No Kaze Website

Pontoncho:

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Considered to be the most beautiful street in the city, Pontoncho is a GREAT street for eating and spotting geishas. There are countless restaurants on this street, but I’d 100% recommend OC Osteria Colon for dinner and drinks at Hello Dolly (see below).

Pontoncho Info

OC Osteria Colon (Pontoncho): 

 This place is such a hidden gem in Pontocho. It’s quaint and small, with perfect lighting and ambiance. The chef/owner, who also dubs as the waiter and bartender is SUPER kind and friendly and was trained in Florence, Italy prior to opening this restaurant, which explains why the food is DELICIOUS! Try the steak and bolognese, it’s mouthwatering!

OC Osteria Colon Info

Hello Dolly (Pontoncho):

A dimly lit jazz bar with a great vibe.

Hello Dolly Info

Steak and Wine Nikuya Ginjiro:

For affordable, delicious Japanese steak, this is THE place to go. There’s a steak for every budget here. Did I mention that they have overflowing wine glasses as well? The Kobe beef is on point, as well as the service.

Steak & Wine Nikuya Ginjiro Info

Vermillion Espresso Bar:

A GREAT coffee shop nearby Fushimi Inari. They staff is especially helpful and the coffee and atmosphere are excellent!

Vermillion Espresso Bar Info

Ramen Hiwa Mata Noboru (Fushimi Inari):

A good, quick ramen spot (but not our favorite) near Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Hiwa Mata Noboru Ramen Info

ShabuZen (Gion): 

With waitress’ dressed in Kimonos, this all you can eat menu of meat and vegetables served in Shabu Shabu form ( hotpot). It’s definitely an experience worth doing!

Shabuzen Restaurant Website

Junsei Restaurant (Nazenji):

Imagine eating traditional tofu while overlooking a giant Japanese garden.

Junsei Restaurant Website

Omen (Ginkaku-ji Temple- Silver Pavillion):

Omen literally translates to ‘noodles’ and that is exactly what you’ll get here. Their signature dish is a bowl of delicious, thick udon noodles, served with either hot or cold broth.

Omen Restaurant Info

Okonomiyaki Katsu (Kinkaju-Ji-Golden Temple):

For friendly staff and delicious okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) cooked right in front of you, this is the best spot! Do note that they close from 2pm-5pm.

Okonomiyaki Katsu Info

Otsuka (Bamboo Forest):

Arguably the best steak around, this is a great restaurant to visit after roaming around the Bamboo Forest and working up an appetite.

Otsuka Restaurant Website

Gyms…

Gold’s Gym is located all over Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. With convenient hours, this is your best bet for getting in a good workout. A one day pass will cost you $3000 Yen ($27USD). Luckily they had a New Years Special and we purchased 2 weeks for $30USD. Note that the rules in these gyms are VERY VERY strict. Large tattoos are NOT allowed and shoes must be removed prior to entering the locker rooms. Be sure to bring your passport.

Gold’s Gym Kyoto

Things To Note…

Small Bills are a MUST! Be sure to always have notes of $1,000 Yen or less.

Wifi isn’t easy to get around the city, so be sure to reserve an accommodation that provides pocket wifi.

Map out where you’re going to eat prior to arriving at your sites for the day. Sometimes we’d get stuck searching for a while and ending up with only Japanese menus in restaurants, which was a bit challenging, but all part of the fun.

Many of the train stations don’t have lifts (elevators), so if you have heavy luggage, it’s a LONG journey up/down multiple flights of stairs. Pack light!

Many restaurants add a cover charge of 300-500 Yen ($3-5USD) per person while dining in and there’s no way around it.

When making payment anywhere in Japan, never hand your money directly to the cashier, as there are trays provided for handling these items so hands are not touched between cashier and payee.

Great Day Trips from Kyoto are Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima or Nara.

Fun Facts…

In train terminals, you will often hear a bird song, which is used to guide blind passengers towards exits.

There are over 1,000 Buddhist temples in Kyoto.

There are 17 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.

3 comments

  1. Greetings! Really helpful advice on this article! It is the small changes that make
    the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

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