WHERE is Kyoto located?
Kyoto is centrally located on the island of Honshu, Japan’s main island, about 500 km southwest of Tokyo. It is the capital of Kyoto Prefecture and is a major part of the densely populated Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.
Although Kyoto is a large metropolitan city, it feels refreshingly small when compared to the mega-city of Tokyo. It is strategically located within close proximity to Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Nagoya and Hiroshima, which is perfect for the curious traveler that wants to make day trips to these popular Japanese cities.
Kyoto is one of the best preserved cities in Japan and is famous for being home to over 2,000 religious landmarks (over 1,600 Buddhist Temples and 400 Shinto Shrines).
When you think of Japanese culture two contradicting images come to mind – the bright lights and endless sprawl of futuristic skyscrapers and the rich culture that comes from hundreds of years of traditions. If Tokyo represents Japan’s future, than Kyoto does a great job representing its past.
WHEN should you visit Kyoto?
Japan experiences all four seasons, so keep that in mind when planning a trip to Kyoto. The best time to visit Japan is in the spring and early summer, when airfares to Tokyo are typically lower. April is a popular month because the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the weather is quite mild and pleasant.
That said, it is best to avoid “The Golden Week”, one of Japan’s busiest travel seasons, which takes place in the end of April and beginning of May. Hotels in Kyoto tend to fill up quickly during Japanese holidays, so it is best to book ahead.
WHAT to see and do in Kyoto?
Without question, the biggest draw to Kyoto are the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, proudly listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Some of the most popular attractions in Kyoto are:
- Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple, an old wooden temple that rests on the side of a mountain
- Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion
- Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion
- The Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace
- Shimogamo Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine and the Heian Jingū Shinto Shrine
- Tō-Ji Shrine and Pagoda
- The Zen Rock Garden of Ryoan-ji Temple
Other things to do in Kyoto:
- Play a few games of Pachinko at a glitzy, casino-like Pachinko Parlor. Pachinko is a popular Japanese game that is a cross between a slot machine and a pinball game
- Sample its abundance of delicious Japanese foods and cuisine. We couldn’t get enough Yakitori, Sushi and cold Kirin Beer
- Visit the wild monkeys at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Nishikyō-ku
- Shop your heart out at bustling malls and trendy boutique stores – retail therapy is big business in Japan
- Spend an entertaining evening hanging with the locals on the popular riverbanks of the Kamo River
- Visit a teahouse in the Gion and Pontocho Geishsa Quarters and catch a traditional geisha performance
- Take a day trip to visit Himeji Castle, regarded as the finest surviving example of 17th century Japanese castle architecture
HOW to get to Kyoto?
Without question, the best way to travel around Japan is by train. Most travelers will arrive in Japan via Narita International Airport, which is inconveniently located about 60 km’s outside of Tokyo. Be prepared, it takes at least an hour by train to reach Tokyo Station (frustrating after a long flight!). Don’t bother taking a taxi as it can be very costly and the train system is actually much faster.
Travelers can also get to Kyoto via Kansai International Airport and Itami Airport in Osaka Prefecture. The Haruka Express operated by JR West carries passengers from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station in an hour and a half.
To travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, take the Japan Rail Tokaido Shinkansen (the high speed bullet train). The trip only takes 2 hours because the Japanese bullet trains reach speeds of up to 300 km/hr!
TRAVEL TIPS for Kyoto, Japan
You would be wise to purchase a Japan Rail Pass prior to entering the country, a huge savings when compared to the typical one way fares. Some of the city subway trains are also covered under the Japan Rail pass so be sure to check first before you pay the local fare. We purchased a 7-day Japan Rail pass and used Kyoto as our central hub, taking day trips to Nara, Kobe, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Book your Kyoto hotel accommodations ahead of time. We arrived at the end of June and found it difficult to find available hotel accommodations by simply showing up. Unlike backpacking in South America or SE Asia, you won’t find better deals by walking in and negotiating. Consider yourself warned!
If you make the mistake of arriving without hotel reservations (like we did), a good option is to visit the tourist information center at the JR Kyoto Train Station. They will be able to do a search and make reservations for you, which is extremely helpful if you don’t speak or read Japanese. The service is free to tourists and the office is typically open during regular business hours (10:00AM to 6:00PM). Many of the hotels in Kyoto are located within walking distance to the central train station.
Have you traveled to Kyoto, Japan? Care to share some tips with our readers?
Feel free to share your comments below!