Kyoto Tourism Information
Many centuries ago, Kyoto, was the capital of Japan. Therefore it's not a surprise it's famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district. Kyoto is also about relax, meditation, scenery and nature so plan extra time to visit as there is plenty to see and do.
Kyoto has a humid subtropical climate, the same as Tokyo generally. Summers, between June and August, are hot and humid with temperatures reaching highs about 30°C, and some swelteringly hot days with temperatures topping 40°C.Also note that in the summer rainy season, which usually begins in the middle of June and lasts until the end of July, the rain is fairly constant.
Winters, between December and February, are cold and snowfall can happen, though it's less common in the city. Temperatures in winter frequently can drop below freezing point. Kyoto does sometimes get hit by typhoons and the peak season for these storms is September and October. As a result, September is sometimes the wettest month in Kyoto.
So, the best time to visit Kyoto is in spring (March, April) and autumn (October, November). In spring the city is festooned with the famous cherry blossoms and enjoys pleasant sunny weather, and in late autumn, once the typhoon season has passed, it is warm and boasts the vivid colours of the season.
Kyoto's transportation system is very effective and easy to use. The city has only two metro lines which don't reach to all the sights. Therefore it's recommended that you buy a bus pass which gives you unlimited access to all bus lines and it costs only ¥500 per day. (one ticket costs ¥230) Busses are very easy to ride, with information panels and announcements in English telling you where you are and which next bus stop is approaching. When boarding the busses you board in the middle of it and exit at the front where you pay your fare or just show your pass. (On first ride you need to activate your pass, by putting it into the machine).
The best thing when you get to your accommodation in Kyoto is to ask for a colour bus route map where it shows also the attractions and highlights to visit. Within Kyoto it's also possible to travel around in JR trains and the fast Shinkansen.
There are 17 historic sites inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List under the group designation Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The city itself is full of culture and history, and at every corner you will find always new places to visit and discover. As well in the outskirts you will find interesting sites to visit, like in the city of Uji and in Ōtsu.
The top recommended sites in Kyoto to visit are:
- Kinkaku-ji,(The Golden Pavilion) officially named Rokuon-ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, originally built in the 14th century and refurbished in 1955, It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, specially by it's golden leaf coating finish. Admission is ¥400. Take bus numbers 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop.
- Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion): When the temple was built in the 1480s as a retirement home for the then shogun, the plan was for it to be coated in silver leaf, but it does not have a single part in silver by curiosity. A few years later, the silver-less pavilion was converted into the Zen temple it is today. Here you can find the reflective pond and manicured trees, the raked sand garden, and the mossy, wooded hillside to the east, from where you can see Ginkaku-ji, low-rise urban backdrop, all combine to make a spectacular backdrop. Can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus numbers 5, 17 and 100. Get off at the Ginkaku-ji Michi bus stop. Admission is ¥500
- Nijō Castle, built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. To get there get off at Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Line. The entrance costs ¥600. Note that it is closed Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug and Dec.
- Tō-ji is a Buddhist temple, famous for it's tall pagoda. Standing at 55 meters tall, the wooden tower is the tallest in Japan. It is a five story pagoda that dates back from 826 although it was rebuilt in 1644. It is considered as an icon of Kyoto and it can be seen from the shinkansen arriving to the city.Every New Year there’s a short period where the old wooden temple is open to the public where visitors can see Esoteric Buddhist (Mikkyo) illustrations and four small Buddha statues inside. The weeping cherry blossom trees around add to tower’s natural beauty. If you visit on a Sunday, check out the Sunday Market which is near by.
- Gion, is a collection of streets defined by its old wooden buildings, teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, is by far the most famous. Spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you'll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their cumbersome zori sandals and exquisite kimono. You will also find popular Japanese shops like "Yojiya", the cosmetic company whose logo is famous for its facial oil blotting paper. It's a good souvenir to buy, for women, something typical and useful but not expensive. To access Gion the closest station is Kawaramachi Station.Every July, there is the Gion Matsuri, a festival that attracts in excess of a million visitors for its procession of festival floats and traditional musical performances.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine, an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. After about a 30-45 minute ascent and a gradual decrease in the density of torii gates, visitors will reach the Yotsutsuji intersection roughly half way up the mountain, where some nice views over Kyoto can be enjoyed, many hikers only venture as far as here, as the trails do not offer much variation beyond this point and the gate density decreases further. It is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line.
- Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple") is one of the most famous temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the waters fall's. The temple's veranda juts out of the side of a mountain supported by 13-meter-high wooden columns. From the veranda, one can appreciate fine views facing west over the city of Kyoto. This is an auspicious place to watch the sunset, which may also explain the romantic associations accorded to the temple.Several other buildings designated as "national treasures" dot the grounds.People come to the temple to drink water from the falls by collecting it in tin cups.There is also a shrine Jishu-jinja Shrine on the grounds.The temple is very popular with visitors and has something of a festival atmosphere. Vendors abound who sell talismans, incense, and "omikuji" (paper fortunes).Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 230 yen). Get off at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple.
Kyoto’s lively nightlife scene boasts a host of vibrant bars and traditional sake breweries, along with exclusive clubs and edgy music venues. The best after-dark action plays out along Kiyamachi, a one-kilometre strip running parallel to the Kamo River that’s crammed with cheap drinking holes and Westerner-friendly hangouts.
A more exclusive ambience can be found at the alleyway of Pontocho, one block away, where atmospheric wooden-block buildings are studded with sleek cocktail bars, lively cabarets and late-night eateries. The old geisha district of Gion is the place to find more traditional music as well as Kimono-clad and classical performances.
❗Attention: Be aware that upmarket dance clubs can often observe a strict guestlist-only entry policy and charge seating fees to those they do allow over the threshold.
In the same way Kyoto reflects both modern and ancient Japan, the shopping here is a city of opposites. There are superb independent, local shops, ideal for picking up unique gifts and knick-knacks for decorating your home. There as well, vast malls, high–end luxury brands and all encompassing department stores too.
Kyoto's main shopping district centres are around the streets Shijo-dori and Kawaramachi-dori intersect. Here you’ll find big department stores and luxury brands. Fashionable shops, exclusive boutiques and trendy restaurants can also be found along the elegant Kitayama Street, which stretches eastward from Kitayama Bridge further north in Kyoto. Kyoto has a number of shops that offer handmade Japanese paper, and Morita Washi, Higashinotoin-dori-Bukkoji agaru, near Shijo-dori, is the most famous, selling purified paper of the highest quality.
Kyoto is famous for its arts and crafts shops, and the best one for tourists is undoubtedly the multi-storey Kyoto Handicraft Center, 17 Shogoin Entomicho, Sakyo-ku, which sells a wide range of handicraft products and souvenirs, from lacquerware, porcelain, jewellery, woodblock prints and fabrics to kimonos, swords and T-shirts. Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto, also known as ‘Kyoto’s kitchen’, not only offers an abundance of food but also kitchenware and other souvenirs.
Being the most popular city in Japan, it's no surprise that staying here is quite expensive. Hotels and even individual hostel rooms can be a minimum of €40. Shared hostels are cheaper and also shared private accommodation like Airbnb is a good option. Finding capsules style hostels is much easier though you need to be out by 10am normally and check out every day till you come back to sleep.
Being a city of so much immense culture and places to see, it's necessary to take it all in by planning ahead and stay for at least 3 nights to see the most important highlights of the city. Specially because there is a lot of walking to do and plenty of scenery to photograph.
Kyoto Photo Slide 📷