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Kyoto Highlights – Visit These Places Before Leaving Kyoto

This post was last updated on February 1st, 2020 at 06:23 pm


If you want to discover the tradition, culture, and temples of Japan you have to come to Kyoto. You will find more temples here than churches in Rome. Kyoto has a rich history and is one of the world’s most culturally rich cities. It is no coincidence that it has 17 (!) sights on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it has 1,600 Buddhist temples and more than 400 Shinto shrines. A visit here is a feast for everything and everyone who is looking for culture. Kyoto is a city that you must see at least once in your life!

 

Chances are that you will go to Kyoto since it is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. Therefore, read this page carefully. We will show you the following about this impressive city on this page;

 

Kyoto, the City of Temples

Kyoto has always been the Imperial capital of Japan. Given all the beautiful sights, the emperors have done their best to give the city an Imperial status. You will find temples, palaces and beautiful gardens everywhere. This in combination with the beautiful location of Kyoto (it’s located in a valley) gives the city a spectacular view.

 

TIP – You can take many beautiful walking routes in Kyoto. A well-known route is the 30-minute Daimonji-yama that takes you to a viewpoint. Here you have a very beautiful view.

 

Type Japan on Google and you will come across the familiar pictures; pink flowers (cherry blossoms), traditionally dressed women (geishas), beautiful gardens, old temples, atmospheric restaurants, etc. There is a good chance that these pictures will come from Kyoto and the surrounding area.

 

The city has so much to offer that it is impossible to see everything! It makes everyone’s heart beat faster and leaves indelible impressions.

 

Sensoji in Kyoto Japan

One of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto

 

Our Experiences in Kyoto

We were in Kyoto in 2013 and 2018 and the city still has the same appeal. The impressive temples, the surrounding mountains, the restaurants, and the atmospheric Gion district ensure that this city is high on the bucket list of everyone who comes to Japan.

 

We planned to stay for 3 days in Kyoto, but we ended up staying for 4 days. We found it very relaxing. There is always something to do. Whether you are going to visit temples (and there are many!), go shopping, get a massage or do one of the walks. You will never feel bored.

 

When you step into the city you do not expect to be in one of the world’s most culturally rich cities. The first thing you see is concrete walls and the neon billboards. For the authentic Kyoto, however, you have to be outside the ultramodern center. If you look a little further you will find those beautiful buildings that make Kyoto so famous. It is wise to set aside at least 3 days for this city.

 

11 Fun Things to Do in Kyoto

As said before, there is a lot to do in this city. And we are not just talking about temples. We will not name all of the 17 (!) UNESCO sights, 1,600 Buddhist temples, and more than 400 Shinto shrines.

 

The chance that you will visit them all during your visit to Kyoto is very small. According to us, you should not miss the highlights below when visiting Kyoto.

 

1. Visit the Kinkaku-Ji Temple

We will start with the most famous temple in the city, perhaps of all of Japan. This pavilion is also called The Golden Pavilion. It owes its name to the fact that the walls, pillars, and the roof are covered with gold leaf.

 

The building is a replica of the original 12th-century pavilion. The original building was set on fire in 1950 by a monk named Hayashi Shoken.

 

The Kinkakuji Temple in Japan

The Kinkaku-Ji Temple in Japan

 

The pavilion was rebuilt and in addition to the top floor, the walls and pillars on the first floor were covered with gold leaf. The Kinkaku-Ji has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1994. This temple also served as inspiration for the later built Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion).

 

How to Get to the Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji can be reached from Kyoto Station with bus 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes for 230 yen. Alternatively (and faster) you can take the Karasuma Subway Line to the Kitaoji station (15 minutes, 260 yen) and from there you can take bus 101, 102, 204 or 205 (10 minutes, 230 yen). Admission is 400 yen p.p.

 

2. Visit the Kiyomizu Dera Temple

In terms of location, it is perhaps the most beautiful temple in Kyoto. To visit this temple you need to have good condition. The temple is on a mountain. They also call the Kiyomizudera Temple “The Temple of Pure Water”.

 

In the spring and autumn, the colors of the surrounding forests give the temple an even more beautiful image.

 

The most impressive part is the wooden frame on which the balcony of cherry trees and maple trees gives the temple a more beautiful view. For the most beautiful pictures, however, you must visit this temple in the evening! Keep in mind that this temple is very popular.

 

If you don’t want too many people around you, go early in the morning or by closing time.

 

PLEASE NOTE – The temple will be renovated from February 2017 to March 2020. This means that a large part of the temple is covered with scaffolding and sails. This was also the case when we were there. Incidentally, they are renovating throughout Japan. Also in Nikko for example.

 

How to Get to the Kiyomizu Dera Temple

Kiyomizu Dera can be reached from Kyoto Station with bus 100 or 206 in about 15 minutes for 230 yen. Get off at the Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop and follow the road up to the temple (or crowd). Admission is 400 yen.

 

3. Yasaka Shrine

The Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine was built more than 1350 years ago and is located in the popular Gion district. It is a collection of temples, gates and other shrines.

 

The fact that the temple is located in the Gion district makes it an easy temple to visit. You can easily walk there.

 

The Yasaka Shrine is also known for the summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, which is celebrated every July. It is probably the most famous festival in the entire country and is more than a thousand years old. It can then become extremely busy with hundreds of participants.

 

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Front View of the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

 

How to Get to the Yasaka Shrine

The shrine can be reached from Kyoto Station with bus 100 or 206 in about 20 minutes for 230 yen. Get off at bus stop Gion. Admission is free.

 

4. Fushimi Inari Taisha

Have you seen that famous photo of Japan with those red posts? That is the Fushimi Inari Taisha, one of Japan’s best known and most beautiful shrines. They call those thousands of poles torii gates. These gates together form a path of more than four kilometers of land that lead to the holy mountain Inari.

 

From here you have a beautiful view of Kyoto.

 

Image: The famous Fushimi Inari Taisha gates in Tokyo
The famous Fushimi Inari Taisha gates in Tokyo

 

The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the oldest and best-known Shinto shrines in Kyoto. All (red) gates that you find here are donated by people, families or companies. The total complex consists of more than 5 temples. It is also the temple furthest from the city. You have to take the train (or taxi) for it, but it is definitely worth it. Especially in the evening, this sanctuary is beautiful.

 

Importance of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousand shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are considered Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues at the shrine.

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha

 

It is a popular landmark in the city which means that you will not be the only one going there. If you are looking for a quiet moment, go after 6 p.m. The sanctuary is open 24/7 and many people visit the city as a day trip, making it a lot quieter around the evening.

 

How do I get to the Fushimi Inari shrine?

Fushimi Inari shrine is just outside the city center. You cannot go there with the JR Rail Pass. Take the train towards Inari Station or the Keihan Main Line (230 yen).

 

Admission is free.

 

5. Visit Nijo Castle

The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period. His grandson Iemitsu completed construction of the castle 23 years later by adding a castle residence.

 

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an Imperial palace for a while. These palaces are probably the best examples of palace architecture. Since 1994 it has been on the UNESCO list.

 

TIP – It is open from 8:45 am to 5:00 pm. It is closed on Tuesdays in January, July, August, and December. Admission is 600 yen p.p.

 

6. Go to the Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace of Kyoto was the residence of the Imperial Family of Japan until 1868 when the Emperor and the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park, a beautiful park in the center of the city.

 

The present palace was reconstructed in 1855 after being burned repeatedly over the centuries. The complex is surrounded by long walls and consists of several gates, halls and gardens.

 

TIP – It is open from April to August from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, in September and March from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM and in October to February from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free.

 

7. Walk Through Nishiki Market

There are plenty of choices for shopping in Kyoto, but the Nishiki Market is the best known and nicest market in the city. It is a narrow, five-block-long, shopping street with more than a hundred stores and restaurants. It is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” because of the many types of food you can buy here. Think of fresh seafood, Japanese sweets, sushi knives, and cookware.

 

Image: Many delicious foods at the Nishiki Market
Many delicious foods at the Nishiki Market

 

Nishiki Market is a pleasant but busy market. You need to very strong mentally in order to resist tasting many of the culinary delights. The stores that you find here vary from small, narrow stalls to larger stores.

 

8. Visit the Ginkaku-ji Temple

Not to be confused with the Kinkaku-ji temple described above. Although they are quite similar in appearance and name, they are really two different temples. This temple is also called the Silver Pavilion and is a Zen temple on the eastern mountains of Kyoto. In 1482, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa based on the temple of today. He used the Kinkanu-ji, the sacrificial villa of his grandfather, as inspiration.

 

TIP – Ginkaku-ji can be reached by bus 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station in about 35-40 minutes for 230 yen. Admission is 500 yen p.p.

 

Ginkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto

The Ginkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto

 

9. Stroll Through the Gion District

The Gion district is the heart of Kyoto, the old center. It is the most famous geisha district of Kyoto, located around Shijo Avenue near the Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River. You will find shops, restaurants, and ochaya (tea houses) here. It is also the place to see geishas and maiko (geisha students).

 

This region attracts tourists from all over the world and that is mainly due to the many traditional wooden machiya bargain houses. The houses are only five to six meters wide with narrow facades.

 

TIP – If you have the opportunity, try visiting this region in the evening. It will be extra atmospheric!

 

10. Relax at the Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest is not in Kyoto but in Arashiyama. However, Kyoto is the place where most tourists start their journey to visit this beautiful forest. The Bamboo Forest is a much-visited place. It is not particularly large but will leave a special impression on you!

 

It is wonderfully quiet and you can take beautiful pictures.

 

Image: The peaceful Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto
The peaceful Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto

 

At the Bamboo Forest, you can follow workshops where you can make baskets, chopsticks, cups and many more things that the Japanese use every day.

 

11. Visit the Chion-in Temple

The Yasaka Shrine is beautiful, but we found the Chion-in Temple behind it many times more beautiful. And besides that, it is much quieter here. Weird enough you hear little about this temple. We recommend that you visit it. We walked around here for a few hours and enjoyed the peace and especially the impressive surroundings.

 

It is the main temple of the Jodo sect, which is one of the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan. The temple is located on a mountain and overlooks the city, but the first thing you notice is the huge Sanmon gate, 24 meters high and 50 meters wide. This is the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates from the early 17th century.

 

Renovation

Miedo hall, the main hall, will be closed for renovation work until the spring of 2020, but will no longer be covered by scaffolding.

 

Cost of Traveling in Kyoto

The costs you have in Kyoto are different per person. What we can say is that traveling in Japan is generally a lot more expensive than traveling in, for example, Thailand or the Philippines. Still, if you pay attention to what you do, you can travel reasonably cheaply in Kyoto. Especially if you eat a lot locally and cook for yourself.

 

Our Costs

We spent around $70 a day in Kyoto. That can be cheaper if you sleep in dorms and do not visit temples, but also more expensive if you stay in hotels and do a lot of paid tours.

  • Apartment with own kitchen ➜ $55 p. night
  • Day ticket for the metro (cheaper than single tickets!) ➜ 600 yen (€5.49)
  • Bicycle tour ➜ 8860 yen ($81)

 

Cost of Food

  • Noodle soup ➜ 800 yen ($7.30)
  • Sushi ➜ 149 yen for 1 plate / 2 pieces ($1.35)
  • Pizza ➜ 1,500 yen ($13.70)
  • Okonomiyaki (kind of pancake, very tasty!) ➜ 750 yen ($6.80)
  • Breakfast ➜ 700 yen ($6.40)

 

Cost of Drinks

  • Fresh smoothie ➜ 450 yen ($4.10)
  • Beer in large cities ➜ 500-600 yen ($4.55 – $5.49)
  • Coffee at a tourist spot ➜ 480 yen ($4.40)
  • Coffee in the supermarket ➜ 100 yen ($0.91)

 

TIP – Want to know more about how much our trip through Japan cost? Check our blog on managing your budget.

 

Image: Close-up of Okonomiyaki on a plate
Close-up of Okonomiyaki on a plate

 

Where to Stay in Kyoto

Kyoto is a huge city and it can be difficult to find out where you should spend the night. Fortunately, public transportation in Kyoto is very good and you will be in another part of the city in no time.

 

That’s why it doesn’t really matter where you spend the night, as long as it’s near the center. A few of the nicest places;

 

1. Downtown Kyoto

Together with Southern Kyoto, Downtown Kyoto is the best place to spend the night. Within walking distance of hundreds of restaurants, shops, and bars, as well as the metro lines.

 

2. Southern Higashiyama

This is actually the best place to spend the night, but often also the most expensive. You will be near the most impressive sights of the city and you are staying close to the famous Gion district.

 

3. Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station is a good place to spend the night if you leave soon. There are not really sights to see in the area, but there are many bars and restaurants.

 

TIP – Check here to find many accommodations in Kyoto.

 

Toji Temple, a historical building and garden in Kyoto, Japan.
Toji Temple, a historical building and garden in Kyoto, Japan.

 

Costs and Accommodations in Kyoto

There are countless possibilities to spend the night. You have expensive hotel chains, capsule hotels, hostels, and even resorts just outside the city. Costs are therefore very dependent on where you sleep. Take a look here to view all the possibilities in Kyoto.

 

Studio/Apartment

We slept in a studio/apartment and had a really positive experience. This is mainly because we found the prices for hotels in Kyoto to be quite high. In addition, you do not have your own kitchen in a hotel. That is why we have booked a studio.

 

It didn’t just save costs, but we also had our own kitchen, which enabled us to cook ourselves.

 

TIP – To find apartments you can use this filter on apartments on Booking.com.

 

Best Way to Explore Kyoto

Again, Kyoto is a big city. Cities like Amsterdam are a hamlet compared to this type of city. The best way to explore the city is by bus or metro and train. You can also do a lot of walking, but to walk from the Kinkaju temple to the Ginkaku temple, for example, will take you 1.5 hours on the road (8 kilometers). Unless you really enjoy walking, that is not really convenient.

 

Kyoto waterways in the evening

Kyoto waterways, peaceful and beautiful

 

Renting a bike in Kyoto

We decided to rent a bicycle on our first day in Kyoto. Unfortunately, renting a bike here is a bit more difficult than it seems. Not because of the traffic rules, the prices or the chaos on the road. No, this is about parking. Yes, parking your bike here is a bigger challenge than climbing Mount Fuji.

 

In a city where 1.5 million people live and thousands of tourists come, they have, without exaggeration, 15 bicycle sheds that can hold up to 20 bicycles. Putting your bike on the sidewalk is possible, but is illegal with the risk that your bike will be taken by the police and you will have to pay $90 per day.

 

In addition, storing your bicycle costs 200 yen per 3 hours. A metro ticket for the entire city costs 210 yen per person. In other words, renting a bike? Not a great option!

 

Go For a Bicycle Tour

A bicycle tour is a better idea. When booking a bike tour all costs are included for renting the bike, parking the bike AND you will be accompanied by an English speaking guide who will show you the best places in the city. For us, therefore, a much better option.

 

The metro may be cheaper, but you don’t see much of the city underground. A bike tour is really fun to do and a fun way to meet people.

 

TIP – You can now book a Bicycle tour with us. Please use the contact form for more information.

 

Using the Subway

It is better to buy a day ticket for the metro. This allows you unlimited travel with the metro all day and they will take you everywhere. You still have to walk a few times here and there, but you should be fine!

 

TIP – A ticket can be purchased at any station and costs 600 yen per ticket.

 

How to get to Kyoto

The city is easily accessible from all over Japan. It is a big city and the infrastructure in Japan is very well organized. The easiest way to get there is by train. They run throughout Japan, they nearly always run on time and are not very expensive. Below are all the options;

 

Going to Kyoto by Plane

You can fly to Kyoto as there are two airports nearby. Osaka Itami Airport (domestic flights only) and Kansai International Airport (international flights). A ticket to this city quickly costs $220, making the train or bus much cheaper.

 

Going to Kyoto by Bus

Night buses run between Tokyo and Kyoto. The journey takes around 8 hours and usually departs at 10:10 pm, 10:30 pm and 11:00 pm in the evening. Expect to pay around 5,400 yen ($49). Other options are Kanazawa (3,800 yen, $35) and Hiroshima (4,450 yen, $40).

 

Going to Kyoto by Train

Kyoto is on the Tokaido-San line. This line takes you to Kyushu, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Himeji, Hiroshima, and others. The trains depart from Kyoto Station. Well-known routes include:

  • Tokyo – this will cost you around 8,210 yen and you will have to transfer several times. It takes at least 8 hours;
  • Osaka – a JR shinkaisoku (fast train) runs here. The ride only takes half an hour and costs 560 yen;
  • Nara – with the Kintet line you are in Kyoto within 30 minutes. You will feel about 1,110 yen lighter. The slower train costs 610 Yen and takes 40 minutes.

 

JR Pass

If you are in Japan it may be useful to purchase a JR Pass. Such a pass is a kind of public transport card with which you can travel easily and cheaper on certain train and bus routes.

 

The Best Time to Visit Kyoto

You can visit Kyoto all year round due to the pleasant temperatures. Nevertheless, the months of October, November (fall) and March to May (spring) are the best months to visit the city. The famous Japanese cherry blossoms (Sakura) are in full bloom during these months.

 

The summer months, June to August, can be quite hot while the winters (December to February) can get quite chilly. The rainy season runs from mid-June to the end of July. It is not comparable to the rainy season in Thailand, it does not rain every day.

 

Average temperatures and rainfall in Kyoto

 

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