Ultimate Kyoto Visitors Guide
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There are so many things you can enjoy in the attractive city of Kyoto – such as beautiful cultural aspects and historical buildings. You might have found Kyoto by watching films, reading guide books, via Instagram or from friends who have already visited. Kyoto is one of most beautiful and famous cities in the world, so there is so much information that it can be confusing, and make choices on where to go difficult.
Therefore, here is the Ultimate Kyoto visitors guide – written by locals, who would love to guide you, general visitor information and the ‘5 must do’ things to do in Kyoto, giving you select information and making it easier for you to decide where to go and what to do. We guarantee that you a wonderful time in Kyoto.
Let’s get started!
- 1 Kyoto general information
- 2 Kyoto useful information
- 3 The best season to visit Kyoto
- 4 The ‘5 must do’ things in Kyoto
Kyoto general information
At first, we’d like to introduce some general information so that you get an overall idea of Kyoto.
Kyoto is the capital city of Kyoto prefecture which is located in the Kansai region of Japan.
Kyoto is famous for many things, such as temples, shrines, Japanese gardens, Japanese cuisine, Geisha and Maiko, bamboo forests, cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, mountains and much more.
Kyoto is one of the oldest cities in Japan which was originally founded in Heian period (794-1185). Emperor Kammu moved the Imperial court to Kyoto where he was to sit until 1868. There are 2,000 temples and shrines in Kyoto and it is known as the ancient capital of Japan.
Kyoto city is in Kyoto-fu (urban prefecture), the west-central island of Honshu, Japan, about 50km to Osaka and Nara.
Access is from Kansai airport, which takes 1 hour and 20 mins by “Haruka”, the Kansai-airport express.
By bullet train, it is about 2 hours and 15 mins from Tokyo; about 15 mins from Osaka; and about 1 hour and 40 mins to Hiroshima.
Kyoto has a humid, subtropical climate, featuring a marked seasonal variation in temperature. Summers are hot (35℃) and humid (more than 80%), but winters are relatively cold (9℃) with occasional snowfall.
– Yearly average temperature = 16℃
– The amount of precipitation a year = 1,491mm.
Kyoto useful information
Kyoto travel map
– Kyoto station guide
– Kansai airport to Kyoto
– Japan rail pass
Tourist information centre
– Kyoto station building information (on the 2nd floor, the North side of the pedestrian walkway)
901 Higashishiokoji-cho, Shiokoji-sagaru, Karasuma-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
– Kyoto tower (on the 3rd floor)
721-1 Higashishiokoji-cho, Shiokoji-sagaru, Karasuma-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
10:00-18:00 (closed from 30th December to 3rd january)
– Kuroneko tourist information
391-3 Kinen-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan
10:00-18:00 (except Tuesday and New Year holiday)
The best season to visit Kyoto
Now we’ll introduce the best seasonal information. You can visit Kyoto anytime of the year, but we recommend 2 seasons especially – would you like to know the reasons?
The reason why we recommend visiting Kyoto in the Spring is because to the Sakura (cherry blossoms – Japan’s national flower). All Japanese people are obsessed with Sakura due to its beauty, but also as a symbol of faith, nobleness, and the enduring expression of life – death and renewal.
There are many Sakura spots with historical buildings in Kyoto that you will amaze and astound you.
Sakura start falling from the tree a week after blooming, so people keep checking “The bloom of cherry blossoms” (a blooming forecast) so as not to miss it.
It does depend on the weather, but usually Sakura would be full bloom from the end of March to the beginning of April in Kyoto.
You must not miss Koyo (the Autumn leaves) if you plan to visit Kyoto in Autumn. Japanese people love to go out and watch koyo – Kyoto is very famous for it.
It’s stunning to view Koyo amongst Kyoto’s historical buildings, such as Arashiyama, Tofukuji temple, Kiyomizudera temple, Nanzenji temple and so on. The contrast of red, yellow, brown and greens in nature is quite breathtaking.
NOTE: Please be aware that Spring and Autumn are peak seasons, so it will be very crowded.
Now we would love to recommend the ‘5 must do’ things to do in Kyoto!
The ‘5 must do’ things in Kyoto
The ‘5 must do’ things in Kyoto are all very Kyoto-ish, and you will be amazed to experience Kyoto’s culture – something you can not get anywhere else in the world!
1. Hanami watching in Spring
Hanami (hana = flower, mi = look) is to watch Sakura (cherry blossom).
All Japanese people plan to go somewhere to enjoy Hanami, and Kyoto is a very famous place to do it. There are so many Sakura spots in and around Kyoto and people fully enjoy Hanami parties – people sitting down under full cherry trees to enjoy both Sakura and company with foods and drinks.
It is kind of difficult to choose the place for Hamami, but our recommendation for Sakura is to go to “Tetsugaku no michi” and “Keage Incline”.
-Tetsugaku no michi (Philosopher’s path)
Tetsugaku no michi is a pleasant stone path that follows a cherry tree lined canal in Kyoto, and is located in the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. It is near Ginkakuji temple, towards Nanzenji temple and takes about 30 mins to complete. There are 500 cherry trees lining the path, so you can imagine just how beautiful it is – a chance to really feel the beauty of Japan.
Keage Incline is a 582 metre long slope with railroad tracks which is located near the Nanzenji temple in Higashiyama district. It was built in 1891 and very famous for 90 Sakura trees that make a cherry blossom tunnel. Keage Incline is a 2 minute walk from Keage station on the Tozai subway – surprisingly beautiful scenery.
2. Hanami at night
Enjoying hanami is not only during daytime, for you can also enjoy Sakura at night as many places light-up the Sakura. It is a beautiful experience and it looks quite different from Sakura during the daytime. We recommend that you enjoy both.
We recommend 2 temples in Kyoto that you should visit:
Kodaiji temple is located north east of Yasaka Hokanji temple at the foot of the Higashiyama Ryozen mountains in Kyoto and was established in 1606 by Kita-no-Mandokoro (nene) in memory of her late husband the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Kodaiji temple is lit-up at sunset to 9:30pm from mid-March to early May. See how beautiful the weeping cherry trees of the garden area.
Toji temple was founded at the beginning of Heian period (794-1185) and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Soon after the capital of Japan was moved from Nara to Kyoto, two guardian temples were built. The Sai-ji (west temple) which no longer exists, and To-ji (east temple) which still remains.
Ko-ji temple is lit-up from 6:30pm to 9:30pm (close at 9pm) from mid-March for a month.
The pairing of the temple and Sakura at night with illumination is stunning.
3. Koyo viewing (Autumn coloured leaves)
Koyo, also called Momiji-gari, is the viewing of the Autumn colour of the leaves and is very famous in Kyoto. If you plan to go to Kyoto in Autumn you must not miss it.
There is Japan autumn leaves forecast, same as Sakura, and so you will see the passion that Japanese people have for Koyo.
You might have seen pictures of the huge wooden stage that is Kiyomizudera temple. Kiyomizudera temple was built in 780, and is an independent Buddhist temple, and is also one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites in Kyoto.
Kiyomizudera temple is one of the best places to see the Autumn leaves in Japan, not only Kyoto, as there are many Japanese maple trees surrounding the temple whose colours are simply amazing!
Byodoin Houou-do is a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji, Kyoto, and was built in 998. The “Phoenix Hall” (Houou-do) is known as the Amida-do, built in 1053, it is the only original building remaining. Houou-do, and the large pond in front, is very famous and has been replicated on to the back of the Japanese 10 yen coin.
Imagine the scene with lots of Autumn leaves, breathtaking!
4. Maiko experience
Many people wish to see Geisha and Maiko in Japan, and Kyoto is the best place for it.
Actually it is difficult to meet Geisha and Maiko in private because of a tradition called “Ichigensan Okotowari” – the need for an invitation from another regular customer to go to Ochaya (tea house where Geisha and Maiko entertain for their patrons). Even if you are invited, the cost is very expensive.
But there is a way for you to meet a Maiko in a tatami room at a Japanese style building for a reasonable price.
Let us introduce to you “Enchanted Time with Maiko” who give you an amazing opportunity to meet, chat and play with a Maiko. The Maiko wholly welcomes you, and spends time with you. You will be able to take pictures and videos whilst you are having beautiful Kyoto cuisine.
You will gain a very unique and rare experience and it would be quite a unforgettable memory!
5. Joining tours in Kyoto
As a top destination for so many foreign tourists, there are many tours, both group and private in Kyoto.
Let us introduce each tour’s advantage and actual tours for you!
The biggest advantage is the cost when compared to a private tour. You will decide the tour which covers where you want to go. You would be advised to check reviews on TripAdvisor.
– Kyoto Walking Tour, Small-group adventure
Duration: 3 hours
Discover the best of Kyoto, a city packed with cultural sights and must-see locations with an English speaking guide. It includes an experience of a Zen rock garden at the Tofukuji temple, red torii gates at Fushimi Inari shrine, the historical entertainment district Gion, and more.
More expensive than the group tour, but you can request where you would like to go to create your own schedule with an English speaking guide.
– Full-day Kyoto private custom walking tour
Duration: 2, 4, 7 hours
Customise the itinerary according to personal interests.
You can visit the sights only you would like to see on the tour.
Well, we hope you found some useful information regarding visiting Kyoto. It is great that you are able to decide what you want to do in Kyoto in advance, so you can find places nearby to explore without a plan ensuring you will have a fantastic time in Kyoto.
There are lots to see. Just enjoy Kyoto’s culture as it might be a once in a lifetime experience!
- I am Nagai Yuichi ,CEO of S-fleage a company in Kyoto. We are spreading the charms of Kyoto to the world. I hope this article is helpful for your experience in Kyoto!