Beginner's Guide to Kyoto, Japan

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

How to get there from Tokyo

> Shinkansen: The bullet train! Train travel in Japan is very efficient, and can sometimes be a better option than dealing with the airport. This route from Tokyo to Kyoto is very common, so there are trains leaving every 5-10 minutes. You can either board at the Tokyo station (take the Red Mirunouchi Line, exit Tokyo) or Shinagawa (Take the Rose Asakusa Line, exit Shinagawa). Follow the signs for JR/Shinkasen to purchase your ticket either at the self-service kiosk or information center. It will be 13,080 Yen (About $118 USD) for 1-way for an unreserved seat, or 14,080 Yen (About $126 USD) for a reserved seat. You can buy with a credit card from the information center, but the kiosk will only accept cash.

(*Tip: if you're leaving from Tokyo Station you should buy a non-reserved seat to save money, because since it's the departure point you are more than likely to find a seat). From here you just follow the signs that say Nozomi, and you can board any Nozomi train on any platform. If you're confused, feel free to ask a railway attendant; they all speak English and are very helpful! (*Tip: when you get on the train make sure to look at the carriage number and see if it's a reserved seat carriage or not! Typically carriages 1-3 are free seating, the rest are reserved)


> Flight: There is no airport in Kyoto, so you will have to fly into Osaka and take a train into Kyoto. So when you arrive at the airport, you'd need to take the limited express Haruka train to Kyoto train station which takes 75 minutes. The first train for Kyoto departs from Kansai airport at 5:46am and the last one departs at 9:43pm.


Where to stay

Accommodations in Kyoto are VERY expensive, which is why most people opt to stay in Osaka and commute to Kyoto for however many days they wish to explore (I highly recommend this option). However, if you feel like you really want to stay in Kyoto, you want to stay as close to Shijo-dori (dori means street) as possible. This is where all of the main restaurants and shops are, which is also walking distance to Gion district and the Philosopher's Path.


What to do

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Arguably the most iconic thing in all of Kyoto! It's a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari Okami, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. It's that picture you've seen a hundred times on your IG feed of the thousands of red toriis lined up in a row. It's free to enter and you can walk up Mt. Inari with red toriis leading you all the way. It is truly a magnificent site!


Shijo-dori

Lots of shopping and restaurants along the entire street. Also has a long shopping street perpendicular to it called Teramachi!

Gion district

This city's most famous and traditional entertainment district. Its streets are filled with quaint wooden buildings, which house a great variety of restaurants. It is also the place that is well-known for Japanese geishas!

Yasaka-Jinja Shrine

Towards the end of the Gion district you will stumble upon a large stone torii which leads you to this magnificently vibrant shrine. You can walk through and admire the different buildings and various street vendors selling local specialities!

Chion-in temple

This temple is MASSIVE! As you walk out of the back of the Yasaka-Jinja shrine you will see this on your right-hand side, it is impossible to miss.


Nanzen-ji temple

This is my personal favorite. This temple grounds were very large and consisted of multiple temples, view points, trees, and gardens. We even saw signs that said "Don't feed the monkeys!" which tells me there are definitely usually monkeys in the area, even though I didn't see any during my visit. The actual Nanzen-ji temple itself is towards the back and costs 500 Yen to enter (About $4.50 USD)

Philosopher's Path

A pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. It's named this because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor, Nishida Kitaro, is thought to have used it for daily meditation. Walk along this path to be surrounded by nature, have great views of the city, and enjoy cute cafes and art shops along your journey.


Ginkaku-ji temple

This is either the beginning or the end of the Philospher's Path, depending on the way you do it. It's open 9am - 5pm and costs 500 Yen to enter (About $4.50 USD)




Kamo River

Stroll down the banks of the beautiful river that flows amidst the city buildings and cars driving by. It's a great place to watch the sunset!


Photo by Kyoto Travel ©

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan. Honestly, not the most impressive building, but something to see for sure!



A little further out

Arashiyama Park

This is the second-most important sightseeing district in Kyoto. It’s filled with temples and shrines, but the star attraction is the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It's about 30 minutes outside of Kyoto downtown.

Photo by Inside Kyoto ©

Photo by Japan Guide ©


Ryoan-ji Temple

This is famous for it's rock garden! Get out of the city for a zen atmosphere and picturesque views.


Photo by Trip Advisor UK ©





Kinkaku-ji

Otherwise known as the Golden Pavilion temple. The iconic photograph of the gold temple that looks like it's floating on a body of water!






Photo by Japan Guide ©


Daigoji

A Shingon Buddhist temple in Fushimi-ku. This temple complex includes several buildings and an expansive Japanese garden.




Tips

> The metro doesn't take you everywhere you want to go, like it would in a larger city. So be prepared to do a lot of walking or pay for taxis!


> Like I stated earlier, accommodations in Kyoto are VERY expensive. To save money, I would definitely recommend staying in Osaka and commuting to Kyoto. The JR line will take you there in about 25 minutes for only 560 Yen each way ($5 USD).



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