Kyoto Travel Guide

Kyoto Overview

On first impressions it may seem like an over-commercialized metropolis of neon lights and soaring skyscrapers yet Kyoto is by far the most rewarding of Japan’s big cities. Yes, it is modern, and stepping out from Kyoto Station can be an anticlimax, however, behind the futuristic facade is the Japan of many travelers vivid imaginations. Situated in the hub of the island of Honshu and for many years the countrys capital, Kyoto is an absolute goldmine of traditional tourist attractions. This is the place to explore ancient shrines and temples, stroll through pristine Zen gardens, spot geishas vanishing down back alleys, take part in time-honored celebrations and experience the true heart of Japanese art and culture.

 
Largely felt to be the pioneer of many of the countrys classic images, Kyoto is the proud possessor of no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sights and, being fortunate to avoid WWII raids, home to an amazing 1600 Buddhist temples in addition to 400 Shinto shrines and dozens of stunning gardens. Needless to say, sightseeing opportunities are abundant here and, although on paper it may seem intimidating, Kyoto is actually a city easy to negotiate. Attractions like the ImperialPalace and KyotoStationBuilding should always be top of the list, though those with only a few days should head directly to the eastern suburbs to uncover the magical playground of temples and shrines. For those not so much in to temples, Kyoto offers a world of additional activities, from splendid museums to geisha shows and fine kaiseki dining to a pulsating nightlife.
 
The true Kyoto hides behind the slick facade that Japanese cities have become famed for in recent years and, away from the centre, the city offers a world of additional opportunities. Head to the nearby hills of Hieizan and Shigaraki for more ancients sites or the chance to find an oasis of calm in the surrounding countryside. Furthermore, the central location on Honshu allows for easy access to Osaka, Nara, Kobe and the capital city Tokyo.

Things to do in Kyoto

Central Kyoto - Dominated by the ImperialPalace, once Japans spiritual heart, central Kyoto is a good place to commence a sightseeing tour, beginning with a guided tour of the palace and its gardens. Perhaps more interesting than the palace itself are the 1603 Nijo Castle and the curious private mansion of Nijo-Jinya, built in the early 17thC. Whilst in the area, check out the Museum of Kyoto and Kyoto International Manga Museum.

 
Kyoto Station - An iconic building in itself, made up of the train station, shopping centres and hotels, the area surrounding the black marble Kyoto Station Building is also home to a handful of the citys most revered ancient temples. Be sure to spend some time exploring the sparkling Buddhist temples of Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji. With time, take a stroll back from the station to Toji Temple, dating back to 794 and home to a monthly flea market.
 
East of the Centre - Playing host to the highest concentration of temples and museums that line its traditional streets, the eastern suburbs of Kyoto is the place to be for a sightseeing filled day. Of the many, the most rewarding temples and shrines are Tofuku-ji, Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizu-dera, Kodaiji, Ginkakuji and Yasaka-jinja. Visitors will also find a feast of museums, counting the Kyoto National Museum, National Museum of Modern Art, Hosomi Art Museum and Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.
 
North Kyoto - Although not brimming with sights in the same fashion as the eastern suburbs, the area north of central Kyoto, spilling out into the hills, is home to more interesting temples. Pick of the bunch are Kinkauji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Ryoan-ji with its stunning Zen gardens. If there is any time left over then drop into the Museum for World Peace.
 
Kyoto Outskirts - Those with an extended stay in Kyoto should take some time out to explore the surrounding countryside so often missed by those on a whistle-stop tour. Head to MountHieizan to see the ancient temple of Enryaku-ji before dropping down into the valley of Ohara for the Sanzen-in temple. The whirlwind of temples will no doubt be at its limit by this time so either check out the Miho Museum of the Shigaraki hills or simply enjoy the tranquil hillside setting.
 
Kyoto Festivals
Miyako Odori - The Cherry Blossom Dances festival takes place in April with performances by the geisha and maiko of the Gion district.
Takigi Noh Performance - June is the time for torch-lit performances of Noh theatre held at the citys many shrines and temples.
Gion Matsuri - Japans most well-known cultural event takes place in July celebrating the Yasaka Shrine and culminating in the Yamaboko Junko procession.
 
Kyoto Nightlife - When visiting temples and shrines becomes too much Kyotos nightlife scene is on hand to provide a different way to experience Japanese culture. The main action takes place between the streets of Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori, with a growing bar and club scene, and over in the district of Gion, the location for more traditional events, geisha teahouses and puppet shows. For the quintessential Kyoto dining experience find a Kaiseki restaurant and tuck in to a multi-course banquet that will send the taste buds wild.
 
Bars in Kyoto
A Bar - Ever lively bar-restaurant offering a stereotypical Japanese nightlife experience.
Ace Café - Join the fashionable crowd for drinks at this lounge bar overlooking the eastern hills.
La Gallega - Busy Spanish-styled tapas bar with a popular happy hour running daily from 6pm - 8pm.
The Gael Irish Pub - Token Irish-themed pub attracting a good mix of locals, travellers and expats for pints and hearty pub grub.
 
Clubs in Kyoto
Club Metro - The varied music attracts an eclectic crowd to this underground party club at Jingu-Marutamchi station.
Club World - Intimate house and techno club pulling in big name international DJs.
Taku Taku - Long-running warehouse club hosting the best local rock bands and the occasional international name.

Hotels in Kyoto

Budget Hotels Kyoto

Budget Inn - Cheap hostel dorms and hotel option close to Kyoto Station. A good place for long term stays. Tel (81) 75 344 1510.
IchiEnSou Guesthouse - Laidback and well-run guesthouse 5 minutes from the CBD. Tel (81) 75 950 1026.
J-Hoppers - Decent Japanese hostel chain providing cheap and comfortable rooms. Tel (81) 75 681 2282.
Utano Youth Hostel - Big and lively hostel in the citys western suburbs. Tel (81) 75 616 8191.
 
Midrange Hotels Kyoto
Hotel Gimmond - Centrally located hotel with charming ensuite rooms and Japanese/Italian restaurant. Tel (81) 75 221 4111.
Hotel Granvia - Part of the JR Station, the hotel offers modern rooms and suites, choice or bars and restaurants, and swimming pool. Tel (81) 75 344 8888.
Shunkoin - The best place in Kyoto for those looking to stay a few nights in a temple. Tel (81) 75 462 5488.
 
Luxury Hotels Kyoto
Hyatt Regency Kyoto - International 5-star luxury a short walk from the citys cultural heart of Higashiyama Shichijo. Tel (81) 75 541 1234.
Kyoto Brighton Hotel - World class hotel offering stylish rooms and lounges looking onto the ImperialPalace. Tel (81) 75 441 4411.
Kyoto Hotel Okura - Large, luxury rooms with great views of the city. Benefits include a wide range of bars and restaurants and onsite bakery. Tel (81) 75 223 3333.

Kyoto Weather

Kyoto Travel Resources

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