Let’s talk all things Kyoto.
Kyoto has such a history of traditionalism in Japan, formerly the capital it’s filled with shrines, temples, gardens and palaces. This is one of the main reasons we chose Kyoto as a place to base ourselves for day trips.
This post is made up of a visit in November 2017 and July 2018 (which explains the change of outfits!)
Read below on some tips for what to do with your time in Kyoto.The Basics: How to get to Kyoto
My Top Choices: What you should see
My Recommendations: Mostly, where to eat.
Where to Stay: Where I stayed or where friends stayed.
What I did: My diary entry.
Getting to Kyoto: From Tokyo
🚄 The Bullet Train:
2h 30m ¥10000 – ¥15000 | AUD: $110 – $170 | USD: $89 – $137
Included in the JR PASS. The Bullet Trains are beyond anything! They will cut your time more than in half. They have toilets, reclining seats, food carts and if you’re a smoker – a smokers room on board as well.
Don’t have a JR PASS? Get discounted tickets for the Kodama (4hrs) train here.
8h 45m ¥8000 | AUD $91 | USD $73
Willer Bus has high reviews and you can opt for a day or night bus. (Read a detailed blog post here) and in terms of value/money, you can also save a night on accommodation.
1h 15m ¥6700 – 28000 | $75 – $310 AUD | $60 – $250 USD
You’ll have to fly into Osaka, and then train it to Kyoto.
Try Peach Airlines, Jetstar Airlines.
Trains run every 20 minutes & take, at the longest, 40 minutes.
Staying in Kyoto:
You can have a shared room, private room or entire house depending on how you’re travelling or your budget.
Never used Airbnb before?
Click here (affiliate)to get $50 AUD off your first trip!
Looking for a great Airbnb?
We stayed in Nijō, two stops out of Kyoto Station. Check it out here.
Hostels are a great way to meet people. I would recommend searching HostelWorld and then comparing reviews on Tripadvisor.
Take a look on Booking.com or Agoda
Getting Around in Kyoto:
|🚕 Taxi / Uber|
You can hail taxis at any main station, mall or even on the street. You can always use Taxi Fare Finder to grab an estimation as well!
Uber is not available in Kyoto.
1D Pass ¥1200 | AUD $15 | USD $11
2D Pass ¥2000 | AUD $23 | USD $18
Travelling by bus is great if you’re going to be going around and can fit into Itineraries very easily. See here for all the information about taking a bus.
Included in the JR PASS.
Individually ticketed based on A > B destinations.
If you don’t have a JR PASS, you can individually buy tickets.
Privately Owned, individually ticketed based on A > B destinations.
Not included within the JR Pass.
Understanding the trains:
Slowest > Faster.
Local Train > Semi-Express > Express > Limited Express, Special Express.
* If you don’t want to be a donut, like me, double or even triple check what tickets you’re buying from the self-serve machines. It’s a little bit embarrassing to have the ticket gates beep at you while everyone looks on. Also not very budget friendly!*
MY TOP CHOICES!
There are over 1600 temples, 400 shrines and 17 UNESCO sites in Kyoto – really making it the historical capital of Japan. To get the best out of your time, check out Inside Kyoto, which is written by lonely planet writer, Chris Rowthorn. This will give you 1 – 5D Itineraries if you’re a bit lost on what to do!
⏰ 24:00 – 24:00
This temple is open 24/7 and is located on the Nara Line. If you want to miss the people, go before 10am and after 6pm. A good suggestion is to get up early and do this before a day trip off to Nara (click here to check my post on how to get there) to feed the deer.
Inari is the kami (spirit/phenomena) of foxes; fertility, rice, tea/sake, agriculture, industry, general prosperity and worldly success.
⏰ 8:30 – 4:30pm
💰 ¥400 | $5 AUD | $4 USD
This temple often gets overlooked I believe. Covered in moss, greens, beautiful trees and shrubs it’s along the way to the more famous of the temples, Heian Shrine. Created by master gardener Kobori Enshu, it’s unlike the typical Zen Temple due to its layout. It’s arranged in the shape of a crane and a tortoise facing each other.
⏰ 9:00 to 17:00
💰 Gardens are free.
Temples and Shrines within the Gardens have a fee of ¥400-500| $5 -6 AUD | $4 -5 USD
Beautiful Temple surrounded by gardens and little temples and shrines within. You’ll see Japanese women dressed up in the traditional Kimono taking photos with their friends.
⏰ 24 Hours.
💰 Free + Donations.
You can buy a strip of paper called a ‘katashiro’ and write two things, one which you wish to strengthen the connection with and one you wish to break. You go through the tunnel (from the entry side) thinking about the strength and return thinking about the connection you wish to break. Then place your katashiro on the stone with your written wish.
The streets of Gion are more famously known as the famed Geisha district. Known to be better at nights, dusk especially.
Bamboo Forrest + Worlds Smallest Gallery.
⏰ 24 Hours.
The Bamboo Forrest is a sure sight, filled with other tourists taking selfies, you can see those dressed in Kimonos taking photos and continue to walk around to get to spaces that are less crowded. If you follow the path around, you will come across a small gallery that has wonderful copies of major artworks (100Y entry) it’s got aircon/heating and the owner is lovely.
⏰ 24 Hours.
Near Arashiyama Station, behind the coffee store is a Kimono Forrest. Not many people make the way here as the Bamboo Forrest is right nearby but it’s a wonderful little maze to a pond of good luck.
⏰12:00 – 23:00
📍 11-1 Murasakino Higashifujinomoricho, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603‐8223, Kyoto Prefecture
🚊 Take the Karasuma Line from Kyoto Station [¥210] to Kuramaguchi Station and walk 15 mins.
🚌 Take the #9 bus from Kyoto Ekimae Bus Stop to Horikawakuramaguchi Bus Stop [20 stops, 28 mins ¥230] and walk 5 mins.
Sarasa Nishijin is set in an old onsen with the tiles and some walls still as they naturally would have been. The staff are wonderful, the food is great and I just couldn’t get over the actual layout of the place. It’s beautiful.
Try to get there early to grab some photos without people.
WHERE TO STAY
🏢 K’s House Kyoto.
HOSTEL T A (Trip Advisor)
Located near a direct line to Osaka from Shichijo Station it’s also right near Kyoto Station.
|500¥ Breakfast: Continental or Pancakes.|
|Free shampoo, conditioner & body wash. Private shower and private showers within the shared bathroom.|
|Mixed Bunks. Light, usb + power plugs in each bed. trundle lockers.|
|Free wifi, common area, kitchen with amenities.|
|2 x Happy Hours, free chance to win drinks + social atmosphere.|
WHAT I DID
My friends and I were staying in Nijō, which meant that we were right by Nijo Castle. The Castle is part of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and at the time we were there, we were part of the 7 million visitors to see the Art Aquarium Exhibition. It ran from 25.10.16 – 11.12.17 and was on the 150th anniversary of the Restoration of the Imperial Rule.
The exhibition was entirely outdoors of the Castle and drew on traditional and current works within Japanese culture. Those are thousands of fish swimming in the glass tanks. Beautiful? Yes. Humane? Eh, not entirely sure about that one.
The night we arrived at the exhibition we were able to see Rantaro Kojyo perform what’s called “Dance of Oiran.” This is essentially the reason why we didn’t go to the area of Gion. We wanted to see a traditional dance, and we got it!
The Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine as mentioned above was so cool. You must know it because if you google “Kyoto Shrine” or “Red Shrine Japan” this is the one that comes up! Makes sense as well! We hit up this temple around 8am to avoid the other pesky travellers such as ourselves. It really did make all the difference!
One of the reasons this shrine is so popular is because it’s home to 10,000 “Tori Gates” which show entrance into the shrine. I know this not from Google, but I individually counted them myself. If you’ve got a spare 2-3 hours (if you do, tell me how) then you can walk up to the summit of the mountain. If you don’t have those spare hours, do what the lazy do and walk the 30 minutes to the Kyoto City Lookout.
The Heian Shrine, aka one of the Lost in Translation shrines, really does stand up to its reputation, it’s beautiful. If I’m Frank (how can you be frank when you’re Sarah) is that I’ve never actually seen that movie. But don’t tell my pals because they all think I have!
But surely I must have eaten/ drunk in Kyoto too? You Bet! I don’t think there was a day where we weren’t craving Ramen. You can find ramen anywhere. It might have been the number one google map search if I’m honest! We found a Ramen Chain called ‘Tenkaippin” for a quick dinner before heading to a little cosy bar called “Barランプ.”
When leaving Barランプ, a Japanese man turned to my friend Jack and said: “How did you find this?” I’m guessing we stumbled into a local.
Staying at our hostel was perfect as we were near two stations making it super easy to get to the Arashiyama district. We all had a majority of the same things on our itineraries and when there are so many temples around, we simply pick and chose ones that looked okay. Sanshu-in temple was one of those. We didn’t pay to go into a lot as we were saving our budget for other aspects of the trip.
We did go out to BarCode which is a fantastic karaoke bar, it actually will film you singing and then place you on the screen (less fantastic) so you can see your wonderful, wonderful dance moves (think Lindsay Lohan and Taylor Swift for me) but if you want to have a night out, I’d suggest there.
I had so much planned for Kyoto this time around but due to the heat wave – if I spoke about the level of humidity you’d be here reading at least 20 pages, so I won’t do that but when I say it was hot and sweaty, it was hot and sweaty.
Have you been to Kyoto before? Do you think I needed to see more?