One of my favourite places in Japan, and actually Asia so far – Kyoto is beautiful, historical, and completely special to everyone that visits. Within a short train ride of stunning traditional temples, stunning countryside towns, iconic bamboo forests and mountain topped with cheeky monkeys, there’s really so much of Japan to explore if you make Kyoto your base in Japan.
Time Zone: Japan Time Zone UTC +9
Getting There: The main airport in Kyoto is Kansai International Airport (KIX), with both international and domestic flights arriving daily. It’s located about 90 minutes away from Kyoto by direct express train. Alternatively, if you’re arriving on a domestic flight from within Japan, Osaka Airport (ITM) is also a great option, only 50 minutes from Kyoto by airport limousine bus (many airlines will fly you here free from Narita if you fly with them internationally! Make sure you check out whether that’s an option when you’re booking your flights).
You can also arrive via bullet train – which is said to be the easiest and fastest way to get between Tokyo and Kyoto (as well as other major cities in Japan). A train option is also included if you have a Japan Rail Pass, making it cheaper than flying as well! We took the Nozomi train, as it is the most frequent and fastest rail option, arriving in just 2 hours and 20 minutes. Travelling by rail also means you arrive right in the heart of each city, which means less time spent going to and from airports.
Read more: Catching a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
Language: Japanese. Many people working in the tourism and travel as well as retail and hospitality industries (hotels, restaurants, shops, etc) speak good English or understand enough to help you out.
Climate: Humid, subtropical climate with very humid hot summers and generally mild winters. The summer time is also monsoon season – so make sure you take an umbrella with you wherever you go, just in case! Winter time is generally drier.
Getting Around: Similar to Tokyo, Kyoto has an extremely well developed transport network, with subways and trains being the most convenient and efficient way to get around the city. Buses are less convenient but they cover almost the whole entire city and can be a great option when paired up with a train route. For a more casual option, you can also rent a bicycle and ride around Kyoto.
The Money Sitch: Currency is Japanese Yen ￥. There are ATMs everywhere, credit and debit cards are also accepted everywhere. If you’re venturing out of the city however, it is a good idea to have some cash on you.
Internet Access: High-speed wifi is available all over the city – in hotels, restaurants and cafes, shops, main streets, as well as every train station.
Where To Stay: Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and Kamo River in the west. It is the perfect place to base yourself in Kyoto, as it’s filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses). Close by, the Nakagyo Ward and Shimogyo Ward are also great places to base yourself, with more accommodation options.
Best Time To Go: Kyoto has a slightly more stable weather than Tokyo, making it a great place to visit year round. Visiting in the spring months (March – May) offers the chance to experience cherry blossom season, and is widely regarded as the best time to visit along with October/November. Similar to Tokyo, the summer months (June – August) are hot and humid, while the winter months (December – February) are quite cold.
There’s so much to do in Kyoto, you could easily spend a whole week here and still not feel like you scratched the surface!
+ Explore Arashiyama and the Oi River
+ Take a peaceful stroll around the famous Bamboo Forest
+ Wander around the golden torii gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha Temple
+ Take a day trip out to Kibune and have lunch on top of a waterfall
+ Make friends at the Iwatayama Monkey Park on the top of Mount Arashiyama
+ Visit the beautiful shimmering Golden Pavilion – Kinkaku-ji
+ If you have time you could also take a day trip out to Osaka, only an hour away.
Good To Know: It’s a good idea to buy a Japan Rail Pass before you leave for Japan. The JR Pass gives you unlimited travel around Japan across every type of train, as well as buses and even JR ferries. It’s a good idea to purchase your pass in your home country before you depart for Japan so you’re all ready to go when you arrive.