Kyoto is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Kansai region. With a centuries-old history as the island nation’s former capital, as well as being one of the major religious hubs in Japan, Kyoto has a great number of cultural sites.
How to get to Kyoto and around
- Fly into KIX (Kansai International Airport)
The best and fastest way to get to Kyoto is to fly into Kansai International Airport (KIX) and take the train to Kyoto, going through Osaka. From KIX to Osaka, it only takes about 50 minutes by Haruka train and then another 15 minutes to Kyoto and slightly longer if you take the local train. You can purchase Haruka train at the airport, or if you already have a JR pass, then you can use your JR pass (assuming you bought Unlimited JR Pass).
- Take the train from Osaka. Osaka makes a great base if you are going to explore Kansai Region.
- Take the Shinkansen, Japan’s ultra-fast bullet train from Tokyo
If you’re thinking of making Kyoto one of your stops on a long trip to Japan, it’s very possible to take Shinkansen. From Tokyo, it will take only 2.5 hours to reach Kyoto by Shinkansen. Just make sure you’ve purchased a JR Pass that covers both areas. The Shinkansen conveniently drops you off at the main Kyoto / Osaka station and from there you’ll be able to take local trains to wherever you need to go.
As with most cities in Japan, Kyoto’s public transport is top-notch. You can easily use Google Maps to chart out how to get from point A to point B with public transport in Kyoto. We mostly use Bus to get from one place to another. We only need to take JR Train to get to Arashiyama.
Where to Stay in kyoto
More than the pricey hotel rates, the biggest challenge in booking hotels in Kyoto for Cherry Blossom season or autumn travel is the limited availability of accommodations. Hotels in Kyoto sell like hot cakes for peak season travel. It’s no surprise that 85% of hotel availability for April cherry blossoms period are already booked out by January. Same goes for autumn period travel wherein Kyoto hotels get fully booked out very far in advance. So book your accommodation in Kyoto at least 4 to 5 months ahead if you want to secure your rooms for peak season travel. Many people chose to base in Osaka and take the train to Kyoto. The train only takes 30 minutes and only 15 minutes with Shinkansen (which you can take if you purchase a JR pass).
To avoid surprises, it is very important for you to know the room configuration before you book your accommodation in Kyoto.
- Double Room – Usually ranges between 15 to 18 sqm with one double size bed. One side of the bed is pushed against the wall. Double rooms are best for couples or for those who are in a budget.
- Twin Room – Usually ranges between 18 to 25 sqm for mid range hotels and between 28 sqm to 40 sqm for luxury hotels. Twin rooms are best for families or for those who value space.
- Japanese Style Room – You can find these rooms mostly in ryokans (Japanese Style Inns) but some hotels also offer Japanese style room as one of their room choices. You sleep on futon beds on the floor. Furniture is very minimalistic. These are best for those who want a deeper cultural experience in Japan.
We stayed in Fujitaya BnB for our 3 days in Kyoto. It has a high rating in Trip Advisot and their staffs are very friendly and speak good english. The BnB offer breakfast and they have a kitchen for guest to prepare their meals and also provide day excursion for a fee. The only downside is they do not have ensuite bathrooms but they have plenty of bathrooms and they’re all clean and I almost never queue for one.
Top Attraction to do on Day 1
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
On the outskirts of the city, strolling through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the best things to do in Kyoto that most people have heard of. Although the area is outside the city centre itself, it’s really easy to get to. Take the JR train to Arashiyama Station. The train takes 30 minutes from Central Kyoto and from there we walked to Arashiyama. We entered from Tenryu-ji Temple and walk thru their pretty garden filled with Cherry blossom trees until we reached the entrance for Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
These dense paths weave through this landscape and it’s a veritable forest of bamboo, green and ethereal, that goes on endlessly around you. It’s well worth an afternoon wander in this gorgeous area.
Kinkaku-ji Temple is a firm favourite if you love temples and at least on the top two floors are covered in gold leaf, which glistens so beautifully under the sun. The temple is located a little north of the city and right on the banks of tranquil Mirror Lake (which is gorgeous in itself). Make sure you visit the White Snake Pagoda, too – it’s well worth seeing. There is a bus going to the temple from Arashiyama but we took a Taxi so we can get there faster.
Like most places in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji Temple is not stroller friendly. There are stairs along the pathway so we had to carry the stroller and get Alyssa to walk. The pathway ends at the souvenir stalls and food stall area.
Take a Walk along the Path of Philosophy
Tetsugaku no Michi, aka Philosopher’s path is a beautiful serene path along the canal that takes you from near the old streets of Kyoto to Ginkaku-ji. The path gained its name from Kitaro Nishida, a famous philosopher from Kyoto, who would take this path as a way to meditate. The path is beautifully lined with beautiful cherry blossom trees, so you definitely want to be here during Sakura season! However, it is also still a good place to visit even if it’s not Sakura season.
We started the walk from Keiage incline, to Nanzenji, then taking our way up to philosopher path before ending up at Ginkaku-ji.