Kyōto (京都)  was the capital of Japan for over a millennium, and carries a reputation as its most beautiful city. However, visitors may be surprised by how much work they will have to do to see Kyoto's beautiful side. Most first impressions of the city will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station, which is itself an example of a city steeped in tradition colliding with the modern world.
Nonetheless, the persistent visitor will soon discover Kyoto's hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city center, and find that the city has much more to offer than immediately meets the eye.
Though dwarfed in size by other major Japanese cities, Kyoto is vast in terms of its rich cultural heritage - the material endowment of over a thousand years as the country's imperial capital. The city's numerous palaces, shrines, temples and other landmarks are spread out over the following districts:
Nestled among the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the Emperor from 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. During its millennium at the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion, it accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, and monks. Kyoto was among the few Japanese cities that escaped the allied bombings of World War II and as a result, Kyoto still has an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. However the city is continuously undergoing modernization with some of the traditional Kyoto buildings being replaced by newer architecture, such as the Kyoto Station complex.
Kyoto's city planners way back in 794 decided to copy the Chinese capital Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) and adopt a grid pattern, which persists to this day in the city core. West-east streets are numbered, with Ichijō-dōri (一条通, "First Street") up north and Jūjō-dōri (十条通, "Tenth Street") down south, but there is no obvious pattern to the names of north-south streets.
Overseas travelers can fly into Kansai International Airport and then get a train to Kyoto. Kansai Airport Station is located opposite the arrival lobby where the Japanese Rail (JR) West Haruka Kansai Airport Limited Express Train can be caught. The best and fastest way to get to Kyoto from the airport is to buy a one-day JR West Kansai Area Pass and take the Haruka Limited Express (non-reserved tickets only). The Haruka Limited Express takes about 77 minutes, with trains leaving every 30-60 minutes. The pass is for foreigners only and costs ¥2,000, which is ¥980 less than a regular Haruka Limited Express ticket from the airport to Kyoto. You will need to show your passport, as well as a copy of your foreign-bound return flight, when purchasing a ticket.
Comfortable limousine buses run from the airport to Kyoto Station, twice an hour, stopping at some of the major hotels along the way. The ticket costs ¥2,500 (children ¥1,250) one-way or ¥4,000 for round-trip. Bus tickets can be purchased outside of the airport's arrival lobby on the first floor. (just go straight when you leave customs through the "North gate"). The buses leave from bus stop #8, which is located directly opposite the ticket vending machine. The ride takes 88 minutes but can take longer when there is traffic (about 90 – 135 minutes).
Located near Osaka, Itami Airport is Kansai's largest domestic airport. Travelers flying into Kyoto from other areas in Japan will most likely arrive here. The easiest way to get to Kyoto from Itami Airport is by limousine bus. The trip takes about an hour and costs just under ¥1,300. The buses run three times an hour. Alternatively, you can take a combination of monorail and train, which requires at least two changes (monorail to Hotarugaike, Hankyu Takarazuka Line to Juso, Hankyu Kyoto Line to Kyoto) but costs just ¥650 and can be completed in an hour. Whereas the Limousine Bus will leave you at Kyoto Station in the southern part of Kyoto, the Hankyu Railway runs to Shijō Street in central Kyoto.
Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Nozomi trains take approximately 2.15 hrs. to Kyoto and costs ¥13520 one-way. Travel agencies in Tokyo and Kyoto sell nozomi tickets with ¥700-1,000 discount. If you buy a ticket in an agency, it is "open date" - you can board any train as long as it is not full. All you have to do is show up at the train station, register your agency ticket and then you will be reserved a seat. The trains are equipped with vending machines and attendants selling snacks. Hikari trains, which run less frequently and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2.45 hours, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge.
Travelers can also take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket , which offers a discount on the all-stopping Kodama services if purchased at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥9800 yen and takes 3.45 hours. Note that there is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.
During travel periods when the Seishun 18 Ticket is valid, you can go from Tokyo to Kyoto during the day in about 8.30 hours using all-local trains. Traveling in a group is the best way to get discounts. The usual fare is ¥8000 however a party of three costs ¥3800 per person, and a group of five traveling together drops the price down to ¥2300 per person.
For travel in the Kansai region, a cheaper and almost as fast alternative is the JR shinkaisoku (新快速) rapid service, which connects to Osaka, Kobe and Himeji at the price of a local train. For a slightly cheaper price you can use the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka and Kobe, or the Kintetsu line to Nara. The Kansai Thru Pass includes travel on the private lines through to Kyoto, and this may prove cheaper that a JR Pass if you are staying a few days in the area.
Overnight by train
Direct overnight train service between Tokyo and Kyoto on a daily basis was abolished with the discontinuation of the Ginga express train in 2008. Such a journey by rail is still possible, however, by taking a route via northern Japan. This requires a change of trains and a large sum of money. As a result, this may be of interest to Japan Rail Pass holders.
From Tokyo Station, take the final Joetsu Shinkansen departure towards Niigata, and change at Nagaoka (長岡) station for the Kitaguni (きたぐに) express train to Kyoto. The Kitaguni has unreserved standard class seating, reserved green car seating, and couchettes; all seating is non-smoking.
If you use the Shinkansen and an unreserved seat on the Kitaguni, the rail pass fully covers the trip, which takes about nine hours in each direction. Ordinary pass holders who wish to upgrade to the green seat on the Kitaguni can pay ¥5150; Green Car pass holders can use the Green Cars at no charge. Using a couchette on the Kitaguni will incur a surcharge, regardless of rail pass type.
As of November 2009, Max Toki (とき) #353 departs Tokyo Station at 21:40 and arrives in Nagaoka at 23:26. This connects to the Kitaguni, leaving Nagaoka at 23:53 and arriving in Kyoto at 6:16. The return Kitaguni leaves Kyoto just past midnight (0:02) and arrives in Nagaoka at 7:14. The bullet train connection is on Toki #304, which leaves Nagaoka at 7:23 and arrives in Tokyo at 9:12.
During high-peak travel periods, there is also the option of taking the Noto (能登) express from Ueno Station to Kanazawa, changing there to a morning Thunderbird (サンダーバード) train to Kyoto; you will need to check the timetables to see when the Noto runs.
While the northern Japan train route can prove to be a good value, depending on how you use your rail pass, remember that the rail pass is also valid for JR buses operating between Tokyo and Kyoto (see 'By Bus').
Overnight by train with rest stop
As a Rail Pass holder, you may also choose to simply split up your journey, stopping at an intermediate destination en-route in order to sleep somewhere, and the cost incurred will only be for the hotel room. This is also a good way to travel overnight, especially if you are able to find cheap accomodations, such as a business hotel. Yes, it may be a little hectic, and it might require some research, but this method carries two significant advantages: location and money. You will more than likely find good accomodations very close to a main train station in a smaller city, compared to a big city such as Tokyo, and it will more than likely be cheaper than hotels found in Tokyo. You could use the money you save to forward some of your luggage to Kyoto using a luggage delivery service and take an overnight bag with you, which will make the journey easier.
For example, you can use the Tokaido Shinkansen late at night and sleep over at a hotel in Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi or Nagoya; In the morning, grab one of the first bullet train departures in the same direction to continue your trip. As of December 2009, here is one way you could go about this: at 10 PM, take the Hikari train for a 75-minute ride to Hamamatsu. Once there you can take a rest at Hamamatsu's Toyoko Inn, which costs ¥6000 for a single room. At 6:30 the next morning, board the first bullet train of the day, a Kodama, and you will be in Kyoto before 8:00.
Kyoto is easily reached by car via the Meishin Expressway between Nagoya and Osaka, but you'll definitely want to park your car on the outskirts of the city and use public transport to get around. Most attractions are in places built well before the existence of automobiles, and the availability of parking varies between extremely limited and non-existent. Furthermore, what little parking is available might be outrageously expensive.
As Kyoto is a major city, there are many day and overnight buses which run between Kyoto and other locations throughout Japan, which can be a cheaper alternative than shinkansen fares.
The JR Bus Group (Japanese Website) is a major operator of the routes from the Tokyo area to Kansai. Buses operate via the Tomei Expressway (to/from Tokyo Station) or the Chuo Expressway (to/from Shinjuku Station).
Other bus companies offer trips between Tokyo and Kyoto, but it should be pointed out that seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Moreover, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on ALL JR buses operating from the Tokyo area to Kyoto. (Note that the pass is NOT valid on buses to/from Yokohama.)
From Tokyo, buses run to and from Kyoto in approximately eight hours. Major bus locations are as follows:
Many daytime buses that run through Kyoto, traveling to/from Osaka, stop instead at the Kyoto Fukakusa Bus Stop on the Meishin Expressway. Fujinomori Station on the Keihan Railway is a 10-minute walk from Fukakusa, while Takeda Station on the Kintetsu Railway and the Kyoto Subway is 15 minutes away; all can be used to reach the main city. A local city bus also runs to Kyoto station from the nearby Youth Science Center 1-2 times per hour.
All buses that run from Tokyo to Kyoto are double-decker buses and can be classified under the following three categories, in order of price:
The following services are available: (Current as of November, 2010)
Daytime buses from Tokyo
One daily bus from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Fukakusa via the Tomei Expressway. The bus from Tokyo to Fukakusa leaves at 9:40, and the bus from Fukakusa to Tokyo leaves at 11:03. ¥4200 each way. Additional departures on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
There is only one round-trip daytime bus to Kyoto Station from Tokyo Station (7:10) and Shinjuku Station (7:50), operating via the Tomei Expressway. The return trip from Kyoto Station leaves at 8:20.
Other daytime buses stop at Kyoto Fukakusa. Three trips from Tokyo Station at 8:10 via the Chuo, 12:10 via the Chuo and 13:10 via the Tomei with a pickup in Shinjuku 40 minutes later. Three returns from Fukakusa at 9:03 via the Chuo, 13:03 via the Chuo and 14:03 via the Tomei discharging at Shinjuku en-route. Fujinomori Station on the Keihan Railway is a 10-minute walk from Fukakusa, while Takeda Station on the Kintetsu Railway and the Kyoto Subway is 15 minutes away; all can be used to reach the main city. A local city bus also runs to Kyoto station from the nearby Youth Science Center.
All of the daytime buses from Tokyo cost ¥6000 each way and ¥5000 if purchased 5 days in advance on most Monday-Thursday departures. Additional buses run on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
A daytime bus also departs for Fukakusa from Yokohama Station at 8:55. The trip from Fukakusa to Yokohama leaves at 11:43. ¥5700 each way.
Two daily departures on the Tomei from Tokyo Station to Kyoto. One bus leaves Tokyo for Kyoto Station at 10:10; the return leaves Kyoto Station at 10:20. One bus leaves Tokyo for Kyoto Fukakusa at 11:10, with a bus returning from Fukakusa to Tokyo at 12:03. First floor ¥7300 each way, second floor ¥6000-6200 each way; ¥5000 if purchased 5 days in advance on most Monday-Thursday departures.
Nighttime buses from Tokyo
The nighttime bus service from Tokyo to Kansai is called Dream. This route name has several variants.
The seishun buses cost ¥5000 each way and ¥4500 if purchased 5 days in advance on most Monday-Thursday departures. Additional buses run on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
For the Dream and Ladies Dream: ¥6700 each way for most Monday-Thursday departures and ¥8100 each way for Friday, weekend and holiday departures. Discounts of between ¥1000 and ¥2200 with advance purchase for most journeys. Additional buses run on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
First floor ¥9400-10000 each way, second floor ¥8100-8300; ¥1000 discount for second floor seating if purchased 5 days in advance for most departures.
Other bus operators
Another bus provider on the Tokyo-Kyoto route is Willer Express , which is recognizable by its pink-colored buses. An advantage over the JR Buses is that Willer Express offers bus descriptions and booking services in English. However, many services from this company do not allow you to carry large luggage (e.g. suitcases) with you. It is best to confirm with the company whether or not there will be space for luggage before making your booking. In addition, some services do not offer on-board toilets. Along with Tokyo, Willer Express also offers buses to/from Okayama, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.
The sheer size of the city of Kyoto, and the distribution of tourist attractions around the periphery of the city, make the city's public transport system invaluable.
One of the easiest ways to plan a route is through Hyperdia  or Kurage . These websites contain station-to-station route plans, which reference public and private trains and subways as well as buses throughout Japan.
If you are planning to travel beyond city limits you might consider using the tickets from Surutto Kansai. For use in west Japan, including Kyoto, there are some other useful tickets: a rechargeable smart card, ICOCA, can be used on rail, subway and bus networks in the Kansai area and also Okayama, Hiroshima, Nagoya (Kintetsu trains) and Tokyo (JR East trains). These cards are available at vending machines at these rail stations, and cost 2000 yen, which includes a ¥ 500 deposit that will be refunded when the card is returned at JR West Station. For use in Kyoto only there are some other useful tickets:
Check the Kyoto City Webpage  for more information on how to use these cards.
Kyoto is criss-crossed by several train lines, all of which are clearly sign-posted in English. Although the lines are run independently and prices vary slightly between them, transfers can be purchased at most of the ticket machines. The Keihan train line can be useful for traveling in eastern Kyoto, while the two Keifuku tram lines are an attractive way of traveling in the northwest. Across the street from the northern terminus of the Keihan Line is the Eidan Eizan line, which runs to Mount Hiei and Kurama. The Hankyu Line starts at Shijo-Kawaramachi downtown, and connects to the Karasuma Line one stop later at Karasuma. It's useful for reaching Arashiyama and the Katsura Rikyu; it runs all the way to Osaka and Kobe. JR lines run from Kyoto station to the northwest (JR Sagano line), to the southwest (JR Kyoto line) and to the southeast (JR Nara line). There are local and express trains so check if they stop at your station before you get on.
There are two subway lines  which only serve a rather small part of the city. The north-south running Karasuma Line runs under Kyoto Station, and the west-east running Tozai Line links up with it near the city center. Both are useful for travel in the city center but not really suitable for temple-hopping. The Tozai Line does connect with the Keihan Line, however, which runs parallel to the Kamo-gawa, and is convenient for reaching Gion and southern Kyoto; it also gets you within a short walk of many of the sights in eastern Kyoto.
A one-day pass for the subway costs ¥ 600.
The bus network is the only practical way of reaching some attractions, particularly those in north-western Kyoto. Confusingly, there are two different bus companies in Kyoto, which occasionally even have overlapping line numbers. Green-and-white Kyoto City Buses (市バス shi-basu) travel within the city, and are the most useful for visitors; unless otherwise noted, all buses listed in this guide are city buses. Red-and-white Kyoto Buses  travel to the suburbs and are generally much less useful.
Many buses depart from Kyoto Station, but there are well-served bus stations closer to the city center at Sanjo-Kawabata just outside the Sanjo Keihan subway line, and in the northern part of the city at the Kitaoji subway station. Most city buses have a fixed fare of ¥220, but you can also purchase a one day pass (¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children under 12) with which you can ride an unlimited number of times within a one day period. The day passes can be bought from the bus drivers or from the bus information center just outside Kyoto Station. This is especially useful if you plan on visiting many different points of interest within Kyoto. You can also buy a combined unlimited subway and bus pass for ¥1200.
Unlike most Japanese buses, Kyoto City Buses have announcements and electronic signs in English. The municipal transport company publishes a very useful leaflet called Bus Navi . It contains a route map for the bus lines to most sights and fare information. You can pick it up at the information center in front of the main station.
Particularly in spring and fall, but at any time of year, getting around by bicycle is an excellent option. Cycling forms a major form of personal transport year-round for locals. The city's grid layout makes navigation easy. You can rent bicycles in many places in Japan for a reasonable price. During the peak tourist seasons, when roads are busy and buses tend to be crammed beyond capacity, bicycles are probably the best way to navigate Kyoto.
Kyoto's wide, straight roads make for heavy traffic in many parts of the city, but it is possible to find back alleys that are quieter and offer better chances to happen upon all sorts of sightseeing/cultural gems. Riding on major roads is OK, especially if you are confident and used to riding with traffic on the road, rather than on the sidewalk and especially again if you are used to riding/driving on the LEFT-HAND side of the road.
Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.
Japan National Tourist Organization's self-guided "Kyoto Walks" pamphlet is available in a ready to print PDF format here. The guide enables first time visitors to tour the city with ease and with minimum fuss by providing bus numbers, names of bus stops and clearly marked walking routes. There are a variety of self-guided walks in different districts to sample Kyoto's various sites. If you see the browser's dialog box popping up, just click on it till the entire PDF document opens.
World Heritage Sites
In 1994, 17 historic sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List under the group designation Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Fourteen of the listed sites are in Kyoto itself, two are in the neighbouring city of Uji and one is in Ōtsu.
Listed by location, the fourteen World Heritage Sites in the city of Kyoto are:
Imperial Palaces and Villas
Stroll through the regal retreats of the Imperial Palace or one of the two Imperial villas with gardens and teahouses managed by the Imperial Household Agency. These are the Imperial Palace (京都御所 Kyōto-gosho) and Sentō Imperial Palace (仙洞御所 Sentō-gosho) in Central Kyoto, Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮 Katsura-rikyū) in Western Kyoto, and Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮 Shugaku-in-rikyū) in Northern Kyoto. All four of these sites are open to the public by reservation through the Imperial Household Agency. The gardens located within the precints of each palace and villa are at their most scenic during spring cherry blossom season and autumn where a riot of colors enchant visitors. Each property is still used from time for official state functions or for private visits by the current royal family members.
The Imperial Household Agency maintains a quota on the number of visitors to each site per tour. Admission is free. English guides are available at the Imperial Palace; however, tours of the Sento Imperial Palace, Katsura Villa, and Shugakuin Villa are conducted in Japanese only (English pamphlets are given at each destination upon entry and books are available for purchase if you'd like to know more). Overseas visitors can apply online to the Imperial Household Agency in English here . On its website are write ups and videos in English for interested visitors to gauge which ones they would like to visit before making an online application. Please note that advanced applications first become available on the first day of the month, three months in advance of the applicant's preferred touring month. For example, if your preferred date of visit falls in the month of April, you can begin applying on January 1. As these visits are over subscribed by the Japanese and overseas visitors, the Imperial Household Agency has to draw lots to pick the successful applicants. All applicants are notified on the status of their applications whether they are successful or otherwise within a week after closing date. Most applicants to the Imperial Palace are accepted, and early reservation is not usually necessary; however, those planning to visit the Sentō Imperial Palace, or either of the Imperial Villas should apply on the first available day of application as they are highly competitive and entire months of tours often become full within the first few days. Winter tours are typically much less competitive, but be aware that the gardens will not be as beautiful as other times of the year.
If an applicant is not successful, they can still go direct in person to the Imperial Household Agency Kyoto Office to enquire whether there are vacancies, as they typically save a few spots for walk-ins. Many people are able to do this successfully for the Imperial Palace, but it can be more of a risk for the others, so go early. Address: Imperial household Agency Kyoto Office, 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, 602-8611, tel: +81-75-211-1215.
Well-known for its abundance of historical sites, Kyoto often draws visitors eager to experience traditional Japanese culture. Buddhist meditation sessions are one of the most popular of these activities, and multiple options are available. In Northern Kyoto, Taizo-in and Shunko-in (both sub-temples of Myoshin-ji) offer authentic Zen meditation sessions, complete with explanations of the meaning and significance of such meditation. Reservations are necessary.
Kyoto is arguably the most well known place in the country to view cherry blossoms, and there are certainly no lack of options. On the Official Top 100 cherry blossom spots list, three are in Kyoto (Arashiyama, Daigoji, Ninnaji).
Eastern Kyoto is particularly popular during the cherry blossom season. A walk from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji along the Philosopher's Path, lined with cherry trees, is enjoyable, as there are a variety of temples and shrines to stop at along the way. The garden of the Heian Shrine, not far from the Philosopher's Path, features colorful pink blossoms, which is a nice contrast to the white blossoms you'll see on the Philosopher's Path. The famous cherry tree in Maruyama Park is often the center of attention in the evenings when it is lit up. Vendors line the pathway leading up to it, creating a festive atmosphere. Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji have extended hours during the first few days of this season offering visitors the opportunity to view them at night, lit up against the blossoms. Blossoms can also be seen along the Kamogawa River. The entire area literally blossoms in the spring!
In Central Kyoto the northern section of the Imperial Park is home to a variety of different types of cherry blossoms. Nijo Castle hosts its own Nijo Light-Up, in which visitors can walk the grounds of the castle at night among the cherry blossoms (typically for 10-14 days). You cannot enter the castle during the light-up, so those who want to enter should visit during the day to see the castle and the blossoms. Just south of Kyoto station, the grounds of Toji Temple bloom beautifully below the towering pagoda.
In Arashiyama, a large portion of the mountainside is bright with cherry blossoms, along with the area around Hankyu Arashiyama Station. During the day, many people enjoy viewing the blossoms on the mountainside from the "Romantic Train" that travels through Arashiyama. At night, the area is lit up and food stalls are set up with a variety of delicious snacks.
Northern Kyoto offers cherry-blossom scouts worthwhile experiences at Hirano Shrine and Kyoto Botanical Gardens, and a walk inside the large grounds of Daigo-ji in Southern Kyoto is certainly made memorable when all the blossoms are in full bloom.
Although they are less well-known to foreign tourists, who tend only to focus their attentions on seeing cherry blosssoms, for those with plans to visit Kyoto from mid-February through mid-March, plum blossom viewing makes for a great alternative. Kyoto has two popular plum blossom locations; Kitano Tenmangu and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, both in northern Kyoto. Kitano Tenmangu has a large grove of plum trees just outside the shrine entrance that, with a ¥600 fee, you can stroll about. Within the shrine grounds, there are many more trees (viewable for free). The shrine even hosts annual performances by geisha amidst the plum blossoms.
Festivals and Events
There is a walking tour called "Walk in Kyoto, Talk in English" (16/over ¥2000; 13-15 ¥1000; under 13 free; no reservations, cash only). The tour is given by Hajime Hirooka, better known to the tourists as Johnny Hillwalker. During the five-hour English-speaking tour, Hillwalker shows tourists a large Buddhist temple, a few Shinto shrines and "workshops" (some are just shops) in the back alleys of the city. However, the tour won't take you to the World Heritage Sites nor give you a good overview of the city. The tour operates rain or shine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between March and November, excluding public holidays. Departure time is 10:15 AM sharp outside the main (north) entrance of Kyoto station. See Johnnie's Kyoto Walking for more information.
There is a nice selection of reassuringly non-tacky traditional souvenir shops around Arashiyama station in Western Kyoto, selling fans and traditional sweets. More tacky stores can be found in Gion and the approach to Kiyomizu Temple, selling keyrings, cuddly toys, and garish ornaments. Other traditional souvenirs from Kyoto include parasols and carved wooden dolls.
If you are looking for something practical but cool to take home as a remembrance of your Kyoto trip, there is a very interesting t-shirt shop on Shijo street in Gion (called "Green-T") opposite the Gion Starbucks and Gion Hotel. Look out for the funky mannequin on the street displaying some of their wares. In case it is not there go to http://www.green-t.com/ and look for directions as the shop itself is located in the inner of a building (no sign on the street).
More unconventional but colorful (and relatively cheap) souvenirs are the wooden votive tablets produced by Shinto shrines, which bear an image relevant to the shrine on the reverse. Visitors write their prayers on the tablets and hang them up, but there's no rule that says you can't take it with you.
Manga and anime enthusiasts should visit Teramachi Street, a covered shopping street off the main Shijo-dori, which boasts a large manga store on two floors, as well as a two-story branch of Gamers (a chain of anime stores), and a small two-story anime and collectables store.
Many ATMs in Kyoto do not allow non-domestic credit cards to be used, but ATMs in post offices and Seven-Eleven usually do. So if you find your card rejected or invalid in an ATM then try and get to a post office (郵便局 / yuubinkyoku or JP (in orange letters)) to use their ATMs instead. Look for the PLUS or Cirrus logos, whichever you find printed on the back of your ATM card. Another option is Citibank, which should work, too. There is an old standby international ATM at the top floor of Takashimaya Department Store at Shijo/Kawaramachi in the "Cash Corner." The bank of ATMs in the basement of the Kyoto Tower shopping center (across the street from JR Kyoto Station) also includes one machine where international cards may be used.
In the shopping areas adjacent to Kiyomizudera (on the other side of the Kamo River), it is possible to purchase samurai swords and top of the line kimonos. Do not be surprised if the prices for either item exceed ¥3,000,000.
Kyoto incense is also famous. It usually has a very delicate yet fragrant bouquet. Incense is relatively agreeable in price (¥400-2000). You will be able to find it between Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji.
Damascene, a special metal created by imbedding other metals, originated in Damascus, Syria over 2000 years ago and was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century. Since then, it has ceased production worldwide with the exception of Kyoto city, which continues producing it even today. The technique used to create Kyoto's damascene is quite complex, as it must be corroded, rusted, and boiled in tea, along with inlaying many layers of metal to produce the final product. Today, visitors can purchase a variety of jewelry, as well as vases, tea utensils, lighters, and other accessories made using this technique.
If you've just stepped off the train and the first thing on your mind is a bite to eat, there are several restaurants on the tenth and eleventh floors of the Isetan department store attached to Kyoto station. Most of the offerings are Japanese, including a veritable Ramen village, with a few casual Italian cafes as well.
Kyoto, and the nearby city of Uji, is well known for its matcha(抹茶 maccha) or green tea, but visitors don't just come to drink the tea; there are a wide variety of matcha-flavored treats. Matcha ice cream is particularly popular, and most places selling ice cream will have it as an option. It also shows up in a variety of snacks and gifts.
Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋) is another delicious Kyoto snack. There are two types of yatsuhashi; baked and raw. The hard yatsuhashi was originally made using cinnamon, and tastes like a crunchy biscuit. Today, while the biscuits remain the same, you can also buy hard yatsuhashi dipped in macha and strawberry-flavored glazes.
Raw yatsuhashi, also known as hijiri was also made with cinnamon, but the cinnamon is mixed with bean paste and then folded into the hijiri to make a triangle-shape. Today, you can buy a wide variety of flavors, including macha, chocolate and banana, and black poppyseed. Many of the flavors are seasonal, such as the sakura (cherry blossom) yatsuhashi available in the spring and mango, peach, blueberry, and strawberry, available from May to October.
Although yatsuhashi can be purchased at most souvenir shops, the best place to purchase raw yatsuhashi is the famous Honkenishio Yatsuhashi. While other stores may carry yatsuhashi, this is the place to find all of the seasonal flavors, as well as free samples. Most of these shops are located in Higashiyama. The most convenient for tourists is probably the one on Kiyomizu-zaka, just below the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera.
While many tourists find raw yatsuhashi to be a delicious (and highly affordable) souvenir, be aware that it only lasts for one week after purchase. Baked yatsuhashi on the other hand, will last for about three months. Consider this when deciding what gifts to take home with you.
Other Kyoto specialities include hamo (a white fish served with ume as sushi), tofu (try places around Nanzenji temple), suppon (an expensive turtle dish), vegetarian dishes (thanks to the abundance of temples), and kaiseki-ryori (multi-course chef's choice that can be extremely expensive).
Kyoto's night scene is dominated by bars catering for local needs, most of which are located in Central Kyoto around Kiyamachi, between Shijo and Sanjo. This area offers a wide variety of drinking options for all types of people. You'll also have no trouble finding the host and hostess bars, courtesy of the staff pacing around out front trying to entice visitors. There are plenty of options beyond this street in other regions, but with such a large concentration of bars along in the same area, its easy to locate a place where you feel most at home to relax for the night.
If you're looking for nightclubs, Kyoto has a few options, but it is not a city known for its thriving dance clubs. Those hoping to experience that part of Japanese nightlife should consider taking a train to Osaka where many of the clubs are hip and wild enough to rival any Tokyo club.
Some of Kyoto's most famous sake comes from Gekkeikan Brewery in the Fushimi area of Southern Kyoto. A 400 year old brewery that still produces great sake, Gekkeikan offers tours of its facilities.
Kyoto has a wide range of accommodation, much of it geared towards foreign visitors. During peak seasons, such as the cherry blossoms in April or during Golden Week when accommodation is difficult to get, consider staying in Osaka. A thirty minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station will cost you ¥540 one way. Since Kyoto is a major tourist destination, demand is high and prices follow suit.
Most of the lodging in the city is clustered near the central city, especially around Kyoto Station and the downtown area near Karasuma-Oike. The outer areas have a scattering of their own, tending towards inexpensive but often much further from train or subway stations.
At the bottom of the price scale, many temples in Kyoto own and run their own lodging complex known as shukubō (宿坊), usually located on or near temple grounds. Guests are often invited to participate in morning prayer service (otsutome) held at the temple. Unfortunately, most temple lodgings do not have English-speaking receptions, and curfews and check-in/out times tend to be strict. Most are located in the northern region of the city.
Hostels are common and popular with students. Inexpensive hotels lack amenities but compensate with prices surprisingly low for Japan; both can be found in all regions of the city, and may be the only options available if you need to stay in an outlying ward.
The majority of self-named ryokan in this range are actually minshuku. Most are small family-run operations and accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Be prepared to pay for the full stay in advance.
As in other Japanese cities, internet cafes and capsule hotels are available for those truly on the cheap. Expect to pay around ¥2000 for a night's stay in an internet cafe. You get a computer, a comfortable chair, and all the tea and hot chocolate you want.
The boundary between budget and midrange is often unclear, particularly among ryokan. Hotels in this category are concentrated in Central Kyoto, serving the business market with the typical amenities and close proximity to transportation.
Split between the downtown and Higashiyama areas on each side of the Kamogawa River, these top-of-the-line lodgings can make your airfare look cheap. Western-style hotels dominate in this category; unlike the midrange options, very few of the high end ryokan can be booked without a fluent command of Japanese.