Kyoto (京都) was the capital of Japan for over a millennium, and carries a reputation as its most beautiful city and the nation's cultural capital. 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 mixing 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. There are over 2000 temples and shrines in the city, and nobody sees it all in one visit (or two, or three...) - nor should you even try. It would take months if not years to see all that Kyoto has to offer, and many places are especially beautiful during certain seasons, like the plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, etc. These give very different impressions and appearances, and you can visit Kyoto again and again, yet still be amazed to see something new.
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.
Kyoto does not have its own airport, but rather is served by Osaka's two airports. There is an excellent road and railway network between the two cities.
Overseas travelers can fly into Kansai International Airport (KIX) 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. The Haruka Limited Express takes about 77 minutes, with trains leaving every 30-60 minutes. The pass is for foreigners only and costs ¥2400, which is ¥500 less than a regular unreserved seat 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.
Another option that JR started to offer is the Icoca and Haruka Discount Ticket which includes travel on the Haruka to Kyoto and any JR station within a designated "Free Zone" and a rechargeable Icoca IC card containing ¥2000 (includes ¥500 deposit) that can be used on JR, private railways, buses and stores in the Kansai region. A one-way discount ticket costs ¥1600 and a round-trip costs ¥3200.
Both of the above tickets can be purchased online or at the Kansai Airport train station. Be aware that if you purchase the Kansai Area Pass in Japan, you are limited to one purchase only during your Japan visit. There is no limit to the number of passes bought before departure to Japan or online, however.
Those planning on taking side trips to other locations like Okayama, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Amanohashidate, Takamatsu, etc in addition to seeing Kyoto may find significant savings in other JR West regional rail passes. Bear in mind however that while many allow taking the bullet trains (and unlike the full JR Rail Pass, you can take the Nozomi trains with them), you cannot use them on bullet trains between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto Station - you must use a Limited Express train like the Haruka or Thunderbird for that portion instead. Like the Kansai Area Pass, before your departure to Japan you can purchase any number of vouchers for the JR West passes, but once in Japan you are limited to just one purchase for each pass per visit.
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 ¥2500 (children ¥1250) one-way or ¥4000 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 No. 15. The trip takes about an hour and costs ¥1280. 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 2¼ hrs. to Kyoto and costs ¥13320 one way (adult unreserved seat). 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 (1-2 times/hr) and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2½ hours, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge. Normally, avoiding the Kodama trains would be prudent since they take an additional hour.
If you are certain of your travel times, you can also get a cheaper ticket through the Hayatoku Fares purchased through JR Central's SmartEX app.
Another option for those going from Tokyo to Kansai and back within 7 days is the JR Flex Rail Ticket, which is cheaper than the 7-day JR Rail Pass, and you can take the Nozomi trains with it, getting you there 30 minutes sooner.
For those who are thinking of seeing Kanazawa en route between Tokyo and Kyoto, there is the Hokuriku Arch Pass. While it is cheaper than the 7 day JR Pass, the drawback is that you must return by way of the Hokuriku route (not the Tokaido route), which will cost you a couple of hours extra.
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 (the drink must be retrieved at a kiosk before departure). With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥10,700 and takes 3¾ 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 8½ hours using local and express 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. This method is extremely slow however, and not recommended unless you have a huge abundance of time.
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.
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 well as fuel and expressway charges.
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, though taking 3-4 times longer.
The run between Tokyo and the Kansai region is the busiest in Japan, and fierce competition between bus operators has resulted in better amenities and lower prices. Buses from Tokyo follow either the Tomei Expressway or the Chuo Expressway to Nagoya, then the Meishin Expressway to Kyoto. Trips take approximately 7-9 hours depending on the route and stops.
The following are among the major bus services available between Tokyo and Kyoto:
Discount bus operator Willer Express  runs daytime and overnight buses with a variety of seating options ranging from standard bus seats to luxurious shell seats. Bus journeys can be booked online in English, and Willer's Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions.
Buses from Tokyo leave from Willer's own bus terminal, located west of Shinjuku Station in the Sumitomo Building. Some buses also leave from Tokyo Disneyland - Goofy Car Park, Tokyo Station - Yaesu-Chuo Exit, Shinagawa Station - Shinagawa Prince Hotel and Yokohama Station. In Kyoto, Willer Express uses the Hachijo Exit (八条口) at the south side of Kyoto Station, with some routes also stopping in front of the Kiyomizu-Gojo post office.
Willer's overnight one-way fares to/from Tokyo start from approximately ¥3800 for overnight trips in standard seats up to ¥9800 in shell seats with advanced purchase. Daytime bus fares start from ¥4900. Fares are typically higher on weekends and holidays.
JR Bus is also a major operator on the Tokyo-Kyoto route, and you can make reservations in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains.
JR Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and the JR Highway Bus Terminal (JR高速バスターミナル) located adjacent to Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line (one stop south of Shinjuku). In Kyoto, buses congregate at the Karasuma Exit (烏丸口) at the north side of Kyoto Station.
Travel within Kyoto can look complicated and to a point it is. The city is served by multiple rail companies, including the Kyoto City subway, Hankyu, Kintetsu, Keihan, Eizan, Randen, and city buses. There are great sights to see in every corner of the city, and no one single company can take you to all of them. In addition there are some bicycle rentals, and taxis are ubiquitous.
One of the easiest ways to plan a route is through Hyperdia or Japan Transit Planner. These websites contain station-to-station route plans, which reference public and private trains and subways as well as buses throughout Japan. It is also easy for Japan Rail Pass users to exclude all Nozomi trains from their searches.
If you are planning to travel to other cities in Kansai, you might consider using one of the many regional passes. However, it usually requires extensive travel on them to make them pay off, either by using them to travel to their furthest areas of coverage (KIX, Koyasan, Himeji, etc), or a lot of use in a local area. It is important to remember that the rail passes are not guaranteed money savers. While you could reap substantial savings with them, if you travel too little or too slowly you could lose money on a rail pass as well. Two main passes that blanket the region are the Kansai Thru Pass (a.k.a. Surutto Kansai) and JR West's Kansai Area Pass or Kansai Wide Area Pass. The Kansai Thru Pass is one of the more versatile passes available since you can use it on just about every private rail line and subway in the coverage area (NB: JR is not covered). Meanwhile, the JR West Kansai Area Pass only covers JR trains as well as the JR bus from Kyoto Stn to Takao. (The one day pass however includes a 1 day pass for the Kyoto subway, Keihan, and Hankyu trains).
For use in Kyoto only there are some other useful passes:
For those who don't want to worry about rail pass deadlines, coverage areas and so on, the IC Cards are the way to go. There is negligible savings from them, but they are enormously convenient in that you never need to calculate fares - you simply have your card scanned as you enter and exit the stations, and they are used by virtually every local rail and bus company in the region. There are about a dozen different ones, but they are nearly completely interchangeable. The most common ones are Pasmo and Suica in the Tokyo area, and for Kansai, it is the Icoca card. For Icoca, the cards are available at vending machines at rail stations and cost ¥2000, which includes a ¥500 deposit that will be refunded when the card is returned at a JR West Station. All the cards can be endlessly refilled (up to ¥20,000) and are good for ten years. They all are also usable in many (but not all) major cities in Japan.
Each company covers a different area of the city, with some overlap, and all of which is 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 north to south in eastern Kyoto, while the two Keifuku tram lines are an attractive way of traveling in the northwest. Next to 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 Katsura Rikyu; it runs all the way to Osaka and Kobe. JR lines run from Kyoto station to Arashiyama easily (JR Sagano line), to the southwest to Osaka (JR Kyoto line) and to the southeast (JR Nara line) to major sights like Fushimi Inari, Uji and Nara. Having one of the JR Rail Passes is, at best, partially useful. There are local and rapid trains so check if they stop at your station before you get on.
Kyoto's system is rather underdeveloped and comparatively expensive. The number of places it can take you is limited. It is efficient though, and rain or shine it is reliable.
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 River, 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 northwestern Kyoto. Destinations are electronically displayed/announced in English as well as Japanese. Unlike other Japanese cities, a tourist may need to use the buses here. There is also no train service to the northern part of the city, such as the Ohara area. In addition, traffic can slow to a crawl during the weekday morning rush hour, and some buses can be jammed with people.
To complicate things further, 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 ¥230, which is paid into a box next to the driver when getting off. Exact change is required, but machines for exchanging coins and ¥1000 notes are available. You can also purchase a one-day pass (¥600 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 1-day pass for ¥1200 and slightly more economical 2-day pass for ¥2000. Note that these passes are not valid on JR trains and buses that serve the area.
The municipal transport company publishes a very useful online guide. It contains route info for the bus lines and subways.
Particularly in spring and fall, getting around by bicycle can be a good 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 may be a better way to navigate Kyoto. That said, they are no fun in the rain, and from June until September it can get extremely sticky and muggy, making even a short trip very uncomfortable. Sidewalks are usually busy with pedestrians, and major streets during busy times can be quite hazardous. 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.
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. The Top 3 sights of Kyoto are undoubtedly Kinkakuji, Kiyomizudera, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. If you ever see tourist books, pamphlets etc on Kyoto (and frequently Japan as a whole), at least one of those places will often be on the cover. Hence, all three have huge throngs of tourists constantly stampeding to them. All of them are excellent, but there are countless others that are not as famous, and yet no less beautiful.
The overwhelming majority of sights are temples and shrines though, and one important tip to avoid getting "templed out" by the end of the day is to add some variety into your itinerary (all the more important if you are with kids). This also helps you organize your plans and photos better by breaking up the monotony. Some examples are museums, gardens (e.g. Shoseien, Heian Shrine Shin-en, Murin-an, Katsura Rikyu, Kyoto Botanical Garden), Toei Kyoto Studio Park, Nishiki Market, and so on.
Be aware also that while most places close at 5 PM, several places have much earlier opening hours, and if you are an early riser, you can easily add more places into your itinerary. In fact, for some very popular places, going there much earlier is one of the few ways to beat the crowds, particularly during the busy tourist season. Some examples are the Fushimi Inari Shrine (open 24/7), Kiyomizudera (opens 6 AM), the Sagano Bamboo Grove (open 24/7), Kamigamo Shrine (opens 5:30 AM), Shimogamo Shrine (open 5:30 AM summer, 6:30 AM winter), Nishi Honganji (open 5:30 AM), Higashi Honganji (opens 5:50 AM, 6:20 AM Nov-Feb), and so on.
As noted previously, there are great sights all over Kyoto, and if you think you might return to Kyoto again in the near future, it would likely be better to focus on just one area of the city to save time. For those with very limited time, seeing the Higashiyama area is likely the best - there is a large number of very impressive sights concentrated on Kyoto's east side, with very little time needed to go from one to another.
Japan National Tourist Organization's self-guided Kyoto Walks pamphlet is available in a ready to print PDF format. 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.
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 neighboring city of Uji and one is in Otsu.
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 Shugakuin Rikyū) in Northern Kyoto. All four of these sites are open to the public by reservation through the Imperial Household Agency, though not required any longer for the Imperial Palace. 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 to time for official state functions or for private visits by the current royal family members.
The buildings are left open to look inside, but you are not allowed to enter any of them. Please be aware also that aside from the Imperial Palace, the only way to visit is by a strict, led by the nose tour taking 60 minutes or so (around 80 minutes for Shugakuin Rikyū) with the guide at the front and a guard at the back to keep everyone moving. You cannot go wherever you like or linger anywhere for long.
The Imperial Household Agency maintains a quota on the number of visitors to each site per tour. Admission is free, except for Katsura Rikyū which costs ¥1000. Tours in English are available at the Imperial Palace and Katsura Rikyū but limited in frequency; however, tours of the Sento Imperial Palace, and Shugakuin Villa are conducted in Japanese only (audio guides or English pamphlets are available 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. If there are too many applicants, the Imperial Household Agency has to draw lots. All applicants are notified on the status of their applications whether they are successful or not within a week after closing date. 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. Mondays are typically closed and not an option.
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, so go early. Address: Imperial household Agency Kyoto Office, 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, 602-8611, tel: 075-211-1215.
Public baths have been a cornerstone of the society for centuries in Kyoto. The first public baths, or sentō, were documented in the 13th century. Soon they became one of the few places in society where social status was irrelevant. Noblemen shared baths with commoners and warriors. Today over 140 bath houses remain in Kyoto. Funaoka Onsen is the oldest of these and dubbed "king of sentō", but newer bath houses and super sentō are just as much part of the Japanese bathing culture. If you have the time, make your way to one of the many public bath houses Kyoto has to offer.
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 Myoshinji) offer authentic Zen meditation sessions, complete with explanations of the meaning and significance of such meditation. Reservations are necessary.
Kyoto is arguably one of the most popular places 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 Nanzenji to Ginkakuji 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. Kiyomizudera and Kodaiji 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. The Togetsukyo Bridge also looks it best when cherry blossoms are blooming by the riverside.
Northern Kyoto offers cherry-blossom scouts worthwhile experiences at Hirano Shrine and Kyoto Botanical Gardens, and a walk inside the large grounds of Daigoji 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 blossoms, 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. Plum blossoms have a very pleasantly distinct fragrance. These Japanese ume trees are actually more closely related to apricot trees. However an early mistranslation by the Japanese resulted in these trees being called "plum" trees instead.
No less beautiful is Kyoto during the autumn when the leaves explode into countless shades of red, orange, and gold, usually peaking in the second half of November every year. In fact there are a number of exclusive temples that are closed to the public except for a few brief periods - one of them being the season of autumn leaves. In contrast to the cherry blossoms, this season is much longer, and the weather is usually stable and clear. There are often a lot fewer international tourists during this time, yet at the most popular temples (particularly on weekends) you will see long lines of the locals going to see the koyo or momiji.
While by no means exhaustive, some of the more famous and popular places to see the autumn leaves are:
Festivals and Events
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.
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.
There is one shop in Kyoto called "Maccha House"(マッチャ ハウス 抹茶館)which you should really go. This is a shop which specializes in Matcha. So people can enjoy eating or drinking the original Matcha drinks and sweets which you can only eat it here in Japan. The most popular sweet in this shop is Matcha tiramisu, made out of Matcha and a type of cheese called mascarpone. It doesn't taste so sweet, so this sweet is recommended also for people who don't like very sweet things. But not only the taste, but also the appearence looks very attractive
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 Kiyomizuzaka, just below the entrance to Kiyomizudera.
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.
Mont Blanc aux Marrons (Chestnut cake)
This is one of the famous sweet which you can eat it in Kyoto, in the cafe called "Sweets Cafe Kyoto Keizo". The special thing about this cake is that it is made by baking the meringue at a low temperature. Therefore, unlike the other cakes, this chestnut cake is said to only last for 10 minutes. This is because after 10 minutes, the texture and the taste of this cake changes dramatically. The texture and the taste of this cake changes so much that some people think they are eating a completely different cake after 10 minutes have passed.
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 good and 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 the Fushimi Sake District, with over 40 brewers. Gekkeikan Brewery is one of the largest 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.
For long-term stay, JamHouses  near Nijō Castle and Katsura station offer inexpensive shared houses with Japanese roommates. Houses have private rooms and dormitories, equipped kitchens and living rooms. JamHouse near Nijō Castle has also a restaurant .
Even though Japan is famous for its capsule hotels, where you're forced to use the least amount of space possible, hostels in Japan can be the next-best option for people traveling on a budget but want some space. They're generally very clean and well-maintained, and they're a great place to get to know new people.
Internet and manga cafés
These "manga-kisa" (short for kissaten which means 'cafe') are not a thing to fear. There is nothing wrong with staying in these Japan#Last_resorts for a few nights. Most manga-kisas have no separate smoking and non-smoking sections, and the bountiful collections of manga will only be in Japanese, but they usually have cushions and blankets and free unlimited soft drinks (included with entry fee). Showers are usually available, but sometimes for a fee. Remember that these cafés won't keep your luggage during the day so either keep it with you, find free storage elsewhere or use a coin locker (¥300-600 per use). The price will usually not be that different from a normal hotel for an overnight stay.
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. There are also a number of smaller, family-run guesthouses around the Gojo area, which is between Kyoto Station area and historical Gion.
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.
In Kyoto, there are traditional wooden townhouses called Kyo-Machiya or Machiya. Kyo-Machiya defined the architectural atmosphere of downtown Kyoto for centuries, and represents the standard defining form of Machiya throughout the country.
There are several facilities offers those Machiya to the travellers to stay privately, and can experience the traditional living in Kyoto. Most of those facilities are located in central Kyoto that easy to access to any sightseeing spot. However, generally those facilities don’t offer any meals, but in Kyoto, there is a delivery system from the Japanese restaurant that customer can order and eat in the Kyo-Machiya. During the guest stay, it is completely private that guests can feel like staying at their home.
The size of the facilities are average 80㎡, can stay from 2 people with prices comperable to a mid range hotel (¥10,000 per night) but it can be better to use with a group of 4 to 6, or with family. There are facilities that guests can stay together in the same Machiya for up to 14 people.
The price is from ¥25,000-