Kyoto is Japan’s beautiful, former imperial capital. It’s known for the traditionally rich culture. This city is famous for its gardens, Shinto shrines, traditional wooden houses and Buddhist Temples. You can experience their rich culture through kaiseki. Geishas host and entertain during this multiple-course dinner. It’s definitely one of my favourite Japanese cities we visited.
How To Get To Kyoto
From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen bullet train (Hikari & Kodama Trains) to Kyoto. The JR Pass is valid on this journey. You can get on this train at Tokyo or Shinagawa Station. This is the quickest, but most expensive option.
Hikari Train Price: 13,080 Yen for non-reserved seats; 13,500 for reserved seats (valid with JR Pass)
Journey Time: 2 hour and 40 minutes / Speed: 320 km/hour (199 mph)
Kodama Trains – High-speed bullet train that stops between smaller towns, taking close to 4 hours to reach Kyoto / Speed: 258 km/hour (175 mph)
From Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji)
Take the Highway direct bus to Mishima Station. This 1-hour direct bus leaves from Kawaguchiko Station and costs 970 Yen. Next, take the JR train from Mishima Station to Kyoto (takes 2 and a half hours). Meanwhile, you can use your JR Pass. However, this one-way journey will cost 10,580 without a JR pass. You don’t need to purchase the JR tickets beforehand, because they operate every 30 minutes.
*Make sure to purchase tickets at least one day beforehand. You can buy tickets from the machine in Kawaguchiko Station that says “Highway Bus Tickets.” If the tickets sell out like it did for us, then take local A line to Gotemba instead. This costs 1500 yen. Furthermore, take the local bus from Gotemba to Mishima (300 yen), then take the JR train to Kyoto. The Kawaguchiko Station information centre is super helpful if you have more questions!
Where To Stay in Kyoto
Click here for a detailed breakdown of all the best areas to stay in Kyoto! I’d recommend staying in Downtown Kyoto, because it’s close to the subway lines.
We stayed in downtown Kyoto at Koiyama Guesthouse. Alex and I agreed this was our favourite accommodation in Japan. The rooms are clean and spacious. Furthermore, it also comes with a kitchenette and washing machine. It was especially easy to travel to all the main attractions from here.
Use my discount code for $25 CAD off your first reservation with booking.com!
How To Get Around Kyoto
The best way to travel around Kyoto is by subway. The JR pass doesn’t cover the 2 subway lines. I’d highly recommend purchasing a 1-Day or 2-Day pass. You can use the buses too. However, the bus times aren’t always accurate due to high traffic. Granted, we still ended up taking the bus quite a lot.
Kyoto Municipal Subway & Bus 1-Day Pass: 900 Yen for Adults, 450 Yen for Children
Kyoto Municipal Subway & Bus 2-Day Pass: 900 Yen for Adults, 1,700 Yen for Adults, 850 Yen for children
*Please note that not all bus routes are covered by these passes.
What To Do – Day 1
Rent A Kimono
Kimonos are traditional clothing that are often worn for formal events or festivals. Today, you’ll still see older Japanese locals wearing them. With this in mind, renting a kimono is one of Kyoto’s most popular cultural activities. Plus, they make for such a pretty photo-op!
I rented a kimono from the shop Akahime Kyoto Kinono Rental. I knew I wanted to be wearing a kimono in the Bamboo Grove. Therefore, I ended up choosing this shop close by! t’s only about a 10-minute walk from each other! Their prices were also some of the most reasonable. They have an amazing selection of beautiful kimonos. Additionally, the staff help you wrap the kimono (includes) and provide hair services for an extra fee! I went with the free time stroll plan, so we could explore Kyoto for the day. You just have to return it before the shop closes at 7pm. They provided such quick and great service that I’d definitely recommend them!
Address: 3-56 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8385, Japan
Hours: 9am – 7pm
Price: 3,400 Yen. This includes a set of kimono dressing, a bag, Zori sandals and Tabi socks.
Hair Service: 900 Yen
Umbrella: 300 Yen
There’s plenty of extra accessories that you can rent. Make an online reservation if you’re visiting Kyoto during a busy season. I’d recommend making a reservation for the earliest 9am slot. This is due to the fact that the Bamboo Grove is extremely busy after early morning hours.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Hours: 24 Hours
Chances are you’ve seen photos of the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves on social media. The Bamboo Groves have foot paths that make for a relaxing, beautiful walk. We arrived to the Groves a little bit after 10am and it was absolutely packed!! However, since I was the only one in the morning dressed in a kimono, most people stopped to allow Alex to take photos. This is the secret of how we managed to get a few shots without the crowd. Arrive even earlier if you don’t plan on renting a kimono, specifically after sunrise! Even so, it’s open 24 hours.
After walking through the Bamboo Groves, make sure to explore the shops in this charming little district!
Wander Through Higashiyama District
From Arashiyama, you’ll have to take the bus to the famous Higashiyama. This is a historical, well-preserved district located in Kyoto’s East side. It’s also an amazing place to explore the narrow alleyways and traditional old houses. I’ll outline below where to start!
Yasaka Street – See Yasaka Pagoda
Yasaka Street is iconic for its photogenic view of Yasaka Pagoda. It’s particularly empty for sunrise, but also just as beautiful for sunset! You’ll see many ladies, mostly tourists dressed in kimonos.
Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka (Historic Streets)
Keep walking to stroll though these historic stone-paced streets. There are several wooden shops that serve delicious Kyoto specialties here. If you need a break, there’s also many cafes are restaurants line these roads.
Yasaka Koshindo is an old, colourful shrine where you can leave your wishes.
Hours: 24 Hours
This beautiful park is one of Kyoto’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spots. The main draw here is the shidarezakura “weeping” cherry tree. During the cherry blossom season, the tree is lit up after dark! Furthermore, it’s a gorgeous spot to have a picnic!
From Maruyama Park, you can enter the famous Yasak-Jinja Shrine. It’s open 24 hours, so you can explore this area anytime!
Explore Gion District
You’re now not too far away from the Gion District. It’s Kyoto’s most famous entertainment district and home to the traditional arts and geishas. These geishas and their apprentices are trained in traditional Japanese arts such as dance and music. In addition, Gion is filled with teahouses, shops, restaurants, and traditional wooden merchant houses. Make sure to explore the tiny alleys. We were so surprised how empty they were!
Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
Hours: 24 Hours
Entrance Fee: FREE
Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine is undoubtedly Kyoto’s most iconic attraction. It’s famous for the thousands of traditional torii gates that make up its bright orange pathway. This place can get super crowded even in the early morning, so I recommend visiting after sunrise. We arrived at 6am and there was already a lot of people there. However, it wasn’t too busy and we were able to take photos without anyone in them!
There’s actually several paths you can walk and temples you can visit. You can climb all the way to the top of the mountain if you’re feeling ambitious!
Hours: 24 Hours
Keage Incline is an old set of railroad tracks that’s now a designated National Heritage Site. This is my favourite cherry blossom spot in Kyoto! 90 cherry trees line these tracks and the scenery is indeed breathtaking! The best time to visit early after sunrise for the soft morning light. We arrived at 6:30am and it was already quite busy. Sunset is even more crowded. Although, it’s a still beautiful time to visit too!
Read this blog post if you’re wondering how to plan your Japan trip during the cherry blossoms.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavillion)
Hours: 9am – 5pm
Admission: 400 Yen
Kinkakuji is a Buddhist Temple known for its impressive structure. It sits over a large pond surrounded by nature. Furthermore, gold leaf covers the top 2 floors. As a result, it reflects beautifully in the water. Kinkakuji was originally a famous shogun’s home, but was designated as a temple after his death.
What to Eat
Hours: 11am – Midnight
Click here for Kyoto locations
Okay, so I’ve never been huge on curry dishes with overwhelming sauce. However, Alex insisted we try Coco Ichibanya Curry House. And boy, was it ever delicious!!! They specialize in Japanese-style curry dishes. You can choose from toppings such as meat, seafood and vegetables. Try their chicken curry dish! Above all, they’re halal and vegetarian! You won’t be disappointed!
Hours: Varies by store, often 9am – 6pm. Certain shops closed Wednesday or Sunday
Nishiki Market is also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen. This 5-block long shopping street is a vibrant market that sells everything from fresh seafood to knives.