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Kyoto travel guide: When to visit, What to do, How to get there, and more

Kyoto travel guide: what to do, when to visit, access to station and airportKyoto Overview

Kyoto, located in the center of the mail island of Japan (Honshu), is the most popular place to visit not only for Japanese but also for international tourists.

Kyoto was, in the past, the largest city in Japan as the Imperial capital of Japan over 1200 years. 
Now, Kyoto is the 9th largest city in Japan, but it still remains No.1 city of historical attractions, including 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites. This is one of the reasons that many visit this city.

In addition to its historical attractions, Kyoto is known as the place for traditional Japanese cuisine. As the Imperial capital, Kyoto created and developped traditional Japanese foods, including Kyo-kaiseki. Now, there are nearly 100 michelin-starred restaurants in Kyoto.

 

When to visit Kyoto

When is the best time to visit Kyoto?

kyoto autumn leaves in Arashiyama, the best time to visit Kyoto

The best season to visit Kyoto is autumn. You can enjoy temples and shrines decorated by autumn leaves. The best time of autumn leaves in Kyoto is from the middle of November to the beginning of December. 

During this time, many tourists, from all over Japan and all over the world, visit Kyoto. Most of hotels in/around Kyoto will be full on weekends.

In November, the average temperature in Kyoto is around 12℃, and the average temperature is around 7℃ in December. It gets cold in Kyoto in winter time. It is better to have an outer/coat with you.

Spring is also a good season to visit Kyoto. You can enjoy cherry blossoms in some temples and shrines as well as parks in the city. In April, Spring, the average temperature in Kyoto is around 14℃, comfortable to walk around Kyoto.

Even though there are recommended/popular time to visit Kyoto, you can enjoy your visit Kyoto any time. There are always many things you can explore in Kyoto.

Maybe, you should be careful if you visit Kyoto in Summer. In Summer, it gets hot and humid in Kyoto. In August, the average temperature is around 28℃ and the average high temperature is around 33℃. With nearly 70% humidity, it is better to have towels with you.

 

What to do in Kyoto

The most popular things to do in Kyoto is to visit temples and shrines. There are 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.

Kyoto Kiyomizu-dera temple, Unesco World Heritage Sites in KyotoKyoto Ginkaku-ji, Unesco World Heritage Sites in Kyoto

Unesco World Heritage Sites in Kyoto

 Kyoto Tenryu-ji, Unesco World Heritage Sites in Kyoto

If you want to explore nature in Kyoto, Arashiyama can be your choice. It is the mountain across Ooi river. It is known as the place to visit in autumn and spring. In autumn, you can enjoy beautiful autumn leaves and you can enjoy cherry blossoms in spring. Arashiyama is one of the top 100 places for autumn leaves as well as one of the top 100 places for cherry blossoms in Japan.

Visiting museums in Kyoto is also popular things to do in Kyoto.

There are great museums in Kyoto.

Museum in Kyoto

 

Transportation in Kyoto

Kyoto has well-developed public transportation, subway, railway, and city bus.

You can go to most of major places by public transportation.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto station (JR Kyoto stationI) is the main station in Kyoto city.

Tokaido Shinkansen stops at Kyoto station. Also, JR local train stops at Kyoto station.

In addition, 1 subway line and another railway connect to Kyoto station.

 

Subway

There are 2 subway lines in Kyoto city, karasuma line and tozai line.

Karasuma line runs north and south and it stops at JR Kyoto station where Shinkansen stops.

Tozai line runs east and west. It connects with Karasuma line at Karasuma-Oike station.

 

Railway

In addition to subway, there are railways operated by different companies.

JR operates some lines, such as Kyoto line, Nara line, Sagano line, and biwako line. These lines are connected to JR Kyoto station so that it is easy to transfer from Shinkansen.

Kyoto line is to go to Osaka or Shin-Osaka. With Nara line, you can go to Nara. And, Sagano line is useful to go to Arashiyama.

Hankyu railway operates Hankyu Kyoto line and Hankyu Arashiyama line. With Hankyu Kyoto line, you can go to Sijyo and Kawara-machi directly from Umeda, Osaka. If you take Arashiyama line, you can go to Arashiyama. This railway can be useful for those who stay in Osaka want to visit Kyoto.

Keihan railway operates Keihan Honsen line and Uji line. With Keihan Honsen line, you can access to Kyoto from Osaka, such as Yodoyabashi and Temmabashi.
Keihan Honsen line runs north and south in Kyoto city, parallel to subway Karasuma line.

 

City bus

Kyoto has a great bus network within the city. By bus, you can go to most of popular tourist places.
You can get Kyoto bus route map here: Kyoto Bus route map PDF (6.3MB)

You can get instruction of how to ride bus and major sight seeing routes here: Kyoto Bus Navi PDF (1.4MB)

 

Public transportation pass

There are several pass for subway and city bus, such as 1-day bus and subway pass. If you use subway and city bus to move within Kyoto, you can save cost with the pass. For detail, please check here.

 

 

Access to Kyoto

Kyoto can be accessed by shinkansen/bullet train, air, or bus.
The most popular way to access to Kyoto is Shinkansen. With Shinkansen, you can visit Kyoto easily from major cities, such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Hakata (Fukuoka). From Osaka, Kyoto can be accessed by local train, which does not require any reservation.

Kyoto Station, Shinkansen, Limited Express, Bus stop, Subway, Taxi

By Shinkansen/Bullet train

You can take Shinkansen from major stations, such as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Shin-Kobe, Hiroshima, Hakata, and more.

For example, from Tokyo to Kyoto, it takes 2 hours 15~20 minutes by Shinkansen Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen. Please be careful that Japan Rail Pass can not be used for Nozomi, the fastest train.

Shinkansen Tickets Online Booking to Kyoto

Shinkansen Tickets Online Booking from Kyoto

The first train from major cities to Kyoto (Timetable as of 2017/3)

  • Tokyo: Tokyo at 6:00am to Kyoto at 8:08am (Nozomi No.1)
  • Shinagawa: Shinagawa at 6:00am to Kyoto at 8:02am (Nozomi No.99)
  • Nagoya: Nagoya at 6:20am to Kyoto at 6:55am (Nozomi No.95)
  • Hiroshima: Hiroshima at 6:00am to Kyoto at 7:43am (Nozomi No.108)
  • Hakata (Fukuoka): Hakata at 6:08am to Kyoto at 8:54 (Nozomi No.2)

The last train from Kyoto to major cities (Timetable as of 2017/3)

  • Tokyo: Kyoto at 21:37 to Tokyo at 23:45 (Nozomi No.64)
  • Shinagawa: Kyoto at 21:37 to Shinagawa at 23:38 (Nozomi No.64)
  • Nagoya: Kyoto at 22:46 to Nagoya at 23:20 (Nozomi No.98)
  • Hiroshima: Kyoto at 22:10 to Hiroshima at 23:53 (Nozomi No.129)
  • Hakata (Fukuoka): Kyoto at 21:10 to Hakata at 23:55 (Nozomi No.59)

 

By Air
There is no airport in Kyoto city. The closest airpot to Kyoto is Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport [ITM])>.

There are many flights to Osaka International Airport from major airports in Japan, such as Haneda (Tokyo), Fukuoka, Sapporo, Hakodate, Kochi, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, and Okinawa.

From Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport) to Osaka International Airport, it takes approximately 1 hour. Flights are operated by the following 2 airlines.

From Osaka International Airport to Kyoto, it takes approximately 55 minutes by bus. And, it takes approximately 75 minutes by train and monorail.
It costs approximately 15,000 ~ 25,000 yen for air and costs 1310 yen for a bus from the airport to Kyoto.

Osaka International Airpot is for domestic flights. If you arrive in Kansai International Airport (KIX), you can take a train or bus to go to Kyoto.

By train, you can take Limited Express Haruka from the airpot to Kyoto. It takes approximately 75 minutes.

By bus, it takes 85 minutes from the airport to Kyoto.

 

By Bus
There are highway buses from major cities to Kyoto.

For example, from Tokyo to Kyoto, it takes approximately 7~8 hours by bus.

 

Transportation comparison from Tokyo to Kyoto

Transportation Shinkansen Air Bus
Traveling Time 2 hours 15~20 minutes 3~3.5 hours
- 1-hour flight
- 55~75 minutes from airport to Kyoto city
- 1 hour transit time

7~8 hours

Time Flexibility
(Time option)
Very flexible
- More than 100 trains/day
- Leave from 6 am to 10 pm
Flexible
- Approximately 30 flights/day
- Leave from 6am to 7pm

Not flexible
- Most of buses leave at night (10~11pm) and arrive in morning (5~6am) 

Cost ¥17,600
(Our reserved seat price)
¥17,000~¥28,000
(Depending on date & time and availability)

¥4,000~¥12,000
(Depending on date & time and bus type)

Pros and Cons

Pros
- Easy and fast access to Kyoto
- Very flexible time
- On-time operation

Cons
- Hard to purchase tickets for big holidays
- Be crowded on weekends

Pros
- Flexible time
 
Cons
- Airport is far from Kyoto city
- High cost for holidays/weekends

Pros
- Low cost

Cons
- Long traveling time
- Lack of time flexibility
Recommended for

- Most of travelers
- Business trippers
- Travelers/business trippers with limited time
- Family, including kids and infants

- Millage lovers
- Airport lovers
- Budget travelers
Seat guide

Shinkansen seats are available in four levels depending on the comfort and services your require.

Reserved Seat

Your seat is reserved and secured when you book your tickets. Head to the station with a peace of mind.

Green Reserved Seat

Better seats and free blankets. Popular among Japanese business persons, executives and people who values comfortable travel. Consider it as "business class" seats.

GranClass Seat

Know as "First Class" of Shinkansen seats. Only available on Hokuriku and Tohoku Shinkansen lines. Gran Class seats comes with airline-like amenities and meals.The most expensive of all.

Unreserved Seat

You can take any open seats in dedicated unreserved cars. The best seat type if your priority is the cost and are traveling during less-crowded season/time.

 

For further information and photos, please visit official page at http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/ticket/types.html