Kyoto Travel Guide

Kyoto Guide: Kyoto Travel

What's on right now in Tokyo & Kyoto

Kyoto Area Guide: Kyoto Travel

In terms of number of tourists, Kyoto is among the world's most visited cities. In 2007, some 6.3 million tourists made the trip to Japan's ancient capital. Much of that traffic comes in the form of day trips or of one night stays, mainly emanating from nearby Osaka or Kobe or from school students from around Japan on their annual excursions.

However, this is the city that all foreigners visit on their trip to Japan. The reasons for that are many. One reason is that roughly 20% of Japan's National Treasures and 14% of Important Cultural Properties can be found in the city.

Another is that there are 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. Among them are Kiyomizu Temple, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji), Ryoanji Temple, Nanzenji Temple, and on and on.

Kyoto is a large city, geographically quite spread out. When visiting, it is best to break it up and see sites by area.

Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto
Kinkakuji Temple showing the lake and the surrounding woods
Saihoji Moss Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Maiko.

Best Areas of Kyoto

Kyoto East Kiyomizu Temple, Kodaiji Temple, Sanennzaka, Nene no Michi, Gion, etc.

Philosopher's Walk Nanzenji Temple, Eikando, Honen-in, Silver Pavilion, etc.

Kyoto Northeast Enkoji, Shisen-do, Shugakuin Imperial Villa, etc.

Kyoto West Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji Temple, Ninnaji, Myoshinji, Kitano Tenmangu, etc.

Arashiyama Tenryuji, bamboo forest, fantastic mountain and river view, great walks, etc.

Downtown for shopping and nightlife, Nishiki Market and Kyoto Manga Museum

Gion & Pontocho for Geisha viewing

Kyoto South Fushimi Inari, Tofukuji, Gekkeikan Sake Brewery, etc.

Best Time to Visit

October to mid-November, early April to late May. Winter is cold and gray, summer is brutally hot and muggy.

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto.
Kiyomizu Temple After Dusk
Kiyomizudera Temple approach, Kyoto, Japan.
Approach to Kiyomizudera lined with ceramic stores and souvenir shops, Guillaume Marcotte, All Rights Reserved

Brief History of Kyoto

Kyoto was Japan's capital for 1,000 years, relinquishing that status in 1868 when the Meiji Emperor was relocated to Tokyo. The city was built on a grid pattern and is ringed on three sides by mountains. The location for the city was chosen specifically because of those mountains: they prevented an attack.

Kyoto, or Heian-kyo as it was first known, replaced Nara as the seat of Japan's imperial court in 794. In the 11th century , the city was renamed Kyoto ("capital city"). It remained the capital of Japan until 1868, when the government and Emperor decamped for Edo (Tokyo).

Unlike the rest of urban Japan, Kyoto was not bombed during World War II (there were several incidents of bombs landing in Kyoto, but both damage and casualties were very limited). Instead, Kyoto's worst destruction came during the Onin War (1467 - 1477) and after World War II. Samurai factions fought and essentially destroyed the city, burning it to the ground by the end of the Onin conflict.

In spite of much modernization, Kyoto is the one Japanese city with a fair number of pre-War buildings. Its graceful machiya townhouses are still abundant. And of course there are more than 2,000 temples and shrines scattered throughout the city.

With the realization that manufacturing may not be the only or best way to earn money, Kyoto and Japan have turned to tourism in a big way. Kyoto is now rethinking its slash-and-burn development policy of the last 50 years. Belated attempts at improving the cityscape are now appearing.

Places to Stay

As tourism is vital to the city, Kyoto has a huge selection of hotels and Japanese inns. The new Hyatt is perhaps the most luxurious hotel in town, but there are many hotels and inns and hostels to fit all budgets.

Access to Kyoto

From Kansai International Airport

The Haruka Express (JR West) runs from the airport to Kyoto Station in 75 minutes.

Buses from the airport cost less but take longer. They also drop off at Kyoto Station.

Shinkansen (bullet train)

From Tokyo, the bullet train runs many times an hour. The fastest train, Nozomi, takes two hours and fifteen minutes.

Getting Around Kyoto


Kyoto has two subway lines, the north-south Karasuma Line and the East-West Tozai Line.


Kyoto buses go just about everywhere, but often get caught in traffic. The fare is 220 yen (children 110) for Kyoto City Buses.

For a full listing of Kyoto Museums & Art Galleries click here

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