Japan City Guides: Kyoto Guide 京都
Kyoto is a neatly laid out, landlocked, city of 1.4 million in central Honshu. The name Kyoto means "imperial capital", and was home to the Japanese imperial family from 794 (the Heian period) to 1868.
Kyoto is a historical and cultural treasure trove with thousands of serene temples, gardens and shrines, and no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kyoto was spared bombing during World War II, and its thousands of surviving machiya wooden buildings means the city is replete with traditional elegance and picturesque scenes.
Kyoto's history makes it a must-see and its location makes it a great base for exploring Nara, Osaka & Kobe.
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Things to see and do in Kyoto
For a select guide to What's on in Kyoto & Tokyo.
For a night you will always remember, Yoiyama Festival is magic.
The impressive Miho Museum designed by I.M. Pei is within an hour's travel of Kyoto in nearby Shiga prefecture.
An easy day-trip from Kyoto is Omi Hachiman, which is also in Shiga prefecture. It is a lovely canal town that can be reached in an hour.
The Lake Biwa Aqueduct Museum is a fascinating look at Kyoto's more recent historical heritage.
Tourist information centres: Kyoto City Tourist Information Office, 2F Kyoto Station Bldg. 8.30am-7pm daily; (Tel: 075 343 6655); Kyoto Prefecture Tourist Office, 9F Kyoto Station Bldg. 9.30am-6pm daily; (Tel: 075 371 2226).
Visit a Japanese family - Kyoto Home Visit Program
International credit card ATMs in Kyoto
-Kyoto Tower Building (basement), opposite Kyoto Station Central Exit.
-All Card Plaza: 50 metres north of Shijo Street on Teramachi Street. [Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa, Plus System, AmEx and Cirrus] 9am-8pm (closed Jan 1st 3rd).
-Takashimaya Department Store 7th floor card corner'.
-Any post office in Kyoto will have an ATM where you can use a foreign-issued credit card to withdraw cash.
Orientation in Kyoto
Kyoto is the one major Japanese city laid out on a grid. This makes for easy navigating, even though street signs are often only in Japanese--or non-existent. Kyotoites describe the downtown area of the city as being a "go-ban" (a go board, "go" being the highly popular game that uses a square board). The city borrowed its design from the ancient Chinese capital, Xian. The ward names reflect this orientation, too: Sakyo-ku means "Left Capital, and is in the east; Ukyo-ku means "Right Capital," and is in the west of the city.
South Kyoto, south of Kyoto station has few attractions other than Toji Temple and its vast flea market on the 21st of each month. The south east of Kyoto has much more of interest including Fushimi and its wonderful Fushimi Inari Shrine, sake breweries and Fushimi-Momoyama Castle.
Each area of Kyoto has a distinct feel and atmosphere.
City Centre (Shijo-Kawaramachi) and Gion lies 2km north of Kyoto Station.
Higashiyama - the area to the east of the city center contains the majority of Kyoto's main tourist sites. The #5 bus or Raku bus are convenient for many of them but are invariably crowded.
North Western Kyoto including the Arashiyama and Sagano district can be reached by bus and train from Kyoto station.
Northern Kyoto is best served by the north-south Karasuma Line subway.
North Kyoto includes the pretty villages of Kibune and Kurama best reached by Eiden train from Demachiyanagi Station.
Okazaki district has many of Kyoto's museums, Heian Shrine and Kyoto's zoo.
South Kyoto is not really on the tourist trail but does include Toji Temple a short walk from Kyoto Station.
Fushimi in south east Kyoto offers Fushimi Inari, Fushimi-Momoyama Castle, sake breweries and a few historic restaurants and inns. Tofukuji Temple is a little to the north of Fushimi.
See a full listing of Kyoto areas and districts.
Domestic flights to Osaka's Itami airport and international connections from Kansai International Airport (KIX). For Itami there are regular limousine bus services from the south (Hachijoguchi) side of Kyoto station. To Kansai International Airport the Haruka airport express train takes 75 minutes or JR shinkaisoku to Osaka and then kanku kaisoku to the airport. (Travel time is around 90 minutes). There are also limousine bus services to Kansai International Airport from the south (Hachijoguchi) side of Kyoto station.
The massive Kyoto Station which is located in the south of city at the end of the north-south Karasuma dori and just south of the east-west Shichijo dori gives easy access to the rest of the country. Kyoto Tower is directly opposite the main Central Exit, which also serves as the main bus terminal.
From Kyoto Station and other stations in Kyoto
- Osaka and Kobe from Kyoto Station (JR-West Shinkansen bullet train) and from Shijo-Kawaramachi (Hankyu Line).
- access to Osaka from Shijo-Kawabata (Keihan Line).
- access to Kansai International Airport on the Haruka Express.
- access to Nara from Kyoto Station (Kintetsu Line) and (JR Line).
- access to Tokyo, Nagoya and Shizuoka from Kyoto Station (JR-East Shinkansen bullet train).
- access to Hiroshima and Fukuoka from Kyoto Station (JR-West Shinkansen bullet train).
- access to Amanohashidate, Obama and Maibara on the Japan Sea coast (for ferries to Hokkaido) from Kyoto Station (JR Obama Line).
- click here for a map of Kyoto's main train stations.
Buses in Kyoto
There are overnight long-distance buses to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and day buses to Nagoya and Kanazawa. Highway buses leave from Kyoto Station.
Kyoto city buses radiate from Kyoto station around the city. The flat fare is 230 yen. One Day Bus Cards are available on the bus or the bus information center at Kyoto station and can be used for a single day on Kyoto City Buses. Insert your card in the machine as you get off. There are also One Day (1200 yen) or Two Day Passes (2000 yen) for all Kyoto buses and subways, known in Japanese as the Kyoto Kankoh Ichi-nichi/Ni-nichi (one-day/two-day) Joh-sha-ken. These passes are valid on Kyoto City Buses (green), Kyoto buses (white and red), the Karasuma (North-South) Subway Line and the Tozai (East-West) Subway Line.
* The white and red Kyoto buses serve outlying areas of Kyoto outside the main city limits.
Hotel Accommodation in Kyoto
There is a wide range of accommodation available in Kyoto to suit all budgets: Five Star Hotels, Business Hotels, Ryokan, Minshuku, Pensions, Lodges and longer-lease apartments in converted and restored machiya.
Kyoto offers some of the most luxurious accommodation in Japan - from award-winning, historic and deluxe hotels such as the Western Miyako Hotel and the Kyoto Hotel Okura in the east of the city to traditional Japanese-style guest houses, or ryokan. Guests at the famous Hiragiya Ryokan and Tawaraya Ryokan in downtown Kyoto include film stars and royalty.
Reasonably-priced, international class hotels can be found throughout the city but the area around Kyoto Station has the largest concentration of hotels in the city and Kyoto Station is a convenient area to base yourself for bus and train travel. Click here for a listing of hotels in Kyoto.
For a good Japanese-style ryokan with futon bedding and tatami floors near Nishi Honganji Temple try Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura for those wishing to try a Japanese inn Booking.com has over 70 ryokan to choose from in Kyoto.
For recommended western style hotels try Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo a short walk west from Shijo subway station, the five-star The Rihga Royal Hotel just a few hundred meters west of Kyoto Station, The Hotel New Hankyu close to Kyoto Station a four-star hotel with over 300 guest rooms and the Kyoto Garden Palace Hotel on the west side of the Imperial Palace and close to Marutamachi subway station.