Kyoto – my Top 5 things to do and how to do
Kyoto – the city which is known as the Japanse cultural capital made me curious enough to travel to for a couple of days on my solo trip to Japan. No skyscraper, still many streets with the beautiful traditional wooden houses and plenty of things in walking distance make Kyoto very different to Tokyo. I only had 2,5 days to explore Kyoto and soon I figured out it was not enough to visit everything I wanted to see. But I promise what I saw made me curious to come back one day to see all the things I missed. Nevertheless every place I had the chance to visit was worth to stop by and roam around.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
If you plan a trip to Japan and read a bit about the famous places you can’t miss pictures of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its orange Toris (gates) lining the steps upward to the top of the hill. The place is open 24/7 and the entrance is free. Nevertheless it is clever to visit the shrine early in the morning to enjoy a long and quite walk up the hill. After 10 am it is getting more crowded especially if the weather is good.
For people who are not getting tired of temples the Kiyomizu-dera temple is a must visit. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site and offers a good view over the city. The foundation of the temple took place in 776. The present buildings were constructed in the 17th century and the most interesting fact is not a single nail was used.
The district close to Kiyomizu-dera temple developed in the middle ages is know as the Geisha district. Gion is famous for the traditional architecture and entertainment. The wooden building are housing restaurants and shops. Wandering around the area brings you to more temples and shrines as well to a park where you can watch locals as well as tourists in traditional dresses.
Kodai-ji Zen Temple
The Kodai-ji temple is often overseen by the tourists. Good for those who find it because the temple is very peaceful. With a garden designed by Japan’s most famous garden designers (Kobori Enshu) and a tea house designed by the founder of the tea ceremony (Sen no Rikyu), Kodai-ji Temple shows a good mixture of some of Japan’s greatest artistic and cultural traditions. The tea house in the garden is a quite place to join a tea ceremony and try a Matcha tea.
Shosei-En Garden was built 1000 years ago and the pond is mostly remained from the original design. For those who love typical Japanese gardens and an oasis in the middle of the city this is a must visit place. I gave the garden a visit on a rainy day why I was almost the only visitor. During the cherry blossom season it can become very crowded.
How to go to
Kyoto has no own airport but the airports Osaka-Itami and Kansai International Airport are situated in a close proximity.
Osaka-Itami Airport mostly offers domestic flights while the 43km away located Kansai International Airport (KIX) took over the international flights in 1994 and connects the Kyoto and Osaka area with other big cities in Asia, Middle East, Europe and Northern America.
From Osaka-Itami airport the easiest way is to take the bus – which runs every 20 min – to Kyoto central station. Kansai airport has an express train connection (JR Haruka) twice an hour to Kyoto Central Station.
The city of Kyoto has also a great connection to other Japanese cities by train. One of the most popular routes is Tokyo-Kyoto. For the distance about 400km the Shinkansen (the so-called bullet train) only takes 2hours. The train is the fastest in the world and the Japanese railway is famous for its reliability and its punctuality higher than 99%. The train ride costs 130EUR one way and is not a transportation for budget travelers. If you need the train for more than one longer ride it makes sense to check out the Japan Railpass. It can help to safe money but it is important to know that you have to buy it before you are heading toward Japan because it is only for tourists and not available in Japan.
If you don’t want to spend more money as necessary you should try to find out about the long distance coaches which are becoming more popular in Japan.
How to go around
For transportation in Kyoto a metro and also bus system brings you to every place you want to go to. You can buy tickets at every metro station at the machines or at the bus driver. To save time and trouble I used my echargeable Pasmo card which I already bought in Tokyo earlier on my trip. The card is usable in different Japanese cities. The fares for public transport vary by the distance/stops.
Due to the shorter distances different sights and places also can be reached by foot. My hostel was located just one station from the central station why I only used the public transport three times during my time in Kyoto.
Another option to go around and explore the city is renting a bicycle.
All metro stations offer free WiFi but it took awhile until I figured out you only can use it with the Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi App which is for visitors very helpful to have. Make sure you download the app before you start exploring because Japan offers a surprisingly bad WiFi availability comparing to other countries.
Where to stay
Kyoto is a very popular city and offers a big amount of hotel rooms, hostel beds, some capsule hotels (mostly only for men) and Ryokans (traditional Japanese style inns). Comparing to Tokyo the prices are less high and it is possible to find a hostel bed for less than the half price I payed before in the Japanese capital.
My hostel was around 1km up north of the Central station and a good area to explore different places without the necessarity to use the public transport. Different temples, the Gojo area with its nice restaurants and bars as well as the nice Shosei-en garden are in close proximity. The central station also has an enclosed mall and food court.
If you are on a short budget I would try to find a host on Couchsurfing. A good chance to see how the locals live and to learn more about the Japanese culture.