Planning a trip to Japan? We’ve got you covered! If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the 60+ travel tips for Japan to get started. Now, let’s zoom in on Kyoto, the cultural heart of this fascinating country.

Why does Kyoto often top the bucket list for visitors to Japan? It’s simple: the city’s unmatched blend of ancient traditions, serene temples, and breathtaking landscapes creates an irresistible allure. Whether you’re wandering through the iconic bamboo groves of Arashiyama, visiting the majestic Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), or exploring the tranquil gardens of Ryoan-ji, Kyoto’s diverse attractions ensure that every visitor finds a unique and memorable experience.

Though it’s important to note that as of April 2024, tourists are no longer allowed to enter the private alleyways in Gion due to concerns over overtourism and the behavior of some visitors, travellers can still enjoy the public areas, such as the main Hanamikoji Street, where the essence of Gion’s charm remains vibrant​.

So, let us give you the insider tips and essential info you need to navigate this enchanting city like a pro. So, buckle up and get ready to dive into the must-know Kyoto travel tips that will make your trip unforgettable!

Top 35 Kyoto Travel Tips

Kyoto travel tips: travel planning tips
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Travel Planning Tips 

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of Kyoto travel tips, let’s take a moment to set the stage. Planning a trip to such a historic and picturesque city can be overwhelming, but don’t worry—we’re here to help. 

Tip # 1: When booking accommodations in Kyoto, consider the nature of your visit and what you hope to achieve to select the best location:

  • Kyoto Station Area: Ideal for travelers planning multiple day trips. Staying around Kyoto Station provides convenient access to both local and regional transit options, making it easy to explore beyond the city limits.
  • Higashiyama Area: Perfect for those seeking a luxurious stay amidst nature. This area is known for its quiet, scenic beauty, complemented by upscale accommodations that are often integrated with the serene landscape. It’s close to major cultural sites like Kiyomizu-dera and the Philosopher’s Path.
  • Shijo/Karasuma Area: Opt for this central district if you want easy access to shopping and key attractions. The area is bustling with activity, offering a mix of traditional sights and modern conveniences, ideal for travelers who want to be in the heart of it all.
  • Arashiyama: For the utmost peace and quiet, consider staying in Arashiyama. This district is a bit removed from the city center, providing a tranquil environment surrounded by nature. Keep in mind that while it offers ultimate serenity, you may need to rely on taxis for transportation, especially in the evenings.

Tip #2: Book accommodations early, especially during peak seasons like cherry blossom or autumn foliage. These periods offer stunning scenery but also attract large crowds and higher prices.

Tip #3: Try to plan your visit during the least crowded and cheapest months:

  • June (Rainy Season): Fewer tourists and generally lower prices can be expected due to the rainy weather, making it a quieter time to enjoy Hakone.
  • Summer (July to August): Although it’s hot, the summer months tend to be less crowded compared to spring and autumn, potentially offering more comfortable pricing and accommodation options.

Tip #4: Download Google Maps – if you haven’t already. Google Maps is highly reliable and accurate in Japan. It provides real-time information on train schedules, platform numbers, and the best routes to your destination. 

Simply enter your current location and destination, and Google Maps will offer detailed step-by-step directions, including walking paths within stations. Google Maps is widely trusted by both locals and tourists for its accuracy in Japan. It regularly updates to reflect any changes in train schedules or routes.

Tip #5: Consult this Flip Japan Guide itinerary in advance to get some ideas on which spots visit. Among others, it covers the following spots:

  • Arashiyama: Famous for its bamboo groves and picturesque scenery, Arashiyama is a tranquil retreat on the western edge of Kyoto. Whether you’re there to enjoy a peaceful walk through the bamboo or to explore Tenryu-ji Temple, it’s a place where the beauty of nature truly shines.
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: With its thousands of vermilion torii gates, this shrine offers one of the most iconic sights in all of Japan. The hike up the mountain is not only a spiritual journey but also provides fantastic views over Kyoto.
Photo by Eleonora Albasi on Unsplash

Tip #6: Make restaurant reservations in advance as popular dining spots, especially those offering kaiseki, traditional multi-course meals often associated with Kyoto’s culinary scene, can book up quickly. Plan ahead to ensure you can enjoy Kyoto’s renowned cuisine.

Tip #7: If possible, plan your trip around special events like the Gion Matsuri in July, the Aoi Matsuri in May, or the Jidai Matsuri in October to experience Kyoto’s vibrant cultural traditions.

Tip #8: Especially if you are a first-time Kyoto visitor, there’s a big chance that Arashiyama is on your itinerary. Plan your visit to Arashiyama early in the morning. This popular district can get quite crowded, especially the Bamboo Grove. Arriving early allows you to enjoy its beauty in a more tranquil setting.

Tip #9: While central Kyoto is relatively flat and easy to navigate, it’s important to prepare for different terrains, especially if you’re planning to visit the more scenic outskirts. The popular Higashiyama area, known for its historic sites and beautiful vistas, is particularly hilly. As you explore this district, expect quite a few slopes and staircases, especially around major attractions like Kiyomizu-dera Temple. 

Wearing comfortable shoes is a must, and if you’re not used to walking on inclines, take it slow and allow extra time to get from place to place. This preparation will make your visit more enjoyable and less tiring, letting you fully appreciate the beauty and charm of Kyoto’s hilly landscapes.

Tip #10:  To truly delve into Kyoto’s rich history and vibrant culture, consider joining a guided tour. 

Flip Japan offers the “Customized Kyoto Must-Sees and Local Gems with a Local” tour, which is a private, 5-hour journey that’s completely customizable to your interests. This tour is an excellent way to explore both iconic landmarks and hidden local gems through the eyes of a knowledgeable local guide. You’ll discover the stories and secrets of Kyoto that only locals know, enhancing your understanding and appreciation of this enchanting city. 

Area Tips 

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Kyoto is a historic and enchanting city with a multitude of neighborhoods, each offering its own unique vibe and attractions. Here are some tips on must-visit areas and hidden gems that will help you make the most of your Kyoto adventure.

Tip #11: Consider visiting some of the city’s most famous areas and tourist favorites.

Even if you’re not a fan of crowds, these incredibly popular spots are worth a visit for various unique reasons:

  • Gion: Known for its traditional wooden machiya houses, teahouses, and geisha culture, Gion is one of Kyoto’s most iconic districts. However, due to recent regulations, tourists are now banned from entering the private alleyways to protect the residents’ privacy and preserve the traditional atmosphere. 

Visitors can still enjoy walking along the main Hanamikoji Street, where you can experience the historic atmosphere and possibly catch a glimpse of geiko and maiko on their way to appointments​.

  • Arashiyama: Known for its stunning bamboo groves and the scenic Togetsukyo Bridge. Take a peaceful stroll through the bamboo forest, visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park, and explore the beautiful gardens of Tenryu-ji Temple.
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: Famous for its thousands of red torii gates leading up the mountain to the sacred Mount Inari. This iconic shrine is perfect for hiking and offers breathtaking views of the city.

Tip #12: If you want some more lesser-known and local neighbourhoods, consider checking out:

  • Nishijin: An area known for its traditional textile industry and beautiful kimono shops. Explore the Nishijin Textile Center and learn about the art of kimono weaving while discovering charming local cafes and boutiques.
  • Shimogamo: Home to the ancient Shimogamo Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by the Tadasu no Mori forest. This serene area offers a peaceful escape and a chance to experience Kyoto’s spiritual heritage.
  • Ohara: A rural district north of Kyoto, known for its tranquil temples and picturesque landscapes. Visit Sanzen-in Temple, stroll through moss-covered gardens, and enjoy the calming atmosphere away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Tip #13: If you have enough time, also consider taking these day trips from Kyoto:

  • Nara: Famous for its friendly deer that roam freely in Nara Park and its impressive Todai-ji Temple, which houses the Great Buddha. Explore ancient temples, shrines, and beautiful gardens in this historic city.
  • Uji: Renowned for its high-quality green tea and the beautiful Byodo-in Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a relaxing boat ride on the Uji River and participate in a traditional tea ceremony. Check out this Uji Area Guide before adding this to your itinerary.
  • Amanohashidate: Known as one of Japan’s three most scenic views, this natural sandbar spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay. Walk or cycle along the sandbar, visit nearby temples, and take in the stunning panoramic views from the mountaintop parks.
  • Shiga and the Lake Biwa Area: Just a short journey from Kyoto, the Shiga region and its majestic Lake Biwa offer a refreshing escape. Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, is surrounded by scenic mountains and is home to historic sites and tranquil water activities. 

Whether you’re interested in exploring the lakeside temples, enjoying water sports, or simply relaxing by the serene waters, the Lake Biwa area provides a peaceful contrast to the bustling tourist spots in Kyoto.

Tip #14: If you would prefer to spend more time in Kyoto, consider checking out these other Kyoto neighborhoods that just might perfectly fit your interests:

  • Pontocho: Foodies should think about dropping by this narrow alley lined with traditional wooden buildings, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining areas. Enjoy an evening meal at one of the many restaurants overlooking the Kamogawa River.
  • Kitano: Bargain hunters would enjoy this neighborhood, known for the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, as it hosts a lively flea market on the 25th of each month. This area also boasts beautiful plum and maple trees, making it a great spot for seasonal visits.
  • Shimogamo: Nature lovers and culture seekers will find Shimogamo enchanting, home to the venerable Shimogamo Shrine, set within the Tadasu no Mori forest. 

This area is perfect for those looking to explore a part of Kyoto steeped in tranquility and rich historical significance. Enjoy the serene environment and perhaps partake in a traditional tea ceremony or a quiet stroll through the ancient forest.

Culture and Etiquette tips

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Kyoto is a city where traditional customs and modern life coexist harmoniously. Understanding and respecting the local culture and etiquette is crucial for making the most of your visit. Here are some essential tips to help you navigate Kyoto’s cultural landscape with respect and appreciation:

Tip #15: Though it is, of course, not a requirement for tourists, you can blend in more easily by dressing and behaving more conservatively in these formal areas:

  • Central Kyoto (including areas around Kyoto Station and the Imperial Palace): These districts are bustling with business activities, government buildings, and significant cultural landmarks. Dress neatly and modestly, especially when visiting places like the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Avoid talking loudly, and be particularly polite in interactions with shop staff and restaurant employees. Maintaining a formal demeanor and being punctual for appointments or reservations reflects well on you and shows respect for Japan’s cultural heritage.
  • Nijo Castle and surrounding areas: This historical site attracts many visitors, and maintaining a respectful and quiet demeanor is essential. Dress conservatively and follow all posted rules. This area’s atmosphere calls for a higher level of decorum to honor its historical significance​.

Tip #16: Good manners are always a requirement when traveling, but you can let your hair down a bit more in these Kyoto areas that are more casual and youthful:

  • Pontocho: Known for its vibrant nightlife and dining scene, Pontocho has a more relaxed atmosphere. While basic politeness is always expected, the dress code here is more casual, and you can be a bit more expressive in your behavior. It’s common to see people enjoying themselves at izakayas and bars. Feel free to express yourself, but still respect public decorum (e.g., avoid being excessively loud or disruptive).
  • Nishiki Market: This lively market area is known for its bustling and energetic environment. While exploring the market, you can dress casually and enjoy the dynamic atmosphere. Engage with vendors respectfully and enjoy sampling local delicacies, but always be mindful of your surroundings and avoid blocking walkways.

Tip #17:  If dining in a kaiseki or omakase restaurant, it is customary to appreciate the meticulous presentation and pacing of the meal. These high-end dining experiences are not just meals but carefully curated expressions of the chef’s artistry. 

While there is usually no strict dress code, it is advisable to avoid wearing strong perfumes as the scents can interfere with the enjoyment and delicate flavors of the dishes. Be sure to express your gratitude to the staff for their exceptional service and the remarkable dining experience they provide.

Tip #18: Kyoto is a treasure trove of traditional Japanese experiences, and engaging with these can enrich your visit immensely. From the calming rituals of a tea ceremony to the focused precision of calligraphy, each activity offers a deeper understanding of Japan’s rich cultural heritage. 

Consider participating in a meditation session at a local temple to truly connect with the serene spirit of Kyoto. Flip Japan offers guided experiences in these traditional arts, ensuring you have a meaningful and authentic engagement. 

Whether you’re looking to find peace through meditation, enjoy the intricate dance of the tea ceremony, or express yourself through the art of calligraphy, we can help you immerse fully in these revered cultural practices. Check out our services to find the perfect cultural experience that will enhance your journey through Kyoto.

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Tips Related to Transportation and Getting Around 

Kyoto, with its rich history and traditional charm, can be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors due to its unique layout and bustling tourist spots. However, with the right preparation and a few practical tips, you can navigate the city’s transportation system with ease and confidence.

Tip #19: If you already have an IC card like Suica from your travels in other parts of Japan, you won’t need to purchase a separate card for your stay in Osaka. Suica, along with other cards such as ICOCA and PiTaPa, works seamlessly across Osaka’s extensive network of trains, subways, and buses. 

These rechargeable smart cards are not only essential for smooth and efficient travel throughout the Kansai region but are also convenient for making purchases at many convenience stores, vending machines, and even some restaurants. This makes navigating and enjoying Osaka both simple and hassle-free.

Tip #20: Be aware of specific bus and train lines that can get crowded with tourists:

  • Kyoto City Buses: Buses can be very crowded, especially those heading to popular tourist destinations like Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera. Plan to travel early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heaviest crowds.
  • JR Sagano Line: This line, which takes you to the Arashiyama area, is particularly busy during peak tourist seasons. Try to visit early in the day to enjoy a more relaxed journey.
  • Keihan Main Line: This line is convenient for accessing Fushimi Inari Shrine and can get quite busy. Visiting these sites early in the morning or late in the afternoon can help you avoid the rush​.

Tip #21: If you do find yourself stuck in a crowded situation while using public transport, navigate it like a pro by:

  • Following the flow of commuters efficiently. Be prepared for crowded platforms and trains, and move quickly to avoid blocking others.
  • Standing on the right on escalators to allow others to pass on the right, especially in busy stations.
  • Using the Women-Only Cars during morning rush hours for safety and comfort.
  • Carrying minimal luggage or bags to make it easier to navigate through crowded spaces and board trains swiftly.

Tip #22: Use bicycle rentals for a flexible travel option. Kyoto is a bike-friendly city with many rental shops offering affordable options. Cycling is a great way to see the city’s scenic areas, especially along the Kamo River and the Philosopher’s Path. Use Google Maps to find bike rental locations and plan your route​

When renting a bike, be mindful of these safety tips and cycling etiquette:

  • Always ride on the left side of the road and follow traffic signals.
  • Use designated bike lanes where available and be mindful of pedestrians on shared paths.
  • Wear a helmet for safety, even though it’s not mandatory.
  • Park your bike in designated parking areas to avoid fines or having your bike impounded.

Tip #23: In Kyoto, using taxis can significantly enhance your travel comfort, especially when public transportation routes might involve lengthy transfers and extended travel times. For instance, a trip that takes 45 minutes by public transportation might only be a 15-minute taxi ride. 

While taxis in Kyoto are not prohibitively expensive, they offer a convenient alternative to navigating multiple bus or train connections, particularly if you are traveling in a group or with luggage.

  • Taxi Availability: Look for taxis with a green light, which indicates they are available for hire. You can easily hail a taxi on the street or use taxi-hailing apps like JapanTaxi or Go, both of which integrate seamlessly with Google Maps for easy booking.
  • Payment Convenience: Most taxis in Kyoto accept payment via ICOCA, Suica, or PASMO cards, in addition to credit cards. This makes it easy to pay without worrying about having the correct cash.

Tip #24: Invest in a 1-Day Kyoto Sightseeing Pass. This pass is exclusively for foreign tourists, perfect for exploring the area’s key attractions like Higashiyama, Uji, and Fushimi along the Keihan Railway Line. This pass is only available to those who enter Japan with a “short-term visitor” visa, so be sure to have your passport ready at the time of purchase.

With this pass, you can enjoy unlimited rides between Iwashimizu-hachimangu and Demachiyanagi Stations on the Keihan Main Line, Keihan Uji Line, and Iwashimizu-hachimangu-sando-cable for just 800 yen (or 700 yen if purchased overseas).

It’s available from April 1, 2024, to March 31, 2025, and is valid for one day of sightseeing until April 30, 2025. You can purchase the pass at Kansai International Airport Terminal 1, Kansai Tourist Information Center Kyoto, various travel agencies in Japan, Keihan Group hotels, and other locations .

Packing Tips

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Packing for Kyoto requires a bit of strategic planning. In this section, we cover packing tips to ensure you’re well-prepared for your adventure in this historic city.

Tip #25: Make sure that you pack appropriately for the season.

  • Spring (March to May): The weather in Kyoto is mild, but temperatures can vary. Pack layers, such as a light jacket or cardigan, to stay comfortable. Don’t forget an umbrella or a raincoat, as spring can be rainy, especially during the cherry blossom season.
  • Summer (June to August): Summers in Kyoto are hot and humid. Bring light, breathable clothing like cotton t-shirts, shorts, and dresses. A portable fan and a hat can also help you stay cool. Kyoto’s traditional streets and temples can be particularly humid, so dress accordingly.
  • Autumn (September to November): Autumn in Kyoto is beautiful, with mild temperatures and stunning foliage. Pack layers to adjust to changing temperatures throughout the day. A light jacket and long sleeves are ideal. This is a popular season for visiting temples and gardens, so comfortable, versatile clothing is a must.
  • Winter (December to February): Winters in Kyoto are cold, so bring warm clothing such as sweaters, a heavy coat, gloves, and a scarf. Kyoto can experience occasional snowfall, especially in January and February, so be prepared for colder, possibly snowy weather..

Tip #26: Even in summer, trains and buses in Kyoto can be quite chilly due to strong air conditioning. Carrying a cardigan or light sweater in your bag is advisable to stay comfortable.

Tip #27: Sudden rain showers are common in Kyoto—especially during the rainy season (June to July) and typhoon season (September). Having a small, foldable umbrella is advisable.

Tip #28: Kyoto is a city best explored on foot, so comfortable walking shoes are a must. Opt for sneakers or cushioned flats. If you plan to visit more formal places like high-end restaurants or traditional tea houses, pack a pair of dress shoes as well. The city’s cobblestone streets and temple paths require sturdy, comfortable footwear.

Tip #29: When visiting Kyoto’s many temples and shrines, keep in mind that you may need to remove your shoes before entering certain sacred areas. Wearing easy-to-slip-off shoes or sandals can make this process much more convenient. 

However, if you plan to wear sandals, it’s a good idea to bring along a pair of socks. It’s considered polite and respectful to cover your feet when entering these revered places. Additionally, many of the temple floors are made of wood and can be cold, especially in the mornings or during cooler seasons. Wearing socks will keep your feet warm and clean.

Tip #30: If you plan to hike in the surrounding hills or visit the famous bamboo groves in Arashiyama, pack insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes, especially in the warmer months.

Tips for After Arriving in Kyoto

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Arriving in Kyoto is an exciting moment, but can also be daunting. To help you settle in quickly and start your adventure smoothly, here are tips for your first few hours in the city. 

Tip #31: Find your way from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto with these options:

  • JR Haruka Express: This is one of the fastest and most convenient ways to reach Kyoto. The Haruka Express runs from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station in about 75 minutes.
    • Fares: A one-way ticket costs around ¥2,850.
    • Frequency: Trains run every 30 minutes during peak times and every hour during off-peak times.
  • JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service: This is a slower but cheaper option that runs from Kansai Airport to Osaka, where you can transfer to a local train to Kyoto.
    • Fares: A one-way ticket to Osaka costs around ¥1,200, and then an additional ¥570 to Kyoto.
    • Frequency: Trains run every 20 minutes.
  • Limousine Bus: Several limousine buses connect Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station and other destinations in Kyoto.
    • Fares: A one-way ticket costs around ¥2,600.
    • Frequency: Buses run frequently, especially during the day.
  • Taxis: Taxis are available 24/7 outside the terminals. While they offer door-to-door service, they are significantly more expensive than trains or buses.
    • Fares: A taxi ride to Kyoto can cost between ¥15,000 and ¥20,000, depending on the distance and traffic.

Tip #32: Find your way from Itami Airport to Kyoto with these options:

  • Airport Limousine Bus: The most convenient way to travel from Itami Airport to Kyoto Station. The journey takes about 55 minutes.
    • Fares: A one-way ticket costs around ¥1,340.
    • Frequency: Buses run approximately every 30 minutes.
  • Hankyu Railway: You can take a monorail from Itami Airport to Hotarugaike Station, then transfer to the Hankyu Takarazuka Line to Kawaramachi Station in Kyoto.
    • Fares: A one-way ticket costs around ¥600.
    • Frequency: Trains run every 10-15 minutes.
  • Taxis: Taxis are available outside the terminals and provide door-to-door service, but are more expensive.
    • Fares: A taxi ride to Kyoto can cost between ¥10,000 and ¥15,000, depending on the distance and traffic.

Tip #33: Exchanging currency in Kyoto can be straightforward if you know where to go:

  • Airport Currency Exchange: Kansai and Itami airports have currency exchange counters, which are convenient but may offer slightly lower exchange rates compared to city options.
  • ATMs: Many ATMs in Kyoto, such as those at 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Japan Post Bank, accept foreign cards and offer competitive exchange rates. Using an ATM can be a convenient way to withdraw yen directly.
  • Currency Exchange Centers: Dedicated currency exchange centers in popular areas like Kyoto Station and Shijo-Kawaramachi often offer better rates than airports. Look for Travelex branches or local exchange shops for good deals.
  • Hotels: Some hotels offer currency exchange services, but the rates may not be as favorable as other options.

Tip #34: Kyoto operates at a different pace compared to the bustling cities of Tokyo or Osaka, particularly when it comes to evening activities. Most of the city’s famous temples and shrines close around 5 PM. To make the most of your visit, start your days early. 

This approach not only allows you to appreciate these sites in the quieter morning hours but also ensures you can visit multiple attractions before they close. Since nighttime options are more limited, use the evenings to explore Kyoto’s culinary scene or take a relaxing stroll through its beautifully preserved districts like Gion or Pontocho.

Tip #35: Kyoto, with its approximately 800 Shinto shrines and 1,700 Buddhist temples, offers a vast tapestry of cultural and spiritual sites. Rather than attempting to visit them all, focus on a few renowned locations that intrigue you and allow for spontaneous explorations. 

Many lesser-known shrines and temples are freely accessible, offering serene retreats and a more intimate glimpse into Kyoto’s rich heritage. This approach enhances your experience, allowing you to appreciate Kyoto’s depth at a relaxed pace.

Begin Your Kyoto Adventure

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Armed with these 35 essential tips, you’re perfectly poised to explore Kyoto’s rich cultural tapestry. Whether you’re strolling through the serene bamboo groves of Arashiyama or marveling at the beauty of Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto promises a journey filled with wonder and discovery.

But don’t stop here—Japan has so much more to offer. Check out our guides for Osaka, Tokyo, and other enchanting destinations. Each locale has its own story to tell. Have a fantastic trip and soak in all the beauty Kyoto has to offer!