The best neighborhoods to explore
Arashiyama is a popular sightseeing area on the western outskirts of Kyoto famous for its natural scenic beauty and Zen Buddhist temples. Must-see tourist attractions include the Togetsukyo (Moon Crossing Bridge), Tenryu-ji Temple, Arashiyama Monkey Park, and the magical Sagano Bamboo Forest.
The Higashiyama area is Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing spot and is home to a historic collection of temples including the city’s most famous temple, Kiyomizu-dera. Located on the slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, most of the historic sights are all within easy walking distance of each other.
Gion is Kyoto’s famed geisha and entertainment district located in the heart of its downtown area. It is a place that will allow you to experience the traditional charms and culture of old Kyoto and maybe even spot an elusive geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha). Must-see attractions include Pontocho Alley, Hanami Koji Street, Ishibei Koji, Yasaka Shrine, and Nishiki Market.
Things to do
Bask in the glow of Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the “Golden Pavilion,” is Kyoto’s most iconic sight and its most popular tourist destination. Once a retirement villa for the Shogun, it was later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple. The top two floors of the temple are completely covered in brilliant gold leaf, making it very picturesque against the lush green garden and water of the mirror pond.
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, +81 75-461-0013
Walk in the tunnel of shrine gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is Kyoto’s most important Shinto shrine and one of its most impressive and memorable sights. Founded in 711, it is famed for its tunnel of thousands of vermilion torii shrine gates, which create a magical out-of-this world experience that can only be found in Kyoto.
Stand atop the stage of Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is Kyoto’s most celebrated temple and was on the short-list for the New 7 Wonders of the World. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded way back in 780 and is famous for its main hall, which is perched out over a cliff offering fantastic sweeping views of Kyoto. Just below the hall, you can drink sacred water from a waterfall believed to bestow health, wisdom, and longevity.
1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, +81 75-551-1234
Things to eat and drink
Kyo Kaiseki or Kyoto-style Kaiseki Ryori is a traditional multi-course meal designed to appeal to all the senses. The sophisticated haute cuisine is known for its meticulous preparation, fresh seasonal ingredients, and beautiful artistic presentation. You can try kaiseki at many places in Kyoto from high-end restaurants to traditional Japanese style ryokan inns.
Kyoto is famed for its delicious tofu due to its high-quality soybeans and clear water, which produce smooth, creamy tofu with a clean flavor. Popular tofu dishes include agedofu (deep-fried tofu), yuba (tofu skin), and yudofu (simmered tofu). The Arashiyama and Nanzenji areas of Kyoto are particularly famous for their tofu cuisine.
Matcha Green Tea
Kyoto and nearby Uji are famed for their matcha powdered green tea which can be found in everything from drinks and ice cream to cakes and cookies.
Where to stay
Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
Capsule Ryokan Kyoto is the perfect place to stay for the solo traveler, combining the best of Japan’s traditional ryokan inn and its unique modern capsule-style accommodation. Located a short walk from JR Kyoto Station, rooms are around ¥3,500 (US$31) per person and feature tatami mat floors, traditional style doors, reed blinds, and futon bedding, along with flat screen TVs and high-speed internet access.
204 Tsuchihashi-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, +81 75-344-1510
9 Hours Capsule Hotel
The 9 Hours Capsule Hotel is a futuristic modern capsule hotel that looks like it came straight out of the latest Star Wars movie. Located in downtown Kyoto near Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Nijo Castle, it provides minimalist capsules with free wi-fi and comfortable accommodation for around ¥4,900 (US$43) per person.
Toyoko Inn Kyoto Gojo-Karasuma
If you are looking for a bit more space even as a solo travel, then Toyoko Inn Kyoto Gojo-Karasuma might just be the place for you. Toyoko Inn is a no-frills chain of great value business hotels offering rooms packed with modern features and amenities. Located in the downtown Kyoto area, the rooms are super clean, small but efficient, and will only set you back around ¥6,600 (US$58) a night.
Getting from the airport
The best and fastest way to get to Kyoto from Kansai International Airport is via train. Buy a one-day JR West Kansai Area Pass for ¥2,300 (US$20; only available to foreign visitors) and take the Haruka Limited Express to JR Kyoto Station. The journey takes around 80 minutes, with trains leaving the airport every 30-60 minutes.
If you are coming from Tokyo, the most convenient way is the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to JR Kyoto Station. The Nozomi service is the fastest and costs around ¥13,520 (US$120) and takes just over two hours.
Getting around Kyoto
The Kyoto bus network is the cheapest and most practical way to get around Kyoto and reach its star attractions. Pick up a one-day pass for ¥500 (US$4.50), which will allow you to ride an unlimited number of times within a one day period. The pass can be bought from Kyoto Station or from the bus itself.
Health and safety
Kyoto is one of the cleanest cities in the world with high standards of hygiene, and top-quality clear drinking water. It is also very safe, but care must be taken when traveling alone, especially in crowded tourist areas. Small police boxes called koban can found in most Japanese neighborhoods and are the place to head to in an emergency.