Top Tips to Know Before Travelling to Kyoto

Kyoto Japan| © Pedro Szekely
Kyoto Japan| © Pedro Szekely Flickr
Photo of John Asano
27 October 2017

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years and still remains its cultural and historical heart. It is one of the world’s great cities and a place that everyone should visit at least once in their travels. Here are some top tips to help you plan that long awaited trip to Kyoto.

Pick up a Bus Pass

Kyoto is a compact city with an excellent public transport system that makes it very easy to get around and explore all its amazing sites. Pick up a Kyoto City one day bus pass, which will allow you to travel almost anywhere within the city. It is very reasonably priced and very convenient for getting on and off the bus with just one touch. You can purchase the pass at tourist information counters in subways and bus stations, and even aboard the buses themselves.

Kyoto City Bus | © hans-johnson Flickr

Use Google Maps to Plan Your Route

Google Maps is a great tool to help plan your route and know which bus to catch. Carefully plan your itinerary and the places you want to visit before your trip and then sit back, relax and reap the benefits of this great application.

Many Attractions are FREE

Yes, you read correctly. Not all of them, but the majority of shrines and even some temples and gardens in Kyoto are free to enter and visit. Some fantastic free places to check out include Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Yasaka Shrine, Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Ninna-ji Temple. You can even throw in some museums into the mix to spice things up.

Kyoto Imperial Palace | © Bill Hails Flickr

Bring a Lot of Coins with Holes in Them

Five yen coins are the coin of choice to offer to the prayer box when praying at a shrine or temple in Japan. The small round coin with a hole in the middle is considered auspicious and is thought to be the best to bring you luck when praying. Why? Five yen is “go-en” in Japanese, which means “good luck”, so it is used in hope of bringing good fortune in business, love or relationships. It is a good idea to bring a stack of them with you as Kyoto has thousands of shrines and temples, and you are bound to visit at least some of them on any trip.

Five Yen Coin | © aotaro Flickr

Bring Comfortable Shoes and Prepare for a Lot of Walking

With all its historic temples, colourful shrines, well-preserved ancient streets and traditional gardens , Kyoto is a place that requires a lot of serious walking. Part of the fun of exploring its attractions is the experience of getting there, which at times involves walks down small side streets, crossing foot bridges over canals, and wandering down hidden alleyways.

Walking in Gion | © Joe Lachoff Flickr

Kyoto Station is not the Best Place to Base Yourself

Kyoto Station is a fantastic transportation hub for exploring the nearby Kansai Region of Kyoto, Nara and Osaka, but is not the best place for exploring Kyoto City itself. The Gion area is a much better option. It is regarded as the downtown area of Kyoto which makes it a more convenient location for discovering all that Kyoto has to offer.

The Historic Gion Area | © Harald Johnsen Flickr

Visit on the 15th, 21st and 25th to Find a Real Bargain

Kyoto has some of the best flea markets in all of Japan. You can find some real bargains there such as kimono, ceramics, ukiyoe wood block prints, handicrafts and accessories which make fantastic souvenirs. Visit on the 15th, 21st and 25th of the month to catch the Tezukuri-ichi Flea Market at Chion-ji Temple, Kobo-san Flea Market at Toji Temple and Tenjin-san Flea Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

Tenjin-san Flea Market | © np&djjewell Flickr

Lunch is Cheaper than Dinner

Kyo-ryori or Kyoto Cuisine is one of the many must try experiences when in Kyoto. Exquisite multi course meals served in traditional tatami mat rooms by a waitress in kimono is the quintessential Japanese experience. Head to Minoko restaurant in the geisha and entertainment district of Gion for an unforgettable 11 course Kyo-ryori dinner. If you are on a budget, try their lunchtime sampler set presented in beautiful shiny lacquerware bento boxes.

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