Travel Guide – Kyoto, Japan Overview

One of the biggest changes this site will see in the next few months is the addition of travel guide and travel tips section. We will start the serial with one of the oldest and well preserved cities in Japan – Kyoto.

Kyoto Overview

Kyoto Prefecture is one of Japan’s most important administrative regions, located in Kansai, Japan, bordering Osaka Prefecture, Nara Prefecture, Hyogo Prefecture, Mie Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture. Kyoto is a great geographical concept, what we generally call “Kyoto” refers to the urban areas of Kyoto and the surrounding surburb. Kyoto Prefecture contains 15 cities and 6 counties.

Kyoto Perfecture Overview
Kyoto Perfecture Overview

Since the end of the 8th century, when Kyoto became the capital of the Heian period, Kyoto has witnessed the evolution of history for over a thousand years. Although after the Meiji Restoration, the capital of Japan was transferred to Tokyo, Kyoto has been and is still regarded as the real place of Japanese culture and Japanese Spirit. In Kyoto, you can visit the ancient buildings with thousands of years of history, walk among geisha dressed up in festival clothes in Gion District, experience Kaiseki cuisine among the best Japan can offer,  or shop in Ninenzaka for Kyoto-ware porcelain made in the most traditional way. As one of the centers of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area and the second largest university town in Japan, Kyoto has no lack of the vitality of any modern cities. A large number of bookstores, coffee shops, tea houses and specialty shops on the streets can make you feel the new life in this ancient city. If you have the privilege of visiting Kyoto during one of the many festivals, be sure to join the crowd celebrating on the streets and feel the pulse of the ancient capital of Japan.

Kyoto – Festival on the street


Best Time to Visit

Kyoto has four distinctive seasons, feeling the flow of the season is a great charm of Kyoto. In general, the Spring and Autumn season is the best season to visit. However, during the peak season, Kyoto is often overcrowded, the hotel price goes up and rooms can become hard to find. Peak season may not be the best to appreciate the ancient capital in its natural serenity. Off-peak travel could bring surprises.

Spring of Kyoto is mild and comfortable with less rain, it is considered one of the best season to visit. Early spring from late February to end of March is the plum season and the end of March through mid-April is the most lively cherry blossom season.

Cherry Blossom in Kyoto

Summer of Kyoto can become hot and humid because of the mountain range surrounding the three sides of the city. June and July could see long rains so don’t forget to bring your rain gear. In July is the Gion Matsuri festival of Kyoto. And in August, there are Bon Festival and Gozan Okuribi Festival. These are the most important events of the year.

Gion Matsuri Festival in Kyoto

Kyoto’s autumn is sunny and refreshing. September is a great time to visit to appreciate Chrysanthemum. October sees Jidai Matsuri, Festival of the Ages, celebrates Kyoto’s illustrious past. Visiting in mid-November to see the beautiful fall foliages.

Fall in Kyoto

Kyoto’s winter is cold and bitter and is on the damp side. Around the end of year is a great time to visit to enjoy the new year celebration. Snow can also bring out the serene beauty of the many ancient building of the city.

Kyoto after snow


What to wear

In early spring and late fall, it’s best to bring a layered jacket with you. In winter, a warm winter coat or down jacket is essential. Summer is very hot and can see many rains, traveling cool and light is appropriate, be careful of heatstroke and bring rain gear. Many traditional Japanese-style hotels may not have air conditioning. Recommended to bring many layers of clothes so you can adjust easily.


By Air

       Kyoto doesn’t have its own airport. It is accessed through either Kansai Internationa Airport (KIX) or Osaka International Airport (ITM).

      Here is a detail guide about traveling between KIX and Kyoto through train, bus or taxi.

Traveling Between Kyoto and Kansai International Airport

By Train

Kyoto is easily reachable from a number of major cities in Japan by Shinkansen bullet train or standard trains.

Shinkansen bullet trains are classified by speed. The fastest is Nozomi, which runs from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2 hours and 15 min. Hikari, which makes a few more stops, takes 2 hours and 40 min. Kodama, which stops at every station, takes 3 hours and 40 min. Trains on this line depart several times per hour and are very punctual. In 2003, JR Central announced that the average arrival time of the Shinkansen was within six seconds of schedule.

You can by a Japan Rail Pass to get unlimited ride on the Shinkansen trains. All trains are available to pass holders with the exception of Nozomi.

Though the Shinkansen is convenient for traveling long distances, it’s sometimes necessary to ride local trains. Hankyu, Keihan, and Kintetsu railways provide cheaper services to Kyoto from Osaka and Kobe than JR.

Trains in Japan are also  designated by their speed. The fastest are Tokkyu (Limited Express) and Kyuko (Express) trains. JR charges passengers an extra fee to ride these, but the private lines servicing Kyoto do not. Shinkaisoku (New Rapid) are the fastest trains available at a standard fare on JR. You can reach Kyoto via a Shinkaisoku train in about 30 min. from Osaka or about 50 min. from Kobe. Kaisoku (Rapid) trains skip some smaller stations while Futsu (Local) or Kaku-eki-teisha trains stop at every station.

Getting Around

Transportation within the city of Kyoto is different from other Japanese cities. The scenic areas are connected mainly by bus and supplemented by rail transit. In general, it’s a good idea to by a day pass for the convenience of traveling within the city limit. To visit the scenic sports in the suburb, you need to take JR, subway or private rail. Please plan carefully with particular attention to the visit all attractions on the same direction to save time and money. Arukumachi Kyoto Router Planner is a great website to plan transportation for your trip.

Day Pass

There are two kinds of day passes that you can buy:

KTP (Kansai Thru Pass) This ticket enables you to ride on subways, private railways and buses throughout the Kansai district. As well as enabling you to tour Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, it lets you visit Nara, Wakayama and Koyasan. It comes in two types; 2-day and 3-day.

Kyoto Tourism 1-day/2-day pass: This allows you to ride all buses and subways in Kyoto city limit. You can buy it in subway ticket booth or ticket machine and in some hotels. You can get more information from


The Kyoto Municipal Subway is made up of two lines: the 13.7-kilometer (8.5 mi) long, 15-station Karasuma Line, and the 17.5-kilometer (10.9 mi) long, 17-station Tōzai Line, which together share one interchange station (Karasuma Oike Station):

One-way subway ride costs between 210 and 350 Yen. If you plan to ride more than three times in a day, it is better to get the day pass instead.



The most common public transport in Kyoto is the city bus, and there are other companies operating Kyoto bus, Keihan bus, etc.. Please be careful with the name when riding. Generally the bus has light green paint with dark green stripes, there are also colorful ones. Rider enters from the back door on the bus, ring the bell in advance when you want to get off to notify the driver, and pay before getting off. The fare within the city rangeis 230 yen, and there is an ATM machine for a change of 1,000 yen in coin. Children under the age of 12 pay half-price at 120 yen, an adult can bring two children under the age of 6 for free. If you travel by bus more than three times a day, it is recommended to purchase city bus day pass, the price is 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. You can ride unlimited city bus and Kyoto bus within one day with the pass.

 Day pass can be purchased in any public transportation service window, you can also purchase on the bus, you need to keep the ticket card to show when riding the bus. The day pass comes with a tourism map which is very useful, it has most of the attractions market with pictures and can be use as a great reference.


Kyoto City create RAKU bus on three major tourist routes that is more convenient for foreign tourists. The buses have rich body color and are painted with the scenery of the four seasons of Kyoto , making it very easy to identify. It is also the most convenient choice for visitors and provide broadcast in English. RAKU bus’ cost is the same as normal city buses. Day pass also can be used on RAKU bus.


The body is pink cherry blossom pattern, The Raku 100 bus goes to the Higashiyama and Okazaki areas of Kyoto: Heian Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Ginkakuji Temple in the east of the city.

From Kyoto Station the bus stops at Sanjusangendo Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Heian-jingu Shrine, Eikan-do Temple, Nanzen-ji Temple terminating at Ginkaku-ji Temple before returning to Kyoto Station.


The bus has a green plant pattern. The Raku 101 bus goes to Nijo Castle, Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine and Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) in the central and western parts of the city.

From Kyoto Station the bus stops at Nijo Castle, Nishijin Textile Center at Horikawa Imadegawa, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kinkaku-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple. It terminates at Kitaoji Bus Terminal and then returns to Kyoto Station. At Kitano Hakubaicho, the Raku 101 connects to the Keifuku Railway for Arashiyama.


 The body color is orange and has red leaves pattern.The Raku 102 bus goes to and from Ginkaku-ji Temple via Kinkaku-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple in a loop of the northern part of the city from east to west and back again.

Private train

Most of Kyoto’s private train lines connect Kyoto city and suburban attractions, and some lines extend to other cities in Kansai. In addition to Keihan line, Hankyu line and Kintetsu line, many people also ride Randen line and Eizan line,

Randen was founded in 1910. It has been running for over 100 years and it is the only tram in Kyoto.
Along the line, there are a lot of world’s cultural heritages including such as Tenryuji, Ryoanji, Kinkakuji, Ninnaji. There is the Kyoto Uzumasa Eigamura (Toei Movie Land) which is a movie village of Jidaigeki, the Japanese historical drama. You can see the movie world of Samurai, Ninja and Geisha-girls.

Eizan tram is owned by the Keihan tram. It starts at Demachiyanagi Station (beside the Kamo-gawa River in the north of the city, at Imadegawa-dori Street) and ends at the villages of Kibune and Kurama in the Kitayama Mountains in the north of the city. It also offers a pass through the famous maple leaves tunnel. Eizan tram’s one-way fare is between 210-420 yen depends on how far you travel, you can buy day pass at 1000 yen.

Here is the overview part of Kyoto. Next we will talk about the top attractions and recommended routes for different length of stay.