Kyoto is a beautiful city. Filled with wonderful history from the 15th century, a trip to Kyoto is one that every staff traveler must do!

How to non-rev to Kyoto

Kyoto is one of the ten largest cities in Japan, but it does not have an airport. The nearest airport that services international flights are Kansai International (KIX) in neighboring Osaka. From here Kyoto can be reached from almost anywhere in the world.

There are a few options to get from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto. The first thing to know is that there is a travel desk at the Kansai Tourist Information Center. The travel desk can assist you in booking tickets to Kyoto as well as answer any questions you may have if you have already purchased transport or a Japan Railway (JR) Pass. The Limited Express Haruka (operated by JR West) is the only direct train between KIX and Kyoto Station. The train departs from Platform 4 and takes approximately 75 minutes. The earliest trains depart at 0630 and the latest at 2216. The train is covered by the JR pass. You may want to purchase a JR pass if you plan to travel throughout the country by train, otherwise, you can buy an Icoca & Haruka discount ticket that is offered only to foreign visitors and a one-way fare can be purchased for 1,630 yen/pp ( ~$15USD) or 3260 yen/pp (~$30USD). Another option is the Limousine Bus that stops at more places (If you are not staying in Kyoto) for 2,550 yen pp or ~23.50USD. This bus runs from 0605 to 2340 (from Terminal 1- bus stop 8) or 2355 (from Terminal 2-bus stop 1) and tickets can be purchased at a nearby ticket window in both terminals. Something to note is that tickets can’t be reserved in advance and boarding is first come first served. Once you arrive at Kyoto Station, you can easily take a bus or train to any other part of Kyoto.

Japan Airlines & Thai Airways
Doha Qatar
Dubai Emirates
Hanoi Vietnam Airlines
Hong Kong ANA, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines & Jetstar Asia
Istanbul Turkish Airways
London British Airways
Manila Air Asia, Jetstar Asia & Philippine Air
Paris Air France
San Francisco United Airlines
Seoul Asiana Airlines & Korean Air
Sydney Quantas
Tokyo ANA, Japan Airlines & Jetstar Asia
Zurich Swiss Air

The Weather

The weather in Kyoto is fairly temperate and can be enjoyed year-round. Typically, the most ideal time to visit is between March and May during the cherry blossom season, and during October – November when the Autumn leaves change. Staff travel during these peak times can be a little more challenging, but the weather and natural beauty of the changing seasons make it worth the effort. If you choose to travel from May – October, be aware that this is typhoon season and you may have to be more flexible as flights can get canceled.

Getting Around Kyoto

Getting around Kyoto is fairly easy. Almost every sign in the airport and around the city have English translations along with the Japanese characters. Not everyone speaks English, so communication can be tricky at times, but if you can’t find your way with a cell phone (I highly recommend getting Google Translate or another translator app) or Google maps, you can always go to a hotel front desk and ask for directions or assistance. You can walk, bike, take a taxi, bus, streetcar, or subway and all are efficient and easy to navigate. The only difference between your options is how much money you want to spend, how many places you want to see, and the size of your group. The currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen and you can use a credit card almost everywhere, but should you want or need cash for things like vending machines, ATMs are easily accessible across the city. The bus system goes everywhere, but you may find the subway, train, and taxi to be faster. If your group has 3-4 people, taxis can be a good value and let you travel between specific destinations quicker and allow you to see more in your 24 hours. We opted for one taxi, busses, and the subway and had no problems navigating the city.

Where to Stay

The most ideal locations to stay in Kyoto are in Downtown Kawaramachi, Gion, Kyoto Station, and Central Kyoto. The types of accommodations options range from hostels and Ryokans (Japanese style inns where you sleep on futon beds and have minimal furniture) to luxury hotels. That being said, you can often find a room in a hostel from $25USD and a Ryokan from $50USD. We opted to stay in a Mimaru Apartment Hotel near Kyoto station and I would highly recommend the location and brand. It was convenient, the room was appointed with everything you could possibly need, (including a combined washer-dryer unit in the room), and the staff was very helpful. When deciding on times to travel, know that hotels in Kyoto can charge double or triple during the Cherry Blossom and Autumn Foliage seasons, but the views are definitely worth the price. Since many people book rooms months in advance during these peak season, your best bet for last-minute rooms is to stay on a weekday night.

Now what?

Upon arrival at your hotel, you may want to grab a pastry or coffee for breakfast. Kyoto station has a ton of food stalls and food options to choose from ranging from pastries to noodles, to breakfast sandwiches, but if you are looking for a quick in and out option, 7Eleven has lots of options on the go. (I know, I know, but trust me on this one.)

After breakfast head to the JR Nara Line for 2 stops and make your way to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. The trip takes 5-10 minutes (depending on the time you get on the train) and the station exit is directly in front of the entrance to the shrine. In order to arrive before the crowds, I recommend arriving before 7:30 am. It might initially seem early, but you will not regret your decision once you arrive.

After climbing to the start of the beautiful Tori gates you may see a line of people trying to take pictures right at the split where there are an entrance and exit, but keep going. The tori, lighting, and picture taking opportunities increase as you climb up the mountain. The hike from the bottom to the top includes plenty of uneven steps and roughly 2.5 miles of paths. Depending on your fitness level and the number of times you stop to take pictures, the journey can take between 1.5- 2.5 hours.

We noticed as we made our way up to the summit that the number of people we saw decreased, so there were a LOT of opportunities for pictures without having to worry about someone climbing into your shot. Another thing to note is the abundance of vending machines along the journey where you can grab water, coffee, etc, (they only take bills or coins) but NO trash cans or recycle bins. This is a common theme throughout the city and country, and visitors are expected to pack out any and all trash, so make sure to bring a backpack or purse with you to hold any bottles you may collect along the journey.

Pro- tip: buy water early on. As you climb higher on the mountain the vending machine prices increase as well.

Once you make your way back down the mountain to the train station, head back to Kyoto Station and then transfer to the JR San-In line toward the Saga-Arashiyama Station. From this station, you can access the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Tenryuji Temple, Kameyama- Koen Park, and Jojakko-Ji Temple. The journey takes between 45-60 minutes to arrive at the station, so if you are feeling hungry, you may want to grab a snack at the Kyoto station before boarding the train.

Once you arrive at the station it is a short 10-minute walk past quite a bit of bamboo to the Tenryuji Temple and gardens! Both the gardens and temple are spectacular, but the gardens, in particular, are not to be missed. Allow yourself 30-45 minutes to explore and walk all of the paths because everywhere you turn there is another view more beautiful than the last. The trees just pop and the pond is so picturesque against the mountainous landscape.

As soon as you exit the Tenryuji gardens take a left and within 3-5 minutes you will arrive at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Your first thought may be, holy moly there are SO many people, but just take a deep breath, look up and take in the beautiful and very tall bamboo. The main portion of the forest winds up a hill until it eventually reaches a T intersection. When you arrive at this crossroad, turn around and take in the most beautiful view down at the forest. If you are looking to take a picture within the forest, this is one of the best locations.

Once you snap those perfect holiday card pictures, turn back around and make your way to the left at the T intersection and head up the hill towards Kameyama- Koen Park to get a view of the beautiful valley and Hozugawa River below. Don’t be surprised if you see monkeys or signs for monkeys in the area; groups of wild monkeys sometimes roam the park. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to take in the view and if you are lucky, you may even see one of the Hozugawa River Boats.

As soon as you head back down the hill, make your way back towards the T intersection again and continue walking straight until you reach another fork in the road. At this fork, you can go to the right and grab a quick lunch at the store or go to the left and head straight to the Jojakko-Ji Temple. If you opt for the lunch first, the rice balls, soft serve, and Takoyaki (octopus balls) are quite delicious.

The Jojakko-Ji Temple is an absolute hidden gem. Most people don’t make the walk to this temple, but once you arrive you are greeted to some of the most incredible panoramic views of Kyoto and a tranquil atmosphere tucked into the side of Mt. Kokura. The temple gardens are quite large and the autumn leaves are set off against the bamboo surrounding it. Plan for 45-60 minutes here, and make sure to spend a few extra minutes at the top of the garden path taking in the views.

When you are finished taking in the views at Jojakko-Ji Temple, head back to the Saga-Arashiyama Station towards the Nijo Castle. When you arrive at Saga-Arashiyama station take the JR San-In line 4 stops to the Nijo Station and then transfer to the Tozai Line for 1 stop until you reach the Nijojo-mae station. Once you arrive it is a short 4-minute walk to the Nijo Castle.

The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the official first residence in Kyoto for the shogun and now a UNESCO world heritage site. The Castle itself is surrounded by a moat and stone walls and once you get inside you are treated to the beautifully preserved Ninomaru Palace and gardens. The gardens here are not to be missed as they are beautifully colored during the autumn leaf season and covered with cherry blossoms during the spring. To enter the Palace you must pay an additional fee, but the fee is more than worth it. Each room and decoration is explained on placards in English and Japanese throughout and they even rent an audio guide for additional information. Allow yourself 1-2 hours to see the gardens and palace and save a few extra minutes to check out the various shops and café near the exit of the castle. The café serves some tasty food and beverages such as Matcha Beer and Matcha Soft Serve.

To get to your last area of Kyoto grab a cab and head for the Gion and the home of the famed Geisha District. Once in the cab head over the Kamo-Gawa River to the Yasaka – Jinja Shrine. Once you arrive at the Shrine walk around and explore. At this early evening hour, you may see Geishas (Geiko) apprentices hurrying through the streets. This area is also full of places to rent Geisha Outfits if you are interested in dressing up. Give yourself about 20-30 minutes to explore as making your way up the hill towards the Kiyomizu-Dera temple for sunset.

The views of Kyoto from the 1200-year-old Kiyomizu-Dera temple are incredible and the temple itself is stunning. You should have roughly an hour to explore here before the gates close. They are quite strict about the closing time of 6 pm so make sure to check your watch or listen for the announcements they make roughly every 10 minutes. As you watch the sunset and the day turn to night, take a breath and take in all the beauty of Kyoto.

After all of those steps today you are probably pretty hungry by now, but fear not, dinner in the Gion area awaits! There are lots of places to grab sushi, Ramen, Teppanyaki, or a beverage of your choice. Let your appetite be your guide! One small but delicious place to try is Teppanyaki Manryu. A 15-minute walk from Kiyomizu-Dera, this place has something for everyone and almost every table gets a little view of your food being prepared by the chef.

The Return

I hope you had the most fun on your epic day in Kyoto and hopefully, you will make your way back again soon. When you head back to the airport make sure to leave a little time to explore. There are lots of places to grab your favorite Matcha tea treats and any last-minute souvenirs. Safe Staff Travels!

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