Kyoto is a beautiful city nestled within the mountainous terrain of Japan. With over 1600 temples and shrines, you will never run out of things to see. Having a solid plan is required, the major sights are scattered along the outskirts of town. Two or three jam-packed days are the minimum to see the best of what Kyoto has to offer. In addition, the city also makes the perfect hub to explore surrounding cities like Osaka, Nara and Himeji.
Kyoto has a great train and bus system. Using the main station, you can easily access each district of the city. After arriving in an area, you will need to walk or cab to each attraction. I was averaging a walking distance of 10-15 km per day; some of the mountainous areas will require a lot of stair climbing. Each day offered a brand new experience that kept me wanting to explore every inch of the city. Kyoto was my favourite destination in Japan and I cannot wait to go back.
Iwatayama Monkey park is located in the popular Arashiyama District and is inhabited by free-roaming Japanese Macaques. Admission is 550 yen and you will have the opportunity to see and feed monkeys.
Tranquil paths wind their way through this picturesque area. Look up to see the bamboo swaying gently above your head.
One of Japan’s most popular and beautiful sights. The complex is quite large and is constructed directly into the hillside. Line up to drink from the Otowa Waterfall, each stream is said to provide the drinker with different benefits.
A historical area located between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera. Winding paths, traditional stores and great restaurants make this district a must-see in Kyoto.
Known as Kyoto’s Silver Pavilion. The name is derived from the reflection of moonlight from the temple. Located near the Philosopher’s Path, this area is perfect to spend the morning walking around.
Located across the street from the Kyoto National Museum, this temple houses 1001 human sized statues. The experience of walking through the incense filled halls with ornately crafted figures is unforgettable. The only downside is you cannot take pictures of this incredible sight (justifiably so).
Kinkakuji is my favourite place in all of Kyoto. Known as the “Golden Pavilion”, this temple is the definition of picturesque and a must-see! While this area is crawling with tourists, the paths have been positioned perfectly around the temple to create unobstructed views.
A famous zen garden only a short walk away from Kinkakuji. This is an awesome place to sit down and relax, enjoying the tranquillity of each meticulously positioned stone. The temple grounds are quite expansive and feature many beautiful areas to explore.
One of Kyoto’s most iconic sights. Thousands of torii gates line a winding path up Mount Inari. Get past the crowds by climbing to the top and see Kyoto from a great vantage point. A round-trip should take approximately 1-2 hours.
The Philosopher’s Path is a relaxing and beautiful walk. The spring yields stunning views of cherry blossoms that attract people from across the world. A close proximity to Ginkakuji Temple makes this attraction very accessible and easy to check off your list.
Kyoto National Museum
The Kyoto National Museum is rich with historical and culturally rich artifacts. Gain a better understanding of Japan’s past by taking a tour with an English audio guide. You can’t go wrong with visiting a museum on a rainy day!
Explore the ancient city of Nara, which at one time was the capital of Japan. The highlights include walking through the world renowned Todaiji Temple and feeding the sacred deer of Nara Park. Only a 40-minute train ride from Kyoto, visiting for a few hours couldn’t be easier.
Also known as the White Heron Castle, Himeji’s architectural brilliance is a sight to behold. You are able to freely explore the grounds and even climb to the top floor of the castle. If you have any spare time, Kokoen Garden is right next door and features awesome koi ponds.
- Backpackers Hostel K’s House – I can never say enough about how much I love K’s House. The hostel chain offers a level of quality and consistency that is extremely hard to find. A 5-10 minute walk from Kyoto Station is also a plus!
- Kyoto Hana Hostel – Another awesome chain of hostels that offers great service. You won’t be disappointed with the location and price!
- Kyoto Century Hotel – A four-star hotel just steps away from Kyoto Station. In terms of location and convenience, this place cannot be beaten. In addition, you’ll be close to great restaurants and department stores.
- Hyatt Regency Kyoto – After the Kyoto Century Hotel, there really aren’t too many options within walking distance of Kyoto station. However, the Hyatt offers a close proximity to Shichijo Subway Station which allows easy access to attractions in Eastern Kyoto.
Click here for a full listing of Hotels in Kyoto
Great: March – May
Beginning in mid-March, temperatures start climbing towards comfortable levels and the probability of rain is fairly low. There is a large variation in temperature, but you can expect between 8-19°C during these transitionary months. Depending on weather conditions, March and April are when cherry blossoms start to paint certain areas a vibrant pink. It is generally a crapshoot and prices are high, but the beauty of cherry blossom season is unparalleled.
Great: September – October
Temperatures during September and October start to cool and the probability of rain lowers significantly. Tourists flock to Japan for a stunning display of fall colours that turn the countryside beautiful shades of red and orange. Don’t forget to book early because this is a popular time of year.
Okay: December – February
There’s nothing wrong with visiting Kyoto during the winter. In fact, many of the temples look even more beautiful covered with snow. An added bonus is you won’t generally have to deal with crowds and the hotels are cheaper!
Bad: June – August
Daily highs are in the 30’s and the humidity can get quite bad. In addition, the rainfall is almost double in comparison to the prime times of March and May. If you can brave these conditions, you’ll deal with fewer crowds than the cherry blossom and fall colour periods.