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Kyoto, Japan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

In Kyoto, on Japan’s main island of Honshu, rich history and tradition meet stunning natural beauty in what can only be described as a harmonious tapestry. The former capital of Japan is still very much considered its cultural capital, with thousands of ancient temples and shrines, bustling geisha districts, and an exquisite food scene. In this ultimate travel guide to Kyoto, discover timeless, tranquil allure as we explore its countless treasures, bridging the gap between past and present.

Best Known For: Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines

golden pavillion kyoto

As one of the oldest, most traditional cities in Japan, it’s no surprise that Kyoto’s star attractions are its 2,000+ Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. During its golden age as Japan’s capital, Kyoto was also the cultural center of the country. Today, it’s home to 17 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites — all but one a temple or shrine. One, Kamigamo Jinja, is the city’s oldest, founded over 1,340 years ago in 678.

Explore Kyoto’s most prestigious temples and shrines on our guided tours, which offer expert local insight and insider secrets. For example, our Best of Kyoto Day Tour takes you to Nijo Castle, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the famous Golden Pavilion, and many more hidden gems. You can also explore these Kyoto highlights via bike on our Kyoto Bike Tour.

Kyoto Guide: Essential Travel Information

MoneyJapan’s primary currency is the Japanese Yen, symbolized with ¥ or 円. Cash is widely used throughout the country and it’s common to encounter shops, taxis, public transportation, restaurants and hotels that do not accept cards. Fortunately, ATMs are abundant throughout Kyoto, particularly in tourist hubs. Additionally, most banks, post offices, and the airport offer currency exchange services.
Tipping is not common practice in Japan. From restaurants and cafes to taxis and valets, you can almost count on a tip being politely declined. The major exception is tour guides, although it still isn’t expected. If you plan to tip a guide, put the bills in a clean envelope.
LanguageThe Western Japanese dialect of Kansai is the language most commonly spoken in Kyoto. As it’s a major tourist destination, most hotels, restaurants, and tour operators also speak English.
PopulationKyoto’s population is 1.475 million people, making it the ninth most populous city in Japan. 
TransportationWhile walking is extremely common in Kyoto, the city also has excellent public transportation. Its train system is inexpensive and fast, and the city bus is another great option. Between them, you can get anywhere within the city, but taxis are also widely available. Alternatively, you can explore the city on one of our Kyoto tours
CultureBeing that Japan is a country with many deeply-rooted traditions, there are some customs visitors should be aware of. Bow when meeting or greeting someone, but be sure to do it properly — instead of tilting only your head, bend your body forward at a 30-degree angle and keep your arms at your sides. Also, remove your shoes before entering places like shrines, temples, homes, and even some hotels. 

Interactive Map of Kyoto

More Things to See in Kyoto

bamboo forest kyoto

Explore the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Considered one of the most beautiful places in Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, or “Bamboo Forest,” is exactly what it sounds like—a tranquil path leading through thick, towering bamboo. Explore the path on foot or bicycle.

Indulge in Kyoto’s tea culture: Kyoto’s history is closely tied to traditional Japanese tea culture. In fact, the birthplace of matcha is just south of Kyoto, in bustling Uji. Visit Kyoto & Uji in one day on our Kyoto & Uji Tour – From Kyoto & Osaka.

Soak up Japanese history: Each time period and Japanese society has imprinted itself on the countless Heritage Sites in Kyoto. Explore Buddhist and Shinto history on this afternoon shrines and temples tour, get to know the Emperors of old on a morning royal-themed tour of Kyoto, or combine them both in a full-day excursion into the depths of Japanese eminence.

Experience Gion, the geisha district: Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience traditional geisha culture, known here as geiko. Four of the city’s five primary geiko districts are in the Gion district, and you can experience them on the Evening Food Tour. Indulge in a 10-course meal while exploring some of the district’s most iconic, historical streets. 

Where to Stay in Kyoto

Bustling, beautiful Kyoto has several distinct regions and no shortage of excellent hotels in each. To help you make a decision, consider what part of the city you’d like to stay in. 

Downtown Kyoto: Downtown is the best place to stay overall, putting you within easy walking distance of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and shops. You’ll also be conveniently located near public transportation and several major attractions. There’s a pleasant mix of big-name and boutique hotels downtown, catering to all types of travelers.

Higashiyama: Divided into Southern and Northern Higashiyama, this is one of the oldest, best preserved, and most scenic parts of Kyoto, with a large concentration of temples, shrines, and other attractions. Gion is here, as well as some of the city’s best restaurants. 

Kyoto Station: Just slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown and the major tourist hubs, staying near Kyoto Station offers convenience and proximity to public transport. Many of Kyoto’s best family hotels are also in this area. 

If you’re planning to visit other cities in Japan, such as Tokyo or Osaka, consider one of our all-inclusive multi-day Kyoto tour packages. These allow you to explore several places on one trip and get a more authentic feel for Japan as a whole, plus all tours and hotels are included!

Kyoto Food Guide: Restaurants & Markets

kyoto restaurants bars

Kyoto’s food scene is a major aspect of its culture. Like the city as a whole, its cuisine leans heavily traditional, with an emphasis on seasonal and pickled foods. Foodies will find everything from traditional multi-course meals known as kaiseki to tea houses and yudofu, a simple, casual tofu hot pot dish. Sweets and snacks, okashi, are also prominent in Kyoto cuisine. 

Also in Kyoto is the renowned Nishiki Market, highly regarded as one of the best food markets in the world. The covered outdoor market spans five city blocks, with over 100 vendors and restaurants inside. Experience the city’s rich and diverse food culture on a guided food tour. One of the standouts is the Evening Food Tour in Kyoto’s Gion District, which includes a 10-course feast.

Kyoto Guide: Things to Book Ahead 

In popular tourist destinations like Kyoto, it’s wise to book several things well in advance. The Imperial Palace is often closed to visitors, so make sure to reserve your spot on a Kyoto tour that visits this relic of Kyoto. Besides accommodation, these include wildly popular food and drink tours with limited availability. Some often sell out, like temple and shrine tours.

If you find yourself with some extra time while in Kyoto, make sure to venture out and visit the surrounding magical places. Nara, for example, is situated just 38 km from Kyoto, making it an ideal day trip from Kyoto. Join our half-day trip to Nara from Kyoto or see the best of both cities on our Kyoto & Nara Day Tour. Alternatively, spend a day visiting Osaka on our Best of Osaka Tour from Kyoto. With so much to see and do in Kyoto and its surrounding regions, we highly recommend booking one of our multi-day Kyoto tour packages to ensure you do it all. However long your itinerary, and whatever your Japan travel budget, we are sure to have a package to suit your requirements. From our 8-Day Budget Japan Tour Package to our 11-Day Ultimate Japan Private Tour Package, allow us to show you the highlights of this magical country.

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