Kyoto is not the typicial destination for a city break, especially if you are travelling from Europe but for sure one of the most beautiful places I have been to recently.
Well and if you invest a bit of planning, the trip is not that expensive as you might think.
So why Kyoto?
Kyoto was the capital of ancient Japan until 1868. Thus it really boosts with countless temples, shrines and other historical structures.
Also, Kyoto is a modern city with approximately 1.7 Mio. inhabitants making it much easier for Japan first-timers.
Most of westerners still think Japan is a difficult destination to travel to, be it the distance, the language and the budget.
Well, all these prejudices are luckily wrong.
Most nonstop flights from Europe or the US will take you to OSAKA (your first stop on your way to Kyoto) in a day (Europe – Osaka 10 hours). Ticket prices start as low as 400 Euros return. So you actually do not spend more than for a flight ticket let’s say to New York.
Getting to Kyoto from Osaka airport is as simple as taking the tube in London or a bus in Berlin. The airport is connected to the high speed train network although you don’t actually need to taking the Shinkansen but the local suburb trains. The ride time to Kyoto is 75 minutes http://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/timetable/. The price for a single trip is 24 Euro or 2.850 Yen.
There are various rail passes available for tourists giving you good discounts when you intend to extending your trip and visiting other destinations like OSAKA or HIROSHIMA.
The tourist center right at arrival level at Kansai airport can give excellent advise.
Otherwise you can directly proceed to the ticket vending machines and opt for the Haruka Express to Kyoto.
Alternatively you could opt taking the bus http://www.kate.co.jp/en/timetable/detail/KY#from. One-way tickets start at 18 Euro (2.250 Yen) The bus basically runs every hour and gets you to Kyoto station in under 2 hours.
Depending on your budget you will find many good hotels in Kyoto ranging from
60-600 Euro per night. Tripadvisor will do a good job if you opt for this alternative.
However, I would recommend trying a hostel, since they offer almost the same comfort as a hotel.
I personally stayed at the Kyoto Piece Hostel close to the train station since the second one in Sanjo was not open at my time of visit.
http://www.piecehostel.com/en/. The price for a double room is approx. 56 € or 6.800 Yen. The breakfast included.
However, you have a shared bath/WC but this is not a problem at all, since you are in a high tech country. Toilets are high tech and fun. Once you are done I can almost guarantee that you want to have this in your own private bathroom once you are back at home.
The hostel is a communicative place with travelers from all over the world. A big map of Kyoto in the dining area makes it easy, to get a first impression where to walk to or what to see first.
Kyoto itself is very easy to navigate in.
Personal recommendation, download the offline map to your iphone/smartphone.
You have a vast bus/train network covering all important areas but to be honest, it is more fun to walk the city or to discover it by bike.
Yes you read it correctly, bike.
Well you might think that this might be complicated since Japanese also drive on the wrong side of the road but I have to disappoint you. I have never come across a more civilized driving behavior than in Japan. Traffic is pretty much relaxed and in addition you will find dedicated bike paths all around the city. Also Japan is safe. I never felt to locking my bike and it always remained untouched when I returned from my temple/shrine visits.
Japan is a heaven for food lovers and thus you have the choice trying everything from Japanese style cheesecake, Mac Donald’s, countless noodle bars and coffee shops to fancy steakhouses and traditional Japanese restaurants.
I made the experience when eating in the Japanese equivalent of fast food establishments I was getting a decent set course menu for around 10-15 Euros. Soup, main course and salad accompanied by a perfectly prepared Japanese beer from the tap were standard. You might be dazzled when entering the restaurant that your order will be taken by a touch screen automat. Look for the button which says English and the rest is pretty self-explaining.
If you prefer to preparing your own food, stop buy at the countless convenience stores, e.g. 7-eleven (http://www.sej.co.jp/in/en.html) where you can buy everything from cheese to liquor.
Apropos liquor, Japan has some amazing beer mix drinks with a relatively high alcohol content (10%). Pay attention when consuming it for the first time.
What to visit in Kyoto
Well the first amazing building welcomes you once you step out the train, it is Kyoto train station simply breathtaking. The attached mall is a heaven for shopaholics and a visit to local ISETAN department store should be mandatory (http://kyoto.wjr-isetan.co.jp.e.do.hp.transer.com/)
Stroll along NISHIKI market to get a first sight of the Japanese culinary variety.
Temples and shrines
They are simply countless. My favorite was the FUSHIMI INARI temple district with 10.000 wooden gates spanning over the path towards the top of the hill.
Yes it is crowed but the good thing is, the further you walk the less crowed it gets.
Also visit, GION the old quarter of Kyoto with its wooden little houses and countless little shops and restaurants. It is best going there at night time since the lit lanterns have something magic. As it is quite touristy, prices are relatively high.
Kyoto also offers countless Museums (Kyoto National Museum, Manga Museum etc). but I would definitely recommend the Kyoto Museum of Modern art with its small but distinctive collection.
Look out for flea markets which also take place on a regular basis (eg. at Toji temple). You will find everything from arts and crafts to little Bonsai seedlings.
My favorite place in Kyoto, Ryoan-ji Temple. I am a big fan of ZEN and it always was my dream to visiting this garden once in my life. This is what I did and I was simply blown away.
- Kyoto is a perfect spot for a city break which will eventually transform you into a Japan addict
- Sights are countless and thus you either let yourself drift away or you make a little plan before travelling
- Japan is inexpensive and easy to travel (Hostels are an excellent hotel alternative)
- People are hospitable and adorable (English in Kyoto is widely spoken)
- Best travel time spring and autumn (cherry blossom festival,
fall foliage), also temperatures are pleasant with 20-25 degrees
- Budget for a week including flight, accommodation, food and sight-seeing : 1000 € per person