Kyoto, Japan’s former and historic capital, is well known throughout the world for its seemingly endless temples, shrines, and historic attractions. The city has a population of 1.5 million, and is the current capital of Kyoto Prefecture. Although the city is best known for its numerous historic attractions, the city is one of the largest, most modern, and comfortable cities in Japan. There are a multitude of enormous towers, phenomenal restaurants, and karaoke bars that make for some great night time adventures. All of this is just the icing on the cake that is Kyoto. The true essence of the city comes with its history and its attractions that are easily accessible by the city’s extensive bus system. All day passes can be bought outside the train station for 500 yen a day and will traveling the city both easy and cheap.
Kyoto became the capital in 794 and remained the capital into 1869 when it was moved to Tokyo. During this time, the city became the center for the country’s spiritual and cultural development and with it came countless temples, shrines, and many other attractions. The Onin War of 1467-77 brought an extensive destruction to the city that took centuries to recover. Numerous important buildings and historic districts saw terrible fire damage during this time, but have since been rebuilt.
How to get to Kyoto
From Tokyo: (13,320 Yen)
Get on a Hakata bound Shinkansen (141 Minutes)
From Osaka or Kyoto (1,480 Yen)
Get on an express train to Kyoto (26 Minutes)
*Prices are without the JR Rail Pass
*The nearest airport (Kansai International Airport) is in Osaka.
No matter how much time you set aside for Kyoto, it will not be enough. There are 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread out throughout the city as well as dozens of museums, countless temples, and weeks worth of attractions to find and enjoy. If you do not see anything in here that looks interesting, be sure to check out our article on “What to do in Kyoto.”
As mentioned earlier, there are countless historic temples to visit in Kyoto. Of these, there are a few noteworthy ones that Travel Panda has highlighted on our Kyoto page. One of these is Kinkaku Ji, or Golden Pavilion, which was a Zen Buddhist created in 1397. The temple is a three story pavilion that is best known for its gold paint that covers the building. There is a solid gold rooster on top of the pavilion that has become the symbol of Kinkaku Ji. The pavilion sits in the middle of a pond that is surrounded by a beautifully kept garden that is perfect in any season.
Along with the temples, Kyoto has a great deal of shrines spread out throughout the city. One of the most famous of these shrines, Fushimi Inari Shrine, is the main shrine of the god “Inari” and one of the most iconic attractions in Kyoto. The shrine is located at the base of Mount Inari, and is known for its long winding trails lined with large orange “Torii” gates. Traditionally, merchants would pray to the god Inari, god of rice, for prosperity in the coming year. Now businesses donate the orange “Torii” gates and have their names engraved in the back. People rarely climb all the way to the top, but a stop at one of Kyoto’s top shrines is an absolute must.
Even though Kyoto is one of the largest cities in the country, the city has several natural attractions. The city is surrounded by mountains that are used in fire festivals throughout the year. Near the iconic Kinkaku Ji visitors can explore Arashi Yama’s beautiful bamboo forest as well as play with monkeys at Iwateyama Monkey Park. At the park visitors can get up and close with the monkeys, but be sure to not look into their eyes. The park is on top of a mountain and offers a phenomenal view of the city. Kyoto has a great deal of incredible natural beauty that is just waiting to be explored.
Kyoto’s Museums and Tours
As mentioned earlier Kyoto is a gold mine of historic and important sites. There are heaps of fantastic museums that are dedicated to preserving the great history of this great city. The Kyoto National Museum is one of the best and most important museums in the entire country and contains a great deal of historic relics that are sure to impress. Kyoto has numerous open air museums that allows you to see historical sights in tours. The two most famous of these tours are the Katsura Villa and Imperial Palace. You need to go to the tourist center at the Imperial Palace to sign up, but the extra work is well worth it. The city also has some unique museums, such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum, that are sure to be hours of fun for everyone.
Kyoto’s Stone Gardens
Kyoto has a vast array of temples that contain a great deal of interesting attractions. The Zen temples here have some of the most impressive stone gardens. One of the most famous and historic stone gardens can be found in Kyoto’s Ryoan Ji Temple. Ryoan Ji’s stone garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was founded in 1450. Another one of Kyoto’s famous stone gardens can be found at Tofuku Ji. The stone gardens are created for self reflection and can create a wonderful experience for visitors.
Family Fun in Kyoto
There is a ton to see and do while in Kyoto, but if you are traveling with children they might not enjoy the temples as much as you think. Fortunately Kyoto has a host of fantastic attractions built to keep children of all ages entertained. As soon as you exit Kyoto Station you will be welcomed with the iconic Kyoto Tower. Kyoto is not known for its skyscrapers, however the tower offers an amazing view of the city. Kyoto also has a decent sized zoo and aquarium that your kids are sure to remember.
Kyoto Japan Food
Kyoto has a great deal of fantastic unique food to the area, but even more importantly the city has a wonderful array of delicious snacks that are sold as souvenirs to try. One of the most popular of these snacks is the Yatsuhashi, which is a specialty of Kyoto that has the texture of mochi and contains cinnamon. The Yatsuhashi have a sweet anko filling that comes in a variety of flavors. Some of the more popular flavors include chocolate, strawberry, and chocolate banana. The Yatsuhashi was included in both the mochi and the anko section because it uses both.
Being a large city, Kyoto has a great deal of lodging that ranges from prestigious hotels that have massive rooms, to capsule hotels that is essentially a comfortable coffin. There is a hotel for any budget here, but we highly recommend Ks House Kyoto. The Ks House franchise has a hostel in nearly every major city in Japan, and gives a very quality room for a reasonable price. The rooms range in price from 2,300 – 4,400 Yen and have both dormitory and private rooms available.