After experiencing the hustle and bustle in Tokyo and spending a night in Hakone relaxing at the ryokan, it's time to get back on the JR and make your way down to the old capital of Kyoto. Known for its Buddhist temples, Geisha neighborhood, and their Kobe and Matsusaka beef, Kyoto is home to some of the most traditional culture experiences you will have in Japan. Furthermore, places like Hiroshima and Miyajima are a short train ride away and is the perfect day trip if you are interested in learning more about World War 2 and seeing the Itsukushima Shrine.
The vibrant colors during the Cherry Blossom season (April) and Fall Foliage (early November-December) add a beautiful touch to the city and temples, so if you plan on visiting during those times you will not be disappointed. To get from Hakone to Kyoto, you will take a train from the Hakone-Yumoto Station to Odawara Station (this is not covered by the JR Pass and will cost you 300 Yen), then from Odawara you will take a JR train to the Kyoto station. In total, the trip should take you 2 and a half hours. Below is a map of the train route* (Subject to chance depending on fastest available route)
Getting Around Kyoto
Finding your way around Kyoto is a little bit different than Tokyo and Hakone. Instead of using the train system, it is more useful to take buses around. Don't worry about having to buy and fill another transportation card though, as Kyoto offer's a 1 day unlimited bus pass for 600 Yen (300 Yen for children) at the bus office located at the train station. Buses are the cheapest, most convenient way to travel around Kyoto, especially if you want to go temple hopping. For more information, click the link here. Taxis are widely available, but you will pay more so we recommend using them only at night time once the bus system shuts down.
Activities in Kyoto
With only 3 days in Kyoto, making it around to see everything can be a rush, especially if you take a day trip to Hiroshima/Miyajima (which we highly suggest on doing). The easiest way to think of Kyoto is to split it up into north, south, east, and west. In one day, you would be able to hit 2 sides of Kyoto and not feel like you are being rushed. Whether your goal is to go temple hopping, food touring, or a little be of both, below are activities that we suggest you should do to make the most of your time and to get the best Kyoto experience.
Go Temple and Shrine Hopping in Kyoto
With over 1600 temples located in Kyoto, you can already count on not being able to see them all. Because of this, we can suggest a couple of the main ones to help get your fill of traditional Japanese architecture, gardens, and pagodas. The Kinkaku-ji or "Golden Pavilion" (located in North Kyoto) is one of the most iconic sites you can see in Kyoto, with the golden trimmed temple resting just above the reflection pond. In East Kyoto, some of the best temples to see are the Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto's most popular and especially fun for kids with plenty of shops and attractions), Nanzenji Temple, and the Shoren-in (which offers a night tour where the garden is lit up with colorful lights). In South Kyoto, hop on the JR Nara line for 7 minutes and it will take you to the base of the famous orange torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha.
At night, you can find some temples such as the Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple and Shorein Temple lit up with night light shows that offer a different experience of the shrines and temples. For a complete list of temples to visit, especially during cherry blossom season or fall foliage, check out the link here.
Visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Monkey Forest
Noted as one of the prettiest groves in the world, Arashiyama bamboo grove is home to one of the coolest forests you will ever see. Located in West Kyoto, the grove is located in the heart of some famous temples and shrines there such as the Hogonin Temple and Nonomiya Shrine. It is free to walk through the forest, though it will be crowded with tourists. Our tip is to go early in the morning, around 8am, to feel a little solitude along your walk. It is about a 40 minute bus ride from the Kyoto station with no transfers so getting there is not an issue.
Next to the bus stop is the Arashiyama Monkey Forest which is home to wild monkey on the mountain top, as well as a beautiful view of Kyoto in general. Tickets into the park are only 450 Yen and the walk to the top is fairly easy and enjoyable. At the summit there is a building where you can interact with grounds keepers to purchase food to feed the monkeys. Other than the house, you will be roaming along side the monkey so make sure to respect their presence.
Once you've gone temple hopping through the bamboo grove and saw the monkey forest, the street where you were dropped off at has plenty of food options along the river side and delicious cherry blossom and matcha ice cream stands.
Food in Kyoto
We'll keep the food tour around Japan rolling here in Kyoto, which is home to the most delicious (and expensive) beef in the world. Both Kobe and Matsuzaka beef are indigenous to the area, cut from the cows bred in this region. While most cuts of either of this beef can start at 20,000 Yen, there are ways to find lunch deals where you can eat this delicious beef for a discount. One place with a fantastic lunch deal is at Premium Wagyu Steak Hanasato Gion, where you can get a Yonezawa Hambueg Steak Lunch (Japanese beef from Japanese black cows in the Yamagata Prefecture of Japan) for 3456 Yen. They only offer 10 meals like this per day so make sure to get there early to secure this mouth-watering meal. Check out their menu here to see more lunch options they offer. For a local's take one where the best Kobe/MatsuzakaBeef restaurants in Kyoto are (with prices), click here. Near the Gion-Shijo station you can find plenty of Kobe beef and restaurants along the river way and in the Pontocho Alley, where Kyoto's famous dining scene fixture is located.
Another place that you can't miss out on is the Nishiki Market in Central Kyoto, which has been serving quality and cost friendly food for centuries. Make sure to bring your appetite because you walk by countless stalls offering everything from grilled scallops, buttered shrimp, Kobe Beef (on a stick), Japanese fish cakes, pickled vegetables, and more. It is open from 10am to 6pm.
If you're looking for a casual drink and some tasty food that is fairly priced, we recommend checking out a restaurant called Steak and Wine located in Pontocho Alley. They offer great prices on bottles of wine and have amazing appetizers like the one below. This alleyway provides and incredible mix of traditional Japanese restaurants, as well as fusion, so the selections are endless. If you are looking for more food options in Kyoto, click here.
Accommodations in Kyoto
Majority of cost efficient hotel locations can be found within a 10 minute walk of the Kyoto station. We recommend an accommodation near the station if you plan on utilizing the bus system to see the temples, as well as making day a day trip to Hiroshima and/or Miyajima because it will save you time and make it easy for you to get back at night. On the other hand, if you want to stay near a wider variety of restaurants, shopping, and a shorter walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, we recommend staying in East Kyoto near the Gion neighborhood. Take note though that if you stay near Kyoto Station and would like to get to Gion, it's about a 30 minute walk. If you're looking for a cost efficient option in Kyoto that's an 8 minute walk from the station and has great reviews, we recommend staying at Karatachi Nanajo Ainomahi. For more options, check out Booking.com and the map below.
We hope you enjoyed our post on Kyoto and all the things eat, see, and do here. Please continue reading to hear about what your time in Osaka will be like going out to grab some last minute delicious food and clubbing before heading home.