Kyoto is one of the most gorgeous places in all of Japan. Surrounded by mountains, it has countless Zen gardens, statues, temples to visit, endless shopping, and great some seriously food. I loved wandering around Kyoto popping into temple after temple, seeing a wide array of zen gardens, and walking through the bamboo forest. Kyoto gets a lot of hype but I found it lived up to all my expectations. Beyond the historic temples, there is a vibrant night life and restaurants. Honestly, I could live in Kyoto. I loved it that much.
- Hostel Prices: A hostel in Kyoto will cost you $23 USD per night for a dorm room. Many hostels are within a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station, have free wifi, a kitchen and some offer private terraces.
- Budget Hotel Prices: For around $60 USD, you can get a nice budget hotel with free wifi and all the other normal amenities hotels have.
- Average Cost of Food: Eating out can take your money if you’re not careful. Luckily, not all restaurants are expensive and there are many cheap ramen, tempura, sushi belt restaurants in Kyoto. Curry bowls are as cheap as 280 Yen per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around 400-500. Ramen is never more than 700. Groceries will cost about $70 per week. Most sit down restaurants with table service will cost between 1-2,000 Yen.
- Transportation: The easiest way to get around the city is by bus. It is $2.50 USD for a single ride or $5 USD for an all day pass. You can take the subway as well which offers two main trains – Karasuma and Tozai lines – and its fares start at $2 USD.
Top Things to Do
- Visit Gion – Gion is the city’s most famous geisha district and is full of history and entertainment. Walk along the main street and see ochayas (tea houses where geishas entertain), shops and restaurants. The restaurants can be expensive so it’s best to walk around, admire the scenery, then go elsewhere for food.
- Visit the Nijo Castle – The palace building was created in 1603 and famous for its distinct architecture. Now it is a popular tourist attraction so it’s best to arrive early in the morning before the crowds. It’s a beautiful castle worth spending a few hours. The entrance fee is $6 USD.
- Heian Shrine – Dedicated to the first and last emperors that reigned in Kyoto, the shrine can be taken by bus $.10-$1 USD and with a short walk after that. It has a beautiful garden filled with cherry blossom trees. The Shrine is free but the garden has an entrance fee of $5 USD.
- Visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park – The palace is where the Imperial family and court nobles once resided. It’s located in the center of the city and admission is free.
- Visit the Kyoto National Museum – The National Museum is buzzing with artifacts, ceramics and fine arts. Spend the day here, because it offers over 200 pieces of art that are considered national treasures. The cost to enter varies depending on the exhibition, but on average expect to pay $10 USD.
- Walk around Higashiyama – Spend an afternoon on the east side of the Kamo River, and walk along its historical streets and neighborhoods. Be sure to visit the Yasaka shrine and visit a teahouse or two.
- Visit Ryoan-ji Temple – It’s hard not to be in Kyoto without seeing a zen garden and this is one of the best with its unusual rock garden. Get here early before the crowds and try to decipher the message of the rock formations.
- Wander among the Cherry Blossoms – Cherry blossoms are a big part of Japanese culture and Kyoto have some of the best trees in the world. Come during the cherry blossom festival. It’s beautiful.
- Take a trip to Nara – The capital of Japan from 710 to 784, Nara was the center of Japanese culture, arts, and crafts. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s 45 minutes from Kyoto.
- Meditate – If you have trouble putting your mind to rest, sleeping at night, or suffer from frequent headaches, meditation might be the solution for you. A major tradition among the Japanese, specifically among Buddhists, trying their time-tested techniques can give you a greater understand of the people here, as well as possibly bringing you to a place of Zen.
- See the Kyoto International Manga Museum – For the nerd and art enthusiast in all of us, this museum is home to a collection of over 300,000 mangas. There are a number of exhibits highlighting the evolution of the art of manga over the years, as well as, how to workshops, and manga-portrait, caricature style artists on hand.
- Nishiki Market – Almost every major city in the world has a locals market, and Kyoto is no exception. The Nishiki Ichiba is host to an amazing selection of locally grown fruits and veggies, as well as all of the more ‘unknown ingredients’ found in Japanese cooking. The street food here is delicious and there are plenty of places to sit down and people watch.
- Go hiking – The hills of Kyoto are a beautiful place to go hiking—perfect for escaping into nature and spending some time outside of a city atmosphere. There is any number of Buddhist temples and complexes throughout the hills, which make for perfect destinations and temporary retreats.
- Eat Curry, Ramen, and Donburi – Curry bowls were as cheap as $3 USD per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around $4-5 USD. Ramen is never more than $7 USD. The main train station has a lot of these kinds of restaurants.
- Get the temple pass – For $12 USD, you can get a one day pass that lets you into all the temples and gives you free public transportation. If you plan on seeing multiple temples (some of which are very far apart), get this pass. The city is too big to walk around. You’ll need the bus.
- Stick to sushi trains – The sushi in Kyoto is very expensive. If you need a fix, stick to the sushi trains around the city. (The train station has a very good one. There usually is a long wait though.) The quality is fine and it won’t cost you the $50 USD that most of the restaurants will.