10+ Things to know before traveling to Kyoto – the first time (2023)

Last Updated on September 16, 2023 by Jerardo Gomez

The Ultimate Guide of Things to Know Before Visiting Kyoto

senbon torii, torii, japanese woman

If you found this blog somewhere on the internet then you are in the best place possible to start your travel planning to Kyoto! And I am happy to help with the most comprehensive Kyoto tip travel guide.

If you are about to embark on your first-ever trip to Kyoto, there is quite a few things to note to plan this trip, but here is some background ask to why you should travel to Kyoto.

The ancient city is one of Japan’s most popular travel destinations and the excitement of exploring this unique place can be overwhelming, and crowdy – but don’t worry!

We have compiled all the top tips for tourists looking to get the most out of their visit to Japan’s cultural capital.

From helpful hints for navigating public transport, essential souvenirs that no traveler should leave without, and a comprehensive FAQ section answering some of Kyoto’s most frequently asked questions – this blog post has everything you need before making your epic journey.

arayashiyama river in kyoto day trip
Arayashiyama River Bank in July

Kyoto has a rich history and culture which contrasts Tokyo in the best way. Kyoto was the capital for most of it’s recent history for over 1,000 years. If you decide to come here, you will be met with old temples, shrines, streets, and buildings intact as they were for a very long time, which is an architect’s dream.

You may encounter geisha in the Gion district, castles, gardens, and traditional food.

Once you finish this article, share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below, now lets get started!

Top tips of things to know when visiting Kyoto

kyoto city view

1. Deciding where to spend your time

tenryu-ji temple in July kyoto trip
Tenryu-Ji Temple at Arashiyama in July

Make a list of attractions and activities you wish to go on. Then, use google maps document to pin those over the map of Kyoto.

This is the first and most important step of your travel planning adventure because you will need to map out where your activities will be located.

This will get you an idea of where everything is, because some attractions like the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest area are quite far from the main city for example.

This benefits you because you can plan out your day with things to do in certain areas for convenience.

Additionally, this helps with your accommodation when deciding if you want to stay near certain areas such as a ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn), or close to attractions/transportation near Kyoto Station for better planning. Where you decide to spend your time is up to you, but mapping out your itinerary is key.

2. Where to stay in Kyoto?

Naturally moving on to the number two spot, is deciding where you want to stay.

How to decide where to stay?

If you’re looking for a more of Western-style hotel for a budget, mid-range, or luxurious experience, then check out the hotels in the city center!

Why? Because not only is this convenience for travelers with transportation services incredibly close, but there is a variety of hotels, shops, transportation, and things to do nearby which will make your travels easy with this as your home base.

My top recommendations:

Budget: Hotel Hokke Club or Hotel Amanek Kyoto Kawaramachi Gojo

Mid-Range: The Thousand Kyoto or Royal Twin Hotel

Luxury: Four Seasons or Park Hyatt


On the other hand, if you’re on a budget and want to save some cash, consider a cozy hostel or Airbnb in a less touristy area.

2. How to navigate the city?

First things first, ditch the car and opt for public transportation – not only is it better for the environment, but it’ll save you a lot of money than using a taxi.

Here is where a Google map with the pins comes into play. You are able to see your sightseeing locations on a map live or offline on your phone, to easily navigate your itinerary.

And don’t be afraid to ask for directions – most locals and tourists will be happy to help guide you on your way.

Japan has a lot of different pass options to navigate the city to save money

arashiyama with a man looking at the bamboo forest
Myself at the Bamboo Forest

To easily travel around Kyoto City, I recommend purchasing a one-day bus pass. It’s affordable and allows you to hop on and off the bus with ease. You can buy the pass at tourist information counters in subways, bus stations, and on the buses.

If you are staying in the region to visit other towns, then my Kyoto Travel tips include opting for a regional pass that includes the Kansai International Airport.

Recommended Passes to look into:

3. Free Shrines, Gardens, Temples, and more!

A lot of shrines and some temples and gardens in Kyoto can be visited for free, however not all but it is usually a small fee. You can explore places like Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Yasaka Shrine, Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Ninna-ji Temple without paying an entrance fee.

For first-time visitors should be visiting temples as a must. The old town feel with narrow streets, small shops, and many restaurants makes this a great city to visit.

4. Bring Comfortable walking Shoes!

Kyoto is really all about walking and many places is going uphill, so you are likely to feel tired if you are wearing uncomfortable shoes. Even shoes like Nike, Addidas, and Reebok is something that I don’t recommend.

What I recommend:

I recommend orthopedic shoes or my favorite which are Hoka. When I wore these for the first time, I could not believe shoes could be this comfortable because I have worn Adidas and Nike my whole life. There really are amazing and is what I took when I went to Kyoto.

5. Check the Weather ahead of time!

ninenzaka street kyoto with people in the summer

Kyoto is a city of four distinct seasons. In spring, temperatures start to warm up in March and April but can still be quite chilly. The season sees the emergence of cherry blossoms and is the best time for sightseeing.

Summer begins in June and can be very hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). July is usually the hottest month and typhoons are possible in August. Summer is the rainy season, which is often and comes with thunderstorms.

Autumn is one of the most popular times to visit Kyoto. It features beautiful foliage views from mid-October to mid-November, as well as comfortable temperatures between 10-22 degrees Celsius (50-72 Fahrenheit).

Winter brings cold weather with average temperatures ranging between 3-8 degrees Celsius (37-46 Fahrenheit). Snowfall is not common, however, there may be light snow showers during December and January.

Pack according to your needs and what the weather calls for.

6.. Dining etiquette

kyoto stone statues at a temple with grey filter

When dining in Kyoto, it’s important to remember the traditional etiquette of the Japanese dining experience. Here are some tips that will help you have a positive and respectful experience:

1. Respectful Greeting: It is customary to bow when entering a restaurant or being seated at your table due to Japanese culture. This shows respect for the establishment and its staff and is an important part of the culture.

2. Ordering: When ordering, take your time and look over all the menu items carefully. Do not make any loud or unruly gestures while ordering food as this can be seen as disrespectful.

3. Chopsticks Etiquette: Chopsticks should be held correctly, with one stick resting between your thumb and forefinger and the other between your middle finger and ring finger. In Japanese food culture, never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another as it has connotations related to funerals in Japan.

Instead, use a plate or spoon to pass it along. When putting down chopsticks, never cross them or insert them into rice – this is also seen as disrespectful since these actions are closely associated with death in Japan.

4. Table Manners: Slurping noodles or making loud noises while eating is seen as polite in Japan since it shows that you’re enjoying the food! Nevertheless, avoid talking on your phone while eating as this is considered rude by local standards.

Moreover, leaving behind too much food on your plate can appear rude since it implies that you were not satisfied with what was served – try to leave some food but finish most of what you ordered if possible!

5. Payment: Generally speaking, diners are expected to pay for their meal upon completion rather than separately splitting bills among friends like in other countries; however if you’re eating out with Japanese friends they might offer to pay for you which is very generous!

By following these simple guidelines while dining in Kyoto, you can enjoy an amazing culinary experience while being mindful of local customs!

7. Cultural taboos to be aware of

kiyomizu-dera temple during the day in kyoto 2023

There are two main no-no’s that come into mind specifically for Kyoto.

  • Some restaurants and places will ask you to take off your shoes before entering!

A bit stranger to foreigners, but this is what they expect and if you keep your shoes on, when there is a designated area to remove your shoes, you will be asked to remove them.

Pro Tip:

To know if you have to take your shoes off, when you enter a building, if the floor you enter in is lower than the raised floor in a few steps then you take off your shoes! If you see a step inside while entering, there should be a shoe-designated area.

  • Don’t take pictures in restricted areas!

As you walk along some of the streets and ally’s of Kyoto you may see or notice signs to not take pictures. People do not like having their homes photographed.

Additionally, Its very frowned upon to take pictures of Geisha or Maiko in public, without their permission. You will see them walking fast, to avoid being seen by tourists. It is considered rude and low-class to do this.

Traditional street in kyoto during the summer

8. Consider off Season Travel – Kind of

The crowds in Kyoto are while, and I mean packed at times where you are physically less than 1 foot away from someone. That is how dense the tourist areas become.

Unfortunately, Travel to Japan is nearly equal to pre-pandemic levels, and there really is no off-season anymore where you won’t find tourists. Some seasons are just busier than others.

9. Eating in Kyoto’s Best Restaurants

Kyoto is considered by some to have the best food in Japan, and the best traditional Japanese food. Kyoto has dozens of top-notch places to eat quality and luxury restaurants that have Michelin Potential.

When in Kyoto, I highly recommend booking a kaiseki dinner or Kaiseki Restaurant.

Kaiseki restaurant is a multi-course dinner with a variety of cooking techniques and seasonal dishes. Its what Kyoto is known for and is one of the most traditional meals.


Kaiseki is usually very expensive. Lunch can be slightly more affordable with lunch specials but it is still a day’s work.

bike path in kyoto summer 2023
Summer in Kyoto walking path

10. Take a walking tour “off the beaten path”

There are many free guides and maps of people who have walked through the streets of Kyoto, and it might be worthwhile to take one of these ideas up.

Although popular tourist attractions are often crowded, there are less congested areas if you venture a bit further. Take the Togetsukyo Bridge area in Arashiyama, for instance. While it may be busy, walking just 10 minutes to the Sagano area will lead you to a more peaceful environment compared to Arashiyama.

Also, if you take the Heian Train starting from Demachiyanagi, you’ll be able to witness the Mankyuin Gate ruins at Shugakuin, which is a well-known temple in Rakuhoku. And at Ichijoji, there’s intense competition between various ramen shops.

This area is less crowded compared to other places like Uji, which is famous for sites like Byodoin. It is an ideal place to take leisurely strolls as time passes more slowly here than in the city center.

11 Additional Tips and Advice

  • Bring some coins when to pay for entrance fees at temples and pagodas

  • The earlier you start the day the better

  • Plan to see the Traditional Wooden Houses of Kyoto

  • Convenience Stores are everywhere

  • Free wifi can be found in most places

  • Female travelers find Kyoto Safe

  • Get Travel Insurance, in Japan, there is a lot of natural disasters and you want to be covered.

FAQs about traveling in Kyoto

How much time do I spend in Kyoto?

It is recommended to spend at least four days in Kyoto, as this will allow you to explore the city and its attractions more thoroughly. Within four days, you can visit multiple temples and shrines, take a stroll along the Philosopher’s Path, and explore the city’s vibrant culinary scene.

Personally, two days is enough to see the main attractions but that is really squeezing your time. Ideally, if time allows 3-4 days is enough to see what tourist guides recommended places to see.

If you have more time to spend, consider checking out some of Kyoto’s nearby cities such as Osaka or Nara which offer a unique experience compared to Kyoto.

No matter how much time you have in Kyoto, it’s important to prioritize what places to visit since there are so many!

Be sure to research places in advance and plan your itinerary accordingly so that you can maximize your stay.

How much will I need to budget for my trip to Kyoto ?

The cost of your trip will ultimately depend on factors such as the duration of your stay, the activities you plan to do, and the accommodations you choose and food.

Food was definitely most of my expenses due to the places I wanted to try out. You can easily cheap out and spend 40/day or it can range to 150$/day.

What are the popular attractions in Kyoto that I should see?

Kyoto, Japan, is a city steeped in history and culture, and it boasts numerous popular attractions that draw tourists from all over the world. Here are some key attractions, including those related to Buddhist temples, Nishiki Market, Zen gardens, Shinto shrines, the Kamo River, Heian Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Pontocho Alley:

  1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple: One of Kyoto’s most famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is renowned for its wooden terrace that offers stunning panoramic views of the city. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.

  2. Fushimi Inari Taisha: A significant Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates that lead to the sacred Mount Inari. It is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and agriculture, Inari.

  3. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Located in the Arashiyama district, this enchanting bamboo forest offers a tranquil and surreal experience as visitors walk along the shaded pathways.

  4. Nishiki Market: Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, Nishiki Market is a bustling covered market offering a wide array of fresh produce, traditional snacks, and local delicacies.

  5. Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion): A Zen temple surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens, Ginkaku-ji is another UNESCO World Heritage site and offers stunning views of the city and mountains.

  6. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion): A striking Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf, Kinkaku-ji is an iconic symbol of Kyoto and is set amidst picturesque gardens.

  7. Ryoan-ji Temple: Famous for its Zen rock garden, Ryoan-ji provides a tranquil setting for contemplation and meditation.

  8. Heian Shrine: A Shinto shrine built to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto, the Heian Shrine is known for its vibrant red torii gate and beautiful gardens.

  9. Kyoto Imperial Palace: The former residence of the Imperial family, the Kyoto Imperial Palace offers guided tours through its impressive architecture and scenic gardens.

  10. Kamo River: A serene river that runs through the heart of Kyoto, providing a pleasant backdrop for leisurely strolls and picnics.

  11. Pontcho Alley (Pontocho): A charming narrow alley lined with traditional wooden machiya houses, Pontocho is famous for its traditional tea houses, restaurants, and nightlife.

Is there anything special that I should buy while I’m in Kyoto?

Only Kyoto is where you can find Yatsuhashi. This iconic Kyoto sweet is a type of mochi that’s filled with a red bean paste or other delightful flavors like matcha.

And don’t forget about Kyoto’s famous matcha green tea. You can even find matcha-flavored snacks, ice cream, and other treats around town.

Are there any free attractions in Kyoto?

While Kyoto may be a popular destination for travelers, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Believe it or not, there are some amazing free attractions to check out in this historic city. One such spot is the impressive Fushimi Inari Shrine, known for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates that create a mystical pathway through the mountains. It’s a popular spot to visit, but definitely worth it for the unique photo opportunities and peaceful atmosphere. Another great option is the tranquil Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, which houses beautiful gardens and stunning architecture. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just stunning scenery, Kyoto has plenty to offer without costing a dime.

What is the best way to get around the city ?

Kyoto is well known for its excellent transportation network, making it easy to explore the city and its attractions. There are multiple options for getting around Kyoto, including bus, train, subway, taxi, bike rental, and walking.

The bus system in Kyoto is highly efficient and consists of regular buses as well as express buses that connect the city center with other cities in the region. The bus stops are clearly marked in both English and Japanese, making it easy to use the system without a language barrier.

The train system is also an excellent way to travel around Kyoto. Trains run from 5 am-midnight and offer convenient access to tourist destinations such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). The JR lines offer discounts for foreigners visiting Japan so be sure to take advantage of this when planning your trip!

If you prefer a faster way of getting around Kyoto or want to avoid the busy rush hours on public transport, then taxis are a great option. Taxis can be easily hailed from most places in the city and fares usually range from ¥500-¥1,000 depending on your destination. Be sure to carry cash with you as many taxis don’t accept credit cards.

If you’re feeling adventurous or looking for a more eco-friendly option then bike rentals are a great choice. Most companies offer day or weekly rentals at affordable prices and provide detailed maps of cycling routes throughout Kyoto. This fun activity allows you to get up close with nature while exploring different parts of the city at your own pace.

Kyoto’s efficient transportation network makes it easy for visitors to get around the city and explore all its unique attractions with ease. Whether traveling by bus, train, taxi or bike rental – there is always an option that suits your needs!

What are some must-see landmarks and attractions in Kyoto ?

Kyoto is an ancient city with a long history and is known for its traditional culture, beautiful scenery, and impressive landmarks. One of the most popular attractions in Kyoto is Cherry Blossom Season, which usually takes place in early April. During this time, the city is blanketed in pink from the thousands of cherry blossom trees that line the streets and riverbanks. The spectacle lasts for just a few days but offers visitors a dazzling array of color and beauty.

Another must-see attraction in Kyoto is its many temples. Some of the most famous are Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), and Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). These historic sites offer incredible views of Kyoto as well as insights into local culture and beliefs.

A visit to Kyoto isn’t complete without staying at least one night in a traditional Ryokan inn. These unique establishments offer a peaceful oasis away from the busy streets and provide guests with an authentic experience of Japanese hospitality.

And don’t forget about Golden Week! This long holiday period takes place around late April to early May each year and provides visitors with an opportunity to explore more attractions in Kyoto such as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove or Ryoan-ji Temple at their own pace.

Whether you’re looking for gorgeous cherry blossoms or historical temples, there’s something for everyone in Kyoto. With its stunning landscape, ancient capital charm, vibrant culture, and rich history – this enchanting city will definitely leave you with unforgettable memories!


Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned Kyoto veteran, there is always more to explore and discover. From beautiful shrines to authentic cultural experiences, Kyoto has it all. As long as you practice the basic customs and etiquette of the Fujiwara Capital, you’ll be sure to have a great visit. To ensure a successful trip to, use our FAQs for Kyoto tips and advice. Make sure to budget appropriately so that your stay in this wonderful city can be an experience of a lifetime!

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