Planning a solo trip to Kyoto? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Located on the island of Honshu, with a population of around 1.5 million people.
- Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is one of the oldest cities in Asia.
- Known for its beautiful historical structures and parks.
- Nicknames: Ancient City, City of History.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY). Symbols: ¥, 円 or 圓.
- Spoken languages: Japanese (English is also widely spoken).
- Best time to visit: from March to May, and from October to December (when the city is not too humid or wet).
- Arriving via airport: from Osaka (Itami) International Airport, take the bus to town for ¥1300. Alternatively, you can take the train for ¥650 (two transfers required). From Osaka (Kansai) International Airport, take the train (¥2000) or bus (¥2500).
WHERE TO STAY
- Best Kyoto hostel for solo travelers: Ryokan Hostel Gion. Exceptionally clean, many amenities included, and the staff will make you feel right at home. A perfect base from which to explore historic Kyoto. Book ahead to reserve your spot – especially as travel to Japan is starting to pick up again after the pandemic.
- Traveling to Kyoto is very popular with both Japanese and foreigners. Most budget and midrange hotels can be found near either the Kyoto Station or Karasuma-Oike.
- The upscale hotels in Kyoto are split between the downtown core and Higashiyami.
- Kyoto’s tourist attractions as spread all over the city, so learning how to use the train/subway system is crucial. A one day pass costs Y600 and is well worth it.
- The bus network will sometimes be the only practical way to get to an attraction, as many are located outside of the city. Luckily, most buses depart from Kyoto Station so the network is friendly to foreigners who don’t have time to learn the routes.
- Taxis are readily available, but are not cheap.
- One very common method for exploring the city is to rent a bicycle. Many hotels and shops rent out bikes cheaply – armed with a city map, you can easily see many of the sites that are in the city proper.
- Drinking age is 20.
- Kyoto’s nightlife scene largely caters to the needs of the locals and is focused in Central Kyoto (around Kiyamachi).
- Great bars for foreigners: Bar Fishbowl, Kyoto Beer Lab (brewpub), barcode (fun Karaoke), and In The Moon (great rooftop views).
- Nightclubs are not common in Kyoto – visit Osaka for a more active scene.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Kinkaku-ji Temple in Northern Kyoto is the Golden pavilion, and is a symbol for the city. This beautiful temple, located on a park lake, is simply too picturesque to miss.
- The Shimogamo Shrine predates Kyoto becoming the Imperial capital of Japan, and was one of the most revered shrines in the Imperial court. The Shrine is set in a small forest, and is host to many festivals throughout the year.
- Built by the Tokugawa Shogunate, Nijo Castle is set among sculpted gardens. Take a walk through the various imperial chambers and reception rooms.
- Gion is the heart of the geisha district, once renowned throughout Japan. Visit a tea house and get a photo with one of the made up geishas. Be warned: the tea houses are not cheap!
- The Philosophers Path runs through Eastern Kyoto, and boasts numerous shrines and temples to see and explore.
- The Imperial Park in the center of Kyoto is a massive enclosed park that is also home to the Imperial Palace. Guided walking tours are available throughout the park.
- Explore the Kyoto Botanical Garden, especially if visiting during the cherry blossom in March and April. This is Japan’s first botanical garden, and is worth the ¥200 entry fee.
- Try going for a public bath. This has been a cornerstone of Kyoto society for a long time. Some baths still emulate the traditional architecture of 13th century bathhouses.
- Try to visit Kyoto during the cherry blossom time of year (March). The city is famous within Japan for its various cherry blossom festivals.
- Great restaurants for solo travelers: ofuro (オフロ) for dinner, Manjirou (hot pot), Tenkaippin (ramen), Gosho Ungetsu (great for kaiseki – traditional multi-course Japanese dinner), Isomatsu (modern Japanese – make a reservation), Onikai (Izakaya).
- Where to find good cheap eats: go for a bowl of udon or ramen – look for small owner-run restaurants away from the tourist areas. If in doubt, see where the office workers and students break for lunch. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the hot dish offerings at grocery stores.
- Dangerous areas: for the most part, Kyoto is very safe. Pickpockets and scams are not common, and you are unlikely to encounter any trouble here.
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days