Having trouble planning my first trip in Kyoto.. a little lost
December 22, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Completely lost about planning my Kyoto trip. Please help me to plan

HI, I am a huge planner when it comes to travel and more this time as I am planning a month long trip in Asia (first time there). We have 3-4 days in the Kyoto area.
We would have just spent a couple days in Tokyo. I though we would stay the whole time in kyoto but now I am wondering if we should add a day trip or day+night somewhere else as well. Arriving 13 midday and leaving 17 late afternoon from Osaka.
Interested in the Old traditional japan.

I keep reseaching, already know I would like to see some of the temple/shrines, the Nishiki-koji Market, maybe a cooking class? and Gion district.

I am completely lost as far as where to stay and how to plan these few days. after that we are off to Bangkok, so a nice stay would be wonderful. The more I research the less I feel I know what I need. it is the travel planner's version of writer block . Need your help :)

Is kyoto central/imperial palace area (as per hotels.com) and Gion district the best places to stay as a tourist?
posted by kirikara to Travel & Transportation around Kyoto, Japan (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I visited Japan at the end of April this year, and we did a day trip to Kyoto. Unfortunately, I was feeling sick most the day so I don't exactly remember all where we were :(

We did visit the Arashiyama area, which was beautiful at that time of the year. Climbed up and visited/fed the monkeys. The river and canals are amazing. Lots of little shops and some shrines/temples in the area.

We also visited Nijo Castle. Great place to talk around and take in the architecture.

IIRC the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto was about $240 round trip and took about 2.5hrs each way. Runs every half hour, so easy to catch (if you have an unreserved ticket you just show up when you want to go). So a day trip to Tokyo is certainly viable -- we did it the other way -- but you might want to spend more time in the city than just a day!
posted by sbutler at 2:21 PM on December 22, 2011

PS: it seemed like most places in Kyoto closed around 5pm. And in Tokyo most of the non-nightlife is shutdown by 10pm or so! Tokyo trains stop running around midnight, which is very sad if you happen to be in Kabukicho and need to get back to Shinjuku :( Just something to think about if you're a late-to-rise person like me.

PPS: if you don't have any tattoos, make sure to hit up at least one onsen (hotspring) while you're there. More if you have time. Read some guides online beforehand to learn the customs and then go an enjoy yourself. Certainly one of the highlights for any trip to japan!
posted by sbutler at 2:25 PM on December 22, 2011

I stayed at the Riverside Takase in Kyoto and was very happy. The proprietor was shy and her English was not great, but the rooms were lovely (traditional Japanese), the location beautiful and convenient, and the price very reasonable.

They don't serve food there, but there are lots of good nearby restaurants.

There's a nice walking tour that leaves from the train station every day. I think it works out to about US $20 per person, and is totally worth it. Tours all the less touristy things, including traditional craftsmen's workshops. The guide is very friendly and has great local knowledge and perfect English. They offer an evening tour of Gion too, but I didn't have time for that. There are brochures about the walking tour around the station and one at the Takase. Sorry I can't remember the exact name or contact details for the tours.
posted by lollusc at 2:37 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think there is more than enough in Kyoto to entertain you in that time. As a planner, a good thing to know about Kyoto is that many of the cities attractions can either be grouped together, or are on the same busline. This also means that it doesn't really matter much where you stay - as long as you're near a busstop or subway you can get wherever you need to without much difficulty. Proposed half day things:

- Silver Pavilion + Philosophers Path (these could easily be combined with:)
- Walking around Gion in the afternoon (if you want a great lunch, Roan Kikunoi is michelin starred (the main restaurant has three!), and lunch can be had from about 45-50USD which is really incredible traditional Kyoto cuisine).
- Arashiyama: bamboo groves, monkeys if that's your thing, lovely walks and many many temples.
- Fuhimi-inari (you really must go here! It was the highlight of my trip, and the restaurant half-way up does delicious and surprisngly affordable Kitsune Udon. Yum!) and Tofukuji zen temples.
- Golden Pavillion then bus or subway to Nijo castle.

Regarding cookery class, we actually did one when we were in Kyoto, and it was FABULOUS - Haru cooking class was so great, insanely cheap for what you get and just lovely in every way.

For general planning, you can't go past Japan Guide's great pages on Kyoto, and for more specific info with an especial focus on food, Paul's blogs and mini-intineraries. I'm jealous, Japan is so great, have an awesome trip!
posted by smoke at 2:56 PM on December 22, 2011

Arriving 13 midday and leaving 17 late afternoon

You don't say what month! Kyoto when the cherry blossoms are out is a very different place. Among other things, it's the sort of place you should be making hotel reservations immediately for.

As a place to stay I recommend The Three Sisters Inn, which is a pleasant traditional ryokan.

For a day trip I highly recommend Nara (in fact I already have). I was just in Osaka a few weeks ago and made a special point to go back up there. It's a very pleasant walking city, and if I lived there I would go visit Todaiji every day.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:11 PM on December 22, 2011

Thanks Smoke, that is a great start for me. It is the pointers I needed. It also sounds like you travel like me: all around food, so that is perfect advice from a foodie to a foodie. :)
Lollusc I will definitely look up the walking tour. Hubby is not a fan of groups so I might look at doing it on our own but still!

and as far as going to tokyo for the day, we are actually coming from Tokyo (did not want to ramble too much :)..) so we will be covered from that. 2 days for us there will be enough, crowds are not our thing, but it will be fun.
posted by kirikara at 3:22 PM on December 22, 2011

oops sorry.. february , we are staying there in february :)
posted by kirikara at 11:26 PM on December 22, 2011

Try WAK Japan (Women's Association Kyoto) for any interesting classes. http://www.wakjapan.com/

Also http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=357&pID=309

And http://wikitravel.org/en/Kyoto

Japanese guest houses does any hotels/ryokan for you. http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/index.htm

http://japantourist.jp/ might also be of help

Any specific questions can be asked on Japan-guide's forums (which have already been mentioned! :)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:25 AM on December 23, 2011

Just a heads up, February in Kyoto is cold. If you're staying any any sort of traditional ryokan or minshuku, there's a good chance it won't be all that warm/insulated/centrally heated.

My two cents, the silver pavilion is definitely worth seeing, as is kiyomizudera. Rather than the hordes at ryoanji, check out Daitokuji, which is reasonably close to kinkakuji. It's a complex of a couple dozen temples, many of which are open to the public (after a fee, of course), and many of those temples have beautiful stone gardens. Ryoanji might have the big famous garden, but the variety and beauty at Daitokuji is better in my book. Also, make sure to go to Fushimi Inari, it really is otherworldly.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:46 AM on December 23, 2011

I lived in Kyoto for two years. It's a beautiful city, and I'm glad you're making an effort to go see it! If you're interested in Old Japan, it's definitely a better bet than Osaka (which was pretty much firebombed out of existence and then rebuilt after WW2). If you take the Shinkansen from Tokyo, Kyoto is the stop before Shin-Osaka, and you can just get off there instead of going to Osaka and then back up to Kyoto.

I second the recommendations for Nijo Castle, Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion) and Kiyomizudera. Those are fantastic sites. Nijo has the added advantage of being indoors - February in Kyoto, as people have already mentioned, is cold. Bring warm socks and jackets!

You can get around the city in lots of different ways, outlined here. For 500 yen a day, there are "Raku 100" buses that can take you to pretty much all the touristy places. They may be a bit crowded, but there are lots of them, and I seem to remember them having speaker systems giving you a mini-tour in both Japanese and English as it drives along.

The Nishiki-koji market is in the Teramachi shopping district, which is literally right across the river from the Gion district. Both are a joy to walk around - Teramachi has a number of small shrines and temples wedged in between shops selling everything from underwear to souvenirs to knives. That's because the area used to be outside of the city proper, and all temples were banned from within it by... some emperor that I'm currently forgetting. I'd say spending half a day strolling around the area, stopping for food at whatever little restaurant catches your fancy would be a wonderful way to spend your time.

I sadly don't know about cooking classes, but there are plenty of places where you can experience a tea ceremony. I'll recommend Tea Ceremony En in Ginza, which was small and intimate (plus easily accessible) and offered a very enjoyable experience when I went there in 2009. They spoke good English, and promptly answered my booking e-mail. Tea ceremonies is one of those things that someone interested in traditional Japanese stuff shouldn't miss!

Here's a list of other activities you might enjoy while you're in Kyoto.

Good luck deciding what to do! Kyoto is, size-wise, a fairly small city. It isn't difficult to get around, and a lot of interesting sites are actually within walking distance from each other (though it might be a bit chilly to walk in February). Most people are helpful and used to tourists, and you can plan your sightseeing using nothing but public transport without any hassle at all, is my experience.
posted by harujion at 7:18 AM on December 23, 2011

Don't miss strolling down the Ponto-cho in the evening.

For information and lodging, visit the TIC in/near the train station. They speak English, and are very helpful -- I'd ask there about the class you wan to take.

My advice, for this trip, given your time limitation, skip Tokyo, stay in Kyoto.

if you happen to be in Kabukicho and need to get back to Shinjuku
Er.. isn't the Kabukicho IN Shinjuku?

posted by Rash at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2011

Hmm.. you're right! I had a lot to drink that night :) Maybe that's why we had trouble finding our hotel...
posted by sbutler at 11:49 AM on December 23, 2011

I visited Kyoto last May with my family and we stayed in the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. It was fantastic--huge lovely rooms, a bathroom I was dying to take home with me, good restaurants, a nice location, and best of all, an amazingly helpful staff, who gave us wonderful recommendations. I can't say enough good things about it! We (my 60-something parents and 30-something me and my brother) loved Kyoto and ended up staying an extra day. Lots of good recs already--definitely visit the castle, Arashiyama, Teramachi, and Gion. Nara is a great day trip if you want to see more. Ryozen Kannon is worth a visit. The Kyoto Handicrafts Center has a really nice Japanese woodblock prints shop. Have fun!
posted by min at 8:29 AM on December 31, 2011

Hey there, just stumbled across this blog today - maybe some more inspiration? Kyoto Foodie.
posted by smoke at 12:29 AM on January 10, 2012

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