Far from the infamous modernity encapsulated in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, or the neighbouring Osaka, Kyoto city is a sanctuary dedicated to keeping traditional Japanese culture intact. Visitors from around the globe chose to visit Kyoto every year because of its important world heritage and more.
Whether you’re travelling on the Shinkansen from another city in the Kansai region or you just landed at Narita airport - getting to the ancient capital can be fast and cheap. Figuring out how to get to Kyoto station is the easy part - figuring out what to do for a weekend or more can be a bit more difficult.
Whether it’s a tea ceremony, onsen, shrine or Buddhist temple - Kyoto is full of experiences you don’t want to miss, including many traditional experiences like Kabuki with modern twists. Superprof invites you to discover the best times to visit Kyoto as well as how long you should stay in the capital of the pagoda, geisha and more!
What to Avoid When Vacationing in Kyoto
Home to Lake Biwa, Kyoto University and the Imperial Palace - Kyoto, Japan is one of the first stops on many a visit to Japan. From the Heian to the Edo period, Kyoto’s history is one of the many great reasons why it is a favourite for the seasoned and amateur traveller alike. Choosing what season to go, then, is an essential part of deciding when to vacation in Kyoto.
In order to get the most out of the heritage sites and cultural activities in Kyoto, choosing the best season for you is essential. While climbing up the Fushimi Inari shrine in the Fushimi prefecture, visiting the Kinkakuji shrine or wandering around Nijo castle can be beautiful in the winter and summer - these periods often correspond with national school or work holidays. Meaning, your climb to Fushimi Inari Taisha or visit to Kinkaku will probably involve elbowing your way through crowds of tourists.
While visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine and other UNESCO world heritage monuments and areas can be beautiful in the winter, reading any Japan travel guide will tell you that the temperature in the major cities from December to the beginning of April can hover around 0 degrees Celsius.
Because of its location, surrounded by mountains, Kyoto can also experience high wind speeds as well as low sunlight during the wintertime. If you’re interested in visiting everything from Inari shrines to the infamous Kyoto tower, you may want to consider how comfortable you normally are sight-seeing during the winter.
Summer can also be a brutal season to visit the city. Not only will the city’s most beautiful locations be full of tourists - such as Kyoto Imperial Palace or Arashiyama - but temperatures can soar up to 33 degrees Celsius. On top of that, summer storms and gruelling heat are enough to make you want to pass up those world heritage sites for a Norwegian fjord.
Both seasons are also notoriously expensive in terms flying into Japan. While your main concern might be finding the best hotel Kyoto has to offer, figuring out how to get to Taisha on the city bus or finding the best Ryokan at your budget - make it a priority to go through the pros and cons of visiting during the summer and winter.
The Best Season to Visit Kyoto: Spring
As with everything, Spring is once again the best season of the year to visit Kyoto, regardless of whether you’re there to learn about Shinto religion, the Heian period or more. The months of April, May and June are absolutely perfect for visiting Kyoto under optimal conditions. With average temperatures from 12°C to 24°C in April to June as well as a light breeze to cool off in the event of a heat stroke, the climate is very pleasant!
The only small disadvantage of visiting in the Spring is the rainfall, which increases to reach its peak in June. We therefore advise you to go to Kyoto and visit the old Japanese capital in May. The influx of tourists is quite significant in May, but less than in April, the Hanami period (the flowering of the cherry trees).
If you absolutely want to see the cherry blossoms, the Sakura, then you absolutely must go in April. In fact, this period is very short (end of March, beginning of April) and thousands of tourists come just to see these magnificent trees. Countless poems have been written about the ephemeral nature and beauty these trees inspire in those that have the fortune to see them. Make sure to reserve your accommodation in Kyoto quickly as possible!
One of the best things about visiting Kyoto during the Spring is also getting the chance to take part in the numerous festivals that take place during the season. Whether it be at a Zen temple, Shinto shrine, UNESCO site or at the market - you’ll be able to feel the festive spirit of Spring regardless of what you do. Check out the Matsuri festival if you’re interested in learning more!
Autumn is also a great season for taking a tour of Kyoto. Whether it be because it’s a quick bullet train ride from Kansai airport or because you want to visit the infamous Nishiki market - taking in the beauty of Kyoto during the fall can be a rewarding experience.
If you’re hesitating on whether or not to buy those tickets to Kyoto in October - it may be one of the best months of the year to visit! With an average temperature of 17 degrees Celsius and with less rain than in September, you’ll also get the added benefit of being able to visit your favourite world heritage site or restaurant without all the crowds!
A Couple Days in the City of a Thousand Temples
Depending on what kind of traveller you are, visiting Japan may involve a lot of preparation. From getting some Yen and figuring out where to buy the perfect souvenir kimono to fitting in Mount Fuji or Japanese cities into your itinerary - traveling to Kyoto might take more than just getting a Japan rail pass.
If you’re planning on staying in Kyoto for two to three days, make sure you plan your itinerary as carefully as you can in order to see all the sites on your bucket list. Three days is the recommended amount of time to stay in the city, which will allow you to get the most out of Shogun, Meiji and Kyoto history and culture.
Here is an example of what you’ll be able to include in your itinerary you can take if you’re staying two to three days in the city:
- Fushimi Inari
- Kannon war memorial
- Kiyomizu temple
- Wander in the centre of Kyoto
- Nishiki market
- The Gion district
- The bamboo forest in the north
- Kitano Tenmangu
- The higashi district
If you have a rail pass, known as the JR pass, you’ll be able to take advantage of the JR west and more if you’re planning on either staying in Kyoto for a week or continue travelling through Japan from Kyoto. Apart from the Japan rail, you can of course travel to other Japanese cities through Itami (Osaka) Airport or Kansai international airport.
If you’re traveling by train, know that besides the shinkansen there are also Kintetsu and Hankyo railway companies. Some of the cities you’ll be able to easily visit from Kyoto are:
One of the best pieces of advice you can take for planning your trip to Kyoto is allowing yourself time to wander the many districts of the city and appreciate Japanese style, architecture and cuisine. Who knows, you might just stumble into a rock garden, park or Japanese garden!
Get to Know the Picturesque City of the Japanese Archipelago
Whether you want to experience sleeping on a tatami, have enough time before you fly out again from Narita or have one more UNESCO world heritage site you’d like to visit - staying in Kyoto from 4 days to a couple weeks can be a perfect way to get to know the city like a local.
There are many different cultural activities to take part in during your stay in the ancient capital. Here are some of the experiences you can take engage in if your stay is for 5 days or more:
- Strolling along the Philosophers' Path,
- Visit Nijo-jo Castle and its gardens,
- Go up to the top of the Tokyo Tower to get a view of the city,
- Visit Arashiyama: the bamboo grove and monkey park of Iwatayama,
- Taste Kyoto's specialities at the Nishiki market,
- Learn about the history of the city at the Kyoto National Museum,
- Attend a Noh theatre show in Gion,
- Admire the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion