We had originally planned on being in Australia right about now, but we heard so many good things about the Kansai region of Japan that we decided we absolutely had to extend our time in the country. (Don’t worry, we just pushed Australia back a couple weeks.) And let me tell you, we are SO happy about our decision!
Kyoto came at the perfect time for us in our trip. It was post-Tokyo Marathon, so we were looking for a place to keep us busy, but also give us time to chill a bit. Our days in Kyoto have filled that bill perfectly. We’ve spent our mornings sightseeing and our afternoons cozied up at a cafe or our Airbnb catching up on work and blogging. And along the way, we’ve eaten some amazing food and drank some of our favorite coffee.
We get why people love Kyoto and we’re happy we decided to extend our time to be able to make it here. We were here on the tail-end of winter, and I think this city would be even more breathtaking in better weather. There are so many gardens, mountain lookouts, and walking paths that were nice in the winter, but would just be stunning with some foliage. Cherry blossom season is usually late March – early June, and is the most popular time to visit Kyoto. While I’m sure it’s stunning, it will absolutely be way more crowded and more expensive. If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, the seasons are definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind.
First Impressions on Kyoto
- It’s what I pictured when I pictured Japan. I’m not going to lie, before I came to Japan, I pretty much just assumed everywhere in the entire country looked like the EPCOT Japan pavilion. And while that’s not at all true (Japan is not frozen in a time of Samuris, but is very much a modern country), there are pockets of Kyoto that are just as traditionally and stereotypically “Japanese” as I’d pictured.
- There’s actually a lot to do. I’ve planned our activities in a lot of cities on this trip, but this one was among the toughest because there’s just so much to do. This city is bursting with temples, over 1,600 to be exact, and each one more beautiful than the last. The city is also home to a whopping 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! We had four days here and will have filled each one with something new to see in a different part of town.
- It’s got big city appeal with a small town vibe. Kyoto has a lot to offer. In addition to the beautiful temples, historical districts and shopping streets, it’s also home to one of the best coffee shops we’ve ever been to (Arabica), incredible local food options (vegetable tempura udon is where it’s at, people) and a great public transit system. While it offers so many of the perks of a big city, it still feels small. The sites are really pocketed, and each section is quite walkable and has tons of great local options for eating and shopping.
What you need to know — Kyoto:
- Population: 1.5 million
- Altitude: 45 meters
- Exchange Rate: 106 Japanese Yen to $1 USD
- Primary Language: Japanese
- Walking Tour: YES! Kyoto Free Walking Tours. But we forgot to check in time, so we missed it. Womp womp.
- Time Zone: Japan Standard Time, UTC +9 (13 hours ahead of US Central Time)
- Taxi: Yes, and the drivers wear full suites, and it’s great.
- Uber: No.
- Public Transit: Yes. It is mostly buses, but they are very easy to navigate and serve a great map of routes. There are also two subway lines and access to JL line trains.
- Emergency Number: 119
- Running: The riverfront through Kyoto would be great for running. It covers a good distance and is a clear, unobstructed, flat path. We’re not running it because we just ran the Tokyo Marathon, but it’s a solid option.
- American Football: No longer in season.
- Starbucks: Yes!
- Local Starbucks Specialty: Yes! Sakura Strawberry Pink Mochi Frappuccino and Sakura Strawberry Pink Milk Latte.
- McDonald’s Veggie Burger: No
- Coffee Price: A grande specialty latte at Starbucks is about 600 yen (~$6 USD) and regular brewed coffee is between 400 – 500 yen (~$4-5 USD)
- Beer Price: Beers range from 600 – 1,000 Yen (~$6-10 USD). This is probably why you haven’t seen us posting pictures of us drinking every single day here.