Here’s what we did in Kyoto, Japan!
Travel Dates: 16-20 January 2015
Airline: Peach Airlines, $119 per person round-trip direct OKA-KIX
Hotel: Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa (booked on Orbitz), $87/night x 4 =$349
Great location! Right by 2 subway stops, along the major shopping street with tons of restaurants within a few steps! The rooms were decent (the bed was a little hard), but a normal size with TV, wi-fi, desk, etc. If you have the option to include the hotel’s breakfast for not much more, it’s worth $25 each and looked delicious. We opted to eat at the local bakery across the street since breakfast wasn’t included in our price on Orbitz.
- From the airport, you have a few options (bus, express train (73 min), or slow train (105 min),). We arrived late at night (about 11pm), so we only had 2 options left (bus & slow train) and we had 5 minutes to pick.
- Slow train – In the airport, there are ticket machines for the trains, and a JR train office. We went inside the office and asked for the best way to Kyoto. She printed off a detailed step-by-step direction receipt for us which made it easy! It was 1,830 yen each, one-way. We had to transfer trains twice, but it wasn’t hard with the directions listing which platform to go to.
- The fast train (JR “Haruka” Kansai Aiport Limited Express) is 2,970 yen each, one-way to Kyoto.
- The Kansai Airport Limo Bus is 2,300 yen each, one-way.
- Once you get to Kyoto Station, depending on where your hotel is, you can take the subway or city bus. It was almost 2am, so we had to take a taxi. It was about $15 to our hotel (2.5 miles, I think).
- The City Bus: Ask your hotel for a city bus map. The bus goes to the most locations. For only 500 yen per person, you can get an unlimited all day pass. Just ask the bus driver! You pay when you get off the bus, so board the bus you want, and at your final destination, go to the bus driver to pay. Our tour guide recommended the bus for our 1st 2 days.
- The Subway: The subways are faster than the bus, but they have limited destinations. It worked nicely for traveling between the hotel, Gion, Nara, Osaka, and other destinations along the subway line, but it is 210+ yen per ride. It definitely added up fast, with many locations costing 270-410 yen each, one-way.
- Bikes: It was too cold for us, but there were dozens of bike rental locations, including our hotel! For $10-13 per day, you could ride around the city!
Arrival night: At 2am, we were hungry! There was a great ramen restaurant right next to our hotel that was packed! It was delicious!
Day 1 (Saturday): Good Samaritan Tour
Check out http://www.geocities.jp/goodsamaritanclub_hp/. For free (you pay their transportation & lunch), you can have a college student show you around the city! They are practicing their English!
There are hundreds of temples in the city, and it would be very easy to get worn out. Research the temples before you go and see what interests you most. Here is what we did!
- Walk through Gion on the way to the temples.
- Quick stop at the Yasui-kompira-gu Shrine. (Interesting fact: Locals crawl through the hole in the rock for good luck with your love relationship.)
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple – 300 yen each. For an extra 100 yen, try the re-birthing experience. (No nails used in the construction of the large wooden balcony.) Very photographic. During spring, the cherry blossoms here would be beautiful, or in fall with the leaves.
- Nishiki Market (lots of local food/fish) & lunch (I had negiyaki) at a restaurant near the end of the strip. Kyoto loves their yaki (okonomoyaki is my favorite of the different versions).
- Ginkaku-ji Temple (The Silver Pavilion) – 500 yen each. Very zen.
- Nijo Castle – 600 yen each
- Pontocho neighborhood (a small, narrow street with lots of restaurants)
- Dinner at Donguri (okonomoyaki). Very good and low prices!
Day 2 (Sunday):
- Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple) – 400 yen each. We went early to see the snow on the roof (very rare!). It’s a beautiful temple, but can get pretty crowded. Close walking distance to Ninna-ji, Ryoan-ji, & Toji temples. We walked towards Ninna-ji, but opted not to pay to go inside. We caught the bus to the Arashiyama area.
- Arashiyama Monkey Park – 550 yen each. A fun hike to a monkey park with great views of the city. Dozens of monkeys roaming free. You can go inside a “cage” to feed monkeys (you’re in the cage, they’re on the outside).
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest – Walk through the cute neighborhood to the bamboo forest. A beautiful path of trees.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine (the Torii gates) – My favorite! Walk through 2 hours of Torii gates. Tip: Walk down the up-path. We went down the down-path, and there were no more Torii gates!
- We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant that was rated high on Trip Advisor; although, we weren’t impressed.
- Gion neighborhood: We walked through Gion and visited the Yasaka Shrine (lit up at night).
Day 3 (Monday):
- Nara (half-day trip) – For 1,120 yen each one-way, you can catch the subway to Nara (30 minutes). It’s a cute, Bambi town (lots of deer roaming free)! There’s a famous temple, Todaiji temple (500 yen), Nara Park, and the Kasuga Grand Shrine. We stopped by the 5 story pagoda, and walked through the market. If you want to see more, you could spend a day, but after a few hours we headed back to Kyoto.
- Sanjusangendo Hall – 600 yen each. We should have gone on Sunday, but we ran out of time. There was an archery festival that we missed. The hall was nice, but no pictures were allowed inside. There are 1,001 human-sized statues in the hall.
- Gekkeikan Sake museum & tasting – 300 yen each (but you get a 300 yen bottle of Sake for a souvenir!) Very cute! We loved finding this too. You can plug it into your iPhone for easy directions through the family neighborhood. A small museum about old-fashion sake making, with a few samples and a little store. It was a nice change of pace from all of the temples!
- We walked through the markets and enjoyed dinner and bakery for dessert.
Day 4 (Tuesday): We opted to check-out early and head to Osaka for the day, since our flight wasn’t until 5:30pm. For 410 yen, you can catch the subway to Osaka (about 45 minutes).
- Osaka Castle – 600 yen each to go inside. Visiting the castle grounds is free!
- There is tons of shopping in Osaka. If you get off the subway at Shinsaibashi, you will walk through Shinsaibashi-Suji, Dotonbori, a few more markets, and end up at Namba. They’re famous for tako-yaki (octopus). From there, you can take a direct subway to the airport (920 yen each)!
If you have more time, it could have been fun to spend 1 night in Osaka to see the city at night. There are also a few temples, and if you have kids, they might enjoy the Osaka aquarium, or Universal Studios.
It was a great trip! I’d definitely recommend it for a “96” weekend getaway!