Konnichiwa Japan – Exploring Kyoto

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I can confidently say Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I would certainly include it in my top 5.  For over 1000 years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan.  As an American, that concept is extremely tough to grasp.  Walking through today’s Kyoto you can’t help but appreciate the incredible commitment to and feat of preservation this city represents.

Trip Report

  1. Introduction and Trip Planning
  2. Japan Airlines Economy From ORD to NRT
  3. Westin Miyako Kyoto
  4. Exploring Kyoto
  5. Day trips from Kyoto
  6. Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part I
  7. Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part II
  8. Exploring Tokyo
  9. Final Thoughts

While Tokyo is fast and modern, Kyoto is the traditional and peaceful. From our base at the Westin Miyako Kyoto, we spent 3 full days exploring Kyoto.  Kyoto’s 1600 temples, 400 shrines, and countless other historical treasures collectively make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It would take several lifetimes to visit them all, but in 3 days we got to see a nice mix.  I do have a tendency to get ‘temple’d’ out, so I was pleasantly surprised to not experience that on this journey.

Getting around Kyoto

Kyoto is extremely easy to navigate.  The Westin provided us with two excellent English maps.  One was of the Subway and Bus system, the other was a city guide with the key attractions highlighted.  Buses can be a little trickier to navigate than the subway in most cities but that was not the case in Kyoto.  In fact, one of Kyoto’s buses actually caused my very first ‘I LOVE JAPAN’ moment.

‘I love Japan’ moment

I love public transportation but hate that it never seems to run on time.  Those who’ve visited Chicago and used the el or bus system may be able to relate.  On our first day of exploring, we found ourselves alone at a bus stop on the outskirts of town needing to transfer to another temple.   I checked the bus schedule and saw this particular bus was only running every 19 minutes.  I took a look at the time on my phone and jokingly said the bus should be here in two minutes, assuming that no city bus ever runs on time anywhere in the world.  Sure enough two minutes later on the dot the city bus rolls around the corner and picks us up, right on time. It nearly brought a tear to my eye. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke, I continued checking the bus schedule on all of our bus rides and they were on time, every time. I love Japan!


Kyoto Sights

Kyoto has so many sights that no two trips should be the same.  We selected a few ‘must-sees’ according to the guide books but probably enjoyed the sights we just wandered into that we had entirely to ourselves.  WANDER is the best advice I can pass on in regards to enjoying Kyoto. I’ll simply share a few of our highlights:

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)


Ryōan-ji (Rock Garden)


View from Unknown Temple atop Kyoto completely to ourselves


Bamboo Forest


Wandering from the Westin into an impromptu hike through the woods


Philosopher’s Path


Observing Kyoto children loading into the bus



Enjoying the silence at another temple


Green food


Geisha spotting in Gion (Sorry I didn’t take photos of the Geishas)



Visit Considerations

Kyoto is tranquil. I can’t remember any significant city noise (honking, garbage trucks, construction noise, etc.) during our visit. In fact, despite two large airports in the vicinity, I never heard or saw a single plane or helicopter flying over the city. Expectedly Kyoto’s unmatched beauty means hoards of tourists are sharing these peaceful sights when the weather is nice. I intentionally selected February for this trip so that we could experience the peacefulness and tranquility of Kyoto without the crowds.  Even in the low season, it amazed us how many people were visiting the more famous temples and shrines.  We kept saying to one another, “Can you imagine how crowded this would be in the summer?”  If you can tolerate the cooler weather, consider visiting Kyoto in the winter months. You’ll be able to enjoy the more famous temples in a peaceful setting and have your pick of the lesser known temples completely to yourself!

The Bottom Line

I believe Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There is a certain peacefulness and tranquility about Kyoto which exists throughout every square inch of the entire city.  We spent 3 flawless days there but wanted to spend 30 more.  I believe any first time visitor to Japan should make Kyoto its top destination.  WANDER.  No two trips to Kyoto should be the same.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at pmmalex@gmail.com

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  1. Thanks for another nice article. It serves as a very helpful reference point for my upcoming Kyoto trip. Did you have a chance to visit onsens?

  2. @AC – We would have loved to visit an onsen but simply ran out of time. It is definitely on the itinerary the next time I’m in Japan!

  3. My first and most memorable visit to Kyoto was nearly 20 years ago and at the peak of cherry blossom viewing. Very crowded, but absolutely spectacular! My last visit was in October with the stunning hillsides in multiple colors of fall beauty. The natural beauty and traditional architecture of Kyoto is always a highlight to visits to Japan. I’d also recommend staying in one of the lovely traditional Ryokans (bed & breakfast). Thanks for stimulating all those great memories!

  4. Really enjoyed reading about your trip to Kyoto. I have been lucky enough to have visited Kyoto over 70 times and have managed to visit probably 1,000 temples and shrines. Still have hopefully many more trips to come to this truly amazing city. The fall leaves and the cherry blossoms are incedible

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