(Article updated to 2020)
Kyoto is an ancient city rich in history. It is located in the homonymous prefecture and is called "the city of a thousand temples". It was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 and, fortunately, during the Second World War it was spared from bombing. For these reasons, it is considered a cultural center worldwide and is a UNESCO protected site.
If you've never been to Japan, Kyoto is a must. I recommend you to stay at least four days because there is really a lot to see, in addition of enjoying the unique atmosphere that only this city can offer.
Kyoto is also a more dispersed city than many others (Tokyo in the first place), so plan your trips well in advance.
Make sure you buy the pocket wi-fi from Italy and pick it up as soon as you arrive in Japan at the airport (alternatively you can have it delivered to your hotel). This tool is essential because it allows you to always stay connected to the Internet during your trip. On your return, you can send it by post by inserting it in the envelope that will be given to you and leave it at the airport post office. The best and safest place to buy it is this one.
Google Maps works perfectly all over Japan, but if you want to use the site that the Japanese themselves use, download the HyperDia app (it's also in English) to find the timetables of public transport.
Japan Rail Pass: considered essential by many, in my opinion it is not always the case. My advice is to make a precise and feasible itinerary before leaving and to calculate with HyperDia how much you will spend with the means of transport. Very often making this purchase is futile. If not, it must be bought from Italy on this site.
Powerbank: always better to buy one so as not to remain with the phone down.
Money: here's what NOT to do before leaving, to exchange money in Italy. Changing is never convenient, so it's best to exchange money as soon as you arrive at the airport. However, bring a certain amount of cash money (needless to say that no one will steal it) because it can happens that the cards give problems, especially to ATMs. I recommend you top up your PostePay (the classic yellow, not the Evolution one) and if you have an ATM or a credit card it is always better to contact your bank to warn it that you will make payments in Japan (if you do not warn, they could block the card); also ask to put the card in "worldwide payments" mode on. Keep in mind that in Japan cards are used much less than in the West, so it is always good to have a certain amount of cash with you. Many restaurants only accept cash.
Health insurance: it is good to be careful and buy a valid insurance that covers as much as possible (you never know what can happen). In Japan health care is both public and private, and being outside the European Union, prices and bureaucracy are different. You can buy it here.
HOW TO GET
From Kansai International Airport: take the Haruka Express train. I recommend: do not choose the Nankai company because otherwise you have to make two changes. [one leaves every 30 minutes, 78 minutes of travel, cost 3,230¥]
From Tokyo: there are many trains connecting the two major cities. In order not to waste too much time traveling, I recommend taking the Shinkansen Nozomi or Mizuho, which are the fastest [130 minutes travel, cost 13,970¥]
From Osaka: it is the largest city closest to Kyoto. Take one of the Limited Express trains. [30 minutes travel, cost 1,560¥]
HOW TO MOVE
Kyoto does not have a precise and efficient public transport system like Tokyo, but with a good organization you will be perfectly able to move around the city.
Here the most used form of transport is the bus, which costs 230¥ for a single ticket. There is also a daily pass (cost 600¥) that should be bought if you use the bus at least three times in a day. The season ticket can be purchased at the station or directly on the bus, by asking the driver.
WHERE TO STAY
In a scattered city like Kyoto it is good to choose where to stay, so as not to waste time unnecessarily in too long or expensive trips. My advice is to book a hotel in the station area: unlike the rest of the world, the Japanese station areas are extremely safe and equipped with every convenience (restaurants and supermarkets open 24 hours).
Buses to the main attractions of the city also leave from Kyoto station.
I stayed at the Ibis Style Kyoto Station, a very good four star hotel with a very abundant international breakfast included.
[Address: 47 Higashikujo Kamitonodacho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8002, website]
WHAT TO SEE
It is the eastern district of Kyoto, rich in historical sites of fundamental importance:
KIYOMIZUDERA: historical temple dating back to the 8th century. Since 1994 it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2007 it was counted among the monuments that could be included among the New Seven Wonders of the World. [How to get there: at Kyoto Station take bus 100 or 206 and get off at the Kiyomizumichi stop. open 6 am - 6 pm all year round, price 300¥]
YASAKA PAGODA: 46-meter pagoda characterized by pitched roofs on all levels that rises in the Maruyama Koen district, full of ancient folklore, shops selling sweets and typical products (including very ancient very expensive ceramics).
KODAIJI TEMPLE: Zen Buddhist temple belonging to the Rinzai sect. [opening 9 am - 5:30 pm, cost 600 ¥]
Kyoto's historical market where to find and taste local foods, often very strange and curious. It is absolutely worth the visit, although it is often hyper crowded.
[How to get there: by taxi, using the Karasuma subway or taking a few steps from Shijo station. Open 9:30 am - 6 pm, free access]
Also called "Golden Temple" because of the gold leaf that covers it, this three-story pagoda is a UNESCO heritage site. Inside are the relics of Buddha.
[How to get there: from Kyoto Station take bus 101 or 205 to Kinkakuji (about 40 minutes of travel) opening 9 am - 5 pm, price 500¥]
Temple belonging to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, whose name means "temple of the peaceful dragon". It is a UNESCO heritage site and is an oasis of peace and silence where you can admire one of the most beautiful Zen gardens in all of Japan.
[How to get there: if you are near the Kinkakuji temple, you can reach it by taking a 20 minute walk. Opening: 8 am - 5 pm, cost 500 ¥]
It is a very suggestive area of Kyoto, located near the mountains near the Hozu river.
During the Heian period (794-1185), the nobles elected this area in the middle of their holidays, influenced by the natural beauty of the place. It is the perfect destination to visit in autumn or spring because of the colors of the flowers and trees.
[how to get there: from Kyoto station take the JR Sagano line and get off at Saga-Arashiyama (15 minutes)]
TENRYUJI TEMPLE Temple founded in the Muromachi period, in 1339, today it is a UNESCO heritage site. In addition to admiring the beautiful gardens, here you can also eat the true cuisine of the monks (shojin ryori). [opening 8:30 am - 5 pm, cost ¥ 600]
BAMBOO GROOVE It is one of the most fascinating naturalistic places in Kyoto. Its enchanted atmosphere will make you live a dream.
OKOCHI SANSO VIILA Located at the end of the Bamboo Forest, this house belonged to the famous actor Okochi Denjiro (1896 - 1962). Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the interiors, while the beautiful gardens are walkable up to the top from which you can admire a beautiful panorama. As soon as you enter you will notice a tea room where you can stop to drink matcha tea accompanied by an excellent mochi. [opening 9 am - 5 pm, cost 1000 ¥ tea and mochi included]
Perhaps one of the most famous symbols of Japan in the world, the Fushimi Inari is the main shrine dedicated to the kami Inari (god of rice and patron of business), located at the foot of the Inari mountain and of ancient construction (it was erected even before the foundation Kyoto). The spectacular multitude of red torii constitutes a path in height that winds through minor paths. Each door was donated by a Japanese company: the larger the door, the greater the donation.
Everywhere are represented the foxes (kitsune), considered messengers, with the key of the deposit of rice in the mouth.
[How to get there: from Kyoto station take the JR Nara Line and get off at Nara (5 minutes journey, cost 140¥
Fushimi Inari is open every day, all day and admission is free]
GION Historic district of Kyoto which has become popular for geishas (it is still possible to see them before dinner, while they go to join clients). Just the geishas of this area are called "geiko", that meaning is "woman of art". Gion is a cultural heritage of Japan and is perfectly preserved: it is possible to admire the period houses (machiya) and in most of the places present here you can drink alcohol or tea. Attending a show of real geishas is very difficult, the places that offer it are almost all mere tourist destinations. [How to get there: from Kyoto Station take bus 100 and get off at Gion stop]
PONTOCHO and YASAKA SHRINE Located a few steps from Gion, Pontocho is a beautiful, very characteristic small neighborhood that comes alive during the evening. There are in fact many places that open for dinner, as well as highly sought after bars where to drink cocktails and sake. The restaurants here are not exactly cheap, but they have such a refined atmosphere that you absolutely cannot miss one at least once. The Shinto shrine Yasaka Shrine (also called "Gion shrine") is located near Pontocho and can be easily reached on foot. I recommend you to visit it in the evening (it is always open and the entrance is free) because everything is illuminated.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Kyoto is a very elegant city and the opinion of many is to find food for all budgets easily. Obviously, the places near the most touristic places will cost more, but it is still possible to taste excellent local food without emptying your wallet. I therefore recommend you to try the restaurants that serve local food, in fact, very common in the nearby city of Osaka.
OKONOMIYAKI KATSU Typical family-run tavern where you can eat an excellent okonomiyaki or a tasty yakisoba (being careful of cooking on the plate, very fun for me) at a paltry price. Perfect for a quick but hearty lunch if you are in the area of the Golden Temple. [opening 11:30 am- 1:30 pm + 5:30 pm - 9:00 pm, closed Wednesday and Thursday, website, address: 1-4 Ryoanji Saigucho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8011]
TSUYA Izakaya where you can taste the excellent Japanese skewers cooked on the grill. We sit on the ground and take off our shoes, as per tradition. I point it out above all for the quality of the raw material and for the wide choice of the menu. Located near Kyoto station. [opening 5 pm - 12 am, every day, website, address: 570-3 Kitafudodocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8212]
YARUKI YAKINIKU Yakiniku restaurant where you can enjoy excellent cuts of meat in a convivial environment. Located in Pontocho. [address: 182-4 Zaimokucho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8017]
RAMEN SEN-NO-KAZE KYOTO It is one of the most frequented ramen bars by the inhabitants of Kyoto, in fact it is not strange to always find a long line outside. The place is very small, so arm yourself with patience and wait. The ramen proposed here is as good as it is fat, a real joy for the taste buds. It is no coincidence that it is called the number one ramen in Kyoto. [opening: 12 pm - 10 pm, website, address: 580 Nakanocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8042]
NISHIKI MARKET As anticipated, at the Nishiki Market it is possible to eat something (always trying not to annoy the multitude of people who crowd constantly).
BAR ROCKING CHAIR Very elegant American style bar frequented by a refined clientele. Here you will have some excellent drinks. I recommend you try it after dinner. Their tiramisu is mouth-watering. [opening 5 pm - 1 am, website, address: 〒600-8044 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Tachibanacho, 434-2 仏 光 寺 下 る]
NOKISHITA711 GIN AND COCKTAIL LABO Small and hidden gin bar that will make you live unforgettable emotions: the sweet barlady is a true monster of skill. is able to create legendary cocktails. A must try for anyone who wants to try something unique. [opening: 5 pm - 1 am, website, address: 〒600-8019 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Sendocho, ２３５]
STARBUCKS COFFEE KYOTO NINENZAKA YASAKA CHAYA Starbucks coffee shop located in Maruyama Koen, which has become famous because it is made inside a traditional Japanese house complete with tatami. [opening 8 am - 8 pm, address: 349 番地 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0826]
WAKO TONKATSU ISETAN If you are staying or you are in the station area and you want an excellent tonkatsu, I recommend this restaurant located inside the Kyoto station. The meat is very good and is served with a complete set of condiments and rice. The price is really competitive. [opening: 11 am - 10 pm, website, address: 〒600-8555 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 烏丸 通 塩 小路 下 る 東 塩 小路 町 901 ジ ェ イ ア ー ル 京都 伊勢丹 1F]
KYOTO AVANTI Shopping center in front of Kyoto station, has several places (all frequented by students and workers) where to drink and eat a quick meal at very low prices. [address: 31 Higashikujo Nishisannocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8003, website]
GIN BAR C&D Elegant gin bar located in the heart of Pontocho. Ideal for a Martini before dinner or a cocktail after evening. Here I tasted some really good Japanese gins. [opening 5 pm - 3 am, website, address: 〒604-8003 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 古都 会館]
KYOTO STATION Without going into too much detail about the individual stores (because they are all absolutely valid), before taking the Shinkansen it would be mandatory to stop in one of them to buy a bento box to be consumed during the trip.