Once Japan’s Imperial capital, today Kyoto is a bustling modern Japanese city with a population of nearly 2 million. But underneath this industrialized façade Kyoto’s past is reflected in every corner of the city. The preserved Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and Meiji-era buildings are a stark reminder of the fires and wars it survived. The Onin War in 1467 that lasted ten years destroyed most of the city, taking more than 50 years for it to recover. Today travelers booking flights to Kyoto can look forward to exploring the surviving structures from the Heian Period including the Byodoin Temple in Uji and Shimo Daigo-ji Temple and the immaculate pebble Zen gardens that are dotted throughout the city.
Some of the best events in Japan take place in Kyoto, 500 of them to be precise. Nearly every month an elaborate matsuri (festival) is held on the streets of the city. And while most visitors are guaranteed a festival while they’re there, the best time to book a Kyoto flight is in July when Gion Matsuri, the most famous Japanese festival, takes place.
With hot, humid summers in the south, and cold, bitter winters in the north, timing is everything in planning your flight to Kyoto.
Peak Season: Booking your Kyoto flight during the summer months brings high temperatures and humidity, but sunny skies and easy access to the outdoors are plentiful.
Off-peak Season: Winter is a seasonal toss up. In the south, mild and cool conditions make for a pleasant visit, but further north in Hokkaido, the bitter cold is a less appealing time to travel to Kyoto.
Kyoto’s bus system is the city’s most convenient form of public transportation. However, most bus signs are in Japanese, so make sure you know the route number you’re looking for. Buses reach all corners of the city and run from early morning to late evening. You may consider the subway system easier to manage, but probably not as convenient. Save some money by paying for a day pass or prepaid card before boarding either the bus or subway. If you’d rather travel by cab, hail a taxi anywhere, or pick one up at a taxi stand or hotel. You’ll find that some taxi companies have city tours, which are charged either by hour or by the route. Smaller taxis will have a slightly lower rate than some of the larger vehicles. Many of the sights you’ll want to see are close to each other, so you can bike or walk if you want a little exercise. However you choose to travel, it never hurts to have your destination written in Japanese.
Nijo Castle: Built in 1603, this structure once housed Tokugawa leyasu, who was part of a 700-year ruling group called the shoguns. Filled with authentic Japanese art, surrounded by beautiful and delicate gardens, and accessible by train, this is an unquestionable addition to your Kyoto travel plans.
Kinkakuji: Another remarkable collection of Japanese art resides in Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Its beauty makes the long Kyoto flight certainly worth the wait. This Zen temple was built in 1397, and once served as a home for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and many Buddha relics. Ornate with exquisite woodwork and surrounded by water and trees, the building was burned by a fanatic in 1950, and fortunately restored in 1955.
Souvenirs: For fashion, art, and traditional (but not tacky) souvenirs, weave your way over to the shops near Arashiyama train station. Fragrant incense and wooden votive tablets made in Zen temples are the perfect sentimental gift for yourself or someone else. For a more expensive (but sensational) memory of Kyoto travel, purchase an actual samurai sword. Just be careful to leave extra baggage room on your flight to Kyoto to ensure plenty of packing room for your new sword.
Nightlife: While sometimes solemn, nightlife here creates an opportunity for an elegant and inspiring experience. Read up on geishas during your flight to Kyoto. Although misconceived as prostitutes, geishas are actually women highly dedicated and trained in social grace, conversation, arts, tea, music, and dancing. If you’re in the mood for a more rowdy atmosphere, head to the west bank of the Kamo River, where bars, clubs, and restaurants are tightly packed and ready for business.