Surrounded by mountains, Kyoto is known for its stifling hot summer nights with barely a breath of air. July and August are typically the hottest months with temperatures in the 30s (C). June, July, and September are also the months with the most rainfall.
When to fly to Kyoto
The New Year, Golden Week (end of April through beginning of May), and O-Bon festival (August) are very busy in Japan — both the Japanese and visitors flock to the popular attractions and destinations, making everything crowded. Other highlights include the Aoi Matsui in May, the Gion Festival throughout July, and the Jidai Festival in October.
The high season is May through October, and it is a good idea to make reservations ahead of time, even for attractions that require permits.
Autumn into November is a good time to book flights to Kyoto. The changing foliage is beautiful and the weather is pleasant. December to February can be cold, but the major attractions are less crowded.
Getting around Kyoto
Kyoto’s bus system is the city’s most convenient form of public transport. 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.
Kyoto insider information
- If just spotting a geisha in the Gion district isn’t enough, then it is also possible to be dressed and made up as one and have your photograph taken. There are many studios in the district that specialise in photographing foreigners in traditional geisha clothes. Prices, unsurprisingly, are not cheap.
- Before entering a temple you should follow the Buddhist practice of washing your hands. The area where you wash is called chozuya, and will be at the entrance of every temple you see. Traditionally a well, nowadays it could be anything to hold water, including a cement bucket. Take the ladle in your right hand to pour water over your left, swap hands and repeat. Then pour water over your right hand again, and wipe your hand and lips with a clean tissue. Never drink the water from the well.
- The season of cherry blossoms is roughly from March to April, and it normally takes place in Kyoto in the last week of March or the first of April. The Japanese word for the blooming is hanami and visitors arrive to watch the blossoms from all parts of Japan. Particularly popular is a blooming alongside a temple or shrine. In Kyoto Maruyama Park is one of the best places to go and see the blooms – a large weeping cherry tree in its center is lit up in the evenings.
- If you’re not in town for the cherry blossom though, don’t despair. There are more than 500 festivals hosted in the city during the year. Gion Matsuri (matsuri means festival in Japanese) is one of the biggest. The celebration takes place every July, with festivities starting on July 1 and the culmination on July 17, with a parade of floats in procession through the city.
- The Kyoto Handicraft Centre is a great place to shop. You can pick up arts and crafts and souvenirs to take home, watch demonstrations of doll making, woodblock carving and damascene making, or even take part in a class at the handicraft school.