Kyoto Itinerary with Side Trips to Osaka and Nara
(Autumn Foliage Trip)
While I was busy browsing travel inspirations online in the middle of last year, I stumbled across beautiful photos of fall foliage in Kyoto Japan. This brought back memories of my travel to New England where I experienced fall season for the first time. Living in a country where the season only changes from summer to rainy, experiencing a season which induces the trees to burst in bright neon colors is awesome!
I usually travel during shoulder seasons to avoid the crowd and to take advantage of cheaper airfare and accommodation. However, the 2-week fall foliage season in Kyoto is too pretty to miss so I decided to travel during super peak for the very first time.
True enough, the hotel rates in Kyoto during the last 2 weeks of November skyrocketed to double up to quadruple. I originally planned to stay in a Ryokan to experience living like a local but unfortunately the well-located Japanese houses were fully booked already. Knowing that rooms are selling fast, I hurriedly booked a room in a central Kyoto hotel even if it’s 4 months in advance. I’m glad I did and you should too if ever you plan to see the fall foliage in Kyoto. Remember, this is a super peak season and you don’t want to end up with no place to stay during your vacation.
After hours of research, I finally patched up the following Kyoto Itinerary with side trips to Osaka and Nara. You may click on the links below to see my travel journal per activity.
Day 1 – Kyoto
1. Kansai Airport Arrival, Transit from Osaka to Kyoto with Haruka and Icoca Card
2. Check In: Hotel Monterey Kyoto
3. Nanzenji Temple and Eikando Temple Night Illumination
Day 2 – Kyoto
1. Tofokuji Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine
2. Kiyomizudera Temple
4. Higashiyama District / Gion
Day 3 – Kyoto
a. Sagano Scenic Train
b. Bamboo Grove
c. Tenjyuri Temple
2. Arashiyama Togetsukyo Bridge and Hiking Trail
3. Nishiki Market
5. Gion Corner
Day 4 – Kyoto and Osaka
1. Kyoto Imperial Palace
2. Train transfer from Kyoto to Osaka
3. Swissotel Namba Osaka Check-in
Day 5 – Nara
1. Osaka to Nara
2. Yoshikien Garden
3. Nara Park
4. Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Day 6 – Osaka
1. Last minute Osaka Shopping
2. Transfer from Osaka Namba Station to Kansai International Airport
Japan Travel Budget for Kyoto Itinerary with Osaka and Nara
Japan Travel on USD 100 Budget a Day
Japan tourism ministry has been heavily campaigning that it is possible to travel in Japan in less than USD100 per day. Well, after travelling in Japan, I strongly feel that this is highly doable during off-peak or shoulder season even if staying in 3.5 to 4 star hotels. One can easily find decent 3.5 to 5 star hotels or Ryokans under USD150/night in Kansai region during non-peak season, way cheaper than hotels of similar class in Hong Kong.
I spent under USD150 per day during super peak season last fall 2012 when hotel rates in Kansai region were at double to quadruple. This budget already includes our 3.5 to 4 star hotel accommodation, transportation, temple entrance fees and food. Our 2 night stay in Osaka even included executive lounge access in Swissotel Namba. Please refer to above table for my actual Japan travel expense breakdown. Though the trip to Japan is my most expensive trip within Asia, I find it to be great value for money and well worth of its price tag. My one week trip in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara Japan afforded me unique experiences which I’m unable to find anywhere in Asia. Where else in Asia can you see a lovely scene like below?
Transportation in Kansai Region
Is transportation in Japan really expensive? I say it’s true relative to public transportation in other Asian cities. The subways and railways are very efficient though covering almost all parts of the city and major tourist sites. Cab drivers are polite and honest, it is normal for them to return change up to the last cent.
Subways and railways: Fare starts as 210 yen (USD 2.25), check hyperdia.com for schedules and fees. There are special passes available for tourists like Haruka & Icoca cards available in JR ticket stations, just make sure to bring your passport to avail these discounted tourist pass.
Taxi: Flag down rate for first 2km is 640 yen (USD 7). A 15 minute ride will cost approximately 1000 yen (USD 11).
Bus: There is 500 yen (USD 5.50) one day bus pass in Kyoto.
Sagano Scenic Train in Kyoto: 600 yen (USD 6.50) for one way. Tickets are available in JR ticket stations and in Sagano railway ticket station. I strongly recommend you to book tickets in advance especially during peak season.
Asiatravelbug Japan travel tip:
Afraid to get lost in your do-it-yourself Japan tour? A pocket wifi can be you travel best friend. Book a pocket wifi in Japan to access Google Maps and Hyperdia while on the go! I have personally used Pupuru pocket wifi in Japan can recommend it highly. Make sure to book one before you go! Check out 5 reasons why you need pocket wifi in Japan here.
Hotel Accommodation in Kyoto and Osaka
Since the public transportation cost in Japan is quite high, I strongly recommend travellers to stay in central areas near tourist sites. We stayed in Hotel Monterey Kyoto which is well-located in central Kyoto with an easy access to subway. In Osaka, we checked-in ourselves in Swissotel Nankai right smack in the Namba downtown area. The subway straight to Kansai Airport is also right below Swissotel Nankai so the location of this hotel is unbeatable in terms of convenience. Both of these hotels are squeeky clean and are great value for money. These two hotels are highly recommended by Asiatravelbug. I will post a more detailed review of Hotel Monterey Kyoto and Swissotel Nankai Osaka in my next blog entries, so stay tuned!
Temple Entrance Fees in Kyoto and Nara
The entrance fees of temples in Kansai region average between 300 to 500 yen (USD 3.25 to USD 5.50) but some temples with great fall foliage like Eikando Temple charge up to 1000 yen (USD 11.00).
Food in Kyoto and Osaka
Food is generally quite expensive in Japan but there are a lot of cheaper alternatives if you know where to hunt. Here are some interesting food facts in Kyoto and Osaka.
1. Restaurants just outside temples or shrines are generally expensive and meatless. Restaurants outside these temples average between 1000 to 1500 yen per meal (USD 11 – 16).
2. Restaurants in Arashimaya are cheaper than in Central Kyoto. Meals like Chicken Karaage rice costs between 500 to 800 yen (USD 5.50 to USD8.50) in Arashimaya.
3. I always get my breakfast stash from Family Mart in Kyoto. They have pork buns for 100 yen (USD 1) each.
4. Circle K convenience store sells Yakitori (pork or beef barbeque sticks) for 150 yen (USD 1.75).
5. You can buy a decent chicken sandwich in McDonald’s in Japan for 100 yen (USD 1), way cheaper than buying the same sandwich in McDonald’s of other neighboring Asian countries.
6. Basement of major department stores like Takashimya functions as food paradise. Nicely decorated sushi meal boxes sell for 500 yen (USD 5.34) and up.
Next: Kansai Airport Arrival, Transit from Kansai Airport to Kyoto with Haruka and Icoca Card >>>>
Looking for a convenient place to stay in Kyoto or Osaka?
Asiatravelbug suggests that you book with Agoda for best rates.
Other Japan Travel Tips:
- Heading to Tokyo too? Check out Asiatravelbug’s Where to Stay in Tokyo Guide.
- Interested to stay in Osaka? Check out Asiatravelbug’s Where to Stay in Osaka blog post.
- Interested to stay in Kyoto? Check out Asiatravelbug’s Where to Stay in Kyoto blog post.
- Afraid to get lost in Japan? A pocket wifi can be your travel best friend. Asiatravelbug strongly suggests first time visitors to rent a pocket wifi. Check out 5 reasons why you need a Pocket Wifi Japan Rental in your trip to Tokyo. Free public WiFi is RARE in Japan!
- No Tokyo itinerary yet? No problem, we’ve done all the grunt research work for you! Check out Asiatravelbug’s Tokyo Itinerary travel blog.
- Want to see Mount Fuji? Mount Fuji only shows up 80 days a year! Increase your chances of seeing Mount Fuji by checking out our How to See Mount Fuji blog. Other readers have reported to see Mount Fuji following Asiatravelbug’s guide. 🙂
People Who Viewed This Article Also Read:Osaka: My First Jetstar Asia Experience – From Manila to Osaka Osaka, Kyoto & Nara: My First Japan Trip! Osaka, Kyoto and Nara Japan Travel Itinerary Osaka & Kyoto: Kansai Airport Arrival, Transit from Kansai Airport to Kyoto with Haruka and Icoca Card Kyoto: Hotel Monterey Kyoto Review Kyoto: Exploring Nanzenji Temple and Eikando Temple in Kyoto for Free Kyoto: Kiyomizudera Temple Kyoto Kyoto: Exploring Higashiyama District in Kyoto Kyoto: Tofokuji Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto: Arashiyama – Sagano Scenic Train, Bamboo Groves and Tenjyuri Temple Tokyo: 10 Awesome Things to Do in Tokyo for First Timers Tokyo Akihabara: 10 Surprising “Only in Japan” Moments Not to Miss in Tokyo Tokyo Itinerary 7 Days Where to Stay in Tokyo First Time Mount Fuji: The Geeky Guide to See Mount Fuji at its Best
Hello! I’m sure you get a ton of messages, I love your blog and am reading it religiously for my first trip to Japan the first week of December (I know it’ll be cold!). I plan to visit Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka and will be flying out of the Osaka airport to head to Taipei. After Tokyo I was planning to stay in Kyoto for 2 nights and then Osaka for 1 night before heading to the airport. Is this too much of a hassle? Should I just stay in one place the whole time?
Thank you for your kind words!
For a one week trip, splitting your stay between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka should be fine unless you’re with an elderly or with someone mobility issues.
If you’ll be spending most of your time in Kyoto compared to Osaka, then a 2 night stay in Kyoto should be ok. It will help you save at least 2 hours per day in commuting to and from Osaka.
Staying in Osaka for your last night makes sense as Osaka is nearer to the airport. Apart from the great food and nightlife in Osaka, you’ll also be able to do last minute souvenir shopping.
Hope this helps.
Your information about Japan is super helpful and thank you for sharing it to every body.
We (Me, husband and daughter 13 yrs) are going to Japan (6 April to Tokyo, 16 April flight out from Osaka). Can you please suggest the best itinerary for this schedule and the best transportation to go. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind words. 10 days is perfect to explore Tokyo, Mount Fuji Area (Lake Kawaguchiko / Hakone), Kyoto and Osaka! And you made the right decision in not making a u turn back to Tokyo. This will definitely save you a lot of time and money.
Different people have different definition of the best transportation to go. From Tokyo to Osaka or Kyoto, you can either take the Shinkansen train or bus. Bus is definitely a cheaper alternative but it will take about 8 hours. My personal preference is by Shinkansen bullet train. The bullet trains in Japan are very comfortable and can take you efficiently from Tokyo to Osaka / Kyoto in just a little over 2 hours. Since you won’t be making a u turn, you don’t need to bother about the JR pass. Just take the one-way bullet train from Tokyo to either Osaka or Kyoto. Alternatively, you can split your bullet train journey and have a stopover at Odawara (entry point of Hakone) for a ryokan overnight stay in Hakone before heading to Osaka or Kyoto.
To increase your chances to see cherry blossoms at their peak, I suggest you to plan to see popular parks (i.e. Shinjuku Gyoen, Imperial Palace East Gardens, Sumida River, Ueno Park) at the start of your trip.
For 10 days, your itinerary can cover:
Tokyo and day trips/overnight trips to Mt Fuji Area (Hakone / Lake Kawaguchiko / Gotemba) – 5 nights
Osaka and Kyoto – 4 nights (I suggest you to choose only 1 as base to save time in moving hotels. Stay in Kyoto if you love culture, nature and history. Stay in Osaka if you love food and shopping. Osaka is a more strategic place to stay if you plan to do day trips to different areas like Kobe, Himeji, Kyoto and Nara. Cherry blossoms in Osaka and Kyoto are also lovely but the latter part of second week of April might be a little too late to see the peak. But again, it all depends on the weather and the rain. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.)
Hope this helps and I’m sure your family will enjoy Japan this April!
Love you blogs!!!
Your blog on Tokyo hotels is awesome!
We plan to fly in from California to Osaka then, take the train to Tokyo and fly home from there.
Do you have some hotel recommendations for Osaka and/or Kyoto? Would it be better to say in Osaka vs. Kyoto?
We have about 9 or 10 days in Japan …..between the 3 cities, should we stay longer in one or the other? …considering our college-age kids are traveling with us too.
I appreciate your travel expert advice.
Thanks for your kind words and for dropping by Asiatravelbug. I just came back from Japan trip last week covering Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone so this question is just perfect.
Osaka and Kyoto offer different kind of experiences. Osaka is best known for food and shopping while Kyoto is known for nature, temples and historical charm. I like culture and nature more than shopping, so my personal preference is to stay in Kyoto if I were to choose only one. I suggest to stay in Kyoto for at least 4 days to fully explore its beauty and its outskirts.
Between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I would suggest you to stay longer in Kyoto. Kyoto is uniquely Japan where you have to chance to spot real Geishas in Gion area.
For hotel recommendations, please see below accommodations where I’ve personally stayed at and can recommend.
1. Osaka – For first timers, I suggest you to stay in Namba/Dotonbori area for great food, shopping, bustling night life and convenient transportation.
Fraser Place Nankai Osaka – I’ve actually stayed in the neighbouring Swissotel Nankai Osaka too but I find Fraser to provide more value for money with its bigger room space.
In Kyoto, you can choose either hotels or ryokans (Japanese style accommodation).
a. Royal Park Hotel the Kyoto – Great location in Sanjo dori (3rd street) near the river and convenient to train and bus transportation. Lots of local shops and popular restaurants within 5 minutes walk from the hotel. Suggest to go for bigger rooms for more space to put your luggage.
b. Gion Maifukan – Boutique style hotel in the heart of Gion district with Japanese style rooms available. Great location for sightseeing in Gion and Higashiyama.
c. Gion Hatanaka – A modern ryokan (Japanese style inn) in the heart of Gion district, nearby Gion Maifukan, serving Kaiseki meals in-room. Nightly rates can be more expensive due to breakfast and kaiseki dinner if you choose their half board package.
In case you plan to drop by Hakone which is between Osaka/Kyoto and Tokyo via shinkansen, I suggest you try to stay in a Ryokan there. In my personal experience, ryokans in Hakone provide more value for money and can be more scenic than ryokans in Kyoto.
Ichinoyu Honkan – A 380-year old ryokan beside a gushing stream and at the base of Hakone mountains. A perfect place for a digital detox and fall asleep early with soothing sound of stream right beside your room. Great dinner. One of the “rare” historical ryokans with private toilet available in-room. I suggest you get a room with private open-air onsen bath. I have to warn you though that the shower is open-air too and can be too cold during winter. In any case, I recommend Ichinoyu Honkan if you feel like having an authentic rustic Japanese experience surrounded by nature. 🙂
Hope this helps and I’m sure your family will enjoy your Japan trip!
Wow i’m very lucky to found your blog, its very usefull…
I’ve been to Japan visiting Kyoto,Osaka,Hakone,Fujikawaguchiko,and Tokyo with some friends. I love Japan and this time I’m planning to bring my family (2 adults + 2 childs, 2 and 4 yo) and we are planning to visit Osaka and Tokyo from 30 Nov-7 Dec 2016. Our flight arrived and depart from KIX. We have make rough itinerary but still don’t know if its do-able, so we need your advice;
Day 1 :
Arr KIX 7.00 AM
Nabano No Sato
Science Museum Nagoya
Shinkanzen to Tokyo
(half day @Tokyo)
Shinkanzen to OSAKA
Daytrip to Nara/Kyoto
Thank you so much, really appreaciate it . 🙂
Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your high level itinerary.
The last 2 weeks of November is fall in Kyoto and November 30 is around the tail end of the season. Fall is very lovely in Kyoto and for you to enjoy it before it is gone, I suggest you to start your itinerary in Kyoto rather than Nagoya.
You can book your hotel in Osaka though and just have a day trip to Kyoto and Nara. Allot at least one full day in Kyoto focusing on South Higashiyama area or Arashiyama (Sagano Scenic Train). For Nara, if your intention is only to see the dears and walk to some temples, it can be done in half day. Some of the deers can be a bit aggressive though so you have to be careful with kids.
For 8 days travel, I suggest you not to spread yourselves. Also consider that daylight times are shorter than usual during your Nov-Dec stay with sunset just before 5pm.
Actually, I recently came back from 8 day trip (Tokyo – Kyoto – Hakone – Tokyo) and found 3 focus areas to be just right for 2 millennials on the road. Adding more places would mean more time on the road and less time to enjoy the beauty of Japan.
Fuji Kawaguchiko is out of the way of Shinkansen. It can be accessed by bus from Shinjuku though if you really want this to be in your itinerary. Better check the weather and cloud factor before you go there so you’ll know ahead whether you can see Mount Fuji or not.
In summary, I suggest you to narrow down the areas which you will be visiting to 3 or 4 places so you’ll have time to savor the moment before heading to your next destination.
Hope this helps! Happy travel planning and I’m sure your family will have a fun time in Japan.
I will be in Osaka with my wife and daughter by the end of March, Kyoto and Nara are included on my itinerary. What I am bit worried about is the rush hour there. Any tips regarding it?
It’s going to be peak season at the end of March due to cherry blossoms. I’ve been to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara during the November peak autumn foliage last time. Although train and train stations were packed on some train routes when I’m there before, I think it’s doable unless someone in your tour group has mobility issues. I suggest you to commute during non-rush hours though to have a more comfortable travel.
Hope this helps and I wish your family a fun cherry blossom trip!
I am so glad that I discovered your site as I was feeling a tad overwhelmed planning a 7 days trip from Singapore to Tokyo in late March. Based on your itinerary, I pretty much have settled our trip and the hotels as well. However my husband mentioned about wanting to see Kyoto and I was wondering if it’s advisable taking a day’s trip to Kyoto. What would your suggestion be?
I’m happy to hear that you’ll be having a trip to Japan this coming March. I hope you see the beautiful cherry blossoms! 7 days in Tokyo is about right. Personally, exploring Osaka and Kyoto warrant a separate 1 week trip.
Kyoto is 3 hours away from Tokyo via bullet train. If you’re just going to stay overnight, you’ll spend more time commuting instead of exploring the beautiful sights in Kyoto. If you really wish to go to Kyoto during your trip this March, I suggest you to spend at least 2-3 nights so you’ll get the value of your bullet train ride and have more time to explore traditional Japan.
A word of warning though, the last week of March is super peak in Kyoto and it’s hard to book accommodation at reasonable rates. It’s not uncommon to see rooms shoot up prices by 3x to 4x during this period. Before you decide, you may wish out to check out the hotel availability in Kyoto or Osaka first.
Regardless whether you decide to include Kyoto or not in your itinerary, I’m sure you’ll have a blast in Tokyo!
Have a safe trip.
– Tiffy 🙂
Hi Tiffy. Thanks for your lovely blogs. I used your blog extensively for my last trip to Tokyo and had a really good time .May I find out from you what is the best way to get fro KIX to Osaka Namba station? It sounds like Haruka card is only for KIX-Kyoto.
Thanks for your kind words and I apologize for the delay in my reply.
I took the Nankai Aiport Express train from Namba Station (Nankai) to KIX Airport before and I used my Icoca card to pay for the fare. You can definitely take the train in reverse direction from KIX to Namba. The travel time is about 45 minutes, with multiple stops in between. Fare is 920 yen with no advance reservations required.
I hope this helps!
I want to take this Sagano Romantic Train ride from Arashiyama (near Kyoto station) but don’t want to ride the boat going back. Is it advisable to take the train from Kyoto to Kameoka then buy a 1-way romantic train ticket to Arashiyama? Thanks! 🙂
From Kyoto station, can you simply walk to see all the touristy places you mentioned above? Or do you need to ride a bus or book a tour (if necessary?) Thanks!!
Thanks for dropping by!
You can’t walk from Kyoto Station to major tourist sites. I used subway/train to go to the places I mentioned here. You can take bus as an alternative.
I suggest that you get an Icoca card which is a prepaid reloadable transit card. This way, you won’t need to purchase separate subway/train tickets every time you head out.
The signs in Kyoto Station can be a little bit confusing. I remember there were some signs in Kyoto Station purely in Japanese and I had to go to service desk to ask for directions. Despite this, I do think that having a DIY tour is Kyoto is highly doable especially if you have a pocket wifi with you so you can check google maps and train schedules while on the go. I recommend Pupuru pocket wifi and have personally used them twice in Japan. You can check out my pocket wifi in Japan review.
I hope this helps and I wish you a happy trip!
very informative! i bookmarked your series! thank you!
hi tiffy – i’m going to japan with my family this november. i’ve been tasked to arrange for transportation and tourist guide. i have no idea where to start.
we’re pretty much doing the same itinerary as you described in your article. i hope you could point me to the right contact or website. thanks.
Hi Jun! I missed your message and sorry for the delayed response. The area of Osaka and Kyoto is well covered by railways and subways. I would suggest that you get Haruka & Icoca Card from the JR ticket office in Kansai Airport. The Haruka ticket will give you a discounted train fare from Kansai Airport direct to Kyoto. Icoca card is similar to the Octopus card in HK, a prepaid transportation card.
For train and subway fares and schedules, check out http://www.hyperdia.com.
I think Kyoto and Osaka can be explored even without a tour guide. However, if you really require a tour guide or want some activity recommendations, I can link you with a Japan travel specialist which may help you with your travel requirement. Just send me a private message over Facebook (http://facebook.com/asiatravelbug). Thanks!