Why I love Kyoto
“Having visited Kyoto many times, it still surprises and delights me. No matter how often I hear the 'nightingale floors' squeak beneath my feet at Nijō-jō, pad barefoot across tatami mats in ryokan, sip matcha in centuries-old tearooms, cycle through Arashiyama's bamboo forest or drink convenience-store beer on the banks of the Kamo-gama, it's a city I could never tire of. Yes, it's an ancient Japanese woodblock...” Read More
Top experiences in Kyoto
Kyoto Sightseeing Tour including Nijo Castle
Following a morning pickup from your Kyoto hotel, meet your guide and hop aboard your air-conditioned coach to begin your city tour. Widely considered to be the cradle of Japan's cultural heritage, Kyoto was the country’s capital and the Emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. Today it stands as Japan’s seventh largest city, with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face which belies its status as Japan's most traditional city. Head first to Nijo Castle, noted for the stark contrast between its solemn appearance and beautiful interior. Built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogun, Nijo Castle is a joy to explore. Wander past the inner walls to Honmaru Palace and its garden, and hear of their history and heritage from your guide. Discover Ninomaru Palace with its five connecting buildings made of cypress — lavishly decorated in gold leaf — and admire the kitchens, guard house and extensive gardens. Continue on to the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto's most popular temple. Explore the authentic and exquisite Japanese garden — widely considered to be the most authentic and exquisite of its kind in the world — and the celebrated Golden Pavilion. Follow your guide on a walk through the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where the Japanese taste for simplicity and calmness can best be appreciated. (Please note that before entering the Kyoto Imperial Palace you will be required to fill out a form with personal information such as your full name, sex, age, and nationality.) The palace was the residence of the Imperial family until the capital was relocated to Tokyo in 1868, and its history is fascinating. Marvel at the Shishinden Imperial state chamber — where enthronement ceremonies took place — and gain valuable insight into ancient Japanese royalty. Admire the brightly colored Heian Shrine, then visit the Buddhist temple of Sanju-Sangendo Hall — where famous deity the Thousand Armed Kannon sits in wait — and marvel at the 1,000 life-size statues flanking the grand hall. Follow your guide along a quaint old lane lined with pottery shops to conclude your tour at the Kiyomizu Temple, and enjoy panoramic views over the entire city of Kyoto from your vantage point on its lofty terrace. After approximately nine hours exploring Kyoto’s many top attractions, return to your original departure point with your guide to conclude your tour.
Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto including Nijo Castle
Your day trip starts with morning pickup for the Kyoto sightseeing portion of your tour. Known as the cradle of Japan's cultural heritage, Kyoto was the country’s capital and home of the Japanese emperor from 794 until 1868. Thus, it boasts many important temples and other sites, several of which make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.With your guide, visit some of the highlights of this ancient city, starting with Nijo Castle, the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogun until the mid-1800s. This World Heritage–listed castle was built in 1603 and is noted for the contrast of its solemn appearance with its gorgeous interiors. You have about 50 minutes here to explore. Next, visit Kyoto's most popular temple, Kinkaku-ji, another World Heritage site and the home to what is perhaps the world's most exquisite Japanese garden. It’s also home to the celebrated Golden Pavilion, a 3-story structure covered in gold leaf and extended out over a pond. Make sure your camera is ready because it makes a great photo op. Spend about 45 minutes here.Continue your tour to Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former residence of the emperors of Japan. During your 40 minutes here, visit the Shishin-den, where important state ceremonies took place, and get a feel for the Japanese aesthetic of purity, simplicity and calmness as you explore the palace grounds.Take a break from sightseeing for lunch, and then re-board your coach for the 1-hour drive south of Kyoto to Nara, where you’ll visit two of the temples and shrines that make up the UNESCO World Heritage site the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. Start at Todai-ji, a temple complex famous for being home to one of the world’s largest bronze statues of the Buddha, housed in the Great Buddha Hall. You have about one hour here to explore the temple grounds and surrounding Nara Park. Then head to colorful Kasuga Shrine, famous for the 3,000 bronze lanterns that line its interior. You have 40 minutes here before continuing to a section of Nara Park, aka Deer Park, where tame sika deer roam freely and can be hand-fed (special food can be purchased from vendors, if you wish). If time and/or traffic conditions permit, you will also stop at a souvenir shop before heading back to Kyoto, where your day trip ends.
Half Day Small-Group Kyoto Cultural Tour
While traditional customs and lifestyle remain strong among locals, Kyoto is also a vibrant and modern city, where the old and the new co-exist in perfect harmony. You can soak up this culture on this small-group walking tour of Kyoto.First, visit Tofukuji Temple, one of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto and a rare example of surviving Zen architecture from the 13th century. Amble through the many gardens, both modern and traditional, of this working monastery. Next, on the outskirts of the city, nestled in a wooded mountain, is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Wander through the numerous bright red torii (sacred gates), made famous in the film Memoirs of a Geisha, and admire the many smaller shrines and fox statues.End your tour with a trip to the fascinating Gion District and home of the geisha. As you stroll past the traditional restaurants and tea houses that have remained unchanged over the years, glimpse the geishas with their beautiful and intricate kimonos, and learn the secrets of this ancient traditional art.
Kyoto Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo
After early morning pickup at selected Tokyo hotels or the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, transfer to Tokyo Station where you catch the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Kyoto. As you look out of the train window on a clear day, catch sight of revered Mt Fuji. After a 2-hour journey, arrive at mid-day to Kyoto Station where your local guide welcomes you. Enjoy a Western-style lunch at the New Miyako Hotel before beginning your afternoon city tour in Kyoto. After your meal, travel by comfortable coach to the spectacular Heian-jingu Shrine, a Shinto structure built in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100 year anniversary of the founding of Kyoto. The shrine's design reproduced the architecture of an Emperor’s palace from an earlier era. Outside, walk through the lush gardens next to a large pond.Next, travel to Sanjusangen-do Temple and marvel at its long wooden structure. Walk inside and be amazed by the main deity of the temple, the Thousand Armed Kannon, who is flanked by 1,000 life-size Buddhist statues that date to the 12th and 13th centuries. Listen as your guide explains the history and significance of the stunning temple.Afterward, head to the hills for great views over Kyoto and a visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a temple with several magnificent buildings, situated on a hilltop. Hear from your guide about the amazing construction of the temple, which doesn't use any nails. Note the Otowa spring that flows under the temple’s main hall; legend says that anyone who sips its waters will be granted a wish. After a full afternoon of sightseeing in Kyoto, your guide brings you to the train station in the evening for your return to Tokyo on the bullet train.
Kyoto and Nara Day Tour Including Golden Pavilion and Todai-ji Temple from Osaka
Meet your guide upon hotel pickup and head to JR Osaka Station. Board the JR Special Rapid Service or Rapid Service (non-reserved seating) to Kyoto, Japan's former capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. Now the country's seventh largest city, modern Kyoto remains steeped in traditional culture. Your morning tour of the city’s main highlights includes approximately 45 minutes at each site. Start at Nijo Castle, a former residence of the Tokugawa Shogun. Completed in 1626, Nijo Castle is noted for the contrast of its solemn appearance and gorgeous interiors. (Note: When Nijo Castle is closed you’ll visit Ryoan-ji Temple instead.)After touring the castle, head to nearby Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto's most popular Zen Buddhist temple. Home to perhaps the world's most authentic and exquisite Japanese garden, the temple features the celebrated Golden Pavilion whose wooden structure is completely covered in gold leaf.Next, visit Kyoto Imperial Palace, which clearly demonstrates the Japanese taste for purity, simplicity and tranquility. With your guide you’ll gain exclusive access to the former residence of the Emperor of Japan before the capital moved to Tokyo. When the Kyoto Imperial Palace is closed, the tour will visit Kitano Shrine (Kitano Tenman-gu) instead. This famous shrine, known as the god of study, has been designated a national treasure and is particularly worth seeing for its Japanese plum blossoms and colored leaves.Enjoy a Japanese set meal for lunch (vegetarian option available) before you’re off to Nara, located in the Kinai Plain less than one hour from Kyoto. Due to its past as the first permanent capital of Japan, established in the year 710 at Heijo, the city now known as Nara remains full of iconic sites.See Todai-ji Temple, one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples, constructed in the 8th century. In its huge precincts are various national treasures of Japan. Step foot in the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall), one of the world's largest wooden buildings, before a stop at Kasuga Shrine. This most famous and beautiful Shinto shrine features some 3,000 antique stone and bronze lanterns. Before your day trip ends, your guide will take you to Nara Nagomikan, Nara’s biggest souvenir shop where you’ll have the opportunity to browse for about 20 minutes. Here, you’ll find a variety of food products, sweets, and goods exclusive to Nara. Afterward, head to Kintetsu-Nara Station for the rail ride back to Osaka-Namba Station on the Kintetsu line (non-reserved seat) with your guide. Upon arrival back in Osaka, you'll make your own way back to your hotel.
Pearl Harbor, Dole Plantation and Polynesian Cultural Center Tour from Waikiki
After pickup from your Waikiki hotel, your expert guide will take you to historic Pearl Harbor, a must-see while on Oahu. Visit the new Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center, where you can observe war relics, authentic uniforms and interactive museum exhibits that chronicle World War II and the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.Then, hop on the shuttle and head to the USS Arizona Memorial to remember the tragedy that struck the battleship, which now rests on the harbor floor. A solemn and emotional place, the USS Arizona Memorial is one of America’s most moving monuments, and your guide’s compelling storytelling and informative narration will make this experience unforgettable. Continue your tour to the North Shore, known for its epic beaches. Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation for an in-depth look at one of Hawaii’s most important exports, and spend some time at famous North Shore beaches, where world-class surfers flock during the winter’s big wave season. Stop by La'ie Point for some incredible views.Celebrate diverse Polynesian culture as you travel to Oahu’s East Shore. Enter a world of Pacific traditions at the Polynesian Cultural Center, featuring interactive exhibits themed around the islands of ancient Polynesia. You'll meet real-life Polynesians as you explore recreated island villages, each revealing unique cultural traditions, authentic demonstrations, stories, songs, dances and much more. Sit down to a lovely all-you-can-eat lunch buffet of Hawaiian and Polynesian fare with your fellow travelers. Then, it's off to Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. You may recognize this impressive structure – it has been used in TV shows such as Lost and Hawaii Five-0!Your last stop is Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, where you’ll catch some lovely coastal views before ending your tour in Waikiki around 5:30pm.