It’s no secret that coming to Japan isn’t a cheap trip, and once you get here, self-control and staying on budget can be difficult! Enthusiasm and that ‘now or never’ feeling are dangerous for your wallet, especially when everything seems worth buying and taking back home. In addition, sightseeing can be expensive, especially if you are visiting Kyoto. But should you cancel your plans just because of budget constraints? Not at all! There are ways to enjoy Kyoto on a budget, you just need to do some digging. Granted, it is not always easy figuring out where to eat and stay as well as what to do in a city you have never visited before - especially if you are looking to cut back on expenses. What you need is the inside scoop - which is where I can help. I have spent years in this amazing city and while it can be expensive, you really don't need to break the bank on your trip to Kyoto. To kickstart your adventure, here are some of my top tips for visiting Kyoto on a budget.
Where to stay
Hotels here can quickly add up, but hostels are a great option for staying if you are planning a trip to Kyoto on a tight budget. And if you think hostels are dirty, over crowded rooms where you will not get any sleep, think again! Here in Japan they’re comfortable, cosy, and not like Western style hostels that you might be more familiar with. Don’t worry about security, you always have your locker! And if waiting for the shower is a problem, it could be the perfect opportunity to try out a Japanese public bath for around 400 yen. As I said, you can easily do Kyoto on a budget - you just need to know how.
What to Eat
With accommodation sorted, you know need to figure out what to eat during your trip to Kyoto. If you want to try authentic Japanese food, you can’t miss eating ramen! It’s easy to find good quality, cheap ramen anywhere in Kyoto; prices go from 700 to 1200 yen depending on what ingredients you want to add. As well as ramen, a good way to eat on a budget and like a local is to go for set menus (500 yen or less) at places like Sukiya, Nakau and Yayoi. Another tip is don’t be put off by convenience stores! For food in Kyoto on budget, and if you are in a hurry, there’s nowhere better (or more local) than picking up snacks like onigiri and cup ramen for less than 200 yen. We really do eat food from here more than you might think, and it’s not bad quality either - certainly better to a Western convenience store equivalent. Finally, street food! When you visit Kyoto and happen to travel to the Kansai region, you can’t miss trying local street food staples like takoyaki - a local delicacy of fried octopus balls. Give them a try!
Where to Go
It’s true that almost all of the city's must see places are not free, but there are some super fun and affordable things to do in Kyoto as well as incredible spots to see that won’t hurt your wallet, and you’ll still fall in love with them! No trip to Kyoto would be complete without visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha, the huge temple built on a mountain that’s famous for its hundreds of red torii gates (and made even more famous when it appeared in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”). Don’t give up, climb all the way to the top - the view is wonderful! Entry is free, and you can use your Japan Rail pass to go. Head up early in the morning to escape the crowds.
Another must-visit is Arashiyama and the bamboo forest, an area outside of the centre of Kyoto, but one which makes a great day trip. You can walk along the river, browse charming shops and wander through the famous bamboo forest. Arashiyama is especially magical in the spring and autumn as the trees change colour and create a beautiful and romantic atmosphere. Entry to the forest is free, and you can use your JR pass to get here.
Take in the Sights
Kitano Tenmangu is a temple that’s not well known by travellers, but is very important for Japanese people, especially students. In fact, if you want your tests to be successful you should visit! Close to this beautiful (and free!) temple is a district called Kamishichiken which was originally was a Geisha district - you could spot one nowadays too, if you are lucky. And if you love to walk through the streets and get lost in old Japan, you can’t miss Gion. Start at the Yasaka Shrine (entry is free), then take the east exit and go on walking until Ninenzaka and Kiyomizudera.
Don’t miss the Yasaka Pagoda and the stunning view from the top - perfect if you are exploring Kyoto on a budget. If you want to go inside Kiyomizudera, you do have to pay an entry fee of 600 yen, but you’ll still fall in love with this place even if you decide not to enter. If you’re in the Kyoto Station area, have a walk to Higashi Hongaji and Nishi Honganji, two immense Buddhist Temples. “Higashi” means east and “nishi” means west, so do you think you could fit both temples in the same picture? They’re open year round from early every morning (5.30am in summer and 6.20am in winter) so you can always give it a go.
Figuring out transport in a new city can be a nightmare and chances are, but fret not! There are so many budget friendly options you will be wondering what the stress was all about. Why not enjoy the city while riding a bicycle? You can hire them from rental shops for around 800 yen a day, or from your hostel for 500 yen or for free. You won’t regret this experience. You can also buy a daily pass for the “Kyoto City Bus” for 500 yen. With these municipal buses, you can reach almost every place in the city and 500 yen is a bargain for one day, considering that a single ride costs 230 yen.
Then there’s the Japan Rail pass, but chances are if you’re visiting Kyoto from elsewhere in Japan, you’ll already have one of these. A JR Pass can be used during your stay in Kyoto for quick and easy day trips out of the city - you can easily go to Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari by using JR lines. Going to the most famous and expensive places is not always the best way to get to know a city, and you can still get an authentic experience of Kyoto on a budget though. And you will fall truly, madly, deeply in love with this city - money or not!
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