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Kyoto, in pictures

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I rarely run tourist photos on Head for Points – it isn’t what we do.  However, as a counterpart to my review of The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto today, I thought it was worth an extra 4th article with a few shots from our 48 hours in the city.


Feel free to ignore if you’re not interested …..


The fastest bullet train services from Tokyo take 2 hours and 15 minutes.  The train tickets are eye wateringly expensive however – close to £1,000 return for two children and two adults in ‘Green Car’ business class.


You can use the Japan Rail Pass but if your only trip is Tokyo-Kyoto then it isn’t worth it, especially as the fastest bullet trains are exempt.  We also saw long lines at Rail Pass counters at stations for people looking to reserve seats.


There are taxi ranks at the major Kyoto temples so it is easy to get around the key sites.  Some are also accessible by metro and tram or on foot from the centre.


English seemed more widely spoken than it did on my two previous trips to Japan, which were probably 10 and 20 years ago.  Railway stations and the like are effectively multi-lingual and you won’t struggle.  There is now an Oyster card-equivalent for the subway in Tokyo and Kyoto which makes life easier and saves you spending time at the ‘Fare Adjustment Machine’ each time.


It is definitely somewhere you should visit once.  Avios availability to Tokyo on BA is difficult to get if you have a 2-4-1 voucher, but Seoul (a 2 hour connection via JAL which can be done on Avios) always has seats.  If you don’t have a 2-4-1 voucher, you have additional options – JAL direct from Heathrow, Finnair with a change in Helsinki or Qatar with a change in Doha.  You can even route yourself via Moscow (on BA) with a connection to JAL.


Alternatively, a routing like our Hong Kong to Tokyo to Kyoto (rail) to Beijing one gives you some extra variety.  I would recommend Shanghai instead of Beijing but we had personal reasons for going through there on the way home.

Comments (62)

  • Tip says:

    Ah, a bit late for you Rob, but for anyone else, I’d suggest the green car is not necessary (or worth it) plus the Shinkansen ticket price can be reduced substantially by booking via Japanican (rail only ‘tour’) rather than JR directly.

    • Genghis says:

      When I was there 9 years ago now there wasn’t that much difference between the Green car and standard (so as long as booked in a 2 and not a 3 seat) to justify the price and the difference in time taken between the Nozomi (fastest fewer stops where can’t use JR rail pass) and the Hikari (middle number of stops where can use JR rail pass) sets is not that significant

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Completely agree. Green class adds very little value and the Nozomi trains aren’t much faster.

      Incidentally, the ‘long’ lines for seat reservations move very quickly. The staff behind the desks are total pros and have transaction times nailed. I think I had my fastest one sorted in roughly 45 seconds.

      • Richard says:

        i like the green car because it’s much quieter and far fewer families with kids. With the rail pass green class is only about 30% more expensive, so well worth the extra.
        The “long lines at rail pass counters” are from people collecting their rail pass. Once you have the rail pass you can make seat reservations at any ticket office, not just those counters who issue the japan rail pass. The queues there are seldom very long.

        • Dan says:

          I agree. When we arrived at Haneda we planned to collect our JR Pass from the ticket office there, only to find a queue stretching half way around the airport. We waited in it for about 20 minutes before realising it was going to take about 4 hours to reach the front!

          So jumped on the monorail and picked it up from Tokyo station in about 2 minutes flat!

          • David says:

            Likewise I’ve never had a long wait to pick up a JR Pass at Tokyo Station. Some of the seat reservation queues I’ve encountered at other stations have been quite long but there was almost continuous shuffling forwards and I think 10 minutes was the longest I ever had to wait.

            I always have a Green Car ticket but last year I couldn’t get a Green Car reservation back from Fukuoka, however the standard class seat I had was perfectly comfortable although the car was crowded, hot and a little noisy. This year I went to Niigata and the Green Cars on that route have 2+2 seating whereas passengers in standard are shoehorned into 3+3 so a Green pass was definitely worth the extra.

    • Gareth Oakley says:

      Another thumbs up for JR pass. We collected ours at Narita (took about 10 minutes). That meant we got to use it for taking the Narita Express into Tokyo, travel around Tokyo on the Yamanote line, return travel to Osaka, several trips between Osaka and Kyoto (only takes about 15 mins!) and the Tokyo Monorail back to Haneda. If you’re planning to spend a bit of time in Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto I think it’s pretty easy to get decent value out of it. Agree with many of the other people here not to bother with Green class – the Shinkansen on the Hikari services are scrupulously clean and very comfortable.

  • Paul says:

    Don’t be out off by the crazy price above. You could travel in a normal class bullet train seat and do it for £200 return. The website “HYPERDIA” will help allow you to book your own tickets or at least research reasonable prices.

    Travelling by bullet train is incredibly civilised, really no need to spend extra money to be in the green car!

    • Paul says:

      Just re-read carefully that you were a group of 4, so that makes more sense. Still many many cheaper ways to get to Kyoto and as your pictures show, totally worth it!

  • John says:

    The way I did it was HND to ITM for 4500 avios then local trains for something like 700 yen.

    I went last November, also a peak tourist season although we didn’t plan it that way. Plenty of people with small kids on all forms of transport. I think it’s a weird mentality to always be looking at the most expensive option first.

  • TripRep says:

    Nice pics Rob, the place looks fascinating and peaceful.

  • John says:

    I have penciled out this weekend to do research on our trip to Japan in December with BA Using a 2for1 voucher . Managed to also get First !
    These articles and all the comments have been the most useful source of information . The discussion yesterday regarding the best hotel in Tokyo was very useful to hear a broad range of views .
    Thanks Rob for the posts , I am reading everything
    HFP readers – any tips you can give is very much appreciated ! . we fly into Haneda on 28/12/17 and the plan is to visit Tokyo for 28th and 29th and maybe then head to Kyoto area via train .
    Our return flight was booked yesterday using avios on Cathay Pacific to HK from Narita on 04/01/18 so pleased to manage to get First again for so little cost !
    Is Osaka worth a visit – anywhere else which should be on my list ??

    • Si says:

      Hi john, having been to Osaka, i would say it was good for a day or 2. Lots and lights and life at night and very Japanese. The aquarium was fantastic (only place I’ve seen a whale shark so far) but i understand may not interest everyone. Wife and i (24 & 30y’old) went specifically to visit aquarium but were very impressed with rest of Osaka for short stay.

      One tip i would give is, if visit Kyoto, get the train to Arashiyama. Absolutely fantastic microcosm of old school Japanese culture and loveliness. A town made up pretty much purely of temples and sights. We hired bikes and cycled to all the main sights including quite a long assent of a hill to “temple of laughing buddas”. Monkey park there is also very good. A long steep climb but excellent views and always nice when the humans are the ones in the cages while the animals go about their business

      Hirosima – excellent and powerful. Make sure you go there. I recommend visiting Itsukushima. We got a boat by A-bomb dome which took us to ‘Deer Island’.

      Also research Bunny Island…. as you can prob tell by now, wife and i love culture, nature and wildlife!

      • Si says:

        Also if travelling Japan – get your JR Rail passes all booked in advance. As international travellers, they were a bargin to extentsively travel japan for 3 weeks. Must be booked prior to travel though.

      • John says:

        Thank you Si for your suggestions ! – some good suggestions there .
        We are in our late 30’s , and we are not really city people hence why I don’t intend on staying in Tokyo for too long . In saying that I guess with the size of the population every town is like a city. Did you stay in Chain hotels or use the traditional Japanese Ryokan ?
        Thanks again !

        • Si says:

          We went 3 years ago and stayed chain hotels. As that time we didn’t really know any better than going onto Expedia and booking the best we could afford but mainly focused on location.

          In Tokyo doesnt matter too much where stay as long as you’re near a subway (we went ANA intercontinental), Kyoto we stayed about 5 mins walk from bridge into Town (where Rob’s hotel was) and Hirosima we stayed right by A-dome.

          When we were there, Japan was already gearing up for the 2020 Olympics, so wouldn’t suprise me if there are a lot more accommodation options now. Air B&B is prob on a massive rise

      • Genghis says:

        As Si mentioned, Osaka is a cool city for a day or two. The food is great: okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

        Hiroshima also has good okonomiyaki but made with noodles. You can take the train to miyajima Guchi on JR rail pass then take the ferry for free to Miyajima to see the famous torii. Be sure to climb the mountain for great views over the inland sea.

        For something different you could head to Koya-San and stay over night in a temple.

        Himeji castle is worth the stop off between Osaka and Hiroshima. Lockers available in the station.

        Could you not book a flight to HK from say Kansai (KIX) to avoid the schlep back to Tokyo?

        • Genghis says:

          Oh and try to fit in an onsen trip with ryokan somewhere. Hakone area is popular as it is on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto but is not as good as the Kyushu onsen towns of Kurokawa and Yufuin

          • Genghis says:

            Bear in mind the ryokan price may look a bit expensive initially but includes quite possibly the most delicious breakfast and dinner you will ever have.

            Happy to offer more info on specifics.

          • Kevin says:

            Agree with Genghis although ryokan is a bit expensive but worth for the experience. Make sure you book room with breakfast otherwise you won’t experience Japanese traditional breakfast.

        • John says:

          Si & Genghis ,
          Thank you both for that information . I did intend on flying out of KIX to HKG but I was using avios and there was no availability . I am now thinking of heading west first and then end up in Tokyo at the end .
          I will look into your suggestions as they sound great and enough to fill my time !
          I am a bit of a foodie so will def book Ryokan just for that !
          Does anyone stop off near MT Fuji or is it not worth more than what you can see from the train ?

          • Genghis says:

            I went to Hakone and used the “Hakone free pass” to go on cable cars for great views, including Mt Fuji. It also includes a ride on a pirate ship. Sounds v touristy but was good fun and had onsen tamago.

            If you end up in Fukuoka area / northern Kyushu let me know as I can provide specifics on restaurants etc. I lived there for 2 years. Hakata ramen is the best you’ll find and mentaiko pasta delicious.

          • Richard says:

            there are a huge number of combination tickets for travel and attractions in japan, so you should check the train company pages (private companies especially), the city tourist pages and attractions (castles, mountains, onsen).
            From Saporro i visited an onsen town and a combination ticket of bus + visit to any onsen saved about 40% of the price of paying the two separately. And for mountains with cable cars there are many combination tickets that include train to the mountain, cable car up, perhaps another cable car down the other side and train back to where you are staying – saving a lot of money. Kyoto especially has many passes like this (there are many private train companies there), so don’t just focus on travelling by JR.

          • Kevin says:

            JR pass is only worth if you need to travel places by lot of trains and with JR route. Otherwise it isn’t worth and limited your travel options overall.

            Since you are footie, you should try kaiseki cuisine while in Kyoto. Please make sure you book a table in advanced as good restaurant won’t allow for walk in for this kind of cuisine.

    • laineyling says:

      Nara is beautiful and peaceful. Quite a few old buildings of significance and a lovely garden. Kanazawa and takayama retains an edo feel without losing the appstore of a real dynamic city/town.

      Lots of places (cities, tourist spots) offer free guided private tours if you book in advance; you can Google this. Quality varies; our guide in kanazawa wad excellent where as matsumoto castle guide spoke much less English. Do not to the free guides cash (offensive) but they will accept small gifts such as chocolate or biscuits.

      • laineyling says:

        Don’t offer the free guides cash I mean.

        Also stopping for green tea and Japanese sweets was one of our favourite things to do every day in one of the gardens or museums where a tea room was available. These are usually positioned to have gorgeous views of a garden or at the least beautiful interiors.

        • Dan says:

          I’m loathed to recommend it, as the more people who visit the less great this place will become, but I really do agree with Genghis’s recommendation for visiting Koyasan. Google okunoin cemetery – absolutely out of this world – and doable in a day trip from Osaka at a push.

          • Genghis says:

            I did it as a day trip from Osaka but regret not staying overnight. Next time…

          • John says:

            Thanks All for your tips and suggestions .
            I’m busy making a note of these so I can put together an itinerary for this exciting trip
            I have to say HFP is an excellent community of travel experts which I really appreciate your experience
            OT , I know this has been asked many times but can’t remember the answer !
            I have just hit my 10,000 spend on BA P card and another 2for1 has posted on my BA account . I have Amex plat also . Can I close this or do I need to use the voucher first ?

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Close it.

            Your voucher will be fine 99.9% of the time, mine is still in may account and I cancelled 3 months ago. Any AMEX can be used to pay the fees, in anyones name.

    • Kevin says:

      My tips:

      Nara is beautiful.
      Get a rail pass before you go unless you have to go on the very fastest bullet trains (the normal ones are still plenty fast).
      I enjoyed the Hakone trip and great views of Mount Fuji.
      Tokyo Banana is delicious and makes good presents.
      Tony Disneyland and Disney Sea are very good if you like that kind of thing.
      Tokyu Hands for stationary and gadgets.
      Akihabra for arcades, feeling like you’re in Blade Runner.

      • Jimmy says:

        Kyoto – a must. Minimum 2 days, preferably more & at a leisurely pace.

        Nara – definitely, a full day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto.

        Osaka – only a brief visit necessary if you must.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      We found Japan Guide to be an excellent online resource for planning a trip. It has comprehensive and consistent information on the entire country. Like the Michelin guide, all the sights are rated from zero to three stars. The three star sights were a reliable bet. Some cities like Kyoto also had walking tour itineraries and day plans as well.

    • Jimmy says:

      Hiroshima (Peace Park) – every person should be obliged to visit. The experience will never leave you.

      The museum there is undergoing large scale renovation – albeit I think a lot is already complete & open once again to the public. Give yourself a few hours and don’t rush it. Mind-blowing.

      Then…onto nearby Miyajima (30min on a local train) as others mention & a climb to the top (or take the cable car!) It’s the perfect nearby retreat after reliving such historic horror.

  • mark says:

    You could opt for the Oneworld yokoso/visit Japan air fare over the train. Books into Y so earns decent TP’s. £150 rtn.

    For me this is especially useful if tagging a trip outside of Tokyo onto the end of a stay and dovetail the return flight back to HND onto the onward trip onward out of Japan.

    Of course if part of the objective is to ride the Shinkansen then this obviously doesn’t meet it.

    • Alex W says:

      If you want to ride a maglev train and you’re going via Shanghai, you can get one from PVG to the city centre at something like 430km/h. Can’t remember the price but it’s much cheaper than the prices mentioned above.

      • Genghis says:

        IIRC we paid circa £5 per person one way in Sep. Good experience but the seats etc look knackered.

        • Jimmy says:

          seats lol – the journey lasts 8mins at a top (operational) speed of 431km/h – a truly fantastic experience – if you’re busy examining the seats you’re missing the point & should’ve taken the metro lol

      • Rob says:

        Done that – but it drops you in a remote part of town.

        There is also the Gatwick Airport monorail for real speed freaks :-)

        • David says:

          I hate the easyJet voiceover. I’m so delighted BA have moved to the South terminal so I rarely have to listen to it these days!

  • paul says:

    I would also agree that the green car was good value for money and worth the extra. Having said that it was 3 years ago and before the Brexit decision that has made the £ worth so much less.
    We used it to travel from NRT to Hiroshima and it can also be used on side trips and other forms of transport. For example I recall that we travelled to Miyajima on the ferry which costs us nothing. We also did the Hakone and did so from our Base out at NRT in a single day. We had 7 days passes.
    (On the Hakone Trail….in more than 8 trip to Japan I have never seen Mount Fuji, it has always been misty. On the day we did the trail you could not see more than 30 feet at times, It was great fun but Fuji remains only a picture)

    As for queues, well there are queues and then there is a Japanese queue. I did find having to wait till actually in Japan to make seat reservation really frustrating and the one weakness of the pass. However we arrived from Saigon early in the morning and had all the bookings made really quickly. We did not always get the first choice of train but that does not stop you travelling – it just means you travel in unreserved seats. I never saw anyone standing but there was far more tourist than I was prepared for.

    Train travel in Japan is a joy and a world apart from anything in the UK. For a start they leave on time and then they are clean.

    On our trip as a family of four I think the pass paid for itself in a single journey from NRT to Hiroshima, everything else was then a bonus. Unless very pushed for time I am not sure I would consider flying in Japan.

    The other option is the Joanna Lumley option and thats to hire a car. I am very keen to look into this for the future and without the offspring.

    • Jimmy says:

      Domestic flights have their purpose.

      1. They’re ace. JAL are great / service impeccable / airport experience bliss
      2. Cheap as chips at 4500 Avios e/w and about £1 tax.
      3. Can easily ‘do’ Hiroshima on a day trip from Tokyo (Haneda) or quickly reach Hokkaido, Sapporo etc.

    • Jimmy says:

      Snap, I’ve passed it on four visits and I’ve never seen it – I’m beginning to believe its the Japanese Loch Ness monster!!

  • Sam G says:

    Wow – Rob – thanks for running this – some much rich info in the comments that is helping my planning for a trip this November (ex-SIN on some bargain Malaysian business tickets) – seems like Japan is a HfP favorite!

    • Jimmy says:

      Japan is ace! Can be pricey (especially now our currency is in post-brexit doldrums) but the experience can be achieved on a budget – also recommend a capsule hotel for a one-off night (or longer if you wish obviously!) Do your research and you’ll find many are (relatively) upmarket.

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