Kyoto has a reputation as an expensive city to visit, however the city is much more affordable than you may realize. Along with high-end kaiseki restaurants and luxury ryokan hotels, Kyoto has lots of options for accommodations, dining and exploring that won't break your budget.
Here are the top tips for exploring Kyoto on a budget.
Check flights to both airports
Kyoto does not have an airport of their own, but two come in neighboring Osaka prefecture: Itami (Osaka Airport terminal) and Kansai Airport terminal (KIX). Itami is closer, but KIX is greater, so check flights to both to get the best deals. If you're arriving at KIX and do not possess a JR Pass, the Icoca & Haruka card will get you a large discount around the JR Haruka train to Kyoto. Based on where you're flying from, it might be cheaper to fly to Tokyo and then go ahead and take shinkansen (bullet train) the rest of the way.
Look into the JR Pass if you are traveling from Tokyo
For those going to Kyoto in the capital, the shinkansen is the quickest and most convenient option. It isn't necessarily the least expensive, however the Japan Rail Pass will cover the entire trip. The JR Pass gives tourists unlimited travel on all JR trains (in addition to the Nozomi shinkansen) for seven, 14 or A 3 week period. This won't help you save money if you are remaining in Kyoto for your entire trip, but if you're traveling across the country, it's worth considering. It's cheaper to purchase the JR Pass beyond Japan, consider getting yours ahead of time to enjoy maximum savings.
Visit during off-peak seasons
The amount that you invest in a vacation to Kyoto will depend on time of the year, particularly when you are looking at accommodations. The spring cherry blossom season (between March and May) is by far the most expensive period, accompanied by the fall foliage season in November. Rooms often sell out a year in advance during these times, and costs increase dramatically. By traveling beyond these seasons, you'll not only benefit from cheaper costs, but the crowds may also be smaller.
Make the most of transport passes
Kyoto comes with an excellent public transport system, making hiring a car in the city an unnecessary expense. The buses, trains and subway are comparatively cheap and efficient, plus you can save even more cash with transport passes if you're doing a lot of traveling. All-day passes are for sale to unlimited travel on buses in the city center, plus one- and two-day passes for unlimited travel around the subway and city buses. These also give you discounts at certain attractions, for example Nijō-jō castle and also the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
Explore by bike or on foot
As a relatively compact city that's mostly flat and simple to navigate, Kyoto is a superb spot to travel by bicycle or on foot. Bike rental stores are within the city, and renting one for the day can be a cheap way to reach sightseeing spots outside of the city center, such as Kinkaku-ji temple and also the Arashiyama district. Walking isn't just the cheapest method to explore central Kyoto, but it is regularly more convenient and pleasant than taking the bus. Routes like the Path of Philosophy, that leads along a canal up to Ginkaku-ji temple, are attractions by themselves, and you will experience more of the city when discovering it by doing this.
Lots of Kyoto's top attractions are free
Perhaps surprisingly, many of Kyoto's most famous attractions don't charge an entrance fee. For instance, the ethereal Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, colorful Yasaka Jinja shrine and endless red torii gates of Fushimi Inari-Taisha are completely free to explore. Similarly, several temples such as Nanzen-ji and Chion-in allow visitors free accessibility grounds and just charge if you want to enter certain buildings or gardens. As such, it's easy to plan intriguing and enjoyable days out that will not put a dent in your bank account.
Lunch is an affordable time for you to try kaiseki
If you're looking to experience Kyoto's famous kaiseki ryori (seasonal multi-course haute cuisine) without breaking the bank, lunch is the time to get it done. You will find the prices reduced – in some instances literally half the price – however the quality of food is just like high. Reservations are often still essential.
Eat like a local
Plenty of restaurants in Kyoto cater to budget travelers, especially outside of the major tourist hotspots. Japanese cuisine tends to be less expensive than international fare, with noodle dishes like ramen, soba and udon in addition to rice dishes such as donburi and curry rice being particularly affordable. To actually spend less, pop into a tachi-kui (stand-and-eat) restaurant at a stop or perhaps in the downtown shopping area.
Look out for teishoku set meals
The majority of Japanese restaurants offer teishoku, or set meals, on their own menus. These are cheaper than ordering a la carte, in most cases contain a primary dish plus rice, soup and a side dish. Many will also have a drink and/or dessert included, making them fantastic choices for eating on a tight budget in Kyoto.
Pick up a picnic
Another inexpensive dining option when the weather's good is to have a picnic in a single of Kyoto's many spacious and picturesque parks. Supermarkets possess a wealth of tasty and filling food options such as onigiri rice balls and noodle dishes, plus bakeries perform a great selection of pastries, sandwiches and other snacks.
Business hotels offer affordable accommodations
Kyoto has accommodation options to match every budget, and business hotels are a great choice if you would like something clean, comfortable, conveniently located and affordable. Rooms are usually small but well equipped, and service is always good.
Stay inside a capsule hotel
If you want to avoid wasting cash and intend to be out all day, consider staying in a capsule hotel. This involves sleeping in a pod-like compartment straight from a sci-fi movie, with shared bathroom facilities and other communal spaces plus lockers for the belongings. They are not the most comfortable choices for long stays, but if you'll need a cheap place to rest, they may be ideal.
Hit up the konbini and 100 yen shops
Convenience stores (konbini) in Japan are great for more than just cheap meals. If you discover there's anything you need or have forgotten to bring along, either they or perhaps a 100 yen store will almost certainly perhaps you have covered at a low cost.
Average daily costs in Kyoto
Hostel room: yen2000 -yen5000
Basic room for 2: yen1200 -yen1800
Night in a capsule hotel: yen3000
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from yen1200
City bus flat fare: yen230
Subway day pass: yen800
Onigiri rice ball: yen130
Dinner for two: yen2000 -yen6000
Beer in the bar: yen600 -yen1200