Kyoto can seem like an intimidating destination for travelers. The historic city isn’t nearly as expensive as Tokyo, but between transportation, temple entries, meals, and accommodation, you may find yourself short on funds. These tips will help you enjoy Kyoto without breaking the bank.
1. If you are willing to forgo cherry blossoms, visit Kyoto during the off-season.
Cherry blossom season usually falls from March until May. This is peak season for tourism in Japan, and prices go up during this period. Not only is this time more expensive, the popular attractions will be packed with people. For a more Zen and equally interesting experience, visit Kyoto in the fall. The changing leaves will leave you just as breathless and you’ll save a substantial chunk of cash.
2. Avoid expensive taxis and take public transit.
Buses, subways, and trains can take you to every cultural sight in Kyoto and cost a small fraction of what you would pay for a taxi. A single-day bus pass costs just 500 yen (about 5 USD). You should also wear comfortable shoes and explore the city on foot.
3. Visiting a temple will cost you roughly 2 to 3 US dollars each, but many historic sites in Kyoto are free.
Although temple entries are cheap, you can take a stroll through historic Gion or a long walk down the Philosopher’s Path and enjoy the sights for free. Fushimi Inari, Yasaka Shrine, Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, and Ninna-ji Temple are more cultural landmarks that you don’t have to pay to see.
4. Sleep in a capsule hotel.
Capsule hotels may seem odd, but they are actually quite comfortable. If you’re looking to experience something unique, and entirely Japanese, try spending a night in one of these cocoon-like sleeping quarters. They are inexpensive and will provide you with a surreal night to explain to your friends and family for under 50 US dollars. Remember a pair of earplugs just in case. Females beware: many capsule hotels are exclusively for men. Make sure to double-check before booking.
5. Skip the expensive cocktails and hit an all-you-can-drink karaoke bar!
Not only will you get to sing karaoke with your friends in a private room, but you can also pay for unlimited drinks by the hour. The earlier you go, the cheaper the price. Most karaoke bars have deals on certain days of the week. Opting for only beer or only mixed drinks should cut your bill down significantly.
6. Convenience stores are your new best friend.
Unlike their American counterparts, convenience stores (called konbini in Japan), such as Seven Eleven or Family Mart, stock a wide variety of quick meals that will run you under 5 USD. I highly recommend the tuna or salmon rice balls (onigiri). They are tasty and filling for less than 1 USD! Just make sure not to walk and eat. It’s rude to do so in Japan.
7. 100 yen shops are far superior to their American counterparts.
The cramped aisles dollar stores in the United States are usually stocked with cheap plastic junk, but in Japan, at the 100 yen (1 USD) store, you can find charming souvenirs for friends and family. I bought loads of chopsticks, sushi-shaped erasers, and cute stationary at Seria (a popular 100 yen store) to bring home. Daiso, Japan’s largest 100 yen shop, also has a great selection of quintessential Japanese gifts such as candies and ceramics, all for about one dollar.
8. Attend a festival!
Not only are they packed with free activities, there are tons of street vendors that offer inexpensive meals, snacks, Japanese sweets, and shaved ice. Gion Matsuri is one of Japan’s most famous festivals, which happens to take place in Kyoto over the month of July. You’ll experience taiko drums, Japanese street food, and the abundant floats that line the streets of the city. I highly recommend trying okonomiyaki or takoyaki (octopus balls) if you’re feeling adventurous!