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Once Japan’s Imperial capital, today Kyoto is a bustling modern Japanese city with a population of nearly two million. But underneath its industrialised façade Kyoto’s past is reflected in every corner of the city. The preserved Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and Meiji-era buildings are a stark reminder of the fires and wars it survived. The Onin War in 1467 that lasted ten years destroyed most of the city, taking it more than 50 years to recover. Today travellers booking flights to Kyoto can look forward to exploring the surviving structures from the Heian Period including the Byodoin Temple in Uji and Shimo Daigo-ji Temple and the immaculate pebble Zen gardens that are dotted throughout the city.
Some of the best events in Japan take place in Kyoto, 500 of them to be precise. Nearly every month an elaborate matsuri (festival) is held on the streets of the city. And while most visitors are guaranteed a festival while they’re there, the best time to book a Kyoto flight is in July when Gion Matsuri, the most famous of festivals, takes place.
Surrounded by mountains, Kyoto is known for its stifling hot summer nights with barely a breath of air. July and August are typically the hottest months with temperatures in the 30s (C). June, July, and September are also the months with the most rainfall.
The New Year, Golden Week (end of April through beginning of May), and O-Bon festival (August) are very busy in Japan — both the Japanese and visitors flock to the popular attractions and destinations, making everything crowded. Other highlights include the Aoi Matsui in May, the Gion Festival throughout July, and the Jidai Festival in October.
The high season is May through October, and it is a good idea to make reservations ahead of time, even for attractions that require permits.
Autumn into November is a good time to book flights to Kyoto. The changing foliage is beautiful and the weather is pleasant. December to February can be cold, but the major attractions are less crowded.
Kyoto’s bus system is the city’s most convenient form of public transport. However, most bus signs are in Japanese, so make sure you know the route number you’re looking for. Buses reach all corners of the city and run from early morning to late evening.
You may consider the subway system easier to manage, but probably not as convenient. Save some money by paying for a day pass or prepaid card before boarding either the bus or subway.
If you’d rather travel by cab, hail a taxi anywhere, or pick one up at a taxi stand or hotel. You’ll find that some taxi companies have city tours, which are charged either by hour or by the route. Smaller taxis will have a slightly lower rate than some of the larger vehicles.
Many of the sights you’ll want to see are close to each other, so you can bike or walk if you want a little exercise. However you choose to travel, it never hurts to have your destination written in Japanese.