Should you stay in Kyoto or Tokyo?

Staying in Kyoto vs Tokyo

What we think: Whether to stay in Kyoto or Tokyo should depend on the experience you want to get out of Japan. If a journey through Japan's natural landscapes and rich history is calling out to you, then Kyoto is the city for you to stay in. Alternatively, if you're drawn to the exhilarating pace of modern city life with endless entertainment options, Tokyo awaits. Both cities have fantastic transportation links, making day trips easily doable. However, if this is your first trip to Japan, we'd strongly suggest basing yourself in Tokyo, with all of its hustle and bustle.

Decide between Kyoto and Tokyo according to your preferences:

AtmosphereSerene and traditionalUrban and vibrant
Cultural SitesNumerous temples, shrines, and gardensModern attractions, some historical sites
Food SceneTraditional Japanese cuisine, Kaiseki diningStreet food, diverse international cuisine
AccommodationRange of traditional inns and modern hotelsWide variety of hotels, more international brands
TransportationEfficient bus system, bike-friendly cityExtensive metro and rail system

The Tranquil Beauty of Kyoto

Kyoto, the heart of Japan's cultural heritage, is distinguished by its peaceful temples, traditional tea houses, and stunning gardens. The city offers a profound connection to Japan's history, with must-visit sites like the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

Why Choose Kyoto?
  • Natural Beauty: Kyoto is particularly famous for its cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons, as well as its serene natural landscapes like the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and the Philosopher's Path, Kyoto offers a tranquil escape from the non-stop energy of Tokyo.
  • Iconic Festivals: Kyoto hosts some of Japan's most iconic festivals, such as the Gion Matsuri and Aoi Matsuri, which showcase the city's rich history and traditions, offering unique cultural experiences not found in Tokyo.
  • World-Class Culinary Scene: While Tokyo may be celebrated for its cosmopolitan dining scene, Kyoto excels in traditional Japanese cuisine and kaiseki dining, providing an exquisite culinary experience with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and artful presentation.
  • Preserved Traditional Districts: Kyoto's well-preserved traditional districts, like Gion and Higashiyama, offer a glimpse into Japan's past, contrasting with Tokyo's more modern and urban environment.
  • Unique Craftsmanship and Art: Kyoto is renowned for its traditional crafts and arts, including kimono making, pottery, and tea ceremony, offering visitors the opportunity to explore and even participate in these age-old traditions.
  • Quieter, More Reflective Atmosphere: Compared to Tokyo's bustling streets, Kyoto provides a quieter, more reflective atmosphere, ideal for those seeking a more relaxed and contemplative experience.
  • Extensive Gardens and Parks: Kyoto's numerous gardens and parks, like the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park and Kinkaku-ji's surrounding gardens, offer beautifully landscaped spaces for relaxation and reflection, showcasing traditional Japanese garden design.
  • Focus on Sustainable Tourism: Kyoto emphasizes sustainable tourism, encouraging visitors to engage with the city in a way that preserves its cultural sites and natural beauty, a contrast to the more commercial tourism approach seen in some areas of Tokyo.
  • Gateway to Traditional Japan: Kyoto serves as a gateway to the traditional heart of Japan, offering easy access to other historical destinations in the region, making it an ideal base for those looking to delve deeply into Japan's rich cultural history.
The Dynamic Metropolis of Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan's bustling capital, is a testament to modernity and innovation. The city is a kaleidoscope of neon-lit skyscrapers, cutting-edge technology, and bustling pop culture, balanced with pockets of historical tranquillity found in shrines and gardens.

Why Choose Tokyo?
  • The Big City Life: Unlike Kyoto, which is steeped in a calm and historic atmosphere, Tokyo thrives as a vibrant metropolis that merges the old with the new, serving as a hub for technological advancements, trendsetting, and cultural richness.
  • Unmatched Public Transportation: Tokyo's public transportation network is unrivalled, providing efficient, clean, and punctual services that connect the entire city with an incredibly low possibility of delays. This makes navigating around Tokyo both convenient and hassle-free.
  • A Culinary Powerhouse: Tokyo holds the record for the most Michelin-starred restaurants in any city worldwide. Its culinary scene is vast and varied, offering everything from luxurious dining experiences to delightful street food, catering to every palate and budget.
  • Iconic Landmarks and Attractions: Tokyo is home to Japan's most iconic landmarks and attractions, including Tokyo Tower, Skytree, and the Imperial Palace. It offers unique experiences like the immersive teamLab Borderless and the enchanting Ghibli Museum.
  • A Shopper's Paradise: The shopping experience in Tokyo is top-notch, from Ginza's high-end boutiques to Akihabara's tech and anime markets, and Harajuku's trendsetting streets. Tokyo caters to every conceivable interest and hobby with its diverse shopping districts.
  • A Hub for Arts and Culture: Tokyo's vibrant arts and culture scene features a wealth of museums, galleries, and theatres showcasing both traditional and contemporary works. The city's cultural richness is highlighted by institutions like the Mori Art Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art.
  • World-Class Sporting Events: Tokyo's rich sporting culture is evident in its sumo tournaments, baseball games, and more, offering sports enthusiasts a chance to experience the thrill of live action.
  • The City That Never Sleeps: Tokyo's nightlife offers something for everyone, from the intimate bars of Shinjuku's Golden Gai to the vibrant clubs of Roppongi. The city's diverse nightlife ensures that the entertainment continues long after dark.
  • Parks and Green Spaces: Despite its urban density, Tokyo is dotted with beautiful parks and green spaces like Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen, providing peaceful retreats from the city's hustle and bustle.
  • Inclusive and Diverse: The sheer size and diversity of Tokyo fosters an inclusive environment, welcoming people from all walks of life. Its varied mix of international communities and districts makes it a melting pot of cultures, languages, and traditions.
Making Your Choice

Whether to stay in Kyoto or Tokyo hinges on the experiences you wish to have in Japan. If a journey through Japan's relaxing landscapes and rich history calls to you, Kyoto is your destination. Alternatively, if you're drawn to the big city life with never-ending entertainment options, Tokyo awaits.

Tips for Travellers
  • Consider Visiting Both: With Japan's efficient public transport system, including the Shinkansen, splitting your stay between Kyoto and Tokyo offers a fuller experience of Japan's diversity.
  • Seasonal Considerations: The best time to visit Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms is in early April, and it's an incredibly busy time of the year, so make your plans and book your accommodation well in advance to avoid spending a small fortune. Tokyo always has something exciting going on, so you'll have no problem finding something interesting to see or do to keep you busy, whichever month of the year you decide to visit.