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Organized tours in Kyoto

My sisters and I will be in Kyoto for about 2 1/2 days in November 2023. None of us have ever been to Japan before and none of us speak Japanese. We are interested in an organized tour in Kyoto. Specifically to see some of the sites other than those along the Philosophers Path. Can anyone recommend a tour company or guide?

Posted by
1546 posts

I cannot recommend a guide, because I never hired one. However, it's a good idea to hire a private guide. Perhaps check Japan Customs Tour, who is a regular contributor on Tripadvisor?

Also, check Touring around Kyoto on your own is not difficult, but you will be there during foliage season (think crowds and lines). Don't be afraid of using taxis, they are not expensive and can save you tons of your precious time. Buses will be very packed and slow.

Posted by
905 posts

I can't recommend a guide or tour as I did it myself. Don't worry about lack of Japanese language - that isn't a reason to hire a guide. A guide might be nice if you don't have a background in Buddhism and Shintoism and don't have time to research and plan all your specific sites before going.

My experience of taxis was not precisely the same as the above poster. I used taxis almost daily in my week long stay. It was often a time-savor, but not always. Sometimes it ended up taking longer than if I had walked to the subway and taken that. Of course, your start and end locations will impact how you might use the subways. In any case, I don't regret any of my taxi rides, even the slower ones. When I took a cab rather than the subway, I was just too tired to walk any farther! I certainly agree with avoiding buses.

If you haven't been to Asia before, I want to recommend a temple that is very different from the other Buddhist and Shinto temples you ae likely to encounter. Sanjūsangen-dō is stunning and much more along the lines of temples I am familiar with in Southeast Asia and Thailand. It is often not "on the radar" of some of the tour suggestions, but it isn't far from Kiyomizu-dera which will probably be suggested to you. I walked between them - but there is a cab stand at Sanjusangendo! These two are not along the Philospher's Path. The temples and shrines in that area tend to be smaller, but no less interesting to me that the "majors". Did you have a particular reason for the interest in the Philosopher's Path temples?

I suggest posting your guide question in the Kyoto forum of TripAdvisor. I have seen several recommendations for individual guides in the past year.

I'll be back in Japan in November myself. No Kyoto this trip, sadly!

Posted by
7824 posts

We did a three day tour of Kyoto and Nara from Tokyo in 2015 and loved it. I don't remember the name of the tour company, but use the internet, you will find tour. The tour included the high speed train RT.

There are a plethora of temples and sites to see in Kyoto, it would take a week to see them all. Suggest doing some research on which ones you want to see.

Best Overall Kyoto Temples
Nanzen-ji Temple
One of the best temples in the Northern Higashiyama district, Nanzen-ji Temple is a sprawling Zen paradise surrounded by lush green hills.
Tofuku-ji Temple
One of the most attractive temples in Kyoto, Tofuku-ji Temple also has the advantage of not being very crowded unless you come during the fall foliage season.
Honen-in Temple
Honen-in is our favorite temple in all of Kyoto, and that’s saying a lot in a city with over 1600 temples.
Ginkaku-ji Temple
Ginkaku-ji temple, the famed “Silver Pavilion”, has magnificient halls and gardens. It’s predictably popular so best visited in off-peak times
Daitoku-ji Temple
Not just a temple – a world of temples. Daitoku-ji Temple is home to some of my favorite Zen gardens in Kyoto.
Kinkaku-ji Temple
Kinkaku-ji, the famed “Golden Pavilion,” is Kyoto’s most iconic sight. It’s well with a visit, just try to pick a time when the crowds aren’t there.
Chion-in Temple
Sometimes called the Vatican of Pure Land Buddhism, this vast temple is one of the most and popular temples in the city. It’s highly recommended.

Posted by
803 posts

I read your post because we will be in Japan in Sept/Oct. I then googled free walk tours Kyoto and saw many listings. I would hope that any tour I ever take is organized.
We always do free walk tours when we are in Europe and they always worked out well. We will try these free walks also. Not just in Kyoto, but in any major city we go.
Maybe you are looking for some other sort of tour. Maybe non walking. Maybe private. I don’t know. But you could start the same way I did.

Posted by
1546 posts

I just wrote a trip report and posted it in the Trip Reports section of this forum. Hope you find it useful.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you all for the great information. Especially Barkinpark and Astorienne. The info about the national network of tour guides is a game changer!

Posted by
3 posts

A great decision by getting a guide, most especially if it is your first time, and to maximize your stay here. Language barrier is a big thing. I would recommend, and I believe they offer day trips as well.

Just a tip, download Google Translate on your phone. This will help you translate through camera, photos, voice, and text. I survived living here because of it :D