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Browse our Kyoto Private Tours

Kyoto is a trip back in time to a place of sacred temples, imperial palaces, and elegant gardens. As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto has always been connected to the country’s history and culture. From the main temples of Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu-dera to the Nijo Castle, you’ll have your fill of typical attractions.

But Backyard Travel specializes in the less-known sites. Get an insider, local experience, and delve under the surface of the usual travel fare. Wander the cobbled streets of the geisha district, or relax in an onsen hot spring before heading to your culinary lesson. Explore Japan on a custom Kyoto private tour, and get the freedom to discover this City of Ten Thousand Shrines your way.

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Discover Kyoto

Beauty and harmony define Japan. To be considered the country’s most sublime city speaks volumes about Kyoto. Truly it is a visual wonder. Take a walking tour of Kyoto’s historic neighborhoods and see for yourself. Or better yet, explore on an afternoon bike ride — Kyoto is one of the bike-friendliest cities, ever. Ask our local specialists which shrines are worth seeing (and less crowded) as there are more than a thousand in the city alone!

Don’t forget about the scrumptious cuisine. Dine at Michelin-star bistros or slurp up a tasty yet simple ramen. What about a sake tasting? Perhaps tea is more your style. Whatever your taste, you’ll find the perfect match in Kyoto.


Discover more about our Private Tours of Japan and Tokyo

  • We had an unforgettable trip, everything was great! Each guide was so kind and really catered to what we wanted to do and see.

    Kirsten, Rachael & Kristin (Japan, April 2015)

  • Thank you for putting together a fantastic trip for us! We had a great time and absolutely loved Japan.

    Mr. Christopher& Mrs. Jessica Lacher (Japan, April 2014)

  • We would like to thank you very much for organising our tour of Japan. The notes you gave us were excellent and enabled us to get everywhere without any problem.

    Mr. Peter Berkovits (Japan, April 2015)

  • All the tour guides you assigned were very knowledgeable and professional. They shared meaningful information, history and insights and we enjoyed their company.

    Ma. Lourdes de Vera-Mateo (Japan, April 2015)

Traditionally dressed Japanese lady

Some Questions

about our Private Tours of Kyoto

Brush up on the basics to get the most out of your tailor-made Kyoto trip! The city is very manageable by Japan’s high standards, but it’s still a good idea to check out our answers to FAQs about Japanese cuisine, etiquette, sites, and more.

Nationals of many countries (including the European Union, the U.S., Canada, and Australia) are eligible to enter Japan for short-term stays (usually 90 days) without a visa for tourism. To see if your country has a ‘Reciprocal Visa Exemption Arrangement’ with Japan, check the website run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Japan has four distinct seasons, each with its own form of breathtaking natural beauty. Cherry blossom season in Japan occurs in March and April, when temperatures are pleasantly warm with refreshing breezes. It’s a good time to visit and see the festivities, as locals gather to picnic under the cherry trees.

Between June and August, things heat up and temperatures can reach as high as 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity. This also when the summer rains come, called tsuyu in Japanese. This makes summer one of the quietest times to travel to Japan, especially in the cities, which can be a bonus if you don’t mind the heat or daily showers.

In the autumn, temperatures cool to highs of roughly 20 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and lows of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. In the winter you can expect snow in the north, in Honshu, and parts of Kyushu. This makes Japan a fantastic skiing destination, and if you’re a winter sport enthusiast, we highly recommend skiing in Hokkaido.

This depends on your personal vision for your journey, as Japan can offer a spectrum of sights and activities colored by the four seasons. We at Backyard Travel think spring and autumn are the most beautiful times to travel to Japan. Spring is made magical by the sakura, or cherry blossoms, that paint the whole country in varying shades of pink. When the soft breeze tussles the blossom-laden branches, you’ll find yourself in a blizzard of floating petals. In autumn, on the other hand, Japanese maples, gingko, and other deciduous trees ignite the country in flaming hues of gold, red, and purple. However, both seasons are extremely busy with local and international tourists, and accommodation gets booked up months—sometimes even a year—in advance, so booking early is essential.

Summer is a great time to tour the coastal regions and verdant mountains, with the Obon Festival, the biggest festival of the year, occurring in August. However, summer travel in Japan is not for the faint-hearted, as it can get very muggy. On the other hand, snowfields in winter offer some of the finest powder in the world, especially in the northern reaches of Hokkaido, where the entire northern island transforms into a winter wonderland and the city of Sapporo (also famous for its beer) holds its annual snow festival.

In Japan, the number and variety of places to visit seem limitless, as each region has its own personality and claims to fame. Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakone (the gateway to Mt. Fuji) draw the most tourists on the whole, while Okinawa draws the beach lovers and Hokkaido is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders. If you are looking for a trip to Japan off the beaten path, you might consider trekking the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage route south of Osaka that remains one of Japan’s best-kept secrets. Here, a monastery stay at Koya-san, the sacred mountain, will give you the quintessential Japanese experience. For history buffs, a walking tour of Takayama will reveal the aesthetic of the Edo period, while the artsy will love a tour of Kanazawa, which UNESCO appointed a ‘City of Crafts and Folk Art.’

Down south, the Okinawa Islands offer much in the way of adventure and outdoor activities. Snorkeling, surfing, fishing, or eating your way through a tropical side of Japan that you didn’t know existed: take your pick. Or, for an unforgettable and iconic Japanese experience, head to an onsen (hot spring) deep in the mountains. We love Nozawa Onsen, a renowned hot spring village near Nagano. Onsen are usually run by ryokan—traditional Japanese inns that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to pre-Western Japan.

If you’re planning a family holiday to Japan, you’re in for a treat: Japan is a thoroughly engaging place for all ages. In addition to being one of the safest countries in the world, Japanese culture is also famous for its consideration and thoughtfulness—including the needs of little ones and the elderly. Japan has fantastic, family-friendly accommodations and services, including efficient transportation. The pace in Japan can be quite fast, as trips here often involve multiple train journeys; however, we’ll tailor a tour that keeps the pace a bit slower for your family.

A family vacation in Japan can also be a uniquely cultural and educational experience, with the nation’s wealth of historical and legendary sites. Just Kyoto by itself offers enough cultural richness to keep a whole family learning and discovering, from a tour of Nijo Castle, a World Heritage Site, to the unique experience of participating in a tea ceremony.

Don’t forget, Japan is also the land of anime, Hello Kitty and the captivating children’s movies of Studio Ghibli. And there’s always Tokyo Disneyland! You’ll find there’s plenty to do for everyone, even if you’re coming with multiple generations. If you’d like to start planning a customized, family-friendly tour of Japan, just contact one of our local Travel Specialists, who will be happy to help.

Buying a local SIM card is a little difficult in Japan, as the law doesn’t allow visitors to buy voice-call SIM cards. This law, however, doesn’t apply to data-only 3G or 4G SIM cards.

To buy a data-only SIM, head to an electronics or mobile phone shop, which are found throughout the country, often in malls. You’ll be able to buy the SIM card and a prepaid data package. Or, if you prefer a more convenient option, simply buy the data-only SIM card online at the B-Mobile website, where you can order a “Visitor SIM” and have it delivered to your hotel or the post office at your arrival airport.

If you would like to be able to make voice calls on a local phone, you can rent a Japanese phone from a rental shop, such as Rentafone Japan. As for roaming, we suggest checking with your provider before your departure to see if your network is covered in Japan.

Yes, we’re happy to book your JR pass for you. We’ll also include detailed train and bus timetables in your Japan tour package so you can navigate the complex (and incredibly efficient) train system easily.

For the most part, Japan is a plastic-friendly country. All major hotels and department stores will accept common international credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. However, you should know that many smaller restaurants, bars, souvenir stores, and mom-and-pop shops will only accept cash. Most short-distance train tickets can only be bought with cash, but you can pay for all taxis in Tokyo with a credit card.

Although you may see ATMs everywhere in Japan, few will accept foreign ATM cards. The ATMs at ubiquitous 7-Elevens, as well as at JP Bank (Japan Post Bank), will take foreign cards. There may be daily withdrawal limits in the ballpark of 100,000 yen. Since Japan tends to be more of a cash society, it’s best to make sure you carry enough yen. Exchange desks are available throughout the country at airports, banks, hotels, and some department stores.

Here’s a fun fact: With the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, is considered the world’s ‘gourmet capital.’ Eating is serious business in this food-loving country; traditional Japanese cuisine, called washoku, recently became a UNESCO-listed ‘intangible cultural heritage.’

A food-lover’s dream, Japan offers a whole universe of flavors, tastes, textures and dining experiences, from the indulgence of sushi and sashimi to the subtle artistry of kaiseki, set-course meals that are inspired by Japan’s four seasons. One of the beauties of exploring Japan is the variety of traditional dishes and cooking styles from region to region. It’s not unusual for the Japanese to go away for a day or even a whole weekend solely to sample the specialty dish of one particular village or restaurant.

Even if you’re not huge on Japanese food, the endless dining options in almost every city—from ‘family restaurants’ specializing in burgers, pasta, or Korean BBQ, just to name a few, to kaiten sushi where your food is served on a conveyor belt—you’ll be spoiled for choice.

You may be surprised to find that in Japan, which is such a service-oriented country, tipping is not practiced. Immaculate service is not just a point of pride, it’s a given. If you leave a tip at a restaurant, the wait staff will chase you down the street to return your money!

There are a couple of exceptions: at higher-priced hotels or restaurants, a 10 to 15% service charge may be added to your bill. At high-end Japanese inns with individualized maid service, a 10 to 20% service charge may be added. You can also tip tour guides, but it’s best to put the money in an envelope before handing it discreetly to your guide. Giving a small gift is also a nice way to say thank you.

When thinking about accommodations in Japan, ask yourself another question: “How do I imagine my perfect stay in Japan?” Accommodations are so varied in Japan and all are of such high quality that you can really let your imagination take the lead.

Luxurious, Western-style hotels scrape the skyline in almost every major city, while small, boutique inns can be discovered down local alleyways. Or, for a more quintessential Japanese experience, family-run inns, called ryokan, are rustic but delightful. Rooms at a ryokan may feature such timeless cultural details as aromatic tatami flooring, sliding paper-screen doors, a folding futon, and a yukata, a comfy cotton kimono to lounge in. We highly recommend spending at least one night at a ryokan in Japan during your vacation.

You aren’t required to get any vaccinations to travel to Japan, except for yellow fever if you’re coming from an area where the disease is present (some parts of South America and Africa). As always, we advise being covered by a comprehensive medical insurance policy that includes evacuation. Check your government’s travel advisory for Japan for up-to-date information.

The Japanese are an extremely polite people who value decorum. Please try to follow your guide or host’s example, such as bowing when meeting new people and taking off your shoes when entering a person’s home. Dress modestly and respectfully, especially when entering places of worship.

Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

Religious iconography is everywhere in Japan in the form of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Always show respect for these religious sites and objects by avoiding sitting or posing in front of them.

Japanese drummer

Sights & Experiences

Browse our blog of local advice on what to do for your custom trip to Kyoto. Enjoy a kaiseki dinner or just the teasing scent of cherry blossoms in Maruyama Park. Whatever you do, get Backyard’s insider touch.

 

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Want to Learn more about Kyoto?

Reputed as one of the most beautiful cities in Japan, Kyoto certainly stands out. From dainty temples and shrines to sweeping parks of cherry blossoms, this City of History — a worthy nickname — is home to no fewer than 17 UNESCO sites.

3 Geisha ladies

CHARACTER

Like the rest of Japan, Kyoto has a very monoracial population. Kyoto’s locals are cool, refined, genteel, and polite. They are very interested in fashion and consider themselves sophisticated and well-groomed people.

Apple blossoms

CLIMATE

Spring is divine in Kyoto — cherry blossoms and blue skies. But autumn is also popular, and Kyoto is especially beautiful for its leaves. Between June and August, temperatures can be hot, making summer a quiet time to travel.

Sumo wrestlers

ENTERTAINMENT

Start the day with shopping in Shijo-Dori. Food lovers, try kaiseki dining, a notable Kyoto meal of mini dishes. For nightlife, head to Gion and hop from sushi bistro to rice-ball stand, from karaoke bar to teahouse.

Japanese gates

CULTURE

Fashion is a huge part of Kyoto culture, as seen in the Kyoto Costume Institute. Art lovers will love the trendy east side. Browse comics to your heart’s content at the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

2 Japanese ladies

LANGUAGE

The locals of Kyoto speak Japanese. The younger generations and businessmen may speak some English, but for the most part, Japanese is the only language spoken.

Japanese temple

HISTORY

Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto today is a city of historical and cultural significance. Visit the Nijo Castle for a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past, or browse the fascinating exhibitions in the Kyoto National Museum.

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Meet the Japan Team

We’re all about local expertise. Obviously that’s why our Japan team lives in Japan! Tell us what kind of travel you’re looking for, and we’ll design a tailormade Kyoto holiday that suits your style and ambitions.

Fabrice

Japan Travel Specialist

Don’t be scared to get lost in Japan. Japanese people are very kind and helpful and it is often an opportunity for amazing travel memories and encounter.

Eleni

Japan Travel Specialist

Personally, I feel incomplete/poorer as a person without knowing/visiting at least some places of this planet. Especially the places I have always wanted to go. One of my favorites quotes is: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." - Saint Augustine



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Genuine Client Feedback

Backyard Travel

A company's services are best described by genuine unfiltered client feedback. Reviews for Backyard Travel Tours have been compiled from genuine customer feedback in partnership with leading review service, Feefo. A closed invitation only platform, we guarantee every single review is matched to a genuine customer who has travelled through with us. We currently have 87 Client Reviews of Kyoto, of which 98% had a good or great time with us, and we hope you will be next!

Amazing family vacation to Japan

Service rating : Our trip to Japan was our fourth with Backyard Travel and we have...

5

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Tailor made trip to Japan

Service rating : Muy buen servicio / A real good service
Product : Un poco cara...

5

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Loved going to Japan for our honeymoon!

Service rating : I used backyard travel to plan my and my new husbands honeymoon to...

5

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Glad I was in their backyard!

Service rating : Fabrice worked hard from the start to give us a comprehensive trip within...

5

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Un viaje inolvidable.

Service rating : La atención de los agentes en la preparación de nuestro viaje, el itinerario,...

5

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CONFUCIUS

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START PLANNING
YOUR DREAM HOLIDAY
Ask your obligation-free itinerary
  • Local travel specialists
  • Private tour guides
  • 24/7 on-ground assistance
  • Insider experiences
  • Excellent value for money
  • Personalized itinerary
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