Kyoto station is the hub for all transport in Kyoto. It’s also a major shopping district and there are restaurants to satisfy every taste and budget.
This post is one of a series that make up a self-guided walking tour through eastern Kyoto. The full route is around 10 km from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji, the silver temple in the north. Make a day of it or select only the sections that appeal the most.
We’re starting in the Kyoto station area because it’s the transport hub of the city, the location of large shopping and eating precincts, accommodation and it’s an interesting destination in its own right.
If you want to follow along on our self-guided walking route of Eastern Kyoto take a look at the Walking Kyoto article. In this post we focus more on the Kyoto station layout and what there is to do in the immediate area.
Table of Contents
Arriving at Kyoto Train Station
Kyoto station is the transport hub for the city, it’s very likely that it will be the first glimpse of Kyoto for most visitors. The closest airport to Kyoto is the Kansai Airport in Osaka so if you’re visiting you will most likely arrive by Shinkansen (Bullet Train), Train, Subway or Bus into this transport hub known as Kyoto Station.
We almost always buy the Japan Rail Pass to get around the country so we use a lot of Shinkansen and Limited Express Trains. I prefer Kyoto to Osaka as a hub for several reasons but I especially like Kyoto because the central train station, subway, bus and Shinkansen station are located in one central hub which is very convenient. We have shared before our top 10 day trips from Kyoto and you can access all of them from here.
Looking Around Inside the Station
Kyoto train station is dramatic. When the current station was built to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of Kyoto in 1997 it polarized opinion. Some felt the futuristic styling didn’t reflect the tradition and culture of the city.
Fortunately, the station and the high rise developments that followed haven’t overpowered or detracted from Kyoto. As the second-largest station in Japan, it is certainly a busy hub for transport and daily life for the city’s many commuters.
The architect, Hara Hiroshi, incorporated aspects of Kyoto in the design. In this main entrance hall known as the Matrix for example the ceiling pattern reflects Kyoto’s grid-like street layout.
The station is the hub for Shinkansen (bullet train), JR and local trains, the subway and buses. Making it super convenient for coming and going to just about anywhere including a super quick train to Osaka Airport.
Inside the station, if you go up the escalators one level there’s an information desk where you can pick up English walking maps. It’s definitely worth having a hard copy map in your bag, even if you have trouble following it, it will help others point you in the right direction if you need it.
Check out the views
Ride the escalators, climb the stairs walk through the suspended glass tunnel to look down on the station below. You really do want to look at this place from all sides.
Outside the main entrance, you will see a fountain, in the evening there is a light show to music there and inside on the wide stairs alongside the escalators they often have a light display playing on the stairs.
From the second top restaurant layer of the matrix, you can access a walkway that leads across the building with views down to the escalators and ground below. There’s also an open sky garden on the top level which lets you look out both sides. It’s through a screen though so not particularly good for photography.
Choosing a Kyoto Station Hotel
There are a number of reasons why we often choose a Kyoto Station hotel. If you are arriving in the evening as many flights do you don’t need to hassle with transfers and can check-in and get on with exploring. I also factor in that staying nearby saves me a taxi fare with luggage to and from the station as that is the only time we tend to use taxis, otherwise, we walk or take public transport.
If you do day trips as we do, either to nearby cities or slightly further afield within Kyoto there’s the convenience of being right at the transport hub and not wasting time getting to and from it daily especially if you have an early start or late return.
I have to admit that I love the Hotel Granvia, it’s located right inside Kyoto station. We’ve stayed here several times now and the rooms are a good size, immaculately clean and well presented. While it’s super convenient being located here there’s not a peep of train or station noise inside the room.
It’s very popular and not a budget option but I still justify it on the basis that internet is included, we don’t need to take a taxi to and from the station and the general convenience of the location. I especially love it when returning late from a long-distance day trip and you step out of the comfort of the bullet train and you are right there at your hotel.
The Food & Shopping Precinct
There’s usually a heap going on in the station area. There are two huge shopping areas and restaurants at all price points.
For a start ride the escalators to the 11th floor, there is another level above you that’s worth heading up to for the views but you want this level for the to the left for The Cube gourmet street restaurants, we’ve tried many of these over different trips and they have all be good.
There’s an excellent tempura restaurant here that we’ve been to a couple of times. The tempura here is a bit of an art so it’s not a budget meal but well worth the splurge to have it done really well. Turn the other way and go through into the Isetan ‘Eat Paradise’ restaurants, again some great options through here.
Take the escalator down to level 10 and you will find the Kyoto Ramen Hall, a set of 8 shops representing different ramen styles from around the country. A good quick and budget option, you can have the chance to try the ramen vending machines here if you are after a different experience, you make your selections on the machine and pay then collect your meal, if you don’t read Japanese it can be an interesting mystery meal.
From the ground level, you can access the Porta shopping centre which has many restaurants too. Go down the subway stairs just outside the main station entrance to access the shopping centre, you can also access the subway from down here.
Most of the restaurants here will have displays of plastic food in the window, these are really well done and help with narrowing down the huge choice if you can’t read the menus. There are Okonomiyaki, noodle and other restaurants down here that we regularly use if we’ve arrived back late from a day out and wanted something tasty for dinner without going into the central city.
Head up the escalators on the other side of Kyoto station and you will come to the Hotel Granvia as mentioned above. There are another 11 cafes and restaurants here that are open to guests and the public.
If you are still looking for somewhere to eat, there are more small eateries inside the station itself on the platform side of the ticket gate around the Shinkansen side of the station, these are generally more casual for a fast meal or to take away, for example, there’s a bakery that we sometimes grab something for breakfast on the train if we have a very early start.
Additional Resources for Visitors
- There’s an information booth with English speaking staff on the first level directly above the main atrium, just take the escalators up one level. They will be able to answer your questions and provide a free Kyoto map for you to explore the city.
- Confused by the Japan Rail Pass? Check out our questions and answers in the linked article
- Get more tips on transport and getting around in Japan in our linked article here
- We use Hyperdia to check train connections, times and prices – it’s a completely free service and in our experience very accurate.
Monday 11th of July 2022
Would love to have your suggestions on Travel insurance please. After our tour ends in Osaka, my 3 grown up children will join us and continue our holidays with them. Unfortunately it will be during the Golden Week. This is all our first trip to Japan. Any tips on how to cope with the chaos and which cities to go first, where the crowd is not too crazy overcrowded. I love your articles and saved some of them already from 3 years ago. They don't have an itinerary yet but Disneyland, sumo wrestling, ryokan and kaiseki were mentioned. Regards and thank you.
Thursday 14th of July 2022
Your trip sounds fabulous, I wouldn't be too concerned about Golden Week, we did it in 2019 and while it was a lot busier than in the following weeks it was all part of the experience. I would still go to the places you want to but be aware that some places that are very popular with locals like Hakone and wisteria flower festivals for example that usually peak at the same time will be packed, we wanted to see the wisteria and went anyway, very pleased we did. The May sumo tournament is in Tokyo so that will work well with Disney. As you all meet up in Osaka I would spend some time there or Kyoto depending on everyone's interest, both are a good base for different reasons. For the ryokan and kaiseki I would ideally choose a smaller town matched to your interests if time allows, maybe onsen, a forest area or scenic spot but there are options in Kyoto or nearby such as Nara if it suits better.
For travel insurance, I'm really not sure myself in the new covid/post-pandemic world. With Japan being more inclined to restrict and close borders than some other places I'd want that covered myself, we got caught needing to change flights and get home quickly when the Australian borders closed in March 2020. In the past I've tended to stay with the Medibank travel insurance but I have a well managed chronic medical condition that I need covered and it's been easier to stick with one company. Now however I think I will review the options and fine print again when we are ready to book our next trip.
Have a fabulous time, I can't wait until Japan opens up and we can start thinking about our next trip.
Sunday 3rd of May 2015
I am going to kyoto in 2 1/2 months and can't wait, staying at hotel gravia for 4 nights since we are using the station as a base, then going to Hiroshima and okayama for a few days. My son is my tour guide since he lives in kuroyoshi for the past few years, which is good, got a seasoned japan traveler and he speaks Japanese too! !
Sunday 3rd of May 2015
Thanks Kathy. Have a wonderful time in Japan, what a bonus having your son able to travel with you and speak Japanese, you'll get a lot of extra insights from that. The Granvia in Kyoto is great, we've stayed there 3 times now and would definitely go back, we only go somewhere else if it's really peak season and they've hiked their rates up too much for our budget. Enjoy!
Saturday 3rd of January 2015
On the day I arrived Kyoto Station in mid-December, there was a light snowfall, so it felt like White Christmas, punctuated with a flurry of Kimonos on the passengers getting off the trains. On the afternoon I was there, the effect was complete with a looping soundtrack of "All I Want for Christmas is You" playing throughout the place. I did notice, however, one aspect of the station's architecture that seems wanting -- in the main lobby where the Cube Shopping Mall is located, the structure doesn't protect the interior from the chill outside, leaving a lot of visitors shuddering and rushing for the nearest coffee stand.
I enjoyed eating my way through the station. With endless rows of sweet shops, sushi stalls, and sashimi places right by the Tourist Information Center (and one curious "Masarra" place that serves Tonkatsu doused with Japanese curry), I soon found out that was an ambitious attempt! I think I need another trip to complete my quest. :-)
Saturday 3rd of January 2015
Hi Kenneth, Yes we had light snow falling one day while we were at the station, we don't get snow where we are from though so I think I was probably too excited to feel cold :)
Saturday 25th of October 2014
Wow, what an interesting train station! It is quite modern. Great photos!
Thursday 23rd of October 2014
I love train stations - but I've never seen a modern one that fancy!