From Kansai Airport -- If you arrive in Japan at Kansai International Airport (KIX) outside Osaka, the JR Haruka Super Express train has direct service every 30 minutes to Kyoto Station. The trip takes approximately 75 minutes and costs ¥3,490 for a reserved seat (recommended during busy departure times or peak season) and ¥2,980 for a nonreserved seat, or you can ride free with your JR Rail Pass. A cheaper, though slower and less convenient, alternative is the JR Kanku Kaisoku, which departs every 30 minutes or so from Kansai Airport and arrives in Kyoto 1 hour and 40 minutes later, with a change at Osaka Station. It costs ¥1,830.
If you have lots of luggage, consider taking the Kansai Airport Limousine Bus (tel. 075/682-4400; www.kate.co.jp) from Kansai Airport; buses depart every hour or less for the 1 3/4-hour trip to Kyoto Station and cost ¥2,300. More convenient but costlier is Yasaka Kansai Airport Shuttle (tel. 075/803-4800; www.yasaka.jp/taxi/shuttle-e/service-e.html), which provides transportation from the Kansai airport to any hotel or home in Kyoto for ¥3,500, including one suitcase (a second suitcase costs ¥1,000); reservations for this are required 2 days in advance.
From Itami Airport -- If you're arriving on a domestic flight at Itami Airport, the Airport Bus takes 1 hour to Kyoto Station and costs ¥1,280.
By Train From Elsewhere in Japan -- Kyoto is a major stop on the Shinkansen bullet train; trip time from Tokyo is 2 1/2 hours, with the fare for a nonreserved seat ¥12,710 one-way if you don't have a rail pass. Kyoto is only 20 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka, but you may find it more convenient to take one of the local commuter lines that connect Kyoto directly with Osaka Station. From Kobe, you can reach Kyoto from Sannomiya and Motomachi stations on local JR trains. The strikingly modern Kyoto Station, which is like a city in itself with tourist offices, restaurants, a hotel, a department store, a shopping arcade, a theater, and stage events, is connected to the rest of the city by subway and bus.
By Bus From Tokyo -- Lots of buses travel between Tokyo and Kyoto; reservations are necessary. JR Highway buses (tel. 03/3516-1950; www.jrbuskanto.co.jp) depart from Tokyo Station's Yaesu South Exit four times daily (with a stop at Shinjuku Station), arriving at Kyoto Station approximately 8 hours later and costing ¥6,000. There are also three JR Dream Highway night buses (including one only for women) that depart Tokyo Station between 10 and 11:10pm, arriving in Kyoto early the next morning. The fare for these is ¥8,180. Cheaper still are JR's Seishun Dream buses that depart Tokyo Station at 10pm and Shinjuku Station at 11:10pm, arriving at Kyoto at 5:41am and 7:21am respectively and costing ¥5,000. Tickets can be purchased at any major JR station or a travel agency like JTB. In addition, Willer Express (tel. 050/5805-0383; www.willerexpress.com) buses depart Tokyo and Shinjuku stations several times nightly, arriving at Kyoto Station the next morning. The cost of these ranges from ¥4,200 to ¥8,600, depending on the date and type of seat selected (reclining seats cost more); only online reservations are accepted.
In addition to a Kyoto City Tourist Information Office (tel. 075/343-6656; daily 8am-7pm) on the second floor of Kyoto Station serving Japanese visitors, there's also Kyoto Tourist Information on the second floor near the ticket gate and Isetan department store (tel. 075/344-3300). Open daily 10am to 6pm (closed the second and fourth Tues of every month), it provides English-language city and bus maps and sightseeing pamphlets, including pamphlets for Kyoto Prefecture. You can also make reservations here for inexpensive lodging throughout Japan free of charge until 5:30pm. In addition, the Kyoto City Tourist Association Visitor Information, located in front of Heian Shrine (tel. 075/752-0227), is open daily from 8am to 5pm, while the Tourist Information Counter at the Kyoto Handicraft Center is open daily from 10am to 7pm. Otherwise, you can find free English-language maps of Kyoto at any 7-Eleven or Starbucks.
On the Web -- Kyoto city's website is http://kaiwai.city.kyoto.jp/raku/modules/english. Kyoto Prefecture's website is www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en. I also like www.kyoto.travel.
Publications -- A monthly tabloid distributed free at hotels and restaurants is the Kyoto Visitor's Guide (www.kyotoguide.com), with maps, a calendar of events, and information on sightseeing and shopping. Kansai Scene (www.kansaiscene.com) is a monthly giveaway with information on nightlife, festivals, and other events in Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.
Most of Kyoto's attractions and hotels are north of Kyoto Station (take the Central exit), spreading like a fan toward the northeast and northwest. The northern and eastern edges of the city contain the most famous temples. The heart of the city is in central Kyoto (Nakagyo-ku ward), which boasts the largest concentration of restaurants, shops, and bars and which radiates outward from the intersection of Kawaramachi Dori and Shijo Dori. It includes a narrow street called Pontocho, a nightlife mecca that runs along the western bank of the Kamo River. Across the Kamo River to the east is the ancient geisha district of Gion.
Finding an Address -- Kyoto's streets are laid out in a grid pattern with named streets (a rarity in Japan) and an address system that's actually quite easy to understand once you get to know the directional terms. Streets north of Kyoto Station that run east-west are numbered; for example, the shi of Shijo Dori means "Fourth Avenue." Agaru means "to the north," sagaru means "to the south," nishi-iru means "to the west," and higashi-iru means "to the east." Thus, an address that reads Shijo-agaru, Teramachi Higashi-iru means "north of Fourth Avenue, east of Teramachi."
Many addresses also indicate which cross streets a building is near. Take the Hotel Gimmond, for example: Its address is Takakura, Oike Dori, which tells you that the hotel is near the intersection of Takakura Dori and Oike Dori. Complete addresses include the ward, or ku, such as Higashiyama-ku.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.