A tale of two cities: 6 top tips on travelling in Tokyo and Kyoto

Find the best spots in Tokyo & Kyoto with these top travel tips from Flight Centre…

Team Wanderlust
14 January 2020
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Journey to Japan and you’ll undoubtedly want to combine the bright lights and fast-paced futuristic flurry of Tokyo with the refined culture and traditional charms of Kyoto. With just a short bullet train ride between these two sprawling cities, there’s so many inspirational things to see and do and the Japan experts at Flight Centre are here to help you experience it all.

The local expertise of its globe-trotting team sets it apart from many other tour operators: they have all the knowledge and insight you need to create an unforgettable Japan itinerary, and they make booking a breeze.

Red paper lanterns advertising chicken skewers in a dark alley in Tokyo at night. The sign reads “Yakitori” in Japanese (Shutterstock)


Tokyo, Japan – Sensoji-ji Temple in Asakusa in the morning (Shutterstock)

1. Samantha Payne on Memory Lane 

A view over Tokyo (Shutterstock)

Countries visited: 26
Favourite city: Tokyo
Top tip: My favourite experience in Tokyo was Shinjuku’s Memory Lane with its narrow, lantern-filled alley ways linked by rows of matchbox-sized restaurants, smoke billowing through the open windows from freshly cooked yakitori (chicken skewers), and locals relaxing at the end of a busy day. It’s best to visit when it gets dark, when the bars come to life, the locals finish work and the streets fill with the smells of the delicious food being prepared. If you like a cocktail, be sure to try a Shinjuku bomber.


Ginkakuji temple (Shutterstock)

2. Julia Duelks on Asakusa

Kiyomizu-dera temple (Shutterstock)

Countries visited: 35
Favourite city: Kyoto
Top tip: In Tokyo they have something called
a Suica Card. This is essentially an Oyster card that can be used more-or-less all over Japan and offers a really easy and affordable way to get around on public transport in the cities. We stayed in Asakusa, one of the oldest parts of Tokyo and close to Sensōji, its main temple. This is a great area for those who want it a bit quieter in the evenings. The city also only hosts four annual sumo wrestling tournaments so if your trip happens to coincide, be sure to visit one – they’re so much fun and very interesting!


See people im traditional dress at Gion Matsuri festival (Shutterstock)

3. Harriet Holdsworth on the best view of the city 

Countries visited: 58
Favourite city: Tokyo
Top tip: Tokyo has some great options to get a bird’s eye view of the city, including the Sky Tree and Tokyo Tower. However, if you are looking for a vantage point that includes these towers in the view, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observation deck. Completely free of charge and with an efficient lift system (we only queued for 10 minutes!) you will be treated to views of the city at every angle and, if you’re lucky on a clear day, out to Mount Fuji.


4. Brian Blanchett on Ginkakuji temple

Countries visited: 17
Favourite city: Tokyo
Top tip: Located in a quieter, northern suburb of Kyoto is Ginkaku-ji, otherwise known as the ‘Silver Pavilion’. This temple was going to be covered in silver foil to complement the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) but this plan never came to fruition. It is, however, situated in a walled zen garden and surrounded by pathways through trees and ponds full of koi, making it a haven of peace and reflection. Ginkaku-ji is found at one end of the Philosopher’s Walk, a 2km canal that goes from there up to Nanzen-ji. A stone path runs either side of the canal, flanked by cherry trees and small shrines along the way that are there to guide and bless people as they travel and contemplate the mysteries of the universe.

5. Lucinda Hill on Kiyomizu-dera

Countries visited: 19
Favourite city: Sapporo
Top tip: There are so many beautiful temples and palaces to choose from in Kyoto but be sure not to miss Kiyomizu-dera. This astonishing Buddhist temple can be found in the east of the city with its Great Hall built on huge stilts – truly impressive as not a single nail was used in its construction. If you’re feeling brave, go into Zuigudo Hall; a pitch-black space for you to be left alone with your thoughts. As you journey through the dark holding onto the guide rope it will leave you feeling oddly calm by the time you reach your goal to make a wish to Buddha. From Kiyomizu-dera it’s a 20-minute walk to Gion, another must-see thanks to its old-world charm and the promise of seeing maiko (apprentice geisha) on their way to engagements.

6. Craig Macdonald on Gion Matsuri

Countries visited: 19
Favourite city: Kyoto
Top tip: When visiting Kyoto, try and time your visit to coincide with Gion Matsuri. This annual festival takes place throughout July, but the main float procession takes place on the 17th of this month with lantern-lit floats parading through the central streets, accompanied by throngs of people in traditional dress, and the sound of Japanese flutes and music. Grab some authentic street food from one of the roadside stalls and cool off in the warm summer evening with a Japanese beer.

Plan your dream holiday 

Flight Centre’s 10-night Japan: Capitals and Culture holiday starts from £2,159pp, saving £228pp. This includes flights, four-star hotels and hand-picked accommodation, use of a Japan Rail pass and cultural excursions. 


All of these tips come from Flight Centre’s expert staff, who are based everywhere from Head Office to high-street stores all over the world. Armed with their insider knowledge and excellent contacts, they can tailor-make your perfect holiday – combining the best city sights with authentic experiences.

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