Japan Self-Drive Itinerary (December 2015 Pt 3) – Driving in Kyoto (Side trip to Osaka, Ine, Amanohashidate)


I have been to Kyoto 3 times, but truth is, I can’t say I know Kyoto all that well.  I have never done a proper tour of Kyoto.  Kyoto has always been a stopover for a day enroute from Tokyo to other cities further West.   And each time I was there, I would cover bits and pieces of Kyoto.

The first time I was there, I explored the areas near Kyoto station by foot, covering Kiyomizudera, Heian Shrine and Nishijin Textile Centre.


The second time I was there, we visited the places that were easily accessed by train: Kyoto station, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama.


This time, our visit to Kyoto was part of a larger self-drive trip.  We were there in early December which was the very tail-end of autumn in Kyoto.  We planned to catch as much of the remaining autumn foliage as possible, as well as explore the rural region in Northern Kyoto.


Driving in Kyoto

Within central Kyoto, Kyoto’s bus network gets you to just about anywhere you need to go, so driving is not really necessary.  But when we were there on a Sunday, its buses and bus-stops were PACKED to a brim!  There were people people everywhere! I was secretly glad we had a car, especially since we had kids and a stroller.


That was until we realised how expensive parking in central Kyoto was – ESPECIALLY on weekends and public holidays.  In general, parking in Kyoto is more expensive on weekends than weekdays.  Below were the parking rates at the carparks we used:

  • Tofukuji = 300 yen for 30 min
  • Gion = 200 yen for 15 min
  • Kiyomizudera = 400 yen for 15 min
  • Nishiki Market = 300 yen for 20 min
  • Arashiyama = 1000 yen for whole day

After we parked our car and walked around, we almost always came across another carpark with cheaper rates.  I blame it on Murphy’s Law.  But the point is, if you bother, you can drive around to find cheaper coin parking.



For this segment of the trip, we stayed in two different apartments, or rather houses, in Kyoto from Homeaway.  For the first two nights, we stayed in a house in Central Kyoto which had a parking garage, so we didn’t have to worry about overnight parking charges.


For the next two nights, we stayed in a traditional thatched-roof farmhouse in the rural area where we could just park our car in front of the house.


Our Itinerary

Day 6: Kyoto

We started our Kyoto tour at Tofukuji –  a popular site for viewing Autumn foliage.


We weren’t sure what to expect because our visit there on 6 Dec was pretty late for viewing autumn foliage in Kyoto.  But turned out luck was on our side.


Though definitely past the peak, the autumn colours that filled the garden of Tofukiji was still impressive – at least for us from evergreen Singapore.


As we walked through the gardens, it was clear that the visit would have been a lot more beautiful if we had been there a week earlier.  But oh well, blame it on Singapore school holidays.


If I did not have kids with me, I would have spent the whole day checking out the famous autumn spots in Kyoto.  Something I especially regretted not doing after reading the autumn report on Japan-guide.com.  But well, there was only so much of “beautiful red leaves” the kids could tolerate before they started their “Mummy, can we stop looking at the beautiful red leaves already?” moans.


So off we went in search of food glorious food.  I googled around for interesting things to eat in Kyoto and after reading Kyotofoodie.com, we decided to walk around Gion where the site recommended Gion Izuju Kyoto SushiJouvencelle and Kinana.


We headed first for the famous sushi restaurant called Gion Izuju Kyoto Sushi (祇園いづ重 京都寿司). I loved their saba sushi, though hubby was not a fan.  Neither were the kids – who missed their usual nigiri Tamago sushi.


So we headed next to Yasaka Shrine directly opposite the road from Izuju sushi where there was a festival going on.


And where there is a Japanese festival, there will be food.


After grabbing some snacks, we walked around the shrine for a bit to check out other parts of the festival.


And the kids quenched their thirst with Gion water.


Then we continued our search for dessert.  We went to Jouvencelle which was a short walk from Yasaka Shrine. Only to find out that the matcha fondue we wanted to eat was sold out! *cries*


So we went on to Kinana. There was a long queue to sit down at their cafe, so we just made do with eating their signature dekitate ice-cream at the counter.  It was good.  The closest thing to Hokkaido sweets I have had on mainland Japan. Somehow after going to Hokkaido so often, most of the food on mainland Japan (especially the desserts) don’t seem that fantastic.  Of course, it’s still gazillion times better (and usually cheaper) than those Japanese dessert franchise we get in Singapore.


We continued roaming around Gion district until we were back to where we started near Izuju sushi.  Since it was too early for our planned night visit to Kiyomizudera, we went to a random cafe with WIFI and sold matcha parfait.  Just to keep the kids happy before we went to another (in their opinion boring) shrine.


The night visit to Kiyomizudera didn’t start until 6pm.  But due to the nightmare traffic jam we experienced the previous night, we decided to go a bit earlier.  Even then, there was an insane crowd and long queue at the main entrance by the time we arrived slightly before 6. Luckily we arrived via the side-entrance which was significantly less crowded.


I can’t say I enjoyed the visit.  It was simply too crowded for my liking.  Check out the crowd on the terrace!


It was so crowded that the human traffic within the temple came to a standstill.  And at the back of my mind, I kept thinking of the 400yen per 15 min parking we were bleeding as we stood there stuck in the crowd.  We spotted an escape route down a flight of stairs skipping the terrace, and made a beeline for the exit.


On our way out, we found a spot of serenity amid the madness (probably because we were one of the first to leave), spent about 200yen parking time to take some photos without the crowd before rushing back to our car.


We actually planned to visit Kodai-Ji which was nearby and also hosting its autumn night visit.  But we were so turned off by the crowd at Kiyomizudera that we decided we would just go back to the apartment to sleep.

Day 7: Universal Studios Japan

When we planned 2 nights stay at central Kyoto initially, we never planned to go all the way to Osaka.  I was thinking of taking it easy, go around enjoying the remaining autumn foliage and binge on matcha dessert.  But somewhere along the way, we decided the kids would probably be much happier with a visit to Universal Studios Japan.


It was a good, albeit VERY expensive, decision.  Tolls fees and parking were expensive. Entrance was expensive.  We bought the Universal Express 5 pass (as advised by Life’s Tiny Miracle) which was expensive.


But we had tons of fun.  Definitely more fun than if we had stayed in Kyoto visiting more shrines.  Actually I would have been perfectly happy just sitting on a bench surrounded by maple trees and sipping a matcha latte.  But without kids that is.  With the kids, everyone was definitely happier spending the time at USJ.  Hmm… Maybe not the husband who paid the bills.


We were at USJ from opening to closing.  I mean, we spent a bomb on petrol, toll fees and parking for this day trip, we definitely should make it worth.


Day 8: Nishiki Market, Arashiyama

We started the morning with a visit to Nishiki Market.


Nishiki Market was quite different from other markets I visited in Japan.  While the markets I visited were usually filled with crabs and sashimi, Nishiki Market sold more of dried and preserved food.


And candies.


Lots of candies.


From Nishiki Market, we drove to Arashiyama.  We started with a visit to Arashiyama Monkey Park.  There wasn’t much autumn foliage left when we were there on 8 Dec but definitely lots of monkeys.


Did I mention Arashiyama Monkey Park was located at the top of a freaking mountain? You may want to keep that in mind if you are thinking of hiking up there with kids.


After visiting Arashiyama Monkey Park, we crossed Togetsukyo Bridge to the main tourist hub of Arashiyama.  There were plenty of cafes and souvenir shops lining the streets, and we joined a long queue for some random snack.


We went on to the bamboo forest – which was packed with people and vehicles sharing the narrow pathway within the bamboo grove.


Initially we planned to drive on to Kinkakuji after Arashiyama.  But we kind of had enough of expensive Kyoto parking and since Arashiyama’s parking was for the whole day, we ended up just chilling out at a cafe.


From Arashiyama, we drove on to our next apartment in Northern Kyoto.

Day 9: Ine, Amanohashidate, Kyoto Illumiere

For this day, we had initially planned to visit Kayabuki No Sato (Miyama), Amanohashidate and Kyoto Illumiere.  But when our host heard that we were driving up to Amanohashidate, he recommended we took the drive a bit further to Ine.


Ine was home to Japan’s only Funaya (boat houses) – unique waterfront houses where the fishermen could drive their boats right in to the ‘garage’ below.  This earned the town the nickname ‘Venice of Japan’.


After visiting Ine, we went to Amanohashidate View Land. Amanohashidate was one of Japans’ Three Sights (日本三景 ‘Nihon Sankei’), together with Miyajima (which I visited in 2004 and 2007) and Matsushima (which I visited in 2008).  It took me more than 10 years, but I have finally completed visiting all 3 of Nihon Sankei! Woohoo!


And this is how you should view Amanohashidate so that it appears to be a bridge to heaven (as its name suggests):


From Amanohashidate, we drove on to Maizuru Tore Tore Seafood Market. Unlike Nishiki Market, this was more my kind of Japanese market – stalls selling fresh seafood with a centralised seating area in the middle.  It reminded me of Washo Market at Kushiro, one of my favourite places to eat in Hokkaido.


Finally, we went to Rurikei Onsen, the site for Kyoto Illumiere.  Of all the illumination events we visited in this trip, Kyoto Illumiere was my least favourite. I didn’t think it was worth the hassle of going all the way to the secluded Rurikei onsen and paying 1000 yen admission for it.


Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes

Below are links of official websites and telephone number / map codes (for GPS) of destinations in this post:


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  • Lydia C. Lee says:

    What an adventure!! I think I’d be scared to drive tho!

  • Waiwai says:

    We visited Kyoto for cherry blossom many years ago, Kyoto looks so different with autumn foliage! It looks spectacular!

  • Love, Love, LOVE the bamboo forest and the little monkeys! Some of my favorite places on mainland.

  • such beautiful fall colors!

  • Simi says:

    All the food in this looks delicious and Matcha Parfait for the WIN. I have always wanted to visit Japan – now I have great guide to rely on – thanks for sharing.

  • Ruth says:

    I am loving you Japan posts. They give me so many ideas and insight. I particularly liked Ine. Looks like an off the beaten path place. Reminds me a bit of the the water villages I visited in China.

  • Wow, what an amazing post! Again, bringing back so many memories of Japan. I lived in Tokyo then between Kyoto & Osaka so visited many of the places you mention here. Beautiful photos, the Autumn colours are amazing. Would love you to link this up to my travel linky #MyFavouriteTrip Thanks, Polly 🙂

  • Jean Lee says:

    Hi Bumblemeemum,

    I am going to Kyoto 4 days next week with 5 adults and 1 kid.

    I am still struggling should I rent car for this 4 days this trip.

    My initial plan was to rent a car from Kansai – Nara – Kyoto (3days) – Osaka/Kansai

    I really enjoyed my last November seld drive trip in Hakone after read your post and get your comments.

    So this time in Kyoto…. not so sure is it a good choice to rent a car to those tourist place like Arashiyama, kiyomizu-dera, kinkaku-ji etc

    After I have compare train tickets vs car rental, is almost 10k yen + petrol, toll n parking 10k yen.

    Also, about the Kyoto Illumiere, is it worse then Toki No Sumika?

    Jean Lee

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It really depends on where you want to visit in Kyoto. If you are just visiting the shrines in Kyoto City Centre, Nara and Arashiyama, you do not need the car. Parking in Kyoto is just too expensive.

      Yeah, I thought Kyoto Illumiere was less impressive than Toki No Sumika. Was Toki No Sumika that bad? I thought Toki no Sumika’s illumination was not bad considering it was actually free (only need to pay for the fountain show – that I didn’t think was worth it). Kyoto Illumiere charges for admission. And its location is so out of the way. I don’t really recommend going all the way out for Kyoto Illumiere.

  • Belle says:

    Hi, I plan to visit Osaka in end May. But after searching so long for an accommodation in homeaway.com, and found one with good price and criteria, the person has turned me down due to not able to check me in into the apartment in midnight because I land at time 22:25,and he said there will not be any more train from airport to the place, Nagai.

    I’ve been to Tokyo in 2012, arriving also around 11pm,and was still able to find trains to the hotel eventually. How come in Osaka this can’t be done? Sad…..

    What would you advise?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm… Usually if I land in an airport on a very late flight, I would just find a hotel near the airport to rest for the night before beginning my travel proper the next day.

      I checked the train timetable on hyperdia. The host is actually correct in a sense that you are cutting it real close. To get to Nagai, you need to make a transfer as there is no direct train from the airport to Nagai. While the last train out of the airport leaves at 23:32, you will not be able to catch the last connection to Nagai if you take that train. To make the connection, you need to catch the second last train leaving Kansai airport at 23:09. This leaves you about 40 min to get off the plane, clear the customs, pick up your luggage, find your way to the train station, buy your tickets, get to the platform and hop onto the train. See how close you are cutting it? Even if you DO make it onto the 23:09 train from Kansai airport, you have exactly 3 minutes to make the transfer at Otori station to catch the last train from Otori to Nagai. It sounds awfully stressful to me, especially if you are not familiar with the layout of the station and it is very easy to miss a connection with only 3 minutes to spare.

      So my advice is to spend the first night at a hotel near Kansai airport. Don’t stress yourself at the start of a vacation. Get a good rest and you’ll be in a much better mood for the rest of the trip!

      • Belle says:

        Thanks lots for your reply. Can i email you directly? Gv me your email address? I am considering if i should make it to tokyo instead? I’ve been there in 2012.yes indeed it is not easy to read the mao and train lines etc.what more now trying to go there with kids. Saw that you stayed homestay in shinjuku.with kids im thinking if i should bring them to Tokyo Disney sea.i’ve been to Asakusa temple and Shinjuku in 2012 trip so will skip all these will not repeat. My hub is not adventurous so i really need to plan an easy and safe trip. More input from you about suggestions on where to go? Not s must to be osaka.i just want the cool weather, food and shopping

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You can post any other questions you have here. We do not address content-related queries through email.

          If you have already been to Tokyo, why not try Osaka? The kids loved Universal Studios and the aquarium looks nice too (though I have never been there). There are also many cities surrounding Osaka worth visiting, like Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Himeji.

          If you haven’t booked your flight, try to book another flight to Osaka that doesn’t land so late at night?

  • Mary says:

    Hi there! Exactly when did you go for this kyoto trip? We did not drive last year in kyoto but looking at your itinerary, giving me the itch to do so this year.
    So, was in end nov or early dec? Coz I want to catch the late autumn foliage too.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      We did this in early December. But definitely end Nov is a better time for autumn foliage. It was getting pretty bare by the time we were there, especially at Arashiyama.

  • Lydia says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Thanks for your sharing! There are lots of useful information!
    We are planning to stay a day in Kyoto next Mar. We want to go to the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. Is it better to drive or to take a train there? Which website do you usually use to rent a car in Japan? Thanks.

  • Serene says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    I am bringing 3 kids (8,5,2), my mom and aunt (all above 65 but fit!) to Osaka, its surrounding like Nara, Ikeda, Kobe and then to Kyoto.

    I am very undecided… should i drive since i have so many people with me… my husband’s not coming along.. or should i take my own sweet time (with some struggling) on metros and JR?

    I hate the idea of unfamiliar places and finding carparks, expensive toll, parking and also traffic jams. Is the jams so bad? You have done both and surely know how tough it is with young kids. Can you help and give me some advice? Thank you so much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      With a large group like yours, I would drive. If you just base yourself in Osaka and leave your luggage at the hotel, all of you should be able to fit into an 8 seater comfortably. If you’re from Singapore and used to Singapore driving, the jams won’t bother you so much and driving around the cities is not that difficult. It’s just the exorbitant parking fee and toll fees that you need to get used to. But I find the comfort and convenience of driving is worth paying for. If you spread out the toll fees and parking among everyone, it won’t seem that expensive.

      I would suggest you use the airport limousine to get from the airport to your hotel. For the first day, maybe just walk around the area near your hotel. Then from second day onwards, rent a car to move around.

      Oh, if you are going to Universal Studios or Osaka Aquarium and just spending the whole day there, you won’t need a car for those days. So you can plan your itinerary to cover all these attractions that you won’t need a car for at the start of your trip and rent a car only after that.

      Also, with a group your size, I would try not to change hotels. Kyoto is close enough to Osaka to just base yourself at one of the cities. i.e. You can stay at Osaka all the way and just visit Kyoto from there.

  • Adeline Lim says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, Thanks to your advice on our Hokkaido itinerary, we had the most wonderful, unforgettable time in June, self-driving around Hokkaido.

    Now, I seek your advice again on another trip to Japan. This time is to the Kansai area in mid-November for the autumn foliage. There are three of us. This is the travel itinerary I have in mind :

    Day 1 – 3 : Kyoto (will arrive at Kansai Int’l airport), visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tofukuji, Arashiyama, Gion, Otsu etc
    Day 4 : Rent a car in Kyoto and drive to Nagoya for Nabana no Sato (Overnight in Nagoya)
    Day 5 : Drive to Korankei and then drive around Nagoya
    Day 6 : Drive from Nagoya to Osaka & drop off car in Osaka (Overnight in Osaka) * extra charge incurred for different car drop off point
    Day 7 (Sunday) : Osaka > Kobe > Himeji > Osaka
    Day 8 : Osaka > Nara > Osaka
    Day 9 – 10 : Osaka, visit Ramen museum, Minoo park, Kuromon, Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi etc
    Day 11 : Osaka > home

    Do you think it’s a good idea to rent a car? I found the train fare a tad expensive for Kyoto > Nagoya & Nagoya > Osaka. Also, for an itinerary like this, is it necessary to buy JR pass or other day pass? I am a bit confused as to which one is the most economical pass to have.


    • Queen Bee says:

      Glad to hear that you had a great time in Hokkaido!

      Yeah, the JR train fare is from Kyoto / Osaka to Nagoya is a bit pricey, but not enough to warrant getting a Japan Rail Pass. And I don’t think JR has any rail pass to cover this part. I did come across a Kintetsu rail pass if you want to use the rail to get to Nagoya from Osaka / Kyoto though. I’ve never tried it personally, but you may want to look into it:

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