Kyoto is safe, friendly, filled with other travelers, and easy to navigate, so it’s a great destination for solo travelers. Here are some tips to have a great time in Kyoto when traveling solo.
Solo traveler posing with schoolgirls in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove © toomore
- Kyoto is a great place for solo travelers
- There are plenty of guesthouses and hotels where you can meet other travelers.
- The Japanese are keen to speak with foreign travelers, but it helps to speak slowly and clearly.
- Learning a little Japanese makes everything easier.
- Lessons and tours are a great way to meet locals and travelers.
- There are plenty of solo-diner-friendly restaurants in Kyoto.
- If you want to be alone, Kyoto has some great quiet places.
- For all the details, see below.
Note: This page contains general solo travel information. If you’re looking for information about solo female travel in Kyoto, see our Solo Female Travel in Kyoto (and the Rest of Japan) page.
Relaxing in the middle of the Kamo-gawa River © mshades
If you can’t find a travel partner to visit Kyoto with, don’t put off coming. You can have a great time in Kyoto by yourself. If you’re looking to meet people, both Japanese and other travelers, it’s easy to do. And if you’re looking for some quality alone time, then you’ve come to the right place: Kyoto is filled with quiet places like Zen temples and peaceful gardens where you can stop the clock and really think (or, not think, as you wish). On this page, you’ll find everything you need to know to have a brilliant solo trip to Kyoto.
K’s House Kyoto lounge © eliazar
Great Places for Solo Travelers to Stay
If you want to meet other travelers, there are plenty of accommodations in Kyoto that make it easy. Here’s a short list of solo-traveler-friendly places:
- JAM Hostel Kyoto Gion
With a brilliant location right on the doorstep of Gion, this friendly hostel comes complete with a great downstairs bar where you can meet other travelers and sample some great sake.
- K’s House Kyoto
The largest and most social of Kyoto’s guesthouses, this large guesthouse has a mix of private and dorm rooms. Facilities include a rooftop terrace, a bar, a restaurant and a lounge. It’s super easy to meet other travelers here.
Other Accommodation Options
If you’d prefer to meet Kyoto locals at your accommodations, you might consider Couchsurfing or AirBnB.
At present, Couchsurfing.com does not have a Kyoto section, but it’s likely to be added very shortly. Try searching and see what you come up with.
AirBnB is exploding in Kyoto and new places are opening everyday. However, a LOT of them are places where you’ll never meet the hosts (the keys will be left in the mailbox etc). So, if you want to meet your hosts, search carefully and read the comments.
Asking for directions © mshades
Communicate with the Locals
It’s a fact: Japanese don’t speak English as well as educated Europeans or Singaporeans. But, they usually speak some English and many of them are keen to practice their English. If you’re standing on a street corner looking at a map or guidebook, there’s a good chance that a local will come up and ask if you need help. Or, if you approach a local and ask for help, you’ll usually find them very helpful. Of course, not everyone speaks great English, so here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Younger people speak better English: College-age people and people in their 20’s or 30’s often speak better English than older people
- Women speak better English than men: Yes, it’s a huge generalization, but it tends to be true, since Japanese women are more likely to major in foreign languages and men are more likely to choose economics. They also tend to be less shy.
- Speak slowly, clearly and smile: Remember, English is difficult for most Japanese. So, choose simple words, standard English (ie, non-idiomatic expressions), and speak very clearly and slowly.
- Write things down: Most Japanese can read English better than they speak it, so if you can write something down, they can usually figure out what you want (and it gives them time to relax and calm down).
- Use a translation app: Google Translate and other apps make communication a breeze.
- Learn a little Japanese: It helps to learn a little Japanese. It puts people at ease, opens doors and gets a conversation started. If you want to know some easy and useful Japanese, check out our Most Useful Japanese Expressions page.
Kyoto izakaya © richardsummers
How and Where to Meet the Locals
It’s very easy to meet local Kyoto people. Here are some ways:
- Kyoto International Community House (KICH)
The KICH is a great place to meet Kyoto locals and foreign residents of Kyoto. The locals who go there are usually keen to meet a foreigner and practice their English. And, they often have events there where you can mingle with locals. Occasionally, you can join a tea ceremony demonstration or language lesson. There’s a coffee shop and lounge area where you can sit and chat.
- Home Visit Program
The KICH (above) can arrange a visit to a local Japanese household, which might involve tea or a full meal. Apply at the information counter on the ground floor of the KICH. Same-day visits are not possible, but next-day visits are often possible.
- Guided Tours
There are all sorts of tours available in Kyoto. My own company, Chris Rowthorn Tours, offers five different tours of Kyoto that range from 2 to 6 hours. The guides are all professional bilingual Kyoto locals. For more information, visit the Kyoto Walking Tours page. Of course, there are lots of other tours available in Kyoto and a little searching will turn up tours in all price categories, including free tours.
- Bars, Restaurants and Izakaya
If you’re not shy, you can meet locals in bars and restaurants, where a bit of alcohol usually makes things easier. A particularly sociable form of restaurant is the izakaya, which is a cross between a pub and a restaurant. If you sit at the counter at an izakaya, it’s likely that the person next to you will strike up a conversation, especially after they’ve had a bit of sake or beer.
Bicycling in Kyoto © lordcolus
How to Meet Other Travelers
In addition to the solo-traveler-friendly accommodations listed above, there are several other ways to meet other travelers. Here are a few:
- Bicycle Tours
If you join a guided bicycle tour, you’ll be together with a group of other travelers for most of the day. It’s probably the single best way to meet other travelers and have a great time while you’re at it. Kyoto Cycling Tour Project offers the best cycling tours of Kyoto in English (and other languages).
- Group Tours
Several tour companies offer guided group tours of Kyoto. A little Googling will turn up plenty of options in all price ranges.
- Take a Lesson
The Kyoto International Community House (KICH) offers various lessons for visitors and foreign residents of Kyoto. Offerings include Japanese language, ikebana, calligraphy (shodo) and tea ceremony. Visit the KICH page for more details.
- Gaijin Bars
There are several bars in Kyoto where foreign travelers and foreign residents of Kyoto gather. These include the Pig & Whistle (near Sanjo-Keihan), Hub (downtown) and Ing (downtown). All of them can be found on Google.
Kyoto Restaurants Good for Solo Diners
Musashi Sushi at Sanjo-Kawaramachi © mshades
Ippudo serves some of the best ramen in Kyoto and there’s a long counter where solo diners can enjoy it. It’s right downtown.
- Ganko Sushi
The always-popular Ganko Sushi in downtown Kyoto has a long counter where you can enjoy sushi or just about any other Japanese dish. Hint: the a la carte sushi is better than the sets (but, of course, costs more).
It might seem intimidating to enter, but this downtown Kyoto sushi specialist is actually pretty welcoming of solo diners. If there’s room at the counter, they’ll put you there, otherwise, they’ll seat you at one of the tables. The sushi sets are good quality and good value.
This popular downtown okonomiyaki specialist has enough space so that solo diners can get their own table (as long as you go outside of peak hours).
- Café Bibliotic Hello!
This is our favorite café in Kyoto. In addition to the usual coffee drinks, you can get pastries and light meals.
- Falafel Garden
The upstairs at this falafel specialist in Northern Higashiyama has plenty of space for solo diners to get their own table.
If you go during off-peak hours, this bargain downtown Kyoto eatery is a good place for a quick and filling meal of standard Japanese fare.
- Omen Ginkakuji Branch
This fine Northern Higashiyama restaurant has a counter where you can enjoy their delicious noodles and a la carte fare on your own.
This tasty downtown Indian restaurant has lots of small tables that are comfortable for solo diners. If you go slightly off-peak, you can usually get a table without waiting.
And If You Want to Be Alone
Perhaps the reason you’re traveling solo is because you actually want to be alone. If that’s the case, then you’ll find Kyoto is a great place to find solitude. It’s filled with quiet temples, shrines, parks, gardens and hiking areas where you can find the peace and quiet necessary to find yourself. Here are some of our favorite quiet spots in Kyoto:
CAPTION © toomore
- Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace Park)
The huge park that surrounds the Kyoto Imperial Palace, known as the Kyoto Gyoen, is Kyoto’s Central Park. It’s filled with secret grottos, quiet pathways and secluded clearings. Find a bench and make it yours for the afternoon.
- Kyoto Botanical Gardens
The Kyoto Botanical Gardens are huge and contain all kinds of secret areas. Once you get away from the greenhouse and the other popular areas, it can feel almost deserted. It’s the perfect place for a peaceful stroll.
- Quiet Temples
There are over 1000 temples in Kyoto. Only about a dozen of these attract a lot of visitors; the rest are often completely deserted, even during busy seasons. So, find a quiet local temple and make it yours. Our Off-the-Beaten-Track Itineraries make it easy to find a secluded temple.
- Kyoto Hiking Trails
Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on three sides. As soon as you step into the hills, you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Choose one of the five routes we list on our Best Kyoto Hikes page and enjoy a few hours of peace in the forest.
- Kamo-gawa Riverside
The Kamo-gawa River, which bisects Kyoto, has great walking paths on each bank. Once you get away from downtown, you’ll find the riverside areas pleasantly uncrowded and peaceful, especially north of Imadegawa-dori Street (ie, north of Demachiyanagi). It’s a great place to put a blanket down and do some reading, sunbathing or napping.
Other Useful Links
- First Time in Kyoto
- Kyoto on US$100 a Day
- How Much Money do I Need for Kyoto?
- Solo Female Travel in Kyoto (and the Rest of Japan)
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world