Kyoto Vs Hokkaido? Which makes a better tourist destination? Read on to find out!
When it comes to visiting Japan, tourists are often faced with the delightful dilemma of choosing between two iconic destinations: Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Both regions offer unique experiences and captivating landscapes, making the decision a challenging one.
In this article, we will explore the characteristics, attractions, and distinct advantages of Kyoto and Hokkaido, helping you make an informed choice for your next adventure in Japan.
Kyoto Vs Hokkaido
- Kyoto: A Timeless Cultural Gem
Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is renowned for its rich cultural heritage and historical significance.
It stands as a living testament to Japan’s traditional past, boasting numerous ancient temples, shrines, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The city’s distinct charm lies in its well-preserved traditional architecture, traditional tea ceremonies, and the enchanting beauty of its meticulously manicured gardens.
Kyoto is a mecca for history enthusiasts, art lovers, and those seeking a deeper understanding of Japan’s traditional culture.
Key attractions in Kyoto include the magnificent Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Shrine with its iconic torii gates, the serene Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and the grandeur of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kyoto also hosts captivating seasonal events such as cherry blossom viewing (hanami) and vibrant autumn foliage (koyo), further adding to its allure.
- Hokkaido: Nature’s Playground
In stark contrast to Kyoto, Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, beckons adventure seekers with its vast wilderness and breathtaking natural beauty.
Hokkaido is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering diverse landscapes including rugged mountains, tranquil lakes, hot springs, and untouched forests.
The region is perfect for those seeking activities like hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and wildlife spotting.
Hokkaido’s star attractions include the world-famous lavender fields of Furano, the mesmerizing Shiretoko National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the stunning Blue Pond in Biei, and the thrilling Sapporo Snow Festival, where gigantic snow sculptures steal the show.
Additionally, Hokkaido’s fresh seafood, particularly its succulent crabs and melt-in-your-mouth sushi, are a gastronomic delight not to be missed.
- Related: Kyoto Vs Kanazawa
- Kyoto’s Cultural Experiences
Kyoto is a treasure trove of cultural experiences, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the traditions and rituals of Japan’s past.
Here are a few notable cultural experiences in Kyoto:
a. Tea Ceremonies
Kyoto is renowned for its tea ceremonies, also known as “chado” or “sado.”
Visitors can participate in a traditional tea ceremony, where they learn about the art of tea preparation, the significance of each movement, and the serene atmosphere that accompanies this ancient practice.
Many tea houses in Kyoto offer tea ceremony experiences for tourists.
b. Geisha and Maiko Culture
Kyoto is one of the few places in Japan where the traditional entertainment culture of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) still thrives.
Visitors can attend performances by geisha and maiko, enjoying traditional dances, music, and games.
Some establishments also offer the opportunity to interact with geisha and maiko for a more intimate cultural experience.
c. Kimono Rental and Stroll
Kyoto provides the perfect backdrop for wearing a traditional kimono. Many rental shops offer a wide selection of beautifully crafted kimonos for both men and women.
Visitors can rent a kimono, complete with accessories, and explore the city’s historical streets, temples, and gardens while immersed in the elegance of traditional attire.
d. Zen Meditation and Temple Visits
Kyoto is home to numerous Zen Buddhist temples where visitors can engage in Zen meditation practices.
Participating in a meditation session allows one to experience the tranquility and mindfulness associated with Zen Buddhism.
Additionally, exploring the temples and gardens of Kyoto offers a glimpse into the spiritual and architectural heritage of Japan.
- Hokkaido’s Cultural Experiences
Hokkaido, while predominantly known for its natural beauty, also offers unique cultural experiences that showcase its rich heritage and indigenous culture. Here are a few examples:
a. Ainu Culture
The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, and experiencing their culture is a unique opportunity.
Visitors can learn about Ainu traditions, crafts, and rituals through cultural centers and museums.
The Ainu village of Shiraoi offers authentic experiences, including traditional dances, music performances, and workshops on Ainu crafts.
b. Local Food and Culinary Experiences
Hokkaido is renowned for its delicious cuisine, which is distinctly different from other regions of Japan.
Visitors can indulge in Hokkaido’s fresh seafood, such as succulent crab, sea urchin, and salmon.
Additionally, experiencing Hokkaido’s farm-to-table culture through agricultural tours and farm stays provides insight into the region’s agricultural heritage and the opportunity to savor local produce.
c. Sapporo Beer Museum
Hokkaido is famous for its beer, and the Sapporo Beer Museum offers a chance to learn about the history and brewing process of Sapporo beer.
Visitors can take guided tours, sample different beer varieties, and even participate in beer tastings and workshops.
d. Winter Festivals
Hokkaido’s winter festivals, such as the Sapporo Snow Festival and Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, are not only about visual spectacles but also showcase the cultural traditions of the region.
Visitors can witness impressive snow sculptures, enjoy ice lantern displays, and experience traditional performances and music in a magical winter setting.
By engaging in these cultural experiences, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the traditions, history, and indigenous cultures that enrich both Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Both Kyoto and Hokkaido offer distinct cultural experiences that allow visitors to connect with Japan’s heritage in their own unique ways.
Kyoto’s focus on traditional tea ceremonies, geisha culture, and temple visits provides a window into the refined elegance of Japan’s past.
Meanwhile, Hokkaido offers opportunities to explore the indigenous Ainu culture, savor local culinary delights, and engage in winter festivals that celebrate the region’s distinct identity.
Choosing between Kyoto and Hokkaido for cultural experiences depends on your specific interests and the type of cultural immersion you seek.
Both destinations provide enriching encounters that offer a deeper understanding of Japan’s diverse cultural tapestry.
- Related: Kyoto Vs Hakone
Climate and Seasonal Appeal
Kyoto’s Climate and Seasonal Appeal
Kyoto experiences a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, each offering its own unique charm. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons in Kyoto:
a. Spring (March to May)
Spring in Kyoto is renowned for its cherry blossoms (sakura), which typically bloom in late March to early April.
The city’s parks and temples become adorned with delicate pink flowers, creating a stunning sight and attracting crowds of visitors.
Spring temperatures are mild and pleasant, making it an ideal time to explore the city’s gardens and participate in hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties.
b. Summer (June to August)
Summers in Kyoto are hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching highs of 30°C (86°F) or more.
While it can be challenging to bear the heat, summer in Kyoto has its own attractions.
The city comes alive with various festivals and events, such as the Gion Matsuri in July, where grand processions and traditional floats parade through the streets.
It’s also a great time to experience traditional summer activities like wearing yukata (light cotton kimono) and attending outdoor performances.
c. Autumn (September to November)
Autumn in Kyoto is a breathtaking season, known for its vibrant fall foliage (koyo).
The city’s numerous temples and gardens transform into a kaleidoscope of red, orange, and gold hues, creating a picturesque landscape.
The peak foliage season usually occurs in late November. The comfortable temperatures and the serene ambiance make autumn an ideal time for temple visits, garden strolls, and hiking in the surrounding mountains.
d. Winter (December to February)
Winters in Kyoto are chilly, with temperatures ranging from around 0°C (32°F) to 10°C (50°F).
While Kyoto doesn’t receive heavy snowfall like Hokkaido, the city still experiences occasional snowfall, particularly in January and February.
Winter offers a different charm, with fewer tourists and a peaceful atmosphere.
It’s an excellent time to explore the city’s indoor attractions, soak in hot springs (onsen), and witness beautifully lit winter illuminations at temples and gardens.
Hokkaido’s Climate and Seasonal Appeal
Hokkaido’s climate differs significantly from Kyoto due to its more northern location. Here’s what you can expect in terms of climate and seasons in Hokkaido:
a. Spring (March to May)
Spring arrives later in Hokkaido compared to other regions of Japan.
Snow can still be present in early March, but temperatures gradually rise, and cherry blossoms typically bloom in late April to early May.
Spring in Hokkaido offers a refreshing and crisp ambiance, with beautiful cherry blossoms adorning parks and streets.
It’s a great time to explore Hokkaido’s nature parks and witness the emergence of wildlife after the winter season.
b. Summer (June to August)
Hokkaido’s summers are mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 20°C (68°F) to 25°C (77°F).
It’s a popular season for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and cycling. Hokkaido’s vast wilderness, national parks, and picturesque coastlines offer fantastic opportunities for nature lovers.
Visitors can enjoy activities like flower viewing in Furano’s lavender fields, exploring the scenic Shiretoko National Park, or relaxing on the beaches of Otaru.
c. Autumn (September to November)
Autumn in Hokkaido is renowned for its stunning fall foliage. The leaves typically change colors in late September and reach their peak in October.
Hokkaido’s landscapes transform into a mesmerizing tapestry of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.
Popular destinations for autumn foliage include Daisetsuzan National Park, Noboribetsu Onsen, and the picturesque town of Biei.
The comfortable temperatures and the beauty of nature make it an ideal season for outdoor activities and scenic drives.
d. Winter (December to February)
Hokkaido is known for its long and snowy winters. The island receives abundant snowfall, creating a winter wonderland.
Temperatures can drop below freezing, and snow covers the landscapes, making it a haven for winter sports enthusiasts.
Hokkaido offers world-class ski resorts, such as Niseko and Rusutsu, where visitors can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.
The Sapporo Snow Festival in February showcases impressive snow sculptures and attracts visitors from around the world.
Both Kyoto and Hokkaido offer distinct climate characteristics and seasonal attractions.
Kyoto’s temperate climate provides opportunities to enjoy cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant fall foliage in autumn.
Hokkaido, on the other hand, boasts a cooler climate, with stunning winter landscapes and abundant snowfall for winter sports enthusiasts.
Consider your preferred climate, the type of seasonal beauty you wish to experience, and the activities you’re interested in when choosing between Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Both destinations have their own unique appeal and offer unforgettable experiences based on the time of year you plan to visit.
Accessibility in Kyoto
Kyoto is a highly accessible city with efficient transportation networks. The city has its own international airport, Kansai International Airport, which offers numerous domestic and international flights.
From the airport, visitors can easily reach Kyoto by train or bus. Additionally, Kyoto is well-connected to other major cities in Japan via the shinkansen (bullet train) network, making it easily accessible from Tokyo, Osaka, and other popular destinations.
Within Kyoto, getting around is convenient thanks to an extensive public transportation system.
Buses, trains, and subways cover most areas of the city, making it easy to reach major attractions.
Kyoto is also a relatively compact city, which means many attractions are within walking distance of each other, particularly in the central area.
Renting bicycles is another popular option for exploring Kyoto’s streets and alleys at a leisurely pace.
Accessibility in Hokkaido
Hokkaido, being a large island, has multiple airports serving different regions. New Chitose Airport near Sapporo is the largest and busiest airport in Hokkaido, offering domestic and international flights.
Other airports like Hakodate Airport and Asahikawa Airport provide access to specific areas of Hokkaido.
From these airports, visitors can easily reach various destinations within Hokkaido by domestic flights, trains, or buses.
Traveling within Hokkaido can require more planning compared to Kyoto due to its vast size.
While public transportation, including trains and buses, connects major cities and towns, reaching remote areas or specific attractions may require multiple transfers or a rental car.
Renting a car can be a convenient option for exploring Hokkaido, particularly for those interested in venturing into rural areas or national parks.
Crowds in Kyoto
Kyoto is a highly popular tourist destination, particularly during peak seasons. The city can experience significant crowds, especially during cherry blossom season in spring and autumn foliage season.
Major attractions like Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple can be crowded, particularly during weekends and public holidays.
However, Kyoto’s numerous temples, gardens, and neighborhoods provide opportunities to escape the crowds and find quieter spots to explore.
Visiting Kyoto during off-peak seasons or early morning hours can help avoid larger crowds.
Exploring lesser-known temples and off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods can also provide a more intimate experience of the city.
It’s important to note that some attractions in Kyoto require advanced reservations or timed-entry tickets, especially during peak periods, to manage crowd control.
Crowds in Hokkaido
Compared to Kyoto, Hokkaido generally experiences fewer crowds, especially outside of major cities like Sapporo.
While popular attractions in Hokkaido can still see an influx of visitors during peak seasons, the overall crowds are relatively manageable.
Hokkaido’s vast natural landscapes offer ample space for visitors to explore and find tranquility.
National parks like Daisetsuzan and Shiretoko provide opportunities to immerse oneself in nature without feeling overwhelmed by crowds.
Even during winter, when Hokkaido’s ski resorts are popular, the slopes are typically less crowded compared to those in other parts of Japan.
It’s worth noting that Hokkaido’s popularity has been increasing in recent years, particularly during peak seasons and major events like the Sapporo Snow Festival.
To avoid larger crowds, consider visiting Hokkaido during shoulder seasons or exploring lesser-known regions and attractions.
In terms of accessibility, Kyoto has the advantage of being well-connected within Japan and having a comprehensive public transportation system.
Hokkaido, being a larger and more remote island, requires more planning and may involve additional transfers or car rentals to reach specific destinations.
In terms of crowds, Kyoto attracts a significant number of tourists, especially during peak seasons, and certain attractions can be crowded.
On the other hand, Hokkaido generally offers a more relaxed atmosphere and fewer crowds, particularly outside of major cities.
Consider your preferences for accessibility, tolerance for crowds, and the type of experience you desire when choosing between Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Both destinations offer unique charms and can provide memorable experiences based on your preferences.
Accommodation Options in Kyoto
Kyoto offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular choices:
Traditional Japanese inns, known as ryokans, are a popular choice for those seeking an authentic cultural experience. Ryokans typically feature tatami-matted rooms, futon beds, and communal baths.
Guests can enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality, exquisite kaiseki (multi-course) meals, and the opportunity to wear yukata (light cotton kimono).
Staying in a ryokan allows visitors to immerse themselves in the ambiance of old Japan.
b. Hotels and Guesthouses
Kyoto boasts a variety of hotels, from luxury establishments to budget-friendly options.
Visitors can choose from well-known international hotel chains or opt for boutique hotels with traditional Japanese aesthetics.
Guesthouses and hostels are also prevalent, providing affordable accommodation and opportunities to meet fellow travelers.
c. Machiya Rentals
Machiyas are traditional wooden townhouses that have been converted into vacation rentals.
Staying in a machiya allows visitors to experience the charm of Kyoto’s traditional architecture and live like a local.
These rentals often come equipped with modern amenities and offer a unique blend of authenticity and comfort.
d. Business Hotels and Airbnb
Kyoto has an abundance of business hotels that cater to budget-conscious travelers.
These hotels offer comfortable rooms and essential amenities at reasonable prices.
Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms also offer a range of options, from private apartments to traditional machiyas, providing flexibility for different group sizes and budget preferences.
Accommodation Options in Hokkaido
Hokkaido offers diverse accommodation options to cater to various travelers. Here are some popular choices:
a. Western-Style Hotels and Resorts
Hokkaido has numerous Western-style hotels and resorts, particularly in popular tourist destinations such as Sapporo, Niseko, and Hakodate.
These establishments offer comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and a range of services such as restaurants, spas, and on-site activities.
Ski resorts in Hokkaido often provide ski-in/ski-out accommodation for convenient access to the slopes.
b. Ryokans and Onsen Resorts
Hokkaido is known for its natural hot springs (onsen), and staying at a ryokan or onsen resort allows visitors to indulge in this traditional Japanese bathing experience.
Many ryokans and onsen resorts in Hokkaido feature stunning natural surroundings, offering a tranquil retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.
c. Farm Stays
Hokkaido’s agricultural heritage makes it a great destination for farm stays, where visitors can experience rural life and interact with farmers.
Farm stays provide an opportunity to learn about local farming practices, participate in activities like harvesting vegetables or milking cows, and enjoy homemade meals prepared with fresh local ingredients.
d. Budget Accommodation and Airbnb
Hokkaido also offers budget-friendly options such as guesthouses, hostels, and capsule hotels, particularly in urban areas.
These accommodations provide affordable rates, communal spaces, and the opportunity to connect with fellow travelers.
Airbnb and vacation rentals are available in Hokkaido as well, offering a range of options for different group sizes and preferences.
When choosing accommodation in either Kyoto or Hokkaido, consider factors such as location, budget, desired amenities, and the type of experience you’re seeking.
Both destinations offer a wide range of options to suit various needs and preferences, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay.
Transportation in Kyoto
Kyoto has a well-developed transportation system that allows visitors to navigate the city and its surrounding areas conveniently. Here are the main transportation options in Kyoto:
Kyoto has an extensive train network, including both JR (Japan Railways) lines and private railway lines.
The JR lines connect Kyoto with other major cities in Japan, making it easily accessible by shinkansen (bullet train).
Within the city, local trains provide efficient transportation to various neighborhoods and attractions.
Kyoto’s bus system is an excellent way to get around the city, particularly to reach specific temples, shrines, and neighborhoods.
Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus are the main bus operators, offering comprehensive coverage of the city.
Bus routes are well-marked in English, and route maps and fare information are readily available.
Day passes or IC cards (such as Suica or ICOCA) can be used for convenient and cost-effective bus travel.
Kyoto has two subway lines, the Karasuma Line and the Tozai Line, which provide efficient transportation within the city.
The subway system is particularly useful for reaching popular areas such as Kyoto Station, downtown shopping districts, and some tourist attractions.
Taxis are widely available in Kyoto and can be hailed on the street or found at taxi stands.
While taxis can be convenient for short trips or when traveling with heavy luggage, they are generally more expensive compared to trains and buses.
Kyoto is a bicycle-friendly city with many designated cycling paths and rental services.
Renting a bicycle is a popular option for exploring the city at a leisurely pace, particularly in areas with narrow streets or limited parking spaces.
Rental shops are available near major tourist areas and transportation hubs.
Transportation in Hokkaido
Hokkaido’s transportation network is well-established, connecting its major cities, towns, and natural attractions. Here are the main transportation options in Hokkaido:
Hokkaido has an extensive train network operated by JR Hokkaido.
The JR lines connect major cities such as Sapporo, Hakodate, and Asahikawa, allowing for convenient travel within the island.
The shinkansen also operates in Hokkaido, linking cities like Hakodate and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto with Tokyo.
Buses are an important mode of transportation in Hokkaido, especially for reaching areas not serviced by trains.
Local buses and highway buses connect cities, towns, and tourist destinations across the island.
Hokkaido Chuo Bus and Donan Bus are the main bus operators, offering comprehensive coverage of the region.
c. Rental Cars
Renting a car is a popular option for exploring Hokkaido, particularly for those who want to venture into rural areas or national parks.
Hokkaido’s vast landscapes and scenic drives make it an ideal destination for a road trip.
Rental car companies are available at major airports and cities, and an international driving permit is usually required for non-Japanese drivers.
d. Domestic Flights
Hokkaido has several airports, including New Chitose Airport near Sapporo, which serves as a major gateway to the island.
Domestic flights connect Hokkaido’s cities and towns, providing convenient options for those who want to save time or reach more remote areas quickly.
Hokkaido is accessible by ferry from other parts of Japan, including routes from cities such as Tokyo and Niigata.
Ferries provide a scenic and leisurely option for reaching Hokkaido, particularly for those traveling with vehicles.
When planning transportation in either Kyoto or Hokkaido, consider factors such as the location of your accommodations, the proximity of attractions, and the convenience of different modes of transportation.
Both destinations offer a variety of options to suit different travel preferences and provide ease of movement within the respective regions.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Shopping and Souvenirs in Kyoto
Kyoto offers a rich shopping scene with a blend of traditional crafts, local specialties, and modern retail experiences. Here are some highlights:
a. Traditional Crafts
Kyoto is renowned for its traditional crafts, including ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, and paper products.
Visitors can explore craft shops and galleries in areas like Kyoto Station, Nishijin District, and Kyoto Handicraft Center.
Kiyomizu-zaka Street and Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Streets near Kiyomizu-dera Temple are popular spots for finding traditional souvenirs.
b. Kimono and Accessories
Kyoto is an excellent place to shop for traditional Japanese garments.
Visitors can find a wide selection of new and vintage kimono, yukata (light cotton kimono), obi (sashes), and accessories like geta (wooden sandals) and obi-dome (decorative obi clips).
Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades in downtown Kyoto are known for their kimono and accessory stores.
c. Food and Tea
Kyoto is famous for its culinary culture, and there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in food-related shopping.
Visitors can explore Nishiki Market, known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” for a wide variety of local snacks, fresh produce, and traditional ingredients.
Kyoto is also known for its high-quality green tea, and tea shops like Ippodo and Fukujuen offer a range of tea varieties and tea-related products.
d. Specialty Stores and Department Stores
Kyoto boasts several specialty stores that offer unique products.
From traditional sweets and confections at famous stores like Yatsuhashi Honten and Malebranche to incense and traditional cosmetics at shops like Shoyeido and Tawaraya, there’s something for everyone.
Kyoto’s department stores, such as Takashimaya and Daimaru, feature a mix of local and international brands, offering a modern shopping experience.
Shopping and Souvenirs in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is known for its abundance of fresh produce, dairy products, and unique local crafts. Here are some shopping highlights in Hokkaido:
a. Food and Sweets
Hokkaido’s rich agricultural land and pristine environment produce a wide range of high-quality food products.
Visitors can explore markets like Nijo Market in Sapporo and Hakodate Morning Market for fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products like cheese and butter.
Hokkaido is also famous for its confectionery, including Shiroi Koibito cookies and Royce’ chocolate, which make popular souvenirs.
b. Ainu Crafts
The indigenous Ainu culture is an integral part of Hokkaido’s heritage, and visitors can find Ainu crafts and artwork in various places.
The Ainu Museum in Shiraoi and the Hokkaido Ainu Centre in Sapporo offer opportunities to purchase traditional Ainu crafts, such as woodcarvings, textiles, and jewelry, directly from Ainu artisans.
c. Winter Sports Gear
Hokkaido’s excellent ski resorts and winter sports facilities make it a great destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
Visitors can find a wide selection of ski and snowboarding gear, winter clothing, and accessories in cities like Sapporo and Niseko.
Rental shops and outdoor sports stores offer options for both beginners and experienced athletes.
d. Local Handicrafts
Hokkaido’s natural beauty and cultural heritage inspire unique local crafts.
From glassware in Otaru and woodcraft in Hakodate to pottery in Mashiko and textile products in Asahikawa, visitors can explore a diverse range of traditional handicrafts.
Craft fairs, local markets, and specialty shops are great places to discover these artisanal creations.
When shopping for souvenirs in Kyoto or Hokkaido, consider the authenticity and uniqueness of the products, as well as your personal preferences and budget.
Exploring local markets, specialty stores, and craft workshops can provide a memorable shopping experience and allow you to take a piece of the destination’s culture and heritage home with you.
Choosing between Kyoto and Hokkaido depends on your personal preferences, interests, and the type of experience you seek in Japan.
Kyoto’s cultural richness, historical sites, and traditional ambiance make it an ideal destination for immersing oneself in Japan’s past.
On the other hand, Hokkaido’s natural beauty, adventure activities, and unique cultural experiences appeal to those seeking outdoor adventures and a taste of Hokkaido’s distinct charm.
Whether you prioritize cultural immersion or exploring nature’s wonders, both Kyoto and Hokkaido offer incredible experiences that will leave lasting memories.
Consider your preferences, time available, and the type of trip you desire to make the best choice for your visit to Japan.