Kyoto is high on the wish list of most travelers that come to Japan for the first time. We spend 3 days in this culture-rich city and were barely able to see everything. Knowing that not everybody has the luxury to reserve 3 days just for Kyoto, after all, there are so many other things to see and do in Japan, we created this Kyoto 2 day itinerary to get the best out of a 2-day visit to the city. We recommend staying at least 2 days to soak up the mystic atmosphere in this enchanting city.
That’s why we compiled this super-efficient detailed Kyoto itinerary for first timers that will show you most of the highlights and must-see temples and shrines in as little times as possible.
We also recommend the best time to visit Kyoto, the best way to get in and around Kyoto and a couple of good hotels in Kyoto. So keep on reading.
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Kyoto travel tips
What is the best time to visit Kyoto
Kyoto can be visited all year round because the weather is quite moderate like in Osaka but ideally, we would recommend visiting Kyoto during spring (March-May) or fall (October-November).
Read on to learn the pros and cons of each season if these two periods don’t work for you.
In spring everything starts to bloom and being in Kyoto during the cherry blossom (Sakura) period is an unforgettable experience.
Keep in mind that spring is also the most touristy and therefore most expensive season.
Read also: Best sakura spots in Tokyo
The Sakura not only draws tourists from all over the world but also Japanese go crazy over this yearly event.
At lunchtime and during the weekends they head into the parks en masse to picnic and take selfies.
It’s lovely to see the Sakura but being a witness of the enthusiasm of the Japanese was what really made our experience complete.
If this is your first visit to Japan, we recommend reading our useful tips before traveling to Japan.
It may, therefore, be very busy during this period.
The end of the golden week announces a less touristy period. The climate is still very enjoyable with many sunny days.
Fewer crowds mean a better experience and shorter queues in many of Kyoto’s top attractions.
Until the end of June, it is still a perfect time to discover Kyoto. It’s warm but not hot.
Towards the end of June, the rainy season starts and it starts to become hot and humid. The rainy season usually goes from mid-June to late July.
Whilst it usually does not rain every day we wouldn’t recommend visiting Kyoto during this period of you’re not used to a hot and humid climate.
Fall is another excellent period to visit Kyoto. In general, you will experience a mild climate.
The colorful autumn foliage makes the various parks spread across Kyoto very photogenic although you need to head into the national parks or the mountains to fully appreciate the beauty of this season.
The autumn foliage attracts many tourists but the crowds are not nearly as massive as during the Sakura season.
Winter (December – February) in Kyoto is cold but not too cold to travel. It’s a great time to visit Kyoto if you don’t like the crowds.
Here you will find the best things to do in winter in Kyoto.
How to get to Kyoto?
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Kansai International Airport
Kansai International Airport is Osaka’s international airport and lies about 37 kilometers southwest of downtown Osaka. It also serves some domestic flights from other parts of Japan.
It’s well connected to Osaka by train, limousine buses, and taxis.
Japan Rail Pass
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get to Kyoto is with the JR Haruka airport express.
This airport express train is free for holders of a JR pass and the ride takes about 75 minutes.
If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, the fee is either 3,490 yen for reserved seats or 2,980 yen for unreserved seats.
Limousine buses might be a better option if you have a lot of luggage or if you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass and are looking for a cheaper option then the JR Haruka airport express.
The buses run along three routes, stopping at popular hotels and destinations in Kyoto. Each bus costs about 2,500 yen but you can book them for half that price if you use our link.
Klook is a trustworthy travel company headquartered in Hong Kong that teams up with local operators to offer all kinds of travel experiences. It can be compared to Viator or GetYourGuide. It was established in 2014 and has since grown rapidly through various strategic partnerships such as the one with Shangri-La. Because of the size of its operations, it is often capable of offering tours at significant discounts.
Osaka International Airport
Osaka International Airport or Itami is Osaka’s domestic airport. Despite its name, it handles no international flights. It lies about 11 kilometers north of central Osaka.
The best way to travel between the airport and Kyoto is with the Osaka Airport Limousine bus. The journey from the airport to Kyoto costs 1280 yen and takes about 55 minutes.
The high-speed Shinkansen or “bullet train” provides the fastest transport service between Tokyo and Kyoto.
If you have a JR Pass, you can ride the Hikari Shinkansen at no additional cost. The journey from Tokyo Station to Kyoto station takes 2h40. The Nozomi Shinkansen is faster and rides more frequent but is not covered by your JR Pass.
You could also opt for the Kodama Shinkansen but this would add an extra hour to your journey.
If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass then the fare will be 13,080 yen one way with an unreserved seat.
The easiest and fastest way to get from Osaka to Kyoto is by train. You can choose between several options depending on your location in Osaka and your destination in Kyoto.
Getting to Kyoto Station
The high-speed Shinkansen will get you from to Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto station in 12 minutes for 1,420 yen.
This is the fastest and most comfortable route into Kyoto and might be worthwhile if you have a Japan Rail Pass to cover the cost.
If you don’t have a JR pass, you can also opt for a cheaper alternative. The JR Kyoto line takes 23 minutes to reach Kyoto from the Shin-Osaka station. The fare for this service is 560 yen.
Getting to central Kyoto
From Yodoyabashi station in Osaka, the Limited Express train on the Keihan Main Line will get you to Sanjo Station in 55 minutes for 410 yen.
The Keihan Main Line runs from the south to the north of central Kyoto and because its stations are reasonably close to many of Kyoto’s most iconic sightseeing locations, this line is very convenient for tourists.
The Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass allows free unlimited travel on the Keihan Railway
The cheapest route into central Kyoto is with the Hankyu Kyoto Main Line. The Limited Express trains run between Hankyu Umeda Station and Kawaramachi Station in central Kyoto in 44 minutes for just 400 yen.
This line also provides easy access to tourist attractions in western Kyoto.
As Keihan Railway and Hankyu Railway are private companies they are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Kyoto money saving tips
When traveling around Kyoto, you can choose from a variety of discount tickets. Here we list the most important ones.
Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass for 1 or 2 days
With this pass, you can enjoy an unlimited number of rides on the Keihan Railway during the validity period of the pass.
The Keihan Railway has many stations reasonably close to many of Kyoto’s most iconic sightseeing locations such as the famous Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, the Gion district, the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple and Osaka Castle.
The pass also allows you to ride the Otokoyama Cable Line for free. The cable line takes you up the mountain to the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in 5 minutes.
This shrine has the advantage of being not too touristy.
The top of the mountain also holds an observatory where you get a good view of the Yawata region, one of the outskirts of Kyoto.
A very cheap option if you plan on using public transportation a lot.
The pass comes with special coupons by which you will get special discounts, services, and gifts at more than 30 locations in the Osaka-Kyoto area
This pass is strictly only available to foreign tourists with short stay entry status. You will need to present your passport when you pick up your pass at the airport
Read more information or buy your pass here: Sightseeing Pass 1-2 days
Kyoto City bus Bus All-day Pass
This pass allows you to make an unlimited number of trips on the city buses for one day.
Beware that it does not last 24 hours, it is valid on the day it is purchased.
The pass covers pretty much the full Kyoto region.
When you travel outside of this region, such as Arashiyama, you need to pay a supplement.
Adults: 600 yen/ Children (6-11 years): 300 yen
You can buy these passes from the ticket windows found in subway stations, for example in Kyoto station.
You can buy the pass in advance, the validity period will start when the pass is used for the first time. Click this link for more information.
To benefit from this pass you need to do at least 3 bus rides.
Kyoto city subway & bus pass
This pass allows you to make an unlimited number of trips on all the Kyoto subway lines and city Bus lines for one or 2 days. Certain Kyoto and Keihan buses are included as well.
The pass does not last 24 or 48 hours. The day pass is valid on the day it is first used, the 2-day pass lasts until midnight of the next day.
This pass can be used to get to Arashiyama, the regular city pass can’t.
JR’s coverage of Kyoto is not as good as it is in Osaka or Kyoto so this pass might be a welcome addition even if you have a JR pass.
You can always walk but you will quickly lose a lot of valuable time, especially if you have limited time to see all the sights.
One-day pass: Adults: 900 yen / Children ( 6-11 years): 450 yen
Two-day pass: Adults: 1,700 yen / Children (6-11 years): 850 yen
You can buy these passes from the ticket windows found in subway stations, for example in Kyoto station.
You can buy the pass in advance, the validity period will start when the pass is used for the first time.
The JR Rail Pass is of limited to travel around Kyoto as there are few JR lines within Kyoto’s city boundaries.
If you didn’t activate your Japan Rail pass yet and you plan to do a lot of traveling by JR trains after you leave Kyoto, it might be smarter not to activate your pass until the morning you leave Kyoto (you can activate the pass at the main JR ticket office in Kyoto Station).
If you have more time you can use your JR Pass to do some side trips to Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima, Takayama or Kanazawa.
JR also offers regional passes which may be a better option if you only visit the Kyoto region. Below is a short summary, we have another article with a complete overview of JR passes.
The Kansai area pass is the most popular pass. It covers Himeji, Nara, Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto. This pass is also valid on the Haruka express so you can use this pass to get from the airport to the city.
The Kansai area pass is available for periods ranging from 1 day to 4 days. The other variants can only be bought for longer periods starting at 5 days.
To visit Hiroshima you would need the Kansai – Hiroshima pass.
Trips to Takayama and Kanazawa are included in the Kansai – Hokuriku pass.
Top things to do in Kyoto
Here is an overview of the best-organized tours in Kyoto. An organized tour can save you a considerable amount of time in Kyoto. Kyoto’s public transportation is not as well organized and you can lose a lot of time to get from one attraction to another. An organized tour saves you time and, moreover, the tour guide will enlighten you about the different sights you visit.
We also included the Nishiki food market tour as we experienced ourselves how good it is to have someone who can assist you with ordering some street food. We tried the food on several occasions by just pointing at items but we didn’t have a clue what we were eating. If you have someone who speaks Japanese he or she can tell you more about it and even order something specific you might want to try.
Lastly, we included the tea ceremony as it is a centuries-old tradition that you will not be able to fully appreciate without the explanations from a guide.
We partnered up with GetYourGuide for these activities. We love GetYourGuide because they’re flexible. Sometimes your plans change last-minute and then you want to be able to cancel your tickets and get your money back. It’s also good to know that GetYourGuide has your back when the local tour operator doesn’t show up or cancels your trip.
GetYourGuide is a reliable platform where you can book thousands of tours anywhere in the world. We selected 5 excellent tours in Kyoto just for you.
Full-Day UNESCO and Historical Sites Tour
Some sights, like the Golden temple, are far from train and metro stations. The Kyoto bus and Kyoto city bus have fairly good coverage of the city but it takes some time to understand their network and the buses were usually very crowded. We skipped the buses and walked to the different sights, easily doing 20,000 steps every day.
This tour might be a good and comfortable alternative if you have less time. You will travel in a comfortable tour bus and visit most highlights in just one day.
Tea Ceremony Experience
A tea ceremony is a centuries-old Japanese ritual. This ceremony is recommended if you want to learn more about this ritual and Japanese culture. You will get to experience the full ritual and not the more often offered shortened tourist version. Note that this ceremony is not performed by a geisha.
Kyoto Night Food Tour with 10-Course Dinner
This walking tour will take you around the historic Gion district where your guide will tell you many interesting stories along the way. At the end of the journey, you will enjoy a delicious 10-course Kaiseki, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, including the world’s smoothest sashimi, tofu, macha, dashi, tamagoyaki, and fresh seafood.
More information and booking: Kaiseki course
Kyoto Highlights 7-Hour Private Guided Tour
You can choose from 2 different tours where your private guide will take you to either 4 or 5 of Kyoto’s must-see top attractions. Both tours end in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto.
Nishiki Market and Gion Food and Drinks Tour
This tour is for you if you absolutely want to taste some of Kyoto’s great street food but are reluctant to do so because you prefer to know what exactly you’re eating. Your guide will introduce you to “Kyoto’s kitchen”. You will have the opportunity to taste the local food and you will learn about Japanese culture as you gradually make your way towards the Gion district.
Maiko Makeover and Photo Shoot
A maiko is an apprentice Geisha. On this special 3-hour activity you’ll learn about the life of a maiko. A former maiko will apply your makeup, style your hair and dress you so you will look stunning for your photoshoot. She’ll also teach you how to pose and dance appropriately. The pictures will be a great souvenir to take home.
Hotels in Gion, Kyoto
Kyoto is Japan’s most popular tourist destination. More than 2000 hotels are spread out across the city but still, prices tend to inflate tremendously during the cherry blossom season and other popular tourist seasons.
We recommend you to book well in advance.
Here we share 3 hotels in or within walking distance of the Gion district.
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto Hotel
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto is at a great location, along the river in the center of town, within walking distance to the Gion area and a lot of other attractions. Spacious, beautifully decorated rooms and a large swimming pool. The great attention to details separates this hotel from others.
Premium comfortable hotel
Gion Hatanaka Ryokan
Gion Hatanaka is a traditional ryokan just a short stroll from the picturesque Gion district. It offers traditional Japanese accommodation and a spacious public bath overlooking a zen garden. Spacious rooms with large windows, a balcony and an en-suite bathroom with a bathtub.
Royal Park hotel Kyoto
The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto is a good choice for those who are looking for a hotel in the center of Kyoto. It is within walking distance of the Gion district, two metro stations, and various temples. The rooms are neat and the bathroom is fully equipped. You can enjoy a nice breakfast at the bakery next to the hotel.
More information and booking: BOOKING
2 days in Kyoto, our Kyoto itinerary
In order to spend more time at the sights and less on the road, we will focus on the west side of Kyoto first during day 1.
On the second day of the Kyoto 2 days itinerary, we will visit the sights on the eastern side of Kyoto.
Day 1 of our 2 day Kyoto itinerary will be a busy day. Get up early as there are many sights waiting for you to explore them.
We start this exciting day at the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Admire Kinkakuji, the Temple of the golden pavilion
Kinkakuji is also often referred to as the golden temple and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
According to us, this is Kyoto’s most iconic temple, perhaps even the most iconic temple of whole Japan.
Undoubtedly, just like us, you will see many temples during your journey. Most look alike but this one is not like any other temple we have seen in Japan.
If you just want to visit one of Kyoto’s many temples make it this one.
The temple was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate in 1398. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu died in 1408 and the temple was transformed in a Zen temple as he had stipulated in his will. In 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a temple’s monk. In 1955 the current gold-leaf-coated reconstruction was unveiled.
The gold was used as it is believed to mitigate and purify any pollution or negative thoughts and feelings towards death. In addition to this symbolic meaning, it was also a status symbol.
This is one of the most visited, if not the most visited attraction in Kyoto and it’s always crowded here.
Therefore we recommend going very early in the morning preferably as soon as it opens on a weekday morning.
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita, Kyoto Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361
How to get there:
Take the Kyoto City Bus No.101, 102, 204 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkakuji Michi bus stop.
Take the Kyoto City Bus No.12, No.59 to the Kinkakuji Mae bus stop.
Visit the highlights of Arashiyama
After you have admired the golden temple, you take the bus to Arashiyama.
Arashiyama, a district at the outskirts of Kyoto is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Kyoto.
We fully understand why because Arashiyama has many beautiful sights. From bamboo forests to temples, here you can find it all.
Like in many places in Kyoto expect a big crowd!
Fortunately, it immediately becomes a lot quieter as soon as you make your way away from the center. We discovered some charming quiet spots in Arashiyama.
We will start with the absolute touristy must-sees and later share some less touristy and crowded spots.
Getting to Arashiyama from the Kinkakuji temple
To get to Arashiyama from the Kinkakuji temple you first take bus 205 from Kinkakuji-Michi to Kitano-Hakubaicho. (3 stops) Here you change for the Keifuku Randen Tram Line towards Arashiyama. You will need to change trams in Katabiranotsuji.
The tram line is the fastest option to get to Arashiyama but is not covered in the city subway and bus passes mentioned earlier in this article.
If you have a city subway and bus pass you could alternatively take bus 205 to Nishinokyo-Enmachi (6 stops) where you change for bus 93 to Arashiyama. (18 stops) This whole traject is covered by the city subway and bus pass. (not the city bus pass!)
Getting to Arashiyama from the Kyoto station
Holders of a JR pass are best off taking the JR Sagano Line (JR San-in line) to Saga-Arashiyama station. The traject is completely covered by the JR pass.
Alternative options are offered by the private rail companies Keifuku railways and Hankyu railways. These trains leave from other stations relatively close to Kyoto Station. These are private companies so they don’t accept the JR Pass.
Keifuku trains leave from Omiya station, 30 minutes north of Tokyo station, or Kitanohakubaicho Station which is far North in Kyoto.
The Hankyu trains for Arashiyama leave from Katsura station, west of Kyoto station. If you’re staying in central Kyoto you can take a Hankyu train in any of the stations along the Hankyu Kyoto line and change trains in Katsura station.
This is the iconic landmark bridge of Arashiyama. It crosses the Katsura River. Apparently, the bridge is so famous that if you would show a picture of it to any Japanese person, all of them will be able to tell you exactly where it was taken.
The road heading towards the bridge is lined with restaurants and tourist shops.
It is a nice bridge and the wooded hills on the other side of the bridge provide a very nice photo-setting, especially in autumn. A drawback is that the bridge and the street leading from the station to the bridge are very crowded.
Getting there: The Keifuku train station is on the main road. Leaving the station you make a left and you will reach the bridge in seconds. If you arrive at the JR station you take the south exit and from there you can follow the signs for the bridge. You just need to follow the street in front of the station which leads to the main street where you make a left. The Hankyu station is located on the other side of the bridge so you will cross it on your way to Arashiyama.
Monkey Park Iwatayama
The park is located on the Southern bench of the Katsura river. It houses about 130 so-called snow monkeys.
This is the same species that you can find bathing in the hot springs in Yudanaka.
The park is located on a mountain and offers nice views of the surrounding area. The park’s entrance is located at the bottom of the mountain, close to the Togetsukyo bridge. It is marked with Torii gates.
As you’ve passed the Torii gates you will see a shrine where you can buy your tickets. Now that you have your tickets a strenuous 30-minute uphill climb is what follows.
In spring the hiking trail is lined by lovely cherry blossom trees and, in autumn, the stunning autumn foliage will make your hike slightly more enjoyable.
No matter how beautiful the walk upwards may be, the real reward is waiting at the top.
The playful monkeys are just a part of the reward, the other part is the breathtaking view of Kyoto.
Monkey Park Iwatayama
8 Arashiyama Genrokuyama-cho, Nishikyo-ku,
Kyoto Prefecture 616-0007.
1 October till 14th of March: 9:00 – 16:00
How to get there: The entrance to the monkey park is near the Togetsukyo Bridge. If you’re coming from the Hankyu train station it’s a mere 5-minute walk and you don’t need to cross the bridge. If you’re coming for the other train stations you will need to cross the bridge.
From the Bamboo Grove, walk over the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, and up the steps near the orange torii of Ichitani-jinja. If you are in downtown Kyoto, take Kyoto City Bus number 28 from Kyoto Station to Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae Bus Stop.
The Tenryuji Temple is the main shrine of Arashiyama and a UNESCO site. The complex is famous for its garden and lake and is especially beautiful during the changes of the leaves.
There are two types of admission tickets, one covers the temple buildings and the garden, the other ticket is for the garden only. Unless you are really interested in the religious aspect we wouldn’t recommend paying extra to visit the temple.
Expect large but disciplined crowds.
68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyō-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8385
How to get there
To reach the temple you walk back down the main street until you see the Keifuku Arashiyama Station on your right. The entrance of the temple is on your left, opposite the train station
If you visit the gardens there’s a path that leads you straight from the temple’s gardens to the Bamboo Grove.
If you decide to skip the temple’s garden you continue along the main road and take the first street on the left. At the next intersection, you go left again.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is the second most popular sight in Arashiyama after the Togetsukyo bridge. It is one of the most photographed and crowded places in Arashiyama.
It’s safe to say that you may expect huge crowds but by being inventive you should be able to find some spots to take Instagram-worthy pictures.
That said, there is a second bamboo grove in Arashiyama that is not nearly as touristy and just as beautiful.
Below we describe how to get there.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you should go there early in the morning.
There are signs at the exit of the bamboo grove that lead you to different places of interest. We follow the signs to the Jojakkoji temple.
If you have the time you can make a small detour and take a left instead, this will take you to the Kameyama-Koen hilltop park.
The park is an excellent refuge from the crowds. The cherry blossoms brighten up the park in the sakura season and occasionally you might spot some wild macaques.
The park has an observation platform that offers views over the river and the colorful foliage of the forests on the opposite shore.
If you follow the path along the river bench and make a right at the end you will join the path towards the Jojakkoji temple.
The Jojakkoji temple
You will appreciate the quiet and peaceful gardens of this temple after the previous three crowded places.
The good news is that starting here we will explore the less touristy sights and you shouldn’t run into crowds like the ones you experienced earlier.
This smaller temple is located on a mountain slope.
The beautifully kept gardens are a nice place to relax and as you wander through the gardens you will encounter several spots that offer nice views on Kyoto.
This temple is especially worth visiting during the changing of the leaves in autumn.
3 Sagaogurayama Oguracho, Ukyō-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8397
From here we continue our way further north to the Saga Toriimoto Street. Along the way, we pass the Nisonin temple and the Gioji temple. The first is very similar to the Jojakkoji temple. The Gioji temple is slightly smaller and even more, tucked away in the forest than the first two. It has a beautifully kept moss garden.
Saga Toriimoto street
This is a picturesque street lined with preserved, traditional houses. The style of the houses dates back to the Meji period and they used to be regular houses but have since been converted to shops and restaurants.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived in the street and to our surprise, we had the street to ourselves.
We first make a left in the street and continue our way to the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple. After our visit to the temple, we will explore this street further as we continue our way downhill back to the train station.
The Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple
The Adashino Nenbutsuji temple is situated slightly uphill at the end of the Saga Toriimito Preserved Street.
Not many tourists seem to make it this far because it was not crowded at all when we visited it.
Originally the temple grounds were a huge burial field. Kobo Daishi founded the temple here by placing statues to commemorate the souls of the dead.
This custom is still in use and today already more than 8000 Buddhist statues are placed on the grounds and together they form an enchanting sight.
It is well worth a visit.
An added bonus is the adjoining beautiful quiet bamboo grove. It’s not hard to find it, you just need to make your way all the way to the end of the temple grounds.
This bamboo grove is excellent to take pictures, there is no one else here.
Note that the bamboo grove is currently closed for renovations, more information on the temple’s website.
Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple
17 Sagatoriimoto Adashinocho, Ukyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8436
Those who still have time can continue uphill, another ten-minute walk from the Adishino Nenbutsuji temple is the similarly named Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple.
The temple was moved to its current location in order to better preserve it. Over the entire duration of his existence, the temple has been fully restored 4 times, the last time was in 1980.
To celebrate this restoration the temple’s priest, which was also a sculptor, helped the temple’s devotees to carve their own “rakan” statues. Rakan statues represent devoted followers of Buddhism.
His initiative was clearly a success because 1200 statues stand on the temple’s grounds, each with a different facial expression and some are rather funny as the statues, for example, show 2 people who drink saké.
If you have time, it is nice to take a walk in between the statues and see what different poses they have.
From here we make our way back to the train station.
You follow the Saga Toriimito Preserved Street downhill keeping left at the fork until you arrive at the traffic lights where you make a right. This will lead you back to the center of Arashiyama.
We will start our second day with a visit to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrines. These are a little out of the way.
Those who have more than two days may choose to visit the shrines on a later day and start their day at Ginkakuji, also named the silver temple.
Either way, both options will take you to one of the highlights of Kyoto to start your day.
Admire the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine. What makes this place so special is not the shrine in itself but the thousands of torii gates which straddle over the trail that leads up the mountain behind the temple.
As soon as you exit the train you will notice that his place is also very touristy and therefore crowded.
Most visitors limit their visit to the bottom row of torii gates.
You will notice that the crowds gradually decrease as you walk further away from the shrine.
The full hike to the summit of the mountain takes 2-3 hours but you don’t need to hike that far.
We almost had the place to ourselves after a 30-minute hike. It is a beautiful walk with lots of photo opportunities.
Fushimi Inari Taisha shrines
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku
, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan
How to get there:
Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
Visit the silver pavilion Ginkakuji
This silver zen temple dates from 1490 and is renowned for its beautiful gardens.
Despite its name, Ginkakuji was never covered in silver.
The original plans were to coat the temple in silver but there were delays, the patron Shogun Yoshimasa died and eventually the plan was abandoned.
Put in another way, one could say that the temple was never actually completed.
2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402
December to February: 9 am – 4:30 pm
How to get there
Head back to Kyoto station and take bus #5, #17 or #100.
We continue our way along the Philosopher’s Path.
Stroll along the philosopher’s path
This is a pedestrian walkway along part of the Lake Biwa canal that is lined with cherry blossoms (and reason enough to travel back to Kyoto in the spring).
It gets its name from (you guessed it) ancient Japanese philosophers that strolled this walkway daily.
These philosophers couldn’t have chosen a better place for their daily rituals, it is a very picturesque walk.
As you stroll along the canal you will pass several temples, boutiques, and restaurants.
After about 30 to 45 minutes you will reach Nanzenji Temple.
This is one of the most important temples zen temples in Japan. It houses one of the schools of Zen Buddhism and includes many subtemples.
While it may not be the most beautiful or stunning temple it is worth a visit when you are walking from the silver pavilion to Kiyomidzu.
The entrance to the temple grounds is free of charge but there are fees to enter the individual temple complexes.
You enter the temple grounds through the massive Sanmon entrance gate.
For a fee, you can climb to the gates balcony and get an overview of the huge temple grounds.
The Lake Biwa canal that led us to this temple is led across the temple grounds in an aqueduct.
86 Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 606-8435
December to February: 9 am – 4:30 pm
As we leave the temple we continue our way to Kiyomizu Dera.
Our first stop is the temple complex of Chionin.
You can’t miss this temple, the sanmon entrance gate is 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide.
This makes it the largest wooden gate in Japan.
The Chionin temple borders the Maruyama park which we will go through next.
This park draws thousands of tourists and Japanese during the Sakura season, at the Western entrance of the park is the Yasaka shrine.
This shrine is located on the border of the Higashiyama and Gion district. We will visit the second later on today.
Now we enter the nicer half of the Higashiyama historic-tourist district, one of the city’s best-preserved districts. The district is a maze of narrow lanes lines with wooden buildings that house shops and restaurants. All have kept their traditional design.
You just need to follow the preserved street and this will lead you straight to the Kiyomizu Dera temple.
Along the way, you will pass Nineizaka and Sanneizaka, two famous quaint streets that have kept their charm although they are now more crowded than they used to be at their origin.
As you walk through the Higaschiyama district you will be able to get a good impression of the old capital city.
The total hike from the Nanzenji temple to the Kiyomizu Dera temple is slightly over 3km and will take about 45 minutes without stopping.
What you see on the way makes it absolutely worthwhile to hike, but of course, you can take a taxi if you are tired of walking.
Kiyomizu Dera temple
Kiyomizu Dera means “pure water”. The temple stands next to the Otowa Waterfall.
In 1994 the temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The main attraction of the temple is the wooden stage on the first floor of the main hall.
This offers splendid views over the cherry trees in the temple’s gardens with the skyline of Kyoto in the background.
Read also: 9 wonderful things to do in Kyoto at night.
The special illuminations of the cherry trees make an evening visit to this temple worthwhile during the Sakura season.
From the wooden stage, you can enjoy a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance.
There are major renovations at Kiyomizudera going on right now until 2020. The main hall can still be visited but might be (partly) covered in scaffolding..
This temple is more like a well-run commercial company than a serene place to reflect.
Kiyomizu Dera Temple
294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862
How to get there
Take bus #100 or #206 from Kyoto station to Gojo-Zaka or Kiyomizu-Michi bus stop. Walk 10 minutes uphill to the temple.
Take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. From there it is a 20-minute walk
Go geisha spotting in Gion
Gion is an upscale neighborhood that contains many well-preserved streets like we already saw in the Higashiyama district.
It is the oldest and one of the few remaining Geisha districts of Japan. That was the main reason for our visit.
Since I read the book”Memoirs of a Geisha” I’m intrigued by these companion ladies so seeing one was high on my bucket list.
We booked a guide with Hihi guide and she led us through the labyrinth of authentic streets and took us to all the best places to see the Geishas.
Of course, it is always a matter of luck but Guenda, our guide, who knew all the best places increased our chances of spotting a Geisha.
This hike was one of the highlights of our Japan Trip. You can read our full story here.
Are you also intrigued by geishas?
Then this book might be something for you.
If you have 3 days in Kyoto
Here we share a 3 day Kyoto itinerary.
Kyoto Station is an architectural marvel and absolutely worth a visit.
Chances are that you have already walked through the station when you took a train but in addition to the train tracks, the station also houses a shopping center with several restaurants and an observation platform on the 11th floor.
From the observation deck on the 11th floor, you can enjoy beautiful views of the city.
Higashishiokoji Kamadonocho, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto Tower is Kyoto’s tallest structure and the landmark of Kyoto.
The tower was built in 1964 withstanding 131 meters tall and from the observation deck located 100 meters above the ground, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of Kyoto.
Enjoy great views across Kyoto on a clear day.
721-1 Higashishiokoji-cho, Karasuma-dori Shichijo-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 600-8216
How to get there:
A 2-minute walk from Kyoto Station Karasuma central gate
This 400-year-old food market, houses over 120 different retail outlets, some of which have been around since the market’s origins.
You will find small stores that specialize in very specific foods like oysters, green tea and many other typical ingrediënts from Japanese cuisine.
These stores are interspersed with other retailers selling chopsticks or liquor.
Be sure to take a look at the 220-year-old liquor store called Tsunoki Shuho, this store is famous for its sakes.
You can taste many of the local delicacies at the various stalls spread across the market or you can feast on a more extensive meal in one of the restaurants.
It can get quite crowded, especially around late morning and over lunchtime but this market is a treat for all your senses and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Nishiki Street Market
609 Nishidaimonji-cho, Shijo-Noboru, Tomikoji Tori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto Prefecture
How to get here:
A 3-minute walk from Shijo station on the Karasuma line.
A 3-minute walk from Karasuma or Kawaramachi station on Hankyu line.
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park
The Japanese Imperial Family lived in the Kyoto Imperial Palace when Kyoto was still the capital of Japan until the late 19th century.
The palace itself isn’t open to visitors but the large beautiful garden with a lot of trees surrounding is.
You can stroll around on yourself or take a tour.
Tours in English are available
It is especially worth a visit during the cherry blossom season or during the changing of the leaves.
Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace
3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881
How to get here:
Take the Karasuma subway line from Kyoto station until Marutamachi station or Imadegawa Station.
Imadegawa Station is closer to the entrance gate of the Imperial Palace than Marutamachi Station.
Day Trips from Kyoto
One day will merely give you a glimpse of everything that Osaka has to offer but the two cities are so close to each other, or rather we should say are so well-connected, that it is easy to stay in one city and visit the other.
You can read everything about this fascinating city in our very well-detailed 2-day Osaka itinerary.
Nara used to be Japan’s capital until 784 CE. The city is literally full of historical monuments and temples.
Here we explain what to do and how to get to Nara.
Kyoto and Osaka are opposites in a certain way.
Osaka represents the modern side of Japan with vibrant nightlife districts and colorful neon advertisements.
Kyoto, on the other hand, stands for the rich religious historical side of the country.
A visit to these two cities gives you a good idea of the 2 extremes of the country and should be on every tourist’s to-do lists.
Japan travel tips
Tips when traveling to Japan:
Expenses abroad can be seriously inflated by fees from your bank or credit card. That’s why I’m a huge fan of my N26 account. The account is available to most EU residents. The checking account is free as well as the associated Mastercard and there’s no exchange rate provision when you use to card for payments abroad. There’s a 1,7% exchange rate provision when you withdraw money abroad but even that is free with the premium Black Mastercard.
The app is another great feature of the card, you can follow your expenses in real-time and instantly block your card if you see any signs of fraud.
A local SIM card comes in handy. We have often used Google Maps to find our way around major cities.
When you’re traveling by train it’s also a good idea to forward your baggage. You can read these tips and much more in our separate article about traveling to Japan for the first time.
We traveled around Japan by train and could save a few bucks by buying a Japan Rail Pass in advance.
Wondering what to wear in Japan? Take a look at our complete Japan packing list.
Last but not least… As you might expect health care in Japan is excellent but it comes at a high cost. Make sure you have some sort of travel insurance before you leave for Japan. We never had anything serious happen on any of our journeys around the world but you know what they say, better safe than sorry…
Have you ever visited Kyoto? Please let us know your favorite spots in the comments.
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