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The BEST Kyoto 2-day itinerary for first-timers (2023 edition)

How to spend 2 days in Kyoto?

For most travelers, Kyoto is one of the highlights of their Japan trip.

We spent 3 days in this culture-rich city and we still couldn’t check everything off our list.

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 two days in Kyoto 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 time 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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Japan Essentials

To find cheap flights to Osaka or Tokyo we recommend checking Momondo.  That’s where we usually find the best deals.

A local SIM card or pocket WiFi device comes in handy. We have often used Google Maps to find our way around major cities. If you want to purchase a local SIM card, you can find our detailed post here. If you want to compare the different WiFI devices you can rent in Japan, click here. 

Make sure you have travel insurance.

Kyoto Essentials

The JR Rail Pass is of limited use to travel around Kyoto as there are few JR lines within Kyoto’s city boundaries. The Kyoto-Osaka sightseeing pass is one of the best passes for tourists in Kyoto, certainly is you also plan a side-trip to Osaka.

If you plan on visiting other parts of the Kansai area such as Nara, Kobe, Himeji and Osaka and you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, the JR West Pass could save you a few bucks.

If you have less time in Kyoto or just want to save some shoe leather, you can use the Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing bus to rush you to the highlights.

An alternative is a guided tour. Half-day and full-day tours are available. Your host will guide you through Kyoto as a local and will show you as much as possible of the main highlights such as the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushi Inari, Arashiyama and the Bamboo forest, the Golden Temple, and more all in one quick exciting day.

Below we share a small selection of nice hotels.  If you don’t see anything you like you can check our full guide on the best places to stay. We also have a selection of nice Airbnb’s.

Kyoto travel tips 

Is this your first Japan trip and are you feeling a bit overwhelmed planning this trip? Check out our Japan travel planner. This document contains all the information you need to prepare for your trip stress-free. 

What is the best time to visit Kyoto

Kyoto can be visited all year round because the weather is quite moderate, similar to Osaka. Still, if you can, we recommend that you visit Kyoto in the 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.

The Sakura not only draws tourists from all over the world but also Japanese go crazy over this yearly event.  At lunchtime and on weekends, they flock to the parks for picnics and selfies.

It was lovely to see the Sakura, but witnessing the enthusiasm of the Japanese really made our experience complete.

The Sakura blossoms are hard to predict. Depending on the weather the blossoms can appear as early as late March. The first blossoms appear in southern Japan and the colorful wave then gradually moves northwards across the land. The latest blossoms disappear somewhere around the end of April or sometimes as late as mid-May.

Keep in mind that spring is also the most touristy and therefore most expensive season. 

Late April and early May also marks the “Golden Week”, a week with 4 Japanese holidays in which many Japanese take a local trip.  That particular week can therefore be even busier and hotels may be booked up long in advance.

If this is your first visit to Japan, we recommend reading our useful tips before traveling to Japan.

Maruyama Park Kyoto
Maruyama Park Kyoto


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 at many of Kyoto’s top attractions.

“There is a whole world out there. Pack your backpack, your best friend and go.”

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.

While it usually does not rain every day we wouldn’t recommend visiting Kyoto during this period if 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 dotted around Kyoto very photogenic although you have 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.

Kiyomizu Dera Autumn, Kyoto
Don’t forget to put the Kiyomizu Dera Temple on your Kyoto itinerary.


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.

Read Also:

Like this article?  Check out our ultimate Japan travel guide where you can find much more information about Kyoto and Japan.

How to get to Kyoto?

By Plane

The nearest airport to Kyoto is Osaka. Osaka has 2 international airports, Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Osaka International Airport (better known as Itami; ITM).

How to find cheap tickets to Osaka

You can use Momondo and Skyscanner to search for cheap flights.

Both are flight aggregators that compare several hundreds of booking sites and give you an overview of the best flights and the cheapest sites to book them. 

Momondo and Skyscanner are both very good at finding good deals, of the two, Momondo is probably the one with the most intuitive user interface.

Those who are always on the lookout for the best deals should join the Dollar Flight Club.  Joining is free and once you’ve joined you will get alerts in your mailbox whenever cheap flights out of your home airport have been found. 

I recently joined the club and already saw some incredible deals.  Joining is free and it can literally save you thousands of dollars.

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 3,230 yen for reserved seats or 2,900 yen for unreserved seats.

KIX limousine bus
KIX airport limousine bus
Limousine bus

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 than the JR Haruka airport express.  

The buses run along three routes, stopping at popular hotels and destinations in Kyoto.  Each bus costs about 2,800 yen but you can book them online at a discount.

The bus schedule and all the stops can be consulted from the page where you can buy the tickets.

Check prices and shedule:
Limousine Bus Tickets

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.

Haruka airport express Osaka Japan
Haruka airport express

By Train

From Tokyo

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 frequently but is not covered by your JR Pass. 

You could also opt for the Kodama Shinkansen.  It is also covered by the JR Pass. This would add an extra hour to your journey.

If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass then the fare will be 13,320 yen one way with an unreserved seat. 

From Osaka

There are several easy and fast ways to get from Osaka to Kyoto by train. You can choose between several options depending on your location in Osaka and your destination in Kyoto. 

Getting to Kyoto Station

Without a doubt the Shinkansen is is the fastest and most comfortable ride into Kyoto. You could consider this train if you have a Japan Rail Pass to cover the cost.

If you don’t have a JR pass, it’s better to opt for a cheaper alternative.  The JR Kyoto line takes 23 minutes to reach Kyoto from the Shin-Osaka station.  This train is just 10 minutes slower and the fare for this service is 570 yen, less than half the Shinkansen fare.

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 420 yen.

The Keihan Main line crosses Kyoto from south to north, passing through central Kyoto.  Many stations are reasonably close to many of Kyoto’s most iconic sightseeing locations.  This makes this line one of the most convenient for tourists.

The Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass allows free unlimited travel on the Keihan Railway

The cheapest route into central Kyoto is on 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. 

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine was one of the highlights during our 2 days in Kyoto.

Kyoto money-saving tips

When traveling around Kyoto, you can choose from a variety of discount tickets. Here’s an overview of the best discount passes.

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, these days known as the Keihan Cable Line, for free. This cable line takes you up the mountain to the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine. 

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 some coupons that you can use to get additional discounts, services, and gifts at several 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:
1-2 day Sightseeing Pass

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 is not valid for 24 hours from the moment of first use.  It is valid on the day that you activate it. (you automatically activate it when you use it for the first time)  So if your first ride is at 10 PM it will only be usable for 2 hours.

The pass covers pretty much the full Kyoto region.  Here’s a detailed map of the covered region.

Adults: 700 yen/ Children (6-11 years): 350 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 day. Certain Kyoto and Keihan buses are included as well.

The pass does not last 24 hours.  The day pass is valid until midnight on the day it is first used. 

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: 1,100 yen / Children ( 6-11 years): 550 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.

JR Passes

The JR Rail Pass is of limited use 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 of at least 5 days.

Click here to get more information or to buy your JR West Pass:
JR West Pass

To visit Hiroshima you would need the Kansai – Hiroshima pass.

Trips to Takayama and Kanazawa are included in the Kansai – Hokuriku pass.

Travel Insurance

Did you already think about travel insurance?  Accidents happen when you least expect them.

Drawing up a travel insurance policy that covers theft, damage and all kinds of medical expenses may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee. 

The good news is that it’s never too late to get cover with World Nomads and SafetyWing, you can even get their travel insurance online while you’re traveling.

Get a free quote:


World Nomads

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 getting 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 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. 

We selected 4 excellent tours in Kyoto just for you.

Full-Day UNESCO and Historical Sites Tour

Kyoto Full Day 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 such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushi Inari, Arashiyama and Bamboo forest, the Golden Temple, etc in just one day.

This is the perfect tour for those that have less time or reduced mobility or just don’t like to walk a lot.

More information and booking:

Tea Ceremony Experience

Kyoto Tea Ceremony

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.

Highly recommended if you want to learn more about Japanese culture.

Note that this ceremony is not performed by a geisha.

More information and booking:

Kyoto Night Food Tour with 10-Course Dinner

Things to do in gion

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.

A Kaiseki dinner is something you must try at least once during your stay in Japan. Although it isn’t cheap it’s a unique experience while you are in Japan.

More information and booking:

Nishiki Market and Gion Food and Drinks Tour

Nishiki Market Tour Kyoto

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.

More information and booking:

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. 

To avoid disappointment it is best to book well in advance.

Here we share 3 hotels in or within walking distance of the Gion district.

Luxury hotel

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto Hotel

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto Japan

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 detail separates this hotel from others.

More information and booking:


Premium comfortable hotel

Kyoto Granbell Hotel

Kyoto Granbell Hotel

Designed generously with spacious rooms, onsen in an inner Japanese garden, a specialty restaurant, and a well-stocked bar, Kyoto Granbell Hotel is swanky and perfect for the sophisticated.

The rooms here come equipped with a flat-screen TV, an AC, a sofa, a refrigerator, and a private bathroom. Sample Japanese dishes or enjoy homestyle western food during the buffet breakfast.

The hotel is perfectly located for those who want to explore the Gion district, Yasaka Shrine, and Shinto shrine.

More information and booking:


Comfortable hotel

Royal Park Hotel Kyoto

The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo

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:


Didn’t find what you were looking for? Read our full guide about where to stay in Kyoto.
If you are looking for cool hotels in Kyoto, click here.
If you prefer staying in an AirBnb in Kyoto, take a look at our overview of the best Airbnb’s in Kyoto.

2 days in Kyoto, our Kyoto itinerary

What to do in Kyoto in two days? 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-day itinerary, we will then visit the sights on the eastern side of Kyoto.

Kyoto itinerary 2 days: Day 1

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 be explored.  

We start this exciting day at the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Golden Temple KinkakuJi, Kyoto, Japan
Golden Temple in Kyoto

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. It is one of Japan’s iconic landmarks. 

According to us, this is Kyoto’s most iconic temple, perhaps even the most iconic temple of whole Japan.

There’s no doubt that you will see many temples during your Japan trip.  And many of them look very much alike. It’s tempting to start skipping the temples after you’ve seen a few but this one is not like any other temple we have seen in Japan.  

If you just want to visit just 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 into a Zen temple as he had stipulated in his will. In 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a temple 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 toward 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.

Info icon
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita, Kyoto Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361
Event icon
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Tickets: Adult: 400 Yen
Golden Temple KinkakuJi, Kyoto, Japan

How to get there:

Bus icon

Take the Kyoto City Bus No.101, 102, 204 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkakuji Michi bus stop.

Bus icon

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 on 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 or city bus pass you could alternatively take bus 205 to Nishinokyo-Enmachi (6 stops) where you change for bus 93 to Arashiyama. (18 stops).

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 route 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 from Kitanohakubaicho Station which is still further north.  

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 at any of the stations along the Hankyu Kyoto line and change trains at Katsura station.

Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Togetsukyo Bridge
Togetsukyo Bridge

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 charming 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.


Bus icon

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.

Arashiyama Iwatayama monkey park
Arashiyama Iwatayama monkey park
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 hike up 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.

Info icon
Monkey Park Iwatayama
8 Arashiyama Genrokuyama-cho, Nishikyo-ku,
Kyoto Prefecture 616-0007.
Event icon
Opening hours: 15th of March till 30th of September: 9:00 – 16:30
1 October till 14th of March: 9:00 – 16:00
Tickets: Adult (14 or older) : 600 yen / Children : 300 yen
Arashiyama Iwatayama monkey park

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 from 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.

Tenryuji temple garden, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Tenryuji temple garden
Tenryuji Temple

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.

Info icon
Tenryuji Temple
68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyō-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8385
Info icon
Opening hours: 8.30 am – 5.30 pm
Tickets: 500 yen for the garden, an extra 300 yen to enter the temple
Tenryuji temple garden, Arashiyama, Kyoto

How to get there

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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.

Bamboo Grove Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
The popular Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
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. 

A little further in this article 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 forest 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 toward the Jojakkoji temple.

Kameyama-koen Park, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Kameyama-koen Park
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 of Kyoto.

This temple is especially worth visiting during the changing of the leaves in autumn.

Info icon
Jojakkoji temple
3 Sagaogurayama Oguracho, Ukyō-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8397
Event icon
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Tickets: 500 yen
Jojakkoji temple Kyoto, Japan
Gioji Temple Garden, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
The Moss Garden of the Gioji Temple

From here we continue our way further north to 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 well-preserved, traditional houses.  The style of the houses dates back to the Meiji period. This used to be a residential area but the houses have since been converted into 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.

Saga Toriimoto Street, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Saga Toriimoto Street, one of the best-preserved streets in Arashiyama
The Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple

The Adashino Nenbutsuji temple is situated slightly uphill at the end of Saga Toriimito 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.

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Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple
17 Sagatoriimoto Adashinocho, Ukyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8436
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Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm
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Tickets: 500 yen
Adashino Nenbutsuji Arachiyama Kyoto, Japan

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 Saga Toriimito 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.

Kyoto in 2 days: Day 2

We will start our second day with a visit to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrines.  These are a little out of the way. 

The Fushimi Inari Shrines in Kyoto
The world-famous Fushimi Inari Taishi Shrines

Those who have more than two days may choose to visit the shrines on a later day and start their day at Ginkakuji, also known as 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 the trail that leads up the mountain behind the temple

As soon as you exit the train you will notice the crowds.  This place is also very touristy but luckily here as well, it is easy to escape the masses.

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.

You can join a guided walking tour to get some background about the temple and discover some off-the-beaten-path locations at the same time.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha shrines
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku
, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan
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Opening hours: 24/7
Tickets: Free
Fushimi Inari Kyoto, Japan

How to get there:

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Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second stop on the JR Nara line starting from Kyoto Station (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached after a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.

Ginkakuj Silver temple Kyoto, Japan
The silver temple which marks the end of the philosopher’s path.

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.  

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2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402
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Opening hours: March to October : 8:30 am – 5 pm
December to February: 9 am – 4:30 pm
Tickets: 500 yen
Ginkakuj Silver temple Kyoto, Japan

How to get there 

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Head back to Kyoto station and take bus #5, #17 or #100.

We continue our way along the Philosopher’s Path.

Philosopher's Path Kyoto, Japan
The Philosopher’s Path is the best place for lovely Sakura shots

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.

Nanzenji Temple Kyoto, Japan
Nanzenji Temple

Nanzenji Temple

This is one of the most important zen temples in Japan.  It houses one of the schools of Zen Buddhism and includes many sub-temples. 

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 the Kiyomizu-Dera temple. 

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 gate’s 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.

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Nanzenji temple
86 Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 606-8435
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Opening hours: March to October : 8:30 am – 5 pm
December to February: 9 am – 4:30 pm
Tickets: 500 yen
Nanzenji Temple Kyoto, Japan

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 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 districts.  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 lined 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 Higashiyama 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, Kyoto
Kiyomizu Dera temple, Kyoto

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.

The special illuminations of the cherry trees make an evening visit to this temple worthwhile during the Sakura season. They have similar events in autumn.

Read Also:

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.

We don’t regret our visit but, unfortunately, this temple fell victim to its own success.  It felt more like a well-run commercial company than a serene place to reflect.

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Kiyomizu Dera Temple
294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862
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Opening hours: 6 am – 6 pm (until 6:30 pm on weekends and holidays from mid-April to July and every day in August and September)
Tickets: 400 yen
Kiyomizu Dera temple, Kyoto

How to get there 

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Take bus #100 or #206 from Kyoto station to Gojo-Zaka or Kiyomizu-Michi bus stop. Walk 10 minutes uphill to the temple.

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Take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. From there it is a 20-minute walk

Geisha Walking, Kyoto, Japan
Gion is the best district to spot a geisha

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 in Japan.  That is also what makes it so special.

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 private tour with a local 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 our guide, who seemed to know 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. 

If you have 3 days in Kyoto

Can’t get enough of Kyoto? We totally get it. That’s why we have added a 3-day Kyoto itinerary.

Kyoto station

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.

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Kyoto Station
Higashishiokoji Kamadonocho, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture
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Opening hours: 24/7
Tickets: Free entrance
Kyoto Station Japan
Kyoto train station
Kyoto train station

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower is Kyoto’s tallest structure and the landmark of Kyoto.
Built in 1964, the tower is 131 meters high and from the observation deck 100 meters above the ground you can enjoy a 360-degree view of Kyoto.

Enjoy great views across Kyoto on a clear day. 

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Kyoto Tower
721-1 Higashishiokoji-cho, Karasuma-dori Shichijo-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 600-8216
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Opening hours: 9am-9pm ( last admission 8h40pm)
Tickets: 800 yen (for the viewing platform)
Kyoto tower, Japan

Buy your tickets in advance and skip the line:
Kyoto tower admission ticket

How to get there:

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A 2-minute walk from Kyoto Station Karasuma central gate

Nishiki food market, Kyoto
Nishiki food market, Kyoto

Nishiki street Market

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.

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Nishiki Street Market
609 Nishidaimonji-cho, Shijo-Noboru, Tomikoji Tori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto Prefecture
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Opening hours: Varies by store but the shops are typically open between 9am-6pm.  (Some store are closed on Sunday or Wednesday.)
Tickets: Entrance is free
Nishiki food market, Kyoto
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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.

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Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace
3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku
Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881
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Opening hours: 24/7
Tickets: Entrance is free
Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace, Japan

How to get here:

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Take the Karasuma subway line from Kyoto station to 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.

Follow our 1-day Osaka itinerary to see many of the highlights of this city on an exciting day.


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

Other tips when traveling to Japan:

We took a little bit of cash with us but most things we paid with our credit card. 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.

We compiled a few interesting Japan itineraries. If you have 2 weeks in Japan, check out our 14 days Japan itinerary. If you have 3 weeks in Japan, you can find a 3 week Japan itinerary here.

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.

Get more information on the Japan Railpass here:
Japan Rail Pass

Or read this article in which we describe how you can find out whether you would also benefit from a Japan Rail Pass.

Wondering what to wear in Japan? Take a look at our complete Japan packing list. 

Have you ever visited Kyoto? Please let us know your favorite spots in the comments.

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Kyoto 2 day itinerary


Sunday 28th of April 2019

Please quote me 1 day excursion in Kyoto for 2 adults on 19 March 2020


Monday 29th of April 2019

Hi, We work together with GetYourGuide for our tours. They're reliable and flexible, which is really good in case your travel plans would change last minute. They have a very complete tour in Kyoto that you could have a look at. Here're the details :

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