If you are traveling to Japan you have to spend at least 2 days in Kyoto. This itinerary will help you to efficiently visit the popular temples, shrines, and experience amazing traditional Japanese food in Kyoto.
As I am Japanese, I’ve been to Kyoto many times. There are so many sites to see in Kyoto that I never get bored exploring the city. What makes my guide different from others is that I’ve included a few ideas to avoid crowds and enable you to experience a lot traveling by foot. It is sometimes a better experience to give yourself time to wander around and make discoveries of your own. Although Kyoto is famous for many UNESCO world heritage sites, there’s so much more to see in Kyoto. This 2 days Itinerary will make sure your time in Kyoto will be unforgettable.
If you want to check out more Japan itinerary, read my Tokyo ultimate guide.
Day 1 Exploring Gion District
Gion is my favorite part of Kyoto so I had to include it in my 2 days itinerary. Gion is one of the most famous and traditional districts in Kyoto. The district attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden buildings, and there are variety of restaurants, teahouses, and bars. It is not uncommon to see geisha hurrying to their appointments in the evening as well.
The easiest way to go to Gion is to take a bus from Kyoto Station. Take the Kyoto City Bus service 100 from bus stop D1, or Kyoto City Bus service 206 from bus stop D2. It will take 20 minutes to get there, and the price will be 230yen per person.
8AM Fushimi Inari Taisha
Your 2 days in Kyoto will start from one of the most famous shrines! Fushimi Inari Taisha is famous for its thousands of vibrant orange torii gates. You’ve probably seen many photos over Instagram as it is a popular photo spot for tourists. It is definitely one of the most popular shrines in Japan. Most people come to hike the red torii gates, which lead all the way to the summit of the mountain. The entire hike and back takes 2-3 hours but you can walk as far as you want and turn back. We visited around 8am when it was still quiet, but it was crowded by tourists by 9AM. If you want to take some good shots, make sure to be there early!
The best way to go to Fushimi Inari Shrine from Kyoto Station is by train. Take a JR Nara Line, and get off at Inari Station. It will take only about 5 minutes to get there and the price is 150yen per way. Once you get off at Fushimi Inari Shrine, you will walk about 5 minutes to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha.
9:30AM Rent a Kimono at Gion District
If you are in Kyoto you must rent a kimono. It’s a great experience if you have never worn a traditional kimono. And it is just fun to explore the area wearing a kimono. There are several places you can rent a kimono in Gion which I listed below. You will be dressed by professional stylists, and each shop has plenty of kimono to choose from for both men and women. Full set rental + kimono dressing usually starts from 3,000yen, and the hair styling starts from an additional 500yen.
- Yume Kyoto
10:30AM Kennin-ji Temple
Kennin-ji is famous for its simple and refined zen garden, and it is one of the oldest temples in Japan. What I like the most about Kennin-ji is there are usually less people, compared to other sights, so it is always very quiet and peaceful. You can easily transport yourself to a time where you could imagine life was just simple and beautiful. Kennin-ji is also famous for its artwork. My favorite artwork is the Twin Dragon, painted on the ceiling by Koizume Junsaku. As you walk into the main hall, you’ll be surprised by not only the scale of the painting, but also the beautiful details that have gone into creating this work of art.
12:30PM Lunch at Gion District
From Kennin-ji Temple to Shijo Avenue, there is the most popular street called, Hanami-Koji Street. There are many great traditional Japanese restaurants and stylish cafes. It’s a great spot to have lunch. If you are looking for a reasonable lunch spot, I recommend a ramen shop “Menya Inoichi“. For a stylish Italian restaurant, I recommend “The Sodoh“.
2:00PM Tea and Sake Tasuki
Tasuki is a Japanese-style retail, cafe, and sake bar. It is located in another scenic part of Gion, Shirakawa. I stumbled upon its lovely bridge where you can see the gentle Shirakawa river from the window. Their shaved ice is to die for, but we had Japanese sweets with matcha (1,400yen) this time. What makes this cafe unique is their tableware and atmosphere. You can even see cherry blossoms from the window in the spring. It is a great spot to visit during the cherry blossom season, but you will enjoy the food and atmosphere no matter which season you visit. The cafe “Tasuki” is about 10 minutes walk away from Kennin-ji Temple.
3PM Yasaka-no-to Pagoda
Walking the streets between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-Dera, you will encounter the beautiful 46-meter tall Yasaka-no-to Pagoda. It is one of the most iconic and photogenic sights of Kyoto. Since it is a popular photo spot, you may want to visit early in the morning if you wish to fully enjoy the view. Or maybe you could visit late at night as it’s particularly lovely and moody after dark. It is a great photo opportunity to capture beautiful traditional Japanese vibes.
Next to Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, there is a tiny temple called Yasaka Koshin-do. If you are around the area, it’s worth a stop! The visitors often write their wish on a colorful ball called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. It is one of the most colorful and photogenic temples in Kyoto, and it is a popular spot for young Japanese girls. It is a perfect spot for a female traveler.
4PM Kodai-ji Temple
Kodai-ji is located right across from the main shopping areas of Gion. It is not very touristy, yet the temple has such a peaceful garden with a little bamboo grove which is reminiscent of Arashiyama. Also, there is a little museum, which has paintings of Buddha Nirvana (Nehan-zu) at Rishodo hall. Normally, last entry to the temple is 5:00 pm. However, during special periods the temple and its environment are illuminated at nighttime and the temple reopens from sunset to 9:30 pm. In spring the cherry blossoms are illuminated, while in autumn the trees planted around the pond of the temple are illuminated. It is highly recommended to experience the night view!
5PM Ninenzaka Street
Ninenzaka is the street which makes you feel like as if you are back in ancient Japan. It is nice to just stroll around and have a feel of the place, but there are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself as you explore. The Starbucks in Ninenzaka is one of them, and I absolutely recommend you visit if you are in the area. It is the world’s first tatami-style Starbucks, and the atmosphere is just beautiful.
6PM Dinner at Gion District
Whether you stay a day or 2 days in Kyoto, I recommend you have dinner in Gion district. There are many great Japanese restaurants in Gion, but we picked an Izakaya called “Gion Bansan Kyoshoku”. It is not a tourist restaurant, and the customers tend to be all local Japanese people. If you don’t speak Japanese you should go with a Japanese friend to translate the menu. It might be a bit intimidating, however, it’s worth visiting if you want to experience a true Japanese restaurant!
The atmosphere is very stylish and comfortable. I visited there with my mom, but it is a perfect spot for date night as well. Since it is located in the center of Gion, the price was not cheap but it was definitely reasonable for the amount of food they serve. There were varieties of sake, and the food was all so fresh and delicious. My favorite was their oysters 🙂
Gion Bansan Kyoshoku
95 Shijodori Yamatoojidori Higashi Iru Sueyoshicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Day 2 Exploring Sakyo Ward
I hope you are enjoying my itinerary about 2 days in Kyoto! Here is my 2nd days of Kyoto Guide 🙂 Sakyo is in the north-east corner of Kyoto city and has a great mix of temples, gardens, shrines, and beautiful mountains. The area is also known for beautiful cherry blossoms and autumn colors. Sakyo Ward is famous for many amazing temples, such as Ginkaku-ji temple, but it is also a great place to take a walk, shop, and dine. Walking around Sakyo Ward is one of my favorite activities as it is very peaceful and relaxing.
The easiest way to go to Ginkaku-ji Temple from Gion is to take a bus. Make sure you get a bus going to “平安神宮・銀閣寺” (Heian Jingu・Ginkaku-ji Temple). The price will be 230yen per way, and it will take about 20 minutes to get there.
9AM Ginkaku-ji Temple
Ginkaku-ji is known as Temple of the Silver Pavilion, and it is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Although Golden Pavilion tends to be more popular, I personally like Silver Pavilion more for their quieter and peaceful atmosphere. Ginkaku-ji Temple was actually never plated with silver, and the temple remains an unpainted brown. The temple is beautiful for its simplicity, but my favorite part of Ginkaku-ji is the Japanese garden. The sand garden of Ginkaku-ji is particularly famous, and the beautiful pile of sand resembles Mount Fuji. It is nice to walk along a circular route, and it will take you to the top of the hills to view the garden and the temple.
11AM Honen-in Temple
Walking south from Ginkaku-ji Temple on the cherry-tree lined street “Philosopher’s Walk”, you will find Honen-in Temple. Unless you go during the popular autumn season, this temple tends to be very quiet compared to any other temples in Kyoto. When I visited, there was literally no one except us. What I love about Honen-in is its scenic path through the temple grounds. The two gardens are designed by pile of sand, and the designs usually change every season. The main hall is only open twice a year, but the rest of the grounds are open for free all year round.
12PM Lunch at Philosopher’s Path
The Philosopher’s Path is a traditional stone path between Ginkaku-ji Temple and Nanzen-ji Temple. There is a canal along the path, and it is surrounded by hundreds of cherry blossoms. It is one of the most popular places to see cherry blossoms in the spring. There are also lots of restaurants, cafes, and individual shops on the path, so it is a great spot to have lunch and just explore.
1:30PM Yojiya Cafe Ginkakuji
During your 2 days you will have some time to explore cafes in Kyoto, and Yojiya is a must to visit! You will find Yojiya Cafe Ginkakuji just off the Philosopher’s Path. The area is surrounded by an expansive wooden townhouse, and Yojiya cafe used to be a Japanese traditional house as well.
Once you enter the cafe you will encounter their beautiful traditional garden. The cafe space has tatami mats on the floor, and you can look over the garden while drinking your coffee/tea. There is something nostalgic about the cafe, and it is a great place for taking a break after walking around. On Yojiya cafe’s menu, you will find varieties of Japanese sweets, but my recommendation is their matcha cappuccino. The cappuccino has their logo on it as latte art, and it’s super photogenic!
3:00PM Konkai Komyo-ji Temple
Konkai Komyo-ji is about a 20 minute walk from Yojiya cafe. This is a great place to visit if you want to get away from the routine Kyoto itinerary and see a magnificent temple complex. The temple was a lot bigger than I expected, and the garden was breathtaking. It is a large temple and on site there are the Main Hall, Amida Hall, and 18 sub-temples. It is also a great spot to visit during spring and fall to see cherry blossoms and autumn colors.
4:30PM Nanzen-ji Temple
After a 20 minute walk from Konkai Komyo-ji Temple, you will arrive in Nanzen-ji Temple. Nanzen-ji is famous for its large tract of land. Nanzen-ji Temple is surrounded by 12 sub-temples and great number of other various structures. It is also famous for its massive main entrance, but what is most interesting about Nanzen-ji is its Roman style aqueduct. Just outside of the Hojo, you will come across the large brick aqueduct. It was built about 150 years ago, and it is a unique place to walk and take some pictures.
6:00PM Dinner at Gion District
Let’s go back to Gion for dinner! As I talked earlier, there are many amazing restaurants in Gion. This time I picked a tiny traditional Izakaya, “Konabeya isakichi”. The way to get there is an interesting experience because the izakaya is located in such a hidden spot – you need to go through street that you feel very hard to get through. The izakaya was managed by an old Japanese man, and he basically makes almost everything for the customers. The food was all so delicious, and there are a variety of drinks as well.
232-6 Nishino-cho, Higashi-iru, Yamato Oji, shinmonmae dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
If you have more than 2 days to explore Kyoto, I would recommend the following day trip. The travel guide below is about a half day itinerary of Kyoto.
Day 3 Exploring Arashiyama Area
Arashiyama is located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, and it is one of the most touristy districts of Kyoto. I tend to avoid visiting here since it is always crowded, however, Arashiyama’s famous bamboo forest is a must to see if you are traveling to Kyoto for the first time.
If you want to go to Arashiyama from Gion, I recommend you take a train. Once you are at Kawaramachi Station, you will take a train and get off at Katsura Station. Then you will take another train to get to Arashiyama Station. Note: from Gion to Kawaramachi, you will take a bus. It will take about 50 minutes to travel from Gion to Arashiyama, and the price will be around 450yen in total.
8AM Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
You have probably seen pictures of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove over Instagram. Needless to say, it is one of the most famous photography locations in Kyoto. Since it is a very popular sight, I recommend you visit in the early morning. The path through the grove is open all day, and the entrance to the Bamboo Grove is a short walk from JR Arashiyama Station. It’s peaceful and serene to just walk around the area as it is really beautiful!
10AM Suzumushi Temple
This is a minor yet beautiful temple in Kyoto. Suzumushi Temple was founded about 300 years ago. It is famous for the lecture from chief priest, and you will hear natural ambient music by its resident bell crickets all year. It is also known for granting supplicants one wish. The temple’s jizo statue is unusual as it wears sandals, and it is believed that the jizo will deliver your wish to you. So make sure to tell him your address.
During your visit, you will receive a cup of green tea and a 30 minute lecture from the chief priest. You will hear the sound of bell crickets during his lecture. It is a very relaxing and interesting experience. After the lecture is finished, you have a chance to walk to the beautiful garden. There is a spot in the garden from which you can see the entire view of Kyoto. It is a great spot for truly enjoying Japanese culture.
I hope you enjoyed my 2 days Kyoto itinerary. Have you been to Kyoto? Do you have any feedbacks? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! If you are going to Kyoto soon, make sure you will have at least 2 days. I hope you will enjoy your time!! 🙂
More about Japan travel? Here is the post about Things to Do in Tokyo at Night.
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