2 Days In Kyoto: The Ultimate Kyoto Highlights Itinerary

From Kyoto’s tranquil temples, wooden teahouses, and historical charm, there’s simply too much to see and fall in love with in this laidback Japanese city.

Compared to fast-paced Tokyo, Kyoto feels like a real vacation–a place where you can find empty streets to get lost in, where you can witness locals doing what they do best, where you can really soak in the longstanding tradition that’s weaved into every fiber of this fine city.

The sheer amount of fun, culture, and activity in Kyoto, Japan holds is truly endless!

In this 2-day Kyoto itinerary of Kyoto, you will see the best that Kyoto has to offer. I’ve done hours of research to compile this itinerary, so for you, discovering and deciding on all the things you want to do in Kyoto will be a breeze!

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WHERE IS KYOTO, JAPAN?

Kyoto is a city located in Japan’s Kansai region in the central part of the Japanese island of Honshu.

It is about 30 miles (50 km) away from Osaka and 26 miles (42 km) from Nara. From Tokyo, Kyoto is 284 miles (456 km) away.

Where Is Kyoto Located

Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1000 years, and as a result, the surroundings you see to this day reflect that.

Kyoto is known for its traditional atmosphere, as well as its numerous historical sites, temples, shrines, and gardens, which is what makes it a popular tourist destination!


KYOTO ITINERARY OVERVIEW

If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, there are plenty of things to see and do. With so many historical and cultural attractions, Kyoto is a city that should not be missed.

This trip covers the highlights of Kyoto (with a few off-the-beaten-path attractions sprinkled in) and is ideal for first-time visitors to Kyoto, Japan.

This itinerary also works well for return visitors who want to revisit their favorite spots and discover some new activities!

You’ll be able to experience all of the following during your 2 days in Kyoto:

  • Gion District
  • Miyagawa-cho District
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
  • Nijo Castle
  • Pontocho Alley
  • Nishiki Market
  • Kiyomizudera Temple
  • Various traditional + preserved streets
  • and so much more!
Kyoto Itinerary - What Is Kyoto Known For

HOW TO GET TO KYOTO

Flying Into Kyoto

Fly into either Osaka’s Itami Airport (ITM) or Kansai International Airport (KIX).

From there, take the JR Haruka Limited Express train to Kyoto Station. The JR Haruka Limited Express takes around 70 minutes to get from Kansai Airport to Kyoto and there are departures every 30 minutes. The earliest Haruka service from Kansai Airport is at 6:30 am (6:40 am on weekends and holidays) and the latest is at 10:16 pm.

This is the quickest train option and the method I use to get from the airport to the city of Kyoto (and vice versa) every time I visit. The best part is that it’s covered by the Japan Rail Pass (both the Kansai Area regional pass and national pass).

For those without either of the passes, tickets cost 2,850 yen (for non-reserved seats) and 3,500 yen (for reserved seats).

Coming From Tokyo

Kyoto is located 456 kilometers (284 miles) from Tokyo, which means that the journey to get to Kyoto can take some time. The best and most efficient way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is by shinkansen bullet train, which can make the trip in as little as 2.5 hours.

If you’ve got the national Japan Rail Pass, good news! Some of the bullet train options will be covered with the pass!

Learning about Japan’s train systems took me hours and hours, so I’ve tried to drill down the info for you as easily as possible. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.

  • Tokyo and Kyoto are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen (the bullet train).
  • There are different train classes, Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama.
  • To reach Kyoto from Tokyo: Nozomi trains = 140 minutes (fastest), Hikari trains = 160 minutes, Kodama trains = 4 hours (slowest).
  • The Japan Rail Pass is valid on Hikari and Kodama trains, but not on Nozomi trains. Last time I visited, I took the Hikari train with my JR Pass.
  • The regular one-way fare from Tokyo to Kyoto is 13,320 yen (non-reserved seat) or 14,000 yen (reserved seat). A 7-day Japan Rail Pass costs about the same as a regular roundtrip ticket.

You can also fly from Tokyo to Kyoto, but this is generally more expensive than taking the train.

Taking the bus is a cheaper option (ranges from 3,500 to 10,000 yen), but the one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto by highway bus takes about 7-8 hours.

What is the JR Pass? Is it right for you?

For those unfamiliar with the JR Pass, this is a powerful multi-day transportation pass that covers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local JR train services.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too when I was planning my trip to Japan. The JR pass is not cheap. Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but train fares in Japan are particularly expensive in comparison to other countries in the world. There’s no way around it!

Despite the high cost that travelers will have to pay for transportation, the JR Pass can actually save you money, especially if you plan on doing a lot of traveling throughout Japan.

For perspective, the cost of a 7-day Japan Rail Pass is roughly the same as a round-trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto. And yet, by paying just a little more for the JR Pass, you’ll unlock seven full days of unlimited train travel all over Japan, versus just that one round-trip ride.

You can buy the JR Pass here.

Pro Tip: The best way to buy your pass is from an authorized vendor before leaving for Japan. While it’s possible to buy the pass when you get to Japan, it’s actually cheaper when bought from outside the country. Passes can only be purchased up to 6 months in advance of the date you plan to use them.

Not sure if the JR Pass is right for you and your travel needs? Check out the free fare calculator on the JR Pass website to map how much your trip would cost and determine if you’re actually going to save any money with it.


HOW TO GET AROUND KYOTO

Once you’re in Kyoto, there are a number of ways to get around. Kyoto is a great city to explore on foot, but there are going to be times where you want to get from one district to another. In these cases, you can take the subway (train), the bus, rent a bike, or taxi.

If you have the JR Pass (either the one that allows for unlimited nationwide travel or even the Kansai Area pass), I recommend taking the train when you can.

Even if you don’t have the JR Pass, I still recommend using the train if you can. It’s the easiest and most straightforward way of getting around town!

How To Get Around Kyoto

The city also has an extensive bus network–you can get almost anywhere by bus if you know where to board and which bus to board. However, most travelers find the train and subway systems to be faster and easier to use.

Getting around by bike is also a popular option, and if that’s your thing, bikes can be rented from many hotels and shops.

Taxis are easy to find and reasonably priced in Kyoto. While taxi-ing around usually is the most expensive option, this option could be a good deal when you have three or four people in your group. Taxis also allow you to reach areas that aren’t well served by public transportation rather quickly.


MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN KYOTO


2 DAYS IN KYOTO: DAY 0

Land at Kansai Airport (KIX)

Pick up bags, go to JR ticket offices to buy train tickets to get from the airport to Kyoto. Buy an Icoca IC Card (convenient transportation card for JR subways, trains, and buses) and the Haruka ticket (to get from Kansai Airport to Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe/Nara area).

You will be buying tickets for the JR Haruka limited express train to get from the airport to Kyoto. The IC card will be the card you use for transportation throughout your entire trip.

Take the train to Kyoto, which takes approximately 77 minutes via JR Haruka limited express train.

Check into your Airbnb or hotel

Freshen up, unpack, and relax. Chances are at this point, you will be jetlagged, meaning you will either be tired or might not be able to sleep. Do your best to adjust to the time shift and don’t plan any paid attractions on your first day upon landing.

You’ll want to start your trip off with a light stroll around Kyoto! Below are some highlights that I visited on my first stroll through Central Kyoto.

Miyagawa-cho District

Let’s start by roaming around one of the six major entertainment districts in Kyoto. Miyagawa-cho is a large entertainment district on the banks of the Kamo river, almost as large as Gion.

For first-time visitors, the Miyagawa-cho district is a great place to begin. This charming neighborhood is located just east of Kyoto Station, and it is known for its traditional shops and restaurants.

Visitors can stroll down cobbled streets lined with traditional Japanese houses, or browse the wares of local artisans. There are also several temples in the area, including the picturesque Sanjusangen-do temple, which is home to 1,001 statues of Buddhist deities.

There are several ochaya (teahouses) and oikya (geisha houses) here. If you are here between the hours of 5:30 and 6:00pm, you might catch a glimpse of the maiko (geisha in-training) and the geiko (geishas) walking from their homes to their place of work!

How to get there: Miyagawa-cho is located in Higashiyama Ward, from Miyagawa-suji 2-chome to 6-chome.

Minamiza Kabuki Theater

Minamiza Kabuki Theatre (Kyōto Shijo Minami-za) is Kyoto’s most famous theatre and one of the city’s must-see cultural landmarks in Gion. It is the birthplace of kabuki, one of Japan’s most renowned performing art forms.

Kabuki, for those new to Japanese culture, is an art form that combines drama, dance, and music in an extremely stylized manner. Kabuki plays are often based on traditional stories or myths, and they are usually performed by male actors.

The theater was founded in 1610 as Shijō Minami-za, and it has been used for kabuki performances ever since. The current building dates from 1929, and it remains one of the most important kabuki theaters in Japan!

Kabuki performances are still held at the theater several times each month, so if you are interested in seeing a kabuki performance, be sure to add the Minamiza Kabuki Theater to your Kyoto itinerary and do a little bit of research ahead of your trip to see if there’s a show playing.

Aside from kabuki plays, concerts, rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) performances, and sometimes even geisha performances are held here.

The theater also features a few restaurants, where guests can enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine while watching the kabuki performance. You may also eat and drink at your seats during the intermission. In addition, the theater offers a variety of souvenirs for sale, including kabuki dolls and scrolls.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is where you go for all things food-related, spanning from knives and cookware to fresh produce and seafood.

This market is housed in a narrow, five-block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. If you’re looking to discover Kyoto’s gastronomic specialties and culinary delights, definitely don’t miss this market!

It’s a great place to pick up some sweets, dried seafood, picked goods, and even sushi. Some of the shops will give out samples and some of the food stands will sell small dishes and skewers meant to be eaten right then and there. There are also a few small restaurants within the market.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. It is famous for its ornate architecture, and for being one of the most popular sites for hosting traditional Japanese festivals.

This shrine is well known for its summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, which is celebrated every July and is quite possibly the most famous festival in all of Japan.

In front of the shrine sits a stage decorated with hundreds of lanterns that get lit up in the evenings. Admission is free so be sure to stop by to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere here!

You can explore the shrine grounds while marveling at the intricate architecture, or take part in traditional activities like writing wishes on ema prayer boards.

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley Kyoto Japan

Next up, head over to Pontocho Alley, one of my favorite spots to eat in Kyoto!

Pontocho is a narrow alleyway packed with restaurants, bars, hostess clubs, karaoke establishments, and traditional teahouses.

Many of the buildings in Pontocho date back to the Edo period, and the alley has a distinctly traditional feel–it’s got all the old-timey Kyoto vibes.

Pontocho Alley is the perfect place to experience Kyoto’s traditional atmosphere, and it should definitely be visited at least once during your 2 days in Kyoto.

The restaurants offer a wide range of dining options from affordable yakitori-style dining to traditional and upscale Kyoto cuisine. Most of the restaurants on the east side of the alleyway have a view of the Kamogawa river. Some even offer a dining platform over the river.

Whether you’re looking to spend a few bucks or an arm and a leg, there is something here for everyone, making it an ideal place to grab dinner!

Don’t have enough time to see all of the above spots in one day? No worries, jot them down on your itinerary for later–these spots are super central so it’ll be easy to pop back over on any following day of your trip.


2 DAYS IN KYOTO: DAY 1

Fushimi Inari Taisha

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Start your first official sightseeing day in Kyoto with the ultimate torii gate experience! The Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto famous for its thousands of orange torii gates that seem to go on forever.

The trails here lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. If you’re looking to get a quick bout of exercise in, this is your chance (sightseeing while hiking? Yes! Killing two birds with one stone).

If you’d rather skip the hike, not a problem–most people just come here to see the torii gates.

Arrive bright and early, ideally before 7:30am if you want to avoid throngs and throngs of tourists. Personally, I would recommend arriving at 6am. No joke, the Fushimi Inari Shrine brings crowds like I’ve never experienced before.

If you’re looking to take a light stroll and snap some photos, feel free to stay near the entrance of the torii gate-covered hiking trail (where all the other tourists tend to huddle). However, if you want to get away from the crowds, keep walking upward on the walking path.

After finishing your exploration and/or hike, leave the way you came.

Take some time to peruse the souvenir stalls by the entrance and grab some breakfast/snacks around the area before heading to the next must-see landmark.

You’ll find hot dogs, pancakes, and an assortment of snack stalls lining the path to the shrine. Interestingly, we found lots of “western” options being offered at these stalls.

Pro Tip: If you want to get your hike on, do note that you will be climbing up a mountain, so dress accordingly (or just be prepared to sweat in your day clothes). The hike to the summit of the mountain and back takes about 2-3 hours, however, you can turn back at any time and return the way you came. Don’t forget to bring bug spray.

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Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Kiyomizudera, or the “Pure Water Temple”, is one of the most celebrated and beloved temples in Japan. It also boasts absolutely gorgeous views in the spring and fall!

In the spring, it’s a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms. I went during the fall, and the eruption of seasonal colors I witnessed among the trees was breathtaking!

Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall. This stage will give you stellar views of the surrounding trees as well as the cityscape of Kyoto.

While you’re here, don’t miss the Otowa Waterfall, located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams you can drink from, each said to have a different benefit (success, love, and longevity).

You’re going to want to just drink from one stream, because drinking from all three is considered greedy!

While strolling through the temple grounds, you’ll also find the three-storied Koyasu Pagoda and the Jishu Shrine (dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking).

If you’re here during the autumn season, Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the second half of November.

Explore The Higashiyama District

Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Japan

Around the entrance of Kiyomizudera, you’ll find busy streets lining the Higashiyama District, perfect for strolling and exploring!

Make sure to visit some shops in the area, selling products ranging from pottery and ceramics to local sweets to souvenirs.

If you’re interested in bringing home a little lucky cat, this is a great place to get one!

Higashiyama District - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Preserved Streets

Steps away from Kiyomizudera, you’ll find a set of traditionally preserved streets that are both charming and relaxing to stroll through. They are by far Kyoto’s most attractive streets, in my opinion!

These pedestrian-only streets are lined with beautifully restored wooden-facade cafes, teahouses, and shops selling locally made crafts and souvenirs. The traditional atmosphere makes for one of the most peaceful strolls in the entire city.

The shops and restaurants tend to open around 10:00 and close around 5:00pm or 6:00pm.

Pro Tip: If you’re not interested in shopping or eating, it would be a much less-crowded experience to go early in the morning. You’ll be able to get that perfect shot of the empty, tranquil streets without crowds of tourists everywhere.

Walk along Philosopher’s Path

If you enjoy being among nature, one Kyoto itinerary must-do is taking a walk along Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku No Michi). This pedestrian path is lined with cherry trees and leads to one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples, Nanzen-ji.

The path got its name from the philosopher Nishida Kitaro who was known to take walks along this very path to think and reflect on life.

The best time to visit is during cherry blossom season when the trees are in full bloom, but the path is also lovely in autumn when the leaves change color. Either way, a stroll along Philosopher’s Path is a great way to appreciate the natural beauty of Kyoto!

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)

Golden Pavilion Kyoto Japan

After exploring the preserved streets to your heart’s content and experiencing Philosopher’s Path for yourself, head over to Kinkaku-ji Temple—one of Japan’s most iconic buildings.

This temple was originally built in 1397 as a residence for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Known as the Golden Pavilion because of the fact that it’s completely covered in gold leaf, this is a must-see while you’re in Kyoto!

It’s another super-crowded landmark, but it’ll be easy to snap a few photos without other people in view.

There’s a path that will take you around the pavilion and through some peaceful garden areas. The park is a beautiful place to walk around and admire, so make sure you have at least 1-2 hours to just stroll around.

There is also a little courtyard with ice cream, snacks, and bathrooms.

Gion Corner

If you’re looking for an intro to the many art forms of Kyoto, head to Gion Corner, where you can catch a 1-hour display of seven traditional performing arts, including a tea ceremony and a dance by two maiko.

The event also highlights floral arrangements, comical theatre, puppetry, koto musical instrument, and court music.

Performances are usually scheduled for 6pm and 7pm. Go early to secure your tickets and get good seats (seats are not tiered, so you’ll want to sit in the front).

Gion District

After the show, you can wander around the narrow alleyways of the Gion District. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko and maiko entertain.

There are a few different experiences you can have while you’re in Gion.

The shopping streets between Sanjo and Shijo are where most people go in the evenings for bar hopping in Gion.

If you’re looking for the more quiet, traditional lanes lined with teahouses – try Hanami-koji and Shirakawa-Minami dori.

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2 DAYS IN KYOTO: DAY 2

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Kyoto Japan

The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of the most photographed sights in the city. A visit to this bamboo forest is best paired with a visit to the Tenryu-ji Temple. They are two popular attractions located literally right next to each other (more on that below).

The best time to visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is early morning or late on weekdays, as you’ll find much fewer visitors.

Since I had trouble finding detailed steps on how to get there for my own trip, I’m sharing more detailed instructions here.

To get to the bamboo grove, just pretend you’re heading to Tenryu-ji Temple. If you’re interested in visiting, feel free to explore here first. To get to the bamboo forest, exit the north gate of Tenryu-ji Temple and take a left into a path that leads into the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

You’ll then walk for less than 5 minutes in order to reach the forest. The path isn’t clearly marked and the grove doesn’t start immediately at the street, but just keep walking and you’ll run into it. Once inside the forest, you can walk for a bit until you come across a shrine.

You’ll need about 1-1.5 hours for this excursion.

Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple - 2 Days In Kyoto

This temple was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples and is now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Tenryu-ji Temple is renowned for its incredible garden landscapes and mountain views, and if you visit during peak foliage, the changing leaves are truly a sight to see.

The temple complex includes several buildings, including a main hall and a five-story pagoda, but the highlight is the garden, which is considered to be one of the finest examples of a Zen garden in Japan.

There is an entrance fee, but you can get tickets for just the garden, just the temple, or both. As always, get here early!

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Iwatayama Monkey Park Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Disclaimer–I have an obsession with monkeys, so this just had to be on my Japan itinerary (any chance I get to be steps away from monkeys, I’m in!).

The Iwatayama Monkey Park is home to over 120 Japanese Macaque monkeys. This is not a sad zoo, as the monkeys are free to roam in their natural habitat in the countryside. It’s truly a sight to see and be among their presence, especially if you love monkeys!

Not to mention the dozens of baby macaques hanging out happily with their mothers… the sight of them is too cute to not see for yourself. There is a feeding hut, where you can buy food to feed the monkeys from inside the fenced hut. It is such a fun experience!

Allocate about 2 hours for your visit. Do note that you’ll have to briefly hike up to the top to where the monkeys are, so dress appropriately.

Togetsukyo Bridge and Shopping

After visiting the Arashiyama landmarks, stroll along the Katsura River and enjoy the view of this historic wooden bridge. Walk across the bridge, where you can enjoy amazing views of the river, mountains, and hills surrounding you.

When you’re across, you’ll find a ton of various restaurants, shops, and ice cream booths selling matcha soft-serve. Spend an hour or two perusing and eating up all the soft serve you can fit in your belly.

Matcha in Kyoto - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street

If you still have energy after all the walking you’ve done today, I’ve got more for you. Walk north to the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street.

You guessed it, it’s a preserved street (from the Meiji period), lined with traditional townhouses that have since been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants.

This charming street offers a historic glimpse of what a merchant town would have looked like in the Meiji period. Most of the thatched-roof buildings here are now restaurants serving kaiseki (Kyoto haute cuisine, which is expensive and a luxury experience).

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple

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Adashino Nenbutsuji is located at the end of the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. The temple was founded in the early 9th century and was meant to be a temple dedicated to the repose of souls who have died without families to remember them.

Today, the temple grounds are covered by hundreds of stone statues to commemorate these souls. In the back of the temple, a short path leads through a bamboo forest.

There is a small entrance fee to the temple. If you don’t want to pay it, you can still visit and enjoy the peaceful and lush grounds.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple

Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

A ten-minute walk north of the Adashino Nenbutsuji, the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is famous for its 1,200 stone statues of rakan, devoted followers of Buddhism, each with a different facial expression!

In addition to its beautiful statues, the temple also features a stunning garden with a pond and a waterfall. The garden is particularly lovely in the springtime when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

There is a small entrance fee to the temple, but it’s well worth a visit.

Arashiyama Boat Rental

Arashiyama Boat Rental Kyoto Japan

Boat rentals are a favorite for couples or families with kids. Not only are they a good way to get away from the crowds that flock to Arashiyama, but you can also get a different perspective of the landscape, from the river!

I highly recommend getting out there on the water if you have the time to spare, especially on a nice and sunny day.

Boat rentals can be made from either side of the river. Rentals are by the hour. A small boat fits three people and costs approximately 1400 yen/hour.

At this point, you’ve done a lot for the day. Head back to Kyoto for dinner before kicking your feet up and hitting the sack.


IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME IN KYOTO

Take a free walking tour of Kyoto

Free Walking Tour Kyoto - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary

Get a feel for Kyoto from a local’s perspective! Tours typically start at 10:30-11am daily (some take place at night) and last approximately 3 hours.

Tours are tip-based, so tipping at the end is common. If you’re unsure of what to tip, $10-15 per person is good.

Tour companies such as Kyoto Free Walking Tour hold specialized tours with specific topics spanning from the “Gion & Higashiyama Tour” to the “Fushimi Inari Night Tour”.

Others like Kyoto Localized, are more generic and will give you an overview of all of Kyoto.

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See Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. The castle was built in the early 1600s by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period.

The castle is renowned for its architectural beauty and its garden, which is considered one of the finest in Japan. The castle is also famous for its ‘nightingale floors’, which were designed to squeak when someone walked on them, acting as an early warning system against intruders.

Visitors can explore the castle grounds, which include lush gardens, imposing gates, and several historic buildings. The castle is also home to a number of important artworks, including some by renowned Japanese artist Hiroshige.

Maruyama Park

This is Kyoto’s largest public park! Located in the heart of Kyoto, the park is home to a number of important historical sites, including the renowned Yasaka Shrine.

Visitors can explore the shrine’s beautiful grounds, or take a stroll through the park’s peaceful gardens, enjoying the picturesque lake in the middle.

Maruyama Park is also a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. Every spring, the park’s cherry trees erupt in a sea of pink and white blossoms, attracting visitors from all over Japan.

Take a day trip to Nara

Nara Japan

If you’re up for a day trip, then visiting Nara is a no-brainer. Nara is a great day trip from Kyoto, as it’s only about an hour away by train.

Nara was the first capital city in Japan, so with that significance comes a lot of historical landmarks, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. Dedicate a few hours to exploring a few of the shrines located within the city.

A must-visit landmark is Todaiji, a large temple that houses the largest statue of Buddha in Japan, and Nigatsudo at sunset, offering one of the most beautiful views in all of Nara.

Visit a few more shrines and temples of your choice before heading to Naramachi, the former merchant district of Nara, for some souvenir shopping. Here you’ll find boutiques, shops, cafes, restaurants, and a few museums lining the narrow streets.

The most popular spot in Nara is probably Nara Park, which is home to over 1,000 tame deer. You can buy crackers to feed them, but be warned that they can be pretty aggressive!

The famous deer that inhabit the city can be found all over the place, so don’t worry about adding them as a specific activity. They’ll be in the parks, outside the temples, near shopping streets, literally everywhere.

A day trip to Nara should take you no more than six hours.

Take a day trip to Osaka

Dotonburi Osaka Japan

Osaka is one of Japan’s most vibrant and exciting cities. From its lively nightlife to its endless array of shops and restaurants, there is something for everyone in Osaka. Being just a short 30-minute train ride away, Kyoto makes the perfect base for exploring all that this region of Japan has to offer.

Here are just a few of the many things to do in Osaka:

  • Visit Osaka Castle: One of Japan’s most iconic landmarks known for its majestic exterior. Built in the 16th century, the castle was the seat of power for the ruling Toyotomi clan.
  • Explore the Dotonbori District: Dotonbori is Osaka’s busiest entertainment district. Expect a plethora of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and shops.
  • Osaka Aquarium: Osaka Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world, housing everything from sharks to penguins.
  • Cup Noodles Museum: A fun museum dedicated to instant noodles and Cup Noodles!
  • Amerika-Mura: Amerika-Mura, or the American Village, is a lively and youthful retail area in Osaka. It’s full of Japan’s take on American culture and therefore makes for great people watching and window shopping.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN KYOTO

Got an extra day or want to swap out a few activities from the itinerary above? Here are a few other activities that might pique your interest:


WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO

When deciding where to stay, there are a few things to consider. Kyoto is a large city, and it can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know your way around. Here are two areas I recommend staying in.

Kyoto Station

If you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, you may want to stay near the Kyoto Station area. Kyoto Station is centrally located and easy to get to from the airport. This is nice because it means you won’t need to lug your bags through town too much!

It’s also adjacent to many of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. Here are my top hotel recommendations by Kyoto Station:

  • Henn na Hotel Kyoto Hachijoguchi – “Henn na” means “strange” in Japanese, and upon check-in, it’ll be quite apparent why this hotel is called that. The front desk is “staffed” by two animatronic velociraptors! This hotel is quirky and a ton of fun.
  • Richmond Hotel Premier Kyoto Ekimae – Located just 2 blocks from Kyoto Station, this hotel offers comparatively larger rooms than other hotels. The breakfast buffet is also great here!
  • Mimaru Kyoto Station – If you’re looking for an apartment-style hotel, this is an awesome option. The ultra-modern, clean, and comfortable rooms are perfect for families.

Higashiyama District

If you’re looking for a more traditional experience, there are a number of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in Kyoto that offer guests a taste of traditional Japanese culture.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically featuring tatami floors, futon bedding, and communal baths. A stay at a ryokan can be a truly unique experience, offering visitors a chance to disconnect from the outside world and immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

Guests are free to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ryokan, which may include gardens, hot springs, or tea ceremonies. In the evening, a multi-course meal is served in the guest’s room or in a shared dining area. The dining experience is usually quite amazing.

Many of these ryokans are located in the Higashiyama district, which is known for its centuries-old temples and shrines.

If you’re open to a different type of lodging experience, these are good ryokan options to consider:

  • Ryokan KANADE – Traditional Japanese ryokan with some nice modern amenities. Use of the rooftop onsen is typically included in the room rate.
  • Yuzuya Ryokan – This one’s definitely a splurge, but it’s a lovely ryokan with the perfect location, right in the heart of Gion. The food is exceptional (you should opt for both breakfast and dinner).

THINGS TO EAT IN KYOTO

  • Kaseiki – fine dining, multi-course haute cuisine. A must-do experience, if you can afford it!
  • Matcha Desserts – green tea was first introduced to Kyoto from China in the early 9th country, tea became popular across Japan. Today, many green tea stores and shops serve different kinds of green tea products (matcha, sencha, ryokucha, etc). You definitely need to grab yourself a green tea parfait as well as lots of green tea soft serve!
  • Nishin Soba – herring cooked in soy sauce and sugar served with Japanese buckwheat noodles.
  • Obanzai – an assortment of small dishes using fresh local vegetables in Kyoto. Kyoto is famous for its fresh vegetables, so this regional specialty is a must-try!
  • Sabazushi – cured mackerel sushi. Due to the lack of fresh fish in the past, Kyoto developed a unique variation of sushi known as kyozushi – or Kyoto sushi – made with fish cured with salt or vinegar.

JAPAN: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST

  • Japan Rail Pass | If you’re staying within the Kansai region, the Kansai Area regional pass makes sense. If you’re traveling across Japan (like to/from Tokyo), the national pass can be worth the money.
  • Icoca (IC) Card | Super-convenient rechargeable cards that can be used on all major trains, subways, and buses throughout Japan. You can even use them to pay for stuff at the konbini (convenience stores)! Cards can be purchased from train station ticket vending machines or ticket offices.
  • Pocket WiFi | If your phone carrier does not provide free international data, you’ll probably want to avoid those exorbitant roaming fees. Get around that by renting a pocket WiFi. Many hotels offer this as part of your stay, but in the case that they don’t, you can rent your own.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great landmarks of Japan. The last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling internationally, you’re going to need one. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
  • Jet Lag Prevention | Chances are you will be jetlagged during your first few days in Japan. Don’t let the long flight and time change weigh you down! Here are a few preventative options that’ll help:
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes | You will be doing a lot of walking in Japan.
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Important travel documents | Passports, visas, flight tickets, medical cards
  • Lastly, be sure to save space in your luggage for souvenirs and snacks to bring home!

JAPAN TRAVEL INSURANCE

This is a no-brainer. When traveling internationally, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance.

I’ve heard of too many unfortunate experiences where friends and family have had baggage lost/stolen, hotels canceled, or have had unexpected medical emergencies while traveling where they’ve had to cut their trips short. My partner even had his shoulder dislocated while surfing in Mexico, resulting in a huuuge emergency room bill!

Without travel insurance, you would have to pay out of pocket for these mishaps. This is why I get travel insurance for all my international trips now!

One of the best budget-friendly travel insurances for those traveling outside their home country is SafetyWing.

SafetyWing Insurance provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. This means that if you get ill or injured, they will cover the medical expenses.

In addition, it provides emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation (much needed if you like to go hiking / trekking in the wild), travel delay, and lost checked luggage.

Click here to price out how much travel insurance would be for your trip.


I hope this travel itinerary has helped you plan out what you want to do with your 2 days in Kyoto, Japan. Safe travels abroad!

Read More:

Best Of Japan: The Perfect 2-Week Itinerary For First-Timers

10 Of The Most Unique Tattoo Friendly Onsens Near Tokyo, Japan

Japan On A Budget: The Ultimate How-To Guide

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