Are you thinking of spending the holidays with your loved one in Kyoto?
Or are you planning on making this city part of your 2 week Japan itinerary?
Either way, we’ll show you exactly which attractions to see first.
Kyoto is a city of history and culture, of contemplation and reflection.
It’s home to some of the most incredible sights in Japan, so get your joggers ready as we show you a jam packed Kyoto itinerary filled with things to see!
- Day 0 – Flight to Kyoto, Check in at your hotel.
- Day 1 – Kinkaku-ji, Ryoan-ji, Ninna-ji, Kozan-ji, Shimogamo Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine, Kawaramachi.
- Day 2 – Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji, To-ji, Gion.
- Day 3 – Nanzen-ji, Hon-en Temple, Philosopher’s Path, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Kiyamachi.
- Day 4 – Kyoto International Manga Museum, National Museum of Modern Art, Toei Studios, Kawaramachi.
- Day 5 – Fushimi-inari Taisha, Arashiyama, Kawaramachi.
|Kyoto Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Loop Bus
An easy way to get around to all the major temples, attractions and other points of interest. You’ll have unlimited access for 1 day at 17 bus stops for different routes.
|Private Kyoto Custom One Day Tour by Chartered Vehicle
If you have the extra cash and want to cover as much as possible in 1 day, this will be a good option. Completely flexible itinerary. Just let the driver know where you want to go or he can make a few suggestions.
Day 0 : 6pm Flight to Kyoto
After you arrive in Kansai International Airport (it serves Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe), you can take the JR Haruka directly to Kyoto Station. From Kyoto Station, you can transfer to a local subway line and make your way to your hotel.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
The area of Gion and Kawaramachi are the best areas to stay to get around Kyoto.
They are incredibly convenient to go in and around due to its central location and they are well stocked with their own sights and entertainment options.
We recommend consulting the hotel desk for advice on bus and subway passes as they can procure them for you instantly without any hassle and can guide you on specifically how to use them.
General expectation setting for Kyoto: you will see A LOT of temples. While you may get “temple fatigue” towards the end, remember that all of these temples have their very own unique history and possess stark differences between each other.
Day 1 – Exploring the Northern Temples
The temples on Day 1 are actually not far from each other and if you’re up for it, you can walk to all of them.
Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion is one of the top sights to see in Kyoto thanks to it being one of the most lavishly decorated and artistically diverse temples there.
It is covered in a thin veneer of gold leaf and each floor is designed to invoke a different style of Japanese architecture.
It was originally built around 600 years ago and the entire temple grounds with its teahouses and gardens are designed to create a sense of calm contemplation.
If you want this picture perfect shot, be patient as there will be many other visitors trying to get this photo angle.
There’s a standing platform area (which you won’t miss as it’s near the entrance).
Ryoan-ji is probably the most philosophical of the zen temples thanks to its simplicity.
Once you enter the temple grounds, you will be greeted with a garden with rock formations that can only be viewed from a single viewpoint due to the location of the terrace.
The garden itself encourages you to contemplate the immutability of nature and how only changes in your own perspective can create a change in what you view.
You’ll be asked to take your shoes off on entry.
Take your time to walk around the rest of the area to get a feel of Japanese culture.
Ninna-ji temple is probably most famous for its imperial style garden called the Goten that once belonged to its head priest.
We recommend coming here in spring or autumn for maximum effect.
This temple is probably most famous for a scroll depicting life in a traditional Japanese court using animals.
This is considered to be the first “manga” or Japanese comic.
Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines
Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines are probably the oldest shrines in existence in Kyoto.
Shimogamo shrine is surrounded by a beautiful forest and on May 15th, there is a festival called Aoi Matsuri that involves a mock traditional Japanese court leaving the Imperial Palace and walking towards the two shrines.
Kawaramachi is a modern entertainment district that offers diverse and high quality cuisine choices.
A large number of clubs and bars also dot the streets in this area.
Many of the restaurants boast their own specialty ranging from eel soups to dumplings to grilled beef.
Day 2 – Experiencing the Old Japanese Lifestyle
This place used to be THE Imperial Palace of Japan until 1868 when the imperial family moved to Tokyo.
Thankfully, you don’t need to book in advance and can casually stroll in during its open hours.
While it’s not allowed to enter any of the buildings here due to its sanctity, you can walk the same grounds where a thousand years of Japanese imperial court life happened.
Nijo Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the great unifier of Japan, and served as the location of its de facto government for over 200 years.
Today, you can view the battlements that surround the castle, walk through its cherry blossom gardens and even enter the room where the most powerful man in Japan, the Shogun, would meet dignitaries.
Nishi Honganji was rebuilt over 400 years ago due to its original version being destroyed after the temple fielded an army of warrior monks that were, for a long time, unbeatable on the battlefield.
It is considered a prime example of Japanese architecture.
Within Toji temple, you can find the tallest pagodas in Kyoto and the veritable symbols of the city.
Gion is a geisha (or “maiko” in Japanese) district where you can still see geishas wearing kimonos strolling around the city.
In Gion Corner, you can have a wonderful cultural experience with the geishas performing dances, enacting a tea ceremony, playing music and much more.
The show happens twice every day at 6 and 7 pm so make sure to be on time.
Gion is also a fantastic area for enjoying good food.
|Gion by Night: Culture Performance with Dinner
Enjoy a cultural dance while feasting on local Japanese food. Hotel transfer to and from the venue will be included.
|Gion Walking Tour by Night
Take a walking tour with a personal English speaking guide and about the amazing history of Gion.
Day 3 – A Walk Through Kyoto History
Nanzen-ji is a massive temple complex that serves as the center of one of the schools of Buddhism in Japan.
It also possesses an almost 200 year old European aqueduct built in the beginning of Japan’s modernization drive.
The walk from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji will take you through the famous Philosopher’s Path.
Honen Temple occasionally organizes small exhibitions of local musicians and has a beautiful moss garden.
This path is famous for the cherry blossoms that line both sides of the road and for the high concentration of cafes and restaurants.
If you’re able to come here during cherry blossom season (April), you’ll be in for an incredible treat.
Just make sure to book everything beforehand otherwise it’ll all be sold out.
Ginkaku-ji is another famous temple and is the Silver Pavilion to Kinkaku-ji’s Golden Pavilion.
Although not actually covered in silver (the reason is debated), it possesses sublime moss gardens and classical Japanese temples.
The walk up to Kiyomizu-dera is filled with snacks, local souvenirs and happy families passing by.
The temple itself was renovated recently and strikes a beautiful orange hue in the sunset from which you can see a wonderful view of Kyoto.
Kiyamachi is another entertainment area very close to Kawaramachi where you can enjoy a good evening of food, drinks and conversation.
Day 4 – Modern Kyoto
Kyoto International Manga Museum
While you might not be interested in comic books, this museum is still worth a visit thanks to the incredible wealth of Japanese comic history and art.
Here you can see the transformation of manga from paintings depicting every day life to a full fledged form of media loved by millions of Japanese people.
National Museum of Modern Art
Here you can have a taste of what new Kyoto has to offer with its vast array of modern artists.
The museum itself hosts exhibitions with diverse themes that not only include paintings but also textiles, pottery and jewellery.
If you’ve seen an old Japanese samurai movie, there’s a good chance it was made by Toei Studios.
This place is packed with old movie sets, ninja shows, haunted houses, and hundreds of people dressed as their favourite manga (Japanese cartoon) characters. Feel free to walk up to them and ask for a photo.
Definitely a favourite for kids and their granddads.
We’ll be spending our last two evenings around Kawaramachi so feel free to try out any place that might have caught your eye either in Kawaramachi, Gion or Kiyamachi.
Day 5 – The Best of Kyoto Attractions
Fushimi-inari Taisha is a temple that spans an entire mountain and is filled with thousands and thousands of torii gates.
As it is a Shinto shrine (Japan’s old religion), you’ll see statues of foxes and small shrines for spirits everywhere.
The walk up to the top can take up to 2- 3 hours and will offer the best view of Kyoto by far.
Fushimi-inari can truly boast an otherworldly feel to it especially at night.
As the temple is open 24/7, you can come after dark and walk through the almost ghostly paths surrounded by gates and shining with the warm orange light of hoisted lanterns.
Arashiyama is probably the farthest sight we’ll visit but it’s absolutely worth it thanks to the quaint, old restaurants and the absolutely gorgeous bamboo forest.
The trees here are verdant green and have grown to such a height that it can make the walking paths dark even at noon.
Make sure to get some matcha ice creams and stroll through this wonderful forest!
|Arashiyama and Sagano Walking Food Tour
If you prefer to see the Bamboo Forest earlier in the day, take this personalised walking tour. Lunch included!