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Kyoto 2 day itinerary: Top things to do in Kyoto Japan for a solo traveller

Solo travel in Kyoto Japan is safe and easy, especially when you follow my Kyoto 2 day itinerary for first time travellers. As one of the biggest cities in the country, Kyoto has an abundance of historic temples, shrines and zen gardens. While all the historical monuments are well-preserved, modern buildings are popping up everywhere.

It is possible to see all the best attractions by spending 2 days in Kyoto. I condensed all the highlights into a 2-day itinerary where you can efficiently see all the best of the best in Kyoto while on a budget.

Keep reading, and I’ll show you exactly how to spend two days in Kyoto and explore the old capital city on your own.

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Solo travel in Kyoto: what you need to know

Before you start your 2 day Kyoto itinerary, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of information, including how to get around Japan and other travel tips.

Here are additional travel tips that you may find useful when you are spending 2 days in Kyoto:

  • ICOCA is the prepaid IC card for Kansai Region. It is a rechargeable smartcard where you can take public transportation, including buses and trains (Hankyu, Keifuku, Keihan, Eizan and Kintetsu). It is helpful, especially if you take day trips to Nara, Uji and other destinations.
  • Taking the bus and train can save time and energy during your 2 days in Kyoto
  • Pick up a Kyoto City Bus two-day Pass at Kyoto Station so you can quickly hop into any of the subway and bus and visit all the sites for both days in Kyoto
  • Kyoto is a safe city for solo female travellers
  • Events and festivals in Kyoto:
    • Monthly flea market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (every 25th of each month)
    • Cherry blossom viewing at Maruyama Park Kamogawa River, Philosopher’s Path, Kiyomizudera Temple (late March to early April)
    • Gion Matsuri at Yasaka Shrine (July)

How to travel solo to Kyoto Japan

If you fly to Kyoto, you will arrive at Kansai International Airport (KIX), 95km southwest of Kyoto. Two direct ways of getting from the airport to the city are Airport Haruka Express Train and Airport Limousine Bus.

And if you are already in Japan and will be coming from the west (Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima) or coming from the east (Nagoya, Tokyo), you will arrive at Kyoto Station. Below are some train options from Osaka and Tokyo.

Airport Haruka Express Train from Kansai Airport to Kyoto

  • Kansai Airport Express “Haruka” Train: from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station 

Airport Limousine Bus from Kansai Airport to Kyoto

Train from Osaka to Kyoto

Depending on where you stay in Kyoto, you may want to take Japan Railway or Shinkansen to Kyoto Station. Otherwise, taking Hankyu Railways to Karasuma Station is an option too. For all the train options below, you can check Hyperdia for the schedule and cost.

  • JR Kyoto Line: from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station
    • Time: 24 minutes (rapid service)
    • Cost: ¥570 (covered by JR Pass)
  • JR Shinkansen: from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station
    • Time: 14 mins
    • Cost: ¥1,440 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
  • Hankyu Railways: from Umeda Station to Karasuma Station
    • Time: 41 minutes
    • Cost: ¥400

Train from Tokyo to Kyoto 

The best train option is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station. Regular JR trains can also take you to Kyoto, but the cost is the same, and it will take more than 8 hours.

  • JR Tokaido Shinkansen: from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station
    • Time: 2 hours 39 minutes
    • Cost: ¥14,050 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)

Map: Kyoto 2 day itinerary

There are so many things to do in Kyoto that you might need a few weeks! To pick the best of the best is quite a task. At a bare minimum, you will need at least 2 days in Kyoto to see all the best attractions in the old capital city.

I spent over four weeks in the city scouting for the best things to do in Kyoto and here is my recommendation for the most comprehensive 2 day Kyoto itinerary.

All the attractions mentioned are pinned in the interactive map. You can find more information about each attraction by clicking on the individual pin.

Kyoto Itinerary: Day 1 (orange pins)

1. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)

Your 2-day Kyoto itinerary starts at the most famous attraction in Kyoto: The Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkakuji.

There were numerous fires, and the temple had to be rebuilt many times. In 1955, the final rebuilt was completed, and each of the three floors had a distinct architectural style.

The ground floor has wood structures and white plaster walls that are characteristics of Shinden style. While the upper floors are both covered in gold leaf, the second floor was built in the Bukke Style (similar to samurai houses), and the third floor is in the style of Chinese Zen Hall.

When you enter the temple premise, turn left, and you will immediately be in front of a large pond with Kinkakuji in the background.

Then follow the guided path that tours around the premise including seeing Kinkakuji from different angles, different gardens, Ryumon-taki waterfall, Sekkatei Teahouse, and souvenir shops.

Kinkakuji is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most visited attraction in Kyoto. Try to arrive at the golden pavilion at 9:00 am as the temple opens its doors. The entrance fee is ¥400.

2. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of many shrines dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar from Kyoto who was associated with the Shinto god of learning. Like the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Dazaifu on Kyushu Island, many students visit the shrine to pray for luck in their studies. The shrine is especially busy during exam time.

The best time to visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is during autumn, when many trees in the garden turn into different hues of red and orange. Plus, you can see many Ume (plum) trees in Kitano Tenmangu, as it is Michizane’s favourite tree.

And if you are in Kyoto on the 25th of any month, you visit the monthly flea market, where you can find nostalgic Japanese pottery, antiques, and crafts.

3, 4, & 5. Arashiyama – Bamboo Grove, Monkey Park and Tenryuji Temple

As Kyoto’s second most visited place, you can easily spend a few hours in Arashiyama.

First, check out Tenryuji Temple, which is not far away from Keifuku Arashiyama Station. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most important temple in Arashiyama. Visit the buildings in the temple complex that were spared by fires and the manicured zen garden.

Next, visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a guided path with thousands of bamboo flanking on both sides of the narrow path. And the bamboo grove is especially pretty when sunlight shines through from the top.

Then cross Togetsukyo Bridge to the south side and follow the signs for a ten-minute hike to Arashiyama Monkey Park. While you are walking uphill, you may be approached by a monkey or two. But most of them are at the top, where you can buy food and feed them. And don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the view of Arashiyma from the top; the panoramic view is breathtaking.

Arashiyama is known for silky tofu. You’d be surprised to know how many different ways they can serve tofu. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants near Tenryuji Temple before heading to the next destination.

6. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)

There are many temples and shrines along the eastern mountains in Kyoto. You don’t have to see all of them, but you should see Ginkakuji, also known as the Silver Pavilion, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Modelled after Kinkakuji, the silver temple has two floors built in different architectural styles. But unlike the gold temple, the silver temple is not covered in silver leaf.

But what is interesting is that Ginkakuji was the centre of Higashiyama Bunka, a contemporary culture that influenced culture and traditions in Japan. Traditions like the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, garden design and architecture were all refined during this period.

But the highlight of Ginkakuji is the elaborate dry stone garden, also known as the “Sea of Silver Sand“. It includes a giant cone called the “Moon Viewing Platform” and perfectly raked white sand, which creates patterns and textures that compliments the landscape.

The entrance fee is ¥500.

7. Tetsugaku-no-michi (Philosopher’s Path)

Tetsugaku-no-michi aka Philosopher’s Path, is a 2km stone path along a stream in the same neighbourhood as Ginkakuji. The path is named after Kitaro Nishida, a philosopher who enjoyed his meditative walks along the stream.

Philosopher’s Path has become quite a popular tourist attraction, especially during cherry blossom season when the quiet residential neighbourhood fills up with tourists.

But even without the blooming pink flowers (like the photos above), walking on the stone path is lovely.

8. Gion

A visit to Kyoto must include strolling around Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Teahouses, restaurants and shops are behind the facades of traditional houses that line Gion’s streets. 

Many tourists visit Gion to hopefully spot a geisha, or rent a kimono or yukata for a few hours and take photos. You can even hire a photographer and take pictures of you as you roam around Gion and other scenic areas in Kyoto.

9. Teramachi Street

Teramachi Street is a covered shopping street located in the middle of downtown Kyoto. There are many coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants along the main avenue and also on the side streets.

You must be famished and ready to eat your first dinner in Kyoto. Here are some options that you might want to try:

  • Ramen Sen No Kaze ($) – a favourite ramen noodle shop in Kyoto! Don’t fear the long lineup; it is worth the wait!
  • Tendon Makino Kyoto Teramachi ($$) – a restaurant on the main shopping street serving delicious tempura shrimp and vegetables over rice.
  • Taka ($$$) – a fantastic restaurant that serves delicious izakaya (small Japanese dish or snack). Even though it is standing room only, you won’t even know you are standing the entire time. The atmosphere is cozy, and the food is mind-blowing! Try the raw chicken sashimi!

Kyoto Itinerary: Day 2 (purple pins)

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Kyoto. While some people visit the shrine to pray for bountiful harvest and success in business, many others really want to see the Senbon Torii, which means thousands of torii gates.

When you arrive at Inari Station, you will be greeted by a giant orange torii gate. Beyond the gate is the main hall, many fox statues (Inari’s messengers) the entrance to the torii gate hiking trail.

Halfway up Mount Inari, there is a spot where you can take in the panoramic view of the area. And the further you go up, the further you are away from others i.e. no one photobombing your photos! The whole journey will take about two hours or so.

It is completely free to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine. Stop by Vermillion afterwards, grab an espresso, and rest at the cute coffee shop before moving on to your next destination.

2. Sanjusangendo

Sanjusangendo is a Buddhist temple known for two things: Japan’s longest wooden structure and 1001 golden statues of Kannon (Goddess of mercy).

The name Sanjusangendo means 33 intervals or bays. The name comes from the number of intervals or bays between the building’s supporting column beams, which is the traditional way of measuring a building.

In the center of the hall stands a wooden 1000-armed Kannon statue. And on each side of the big statue are 500 human-size, 1000-armed Kannon statues. Each of these thousand statues is made of Japanese cypress and covered in gold leaf. Collectively, it makes quite an impressive sight! But unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside.

It is worth paying a ¥600 entrance fee to Sanjusangendo. Don’t leave the temple without seeing the adjacent garden as well.

3. Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple means “Pure Water Temple” and is my favourite temple in Kyoto. It costs ¥400 to see the UNESCO World Heritage site.

First, walk through Nio-mon, the main entrance, and visit Sai-mon (West Gate) and Zuigu-do Hall before you enter Hondo (Main Hall). The main hall is the largest building on the premise, and it has a large wooden stage overhanging the steep hill.

The scenery around the main hall is especially stunning during spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom and in the fall when the leafs are in different orange and red hues.

In the main hall, you can participate in omikuji, a tradition at the temple where you shake thin sticks out of a cylinder box to get your fortune. Each stick has a number, and the person behind the counter will give you the corresponding paper with the meaning.

If you get a lucky fortune, bring it home with you. But if you didn’t, tie your paper to a designated area and leave your bad luck behind. A simple legend in English indicates whether you receive good fortune or not.

Continue on and visit Okuno-in Hall, where you can take a stunning photo of the main hall. Then catch water with a ladle from the three streams of water at Otowa no Taki (Ottawa Waterfall). It is said that water can prolong life and is suitable for purification.

For coffee lovers, visit Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya. The interior resembles a traditional Japanese home. You can enjoy your usual Starbucks coffee on one of their tatami seats.

4, 5, & 6. Maruyama Park, Chion-in Temple & Yasaka Shrine

As the oldest park in Kyoto, Maruyama Park attracts many visitors to see pretty pink cherry blossoms bloom during the spring. Over 680 cherry blossom trees are in the park and the central weeping cherry blossom is the highlight.

At the park’s north end, visit Chionin Temple, also known as Monastery of Gratitude. The headquarters of Jodo-shu (a branch of Japanese Buddhism) has many impressive highlights including Sanmon Gate, a massive entrance gate, and the largest bell in Japan. It is free to visit Chionin Temple.

Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is a Shinto shrine near the entrance of Maruyama Park. The shrine combines the inner sanctuary and the offering hall into one. And in front of the shrine, it has a dance stage with many lanterns. Besides the vibrant vermillion architecture, Yasaka Shrine is particularly beautiful at night as all the lanterns are lit.

There are many summer festivals, including Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in Japan, which involves a procession with massive floats and hundreds of participants. in July

And if you are visiting Kyoto in July, don’t miss Japan’s most famous festival, Gion Matsuri, at Yasaka Shrine. There are massive floats and hundreds of people participating in this summer festival, and it is a sight to be seen!

7. Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a food market on a long narrow street. Over a hundred vendors sell all types of Japanese food and Kyoto specialties (Japanese sweets, pickled vegetables, etc.). And many of them give free samples! Yum!

I tried the Japanese fish cakes and even had mini donuts. There are too many good treats to choose from. Even though the covered market is busy most of the time, it is still worth visiting.

The market closes at 5:30pm so give yourself at least half an hour to walk through the entire street.

8. Kamogawa River

After a quick snack at Nishiki Market, take the scenic route along Kamogawa River before you go for dinner. There are pedestrian pathways on both sides of the Kamo River. The walkway on the east side is quieter, but it can be busy during the cherry blossom season.

And on the west side of the riverbank, the path is next to the backends of restaurants along Pontocho Alley. During the warmer months, the restaurant balconies are open for business. The alfresco tables tend to fill up quickly, especially when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

9. Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley is a narrow alley with many traditional restaurants and is parallel to Kamogawa River. The alley has budget restaurants, but most are mid to high-end, as the area is known for kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine).

Browse through the alley and around the area. The small narrow alleys are quite interesting, and I promise you, you won’t get lost in the maze. And while meandering around the small streets, choose a restaurant in Pontocho Alley that appeals to you. Maybe one facing the Kamo River?

After dinner, return to Kamogawa River and enjoy the scenery at night. And if you haven’t bought souvenirs yet, head back to Teramachi Street.

Spending more than 2 days in Kyoto? Check out some of these tours:

If you are spending more than 2 days in Kyoto

Kyoto is an excellent city for day trips. If you are spending more than 2 days in Kyoto, you can visit many different places as a half-day excursion or full-day trips. There are many awesome day trips from Kyoto and here are some of them.

Kurama to Kibune in Mount Kurama

Located in north Kyoto in Mount Kurama are two small towns: Kurama and Kibune. The half-day hike starts with a visit to Kurama, a town known for Japanese onsen. Then the hike continues through Kurama-dera Temple, a Buddhist temple in the forest. Then continue onwards through the lush forest and complete the hike at Kibune where you can visit Kibnue Shrine.

It takes about two to three hours to complete and it is an easy trail that anyone can do.

Take the train from Gion-Shijo Station to Demachiyanagi Station, change trains and take it to Kurama Station (43 minutes, ¥650). On the way back, hop on the train at Kibuneguchi Station to Demachiyanagi Station, change trains and take it back to Gion-Shijo Station (41 minutes, ¥650).

Uji

Uji is a small town known for matcha green tea production and UNESCO World Heritage site Byōdō-in Temple, which is also the same temple on the ¥10 coin.

A day trip to Uji starts a visit to Byōdō-in Temple. Then cross the Uji-gawa River where you can start your hike up the hill until you reach Daikichiyama Observation Deck. On the way down, see several more temples before you return to the main street for some matcha green tea treats.

Going to Uji is quite easy. From Kyoto Station, take the train to Uji Station (25 minutes, ¥240).

Nara 

Nara is the most popular day trip from Kyoto. Spend the day roaming Nara Park, getting lost in Old Nara City‘s small streets and snacking on traditional Japanese food. And if you want an up-close and personal photo with a deer, buy some crackers and feed them the yummy treats. And check out the famous Tōdai-ji Temple as it is one of Japan’s most important Buddhist temples.

A day trip to Nara from Kyoto is easy peasy. The train from Kyoto Station to Nara Station takes only 57 minutes and costs ¥720.

Himeji

Himeji is known for the spectacular Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the castle certainly does not disappoint. And make sure to visit Engyoji Temple in Mount Shosha. Both are worth visiting during your day trip to Himeji.

The fastest way is to take the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Himeji (43 minutes, ¥5,890). Otherwise, take regular Japan Railway via Osaka (94 minutes, ¥2,310).

Where to stay in Kyoto for 2 days

Kyoto has a variety of accommodations. You can find modern and clean hostel beds for a cheap price tag or luxurious high-end Japanese Ryokan-type accommodations. 

For the 2 days Kyoto itinerary, staying near Gion or Nishiki Market would be ideal. Alternatively, accommodations near Kyoto Station are another great option. Here are some budget and high-end options:

  • The Millennials Kyoto in Japan ($) – A modern hostel that is super close to Pontocho Alley. The upscale hostel has mixed dorms where you sleep in a modern “smart pod” and store your belongings underneath.
    • Check prices & reviews: Agoda
  • Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto Hachijoguchi ($$) – Located just south of Kyoto Station, the modern hotel has everything you need. A standard room is compact and has a Japanese washroom.
    • Check prices & reviews: Agoda
  • Granbell Hotel ($$$) – Situated on the east side of Kamogawa River, the high-end boutique hotel has traditional Japanese design with modern touches. The Japanese bedroom is spacious and minimal in design aesthetics.
    • Check prices & reviews: Agoda

Are you going to take a solo trip to Kyoto Japan?

Kyoto is a must-see city, especially if it’s your first time travelling to Japan. The vibe of the city is so different from other big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. And it is one of the top cities to visit in Japan for solo travellers.

And for those of you on a budget, there are many free things to do in Kyoto. Don’t let budget be the reason for you not to visit Japan because there are many affordable (i.e. free) things to do!

Hope you liked my solo Kyoto 2 days itinerary and if you have any questions, leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading my solo Kyoto itinerary post

You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan:

Introduction to Japan

Kanto region

Kansai region

Chugoku region

Kyushu region

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 18+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

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