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Located in the Kansai region of Japan, Kyoto was once the capital city of Japan and was home to several emperors. As one of the largest cities, Kyoto has an abundance of historical temples, shrines and zen gardens. While all the historical monuments are well-preserved, modern buildings are popping up everywhere.
Kyoto’s zen and beauty has captured my heart. I can’t help but want to share everything I know about one of my favourite cities in Japan.
Whether your itinerary can only accommodate a few days or a few weeks, you will not be disappointed by the city of Kyoto.
Related Post – One month in Japan: from Tokyo to Hiroshima
What you need to know before visiting Kyoto
Before you visit Kyoto, 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 for travelling to 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 useful to have especially if you are taking day trips to Nara, Uji and other destinations.
- Kyoto is quite a big city but buses and trains are connected to all the major attractions.
- Pick up a Kyoto City Bus One-day Pass at Kyoto Station so you can quickly hop into any of the subway and bus and visit all the sites within the same day.
- You can see all the attractions in Kyoto in 2 days
- Kyoto is a safe city for solo female travellers
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How to get to Kyoto
You will most likely arrive at Kansai International Airport if you are flying into Japan. Or you may already be in Japan and will be coming from Osaka or Tokyo. Here are some options for getting to Kyoto.
From Kansai International Airport to Kyoto
- Haruka Airport Express Train: from Kansai International Airport to Tennoji Station and Shin-Osaka Station
- Time: 75 minutes (30 round trips every day starting from 5:46 to 20:15)
- Cost: about ¥2,750 (covered by JR Pass)
- check for schedule and fare
From Osaka to Kyoto
There are many ways to get to Kyoto from Osaka. Below are three great options:
- JR Kyoto Line: from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station
- Time: rapid service takes 29 minutes
- Cost: ¥560 (covered by JR Pass)
- Hankyu Railways: from Umeda Station to Karasuma Station or Arashiyama Station
- Time: 44 minutes
- Cost: ¥440
- JR Shinkansen: from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station
- Time: 15 mins
- Cost: ¥1,420 (covered by JR Pass)
- click here for all the railway options from Osaka to Kyoto
From Tokyo to Kyoto:
- JR Tokaido Shinkansen (Nozomi, Hikari or Kodama)
- Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Kyoto Station
- Time: from 140 mins to f4 hours
- Cost: from ¥13,080 (JR Pass covers Hikari and Kodama)
- click here for timetable
Where to stay in Kyoto
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 of accommodations as well.
If you are only spending 2 days in Kyoto, it would be ideal to stay near Gion or Nishiki Market. Alternatively, accommodations near Kyoto Station is another great option.
- 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 Kamo-gawa 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
- Hotel Ethnography Kikokunomori ($$$) -Located north of Kyoto Station, the 4-star boutique hotel has high-end modern finishes with clean, minimal Japanese interiors. The superior room comes with modern beds, a sitting area and modern washrooms.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Cost: up to ¥4,000 per day
- If you are slow travelling through Japan, Kyoto is a great spot to settle for a while
- I stayed at an Airbnb apartment near Saiin Station and another near Nishioji Station. Both apartments have either a bed or futon mats, compact Japanese washroom, small kitchenette, a dining/working area and laundry facilities
- There are many Airbnb options near Kyoto Station
- Airbnbs in Gion area will cost more, but you are paying for convenience and proximity to many attractions and dining options
- And if you are not part of Airbnb yet, please use this code to claim your $35 Airbnb discount.
Related Post – How to save money by booking Airbnb accommodations
Where to eat in Kyoto
Below are some budget, mid-range and high-end food suggestions. You can find more information about each location in the Google Map.
- Chao Chao Sanjo Kiyamachi ($) – a cozy little restaurant that serves a wide array of gyoza. The restaurant is quaint, and the staff is friendly and helpful. Enjoy their traditional gyoza along with a Japanese highball (whiskey & soda)
- Ramen Sen No Kaze ($) – a favourite ramen noodle shop in Kyoto! Don’t be afraid of the long line-up; it is worth the wait!
- Tendon Makino Kyoto Teramachi ($$) – a restaurant off the shopping street serving delicious tempura shrimp and vegetables over rice.
- Taka ($$$) – a fantastic restaurant that serves delicious izakaya (small Japanese dish or snack). Even though it is standing room only, you won’t even know that you are standing the entire time. The atmosphere is cozy, and the food is mind-blowing! Try the raw chicken sashimi!
- Pontocho Alley ($$$) – there are many mid to high-end restaurants lining Pontcho Alley. Some restaurants even face the Kamo-gawa River. Choose a restaurant that serves kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine) for an authentic Kyoto experience.
- Arashiyama ($$) – try one of the restaurants in Arashiyama. The area is known for its silky tofu. You’d be surprised to know how many different ways they can serve tofu.
- Vermillion ($) – after hiking up Fushimi Inari, you will want to hang out at this little coffee shop to either catch your breath or just simply enjoy an espresso
- Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya ($) – this is no ordinary Starbucks. The interior resembles a traditional Japanese home. Enjoy your usual Starbucks coffee on one of their tatami seats.
- Arabica Coffee ($) – there are several locations for this coffee chain. Both Arashiyama and Higashiyama serves strong ice lattes.
Other food options
- Daimaru Kyoto ($) – Japanese department stores have a food centre at the basement level. You can find sushi, tempura, bread, pastries and other wonderful Japanese food.
- Takashimaya Kyoto ($) – another popular department store that has high-end food options in the basement level
- Isetan Kyoto ($) – the supermarket is quite busy as it is located at the Kyoto train station. Commuters pick up food from the supermarket and or prepared food at the basement level.
Kyoto 2 day itinerary
Kyoto is a big city and has attractions are everywhere! Even if you are taking public transportation, you will have to do a bit of walking between sites. So bring a pair of comfortable shoes with you.
All the top things to do in Kyoto are pinned in the interactive map. You can find more information about each attraction by clicking on the individual pin.
There are so many things you can see in Kyoto. To pick the best of the best is quite a task. If you have limited time in Kyoto, check out my must-see attractions in Kyoto and make it part of your Kyoto itinerary. And for those of you on a budget, there are many free things to do in Kyoto.
Whether you stay for one week in Japan or up to a few weeks, you must include Kyoto on your Japan trip itinerary. Below are some sample itineraries if you only have a few days in Kyoto.
Day 1 in Kyoto (orange pins)
The Golden Pavilion is iconic to Kyoto. After you pay 400¥ at the entrance, you will be immediately be blown away by the grandeur of the zen temple. But beware of the large crowd in front of the large pond taking photos. The entrance fee includes a walk around the premise surrounding the gold-leafed temple so you can marvel from it from all sides. And there’s a teahouse and spot for souvenirs. Kinkaku-ji is one of the most beautiful temples I’ve ever seen, ever! But the downside is, everyone wants to go there too! So go first thing in the morning – you won’t regret it!
Kingkaku-ji opens at 9:00 am so arrive when it opens so you can avoid the crowd.
2. Kitano Tenmangū
A temple famous during the fall as the autumn colour fills the garden. There is also a flea market on the 25th of every month
3, 4, & 5. Arashiyama – Bamboo Grove, Monkey Park and Tenryuji Temple
Hop on the bus and train and make your way to Arahisyama.
As the second most visited place in Kyoto, you can easily spend a few hours in Arashiyama and sample their tofu cuisine. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is simply breath-taking. And the short hike up to Arashiyama Monkey Park is rewarding. Not only do you get to feed the monkeys but you can see Arashiyama from above. And make sure you check out Tenryuji Temple and the shops along the way. The best time to visit Arashiyama is during cherry blossom season where beautiful pink flowers are in full bloom.
Have lunch in Arashiyama. The area is known for tofu.
6 & 7. Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sentō Imperial Palace
Take the train to Kyoto Imperial Palace and visit the former residents of Japan’s imperial family.
Then visit Sentō Imperial Palace, the secondary palace across from Kyoto Imperial Palace and was home to retired emperors
8. Gingkaku-ji Temple
Take the bus to Gingkaku-ji Temple. Also known as the Silver Pavilion, the temple is modelled after Kinkaku-ji. It is another great example of a zen temple with beautiful zen gardens in Kyoto
9. Tetsugaku-no-michi (Philosopher’s Path)
From Gingkaku-ji Temple, Tetsugaku-no-michi is only a short walk away.
Also known as Philosopher’s Path. It is the prettiest when cherry blossom is in full bloom.
Take bus to Gion for your final destination for day 1 in Kyoto.
A visit to Kyoto must include strolling around Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Teahouses, restaurants and shops are behind the facades of the traditional houses which line the streets of Gion. 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.
If you are lucky, you may even see a Geisha in Gion.
Day 2 in Kyoto (purple pins)
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
As one of the most important Shinto shrine in Kyoto, visitors from all over the world come here to visit the shrine and the thousands of orange torii gates. When you are there, make your way up to the top of the hill. The whole journey will take about two to three hours, but it is totally worth it. You can see Kyoto from the top and the further you go, the fewer people there will be, i.e. no one photobombing your photos!
2. Rengeoin Sanjūsangendō
From Fushimi Inari Shrine, hop on a train and make your way to Sanjūsangendō.
Sanjūsangendō temple has 1001 statues of the goddess of mercy called Kannon and the temple hall has the longest wooden structure in Japan.
3. Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto National Museum is near Sanjūsangendō so it must be included in the 2 day Kyoto itinerary.
Kyoto National Museum is the large museum has a large display of Japanese art in both the original building and the new modern building
4. Kiyomizudera Temple
Either walk or take the bus to Kiyomizudera Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the “pure water temple” is set high up on a hill. Follow the path at the entrance, and it will bring you to directly to the shrine. For a minimal fee, you can participate in omikuji, which is a tradition at the temple where you shake thin sticks out of a cylinder box to get your fortune. The stick will have a number on it, and the person behind the counter will give you the corresponding paper with the meaning for the number. 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. Even though the fortune is in Japanese, there is a simple legend to indicate whether you receive a good fortune or not.
Before you leave, grab a coffee at Arabic Coffee or Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya.
5, 6, & 7. Chion-in Temple and Yasaka Shrine in Maruyama Park
A visit to Kyoto must include a visit to Chion-in Temple, a vital temple for Japanese Buddhism, and Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. They are both in Maruyama Park, a public park with beautiful cherry blossom trees.
8. Kamo-gawa River
On the way to Nishiki Market, make sure to take the scenic route along Kamo-gawa River.
9. Nishiki Market
If you want a quick summary of Japanese food and Kyoto specialties (Japanese sweets, pickled vegetables, etc.), then you must visit the Nishiki Market. The long narrow street is full of vendors selling Japanese food. Try a baby octopus on a stick, fresh seafood, and other delightful treats. Some vendors will even give you a free sample. Even though the covered market is busy most of the time but it is still worth visiting.
Sample some traditional Japanese snacks at Nishiki Market. One of the highlights of Kyoto where you can sample typical Japanese food. You can pick up a snack or even get a full meal here.
10. Pontocho Alley
One of the most beautiful streets in Kyoto and runs parallel to the Kamo-gawa River. The quaint alley has many traditional shops and mid to high-end restaurants. Browse through the alley and have dinner here. You might even spot a Geisha roaming the alley in the evening.
11. Teramachi Street
After a proper dinner in Pontocho Alley, stroll over to Teramachi Street and pick up some souvenirs and do a bit of (window) shopping. It is a covered shopping street located in the middle of downtown Kyoto. There are many coffee shops, dessert and food stalls. And Nishiki Market is not too far away.
Want some unique tour ideas in Kyoto? Take a look at these tours:
Day trips from Kyoto
Kyoto makes an excellent city for day trips. 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.
Located in north Kyoto, the hiking trail for Mount Kurama is easily accessible by Kyoto’s efficient train system. You can take the train to Kurama Station, complete the path and hop back on the train at Kibune-guchi Station. The easy hike will take about two to three hours, and you will experience nature and culture along the way.
When you arrive at Uji, stroll through the main street and cross the Uji-gawa River where you can start your hike. You can reach Daikichiyama Observation Deck and see several temples on the hill. And on the way back to the main street, you can sample various green tea treats which is what Uji is known for. But make sure you visit the Byōdō-in Temple. It is an elegant temple with beautiful gardens. And it is the same temple on the ¥10 coin.
Fushimi Sake District
The Fushimi Sake District is a small town just south of Kyoto and is part of the Sake brewery district. As an important town that produces Japanese rice wine, you can sample all 17 local sake in a sample flight. Sake sampling is serious business! And while you are there, check out Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum as well.
A day trip to Nara is made possible by the efficient rail system from Kyoto and Osaka. Spend the day roaming the park, getting lost in the town’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 the most important Buddhist temples in Japan.
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.
Phew! That is a lot of information for Kyoto! I hope you find this post useful for planning your trip to Kyoto. And if you like this post, share it and pin it!