Gentle, traditional, stunning, Kyoto is a city in Japan that you would want to visit again and again. There are so many sites to see here that even a week is not too much. However, if 2 days is all you got, it’s still possible to experience the best of Kyoto. I have been to Kyoto twice, and each time I was blown away by its beauty. This Kyoto 2 days itinerary gathers all the must visit spots for first time visitors. The schedule is tight but manageable if you are organized. (Spoiler: expect to wake up early everyday) Make sure to grab the printable PDF version of the itinerary at the end of the post!
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The Best Time to go to Kyoto
Kyoto is no doubt the most beautiful during spring cherry blossom season (from late March to early April), and second most beautiful during autumn foliage (from early November to early December). The downside is, the rest of the world knows it too and millions of tourists flock to Kyoto in these two seasons. This means higher hotel prices and crowd everywhere you go. It’s still worth it though! Avoid July and August as the heat makes it very difficult to walk around. I last visited in mid-June and was blessed with fair weather that was not too hot and not too cold. Whatever season you decide to go, make sure to plan ahead as early as possible for best accommodation and flight options.
Related Read: Tokyo Osaka Kyoto – 7 Days Japan Itinerary
How to get to Kyoto
If you are coming from Osaka, there are many JR lines available from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station including: Tokaido-Sanyo line, Haruka line, Thunderbird line. The ride takes 24 minutes on all of these lines. I recommend the Tokaido-Sanyo line since it only cost 560 yen while the other two each cost 1,930 yen. If you are in a rush, you can take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen instead (not to be confused with the Tokaido-Sanyo JR). The Shinkansen will get you to Kyoto in 14 minutes for a more expensive price of 3,220 yen. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, you don’t have to worry about the cost since it’s all covered. Go ahead and take the Shinkansen and experience the impressive efficiency of a Japanese bullet train.
Related Read: Guide to Deciding How Many Days to Spend in Osaka
Day 1 –Morning
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Rise and shine for a stroll in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove around 7 am. This is one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. The tall stalks of bamboos are absolutely awe-inspiring and look almost otherworldly in the bright morning light. Enjoy the peacefulness of the forest and take as many photos as you want undisturbed, before the other tourists start arriving.
Opening hours: 24/7
After getting that perfect Insta shot in the bamboo grove, be the first guest to enter Tenryuji Temple (right next to the bamboo grove). The Tenryuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main pond is especially beautiful during autumn when you can see reflection of the colorful foliage in the water. Take in the meticulously maintained gardens, the giant carps swimming happily, and the general zen vibes of the grounds.
Opening hours: 8:30am-5:30pm normally (until 5 pm from late October to late March)
Admission: Free Other than the Hojo Garden.
Hojo Garden *Open 9am-5pm normally (until 4:30 pm from late October to late March)
Adults and College and High school students: 500 yen
Junior high and elementary school students: 300 yen
A 12 minutes walk away from Tenryuji is the famous Iwatayama Monkey Park. After a short hike up the hill, you will come face to face with countless monkeys. Unlike in the zoo, these little fur balls are not caged here. It’s fascinating to watch them roaming freely, going about their business, swinging from trees to trees, picking lints off each other, and eating treats from tourists. You can buy some apples to feed them yourself. The view of the city from top of the hill is also incredible.
Opening hours: 9 am-5 pm normally (until 4 pm from late October to late March)
Lunch at Arashiyama Yoshimura
Have lunch at Arashiyama Yoshimura, a popular soba shop that is 5 minutes walk away from Monkey park. There are several lunch set options, “Tenzaru Zen” is a colorful and delicious set with homemade soba noodles, pickled vegetables, rice and tempura. The restaurant features an authentic traditional Japanese atmosphere, and you can see the gorgeous Togetsukyou Bridge. Talk about lunch with a view!
Opening hours: 11 am – 5 pm
Day 1 – Afternoon
After lunch, head to the renowned Kinkakuji Temple, AKA the Golden Pavilion. Travel time is about 45 minutes by public transport (take bus 93 from Arashiyama bus stop and change to bus 205 at Emmachi station). Alternatively, taxi will take about 25 minutes, which will save you a lot of time. No matter which transport mode you choose, this impressive structure is a must on any Kyoto itinerary. Because….Gold! Overlooking a large pond, the extravagant Kinkakuji shimmers in the sunlight. Although it’s not possible to enter the pavilion, you can admire the architecture from the outside. Beware that it’s always quite crowded here unless you go in the early morning.
Opening Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Admission: 400 yen
Ginkakuji is kind of the sister shrine of Kinkakuji. Yes those two names are confusing…I still have to think twice about which one I’m talking about everytime TBH. Anyhow, Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, features beautiful moss garden and dry sand garden. You can tell that every pine tree and rock is delicately cared for here. Relish in a peaceful walk around the grounds.
Opening hours: 8:30 am – 5 pm normally (9 am – 4:30 pm December to February)
Admission: 500 yen
From Ginkakuji, stroll down the Philosopher’s Path. The route’s name comes a famous Japanese Philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who used to walk this path daily during his commute to Kyoto university. The path follows along a canal and is lined with many cherry blossom trees. It’s a pleasant walk year round but especially dreamy in the spring when the sakura flowers are in full bloom. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Nanzenji temple, the other end of the path (photo taking time not include). Depends on how tired you are at this point, you can decide whether or not to complete the route.
Opening hours: 24/7
And that’s the end of the first day! Eat dinner at a restaurant of your choice, or just pick up a yummy bento from the convenience store (This is what I live on! So cheap and tasty). Head back to your hotel for rest. Tomorrow is another busy day!
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Start the morning at Fushimi Inari Taisha. Similar to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, this Insta famous landmark gets packed in the afternoon so it’s best to visit as early as possible (Before 8 am preferably). Fushimi Inari is an important Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the God of rice. Most people come to hike the red tori gates covered trail that leads all the way to the summit of the mountain. The entire walk and back takes 2-3 hours but you can walk as far as you like and turn back. Since we are on a Kyoto 2 day itinerary with limited time, it’s recommended to spend no more than an hour and a half here.
Fishimi Inari Fun facts:
Did you know that all the red toriis are donations from merchants and companies? The writings on the gates indicate these donners. Although Inari is the god of rice, it has long been worshipped as a patron of business.
Also, foxes are thought to be the messengers of Inari. So look out for various fox sculptures on the ground of the shrine. How many can you find?
Opening hours: 24/7
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I’ve been MIA lately because things have been so busy. (A broken phone doesn’t help either) With two weeks left to go before I move away from Japan, I am spending my time packing, buying thank you gifts, writing cards, saying good byes…I feel like I am holding in all the waterworks that will inevitably burst soon as the emotions slowly start to hit me. (Still doing good surprisingly considering how little it takes to make me get teary) ::::: When you move away from a place that has become home, every regular thing you do becomes significant. Every trip to the grocery store, every stroll through your favorite park, every friendly face you are used to greeting. You wonder to yourself whether you’ll ever get to experience these moments again. It’s never easy to say good bye and that is how life goes. But I keep reminding myself how small this world is. You can literally be anywhere you really want to be in the next 48 hours. So really, I have no doubt that I will return to Japan in the future. ::::: Eternally grateful for the experiences I’ve had living in this beautiful country, and I am forever changed by the amazing people who was a part of my journey. I followed the guidance of the Universe that brought me here two years ago and I can’t wait to see what’s next to come!
What better way to experience the culture of Japan/Kyoto than to trying on a traditional kimono? I highly recommend booking ahead of time with Yumeyakata. You can customize your outfits with over 500 kimono selections, a variety of obi belts and colorful accessories. The staff members are professional and speak several languages including English and Chinese. Discounted price on Klook starts at only 2,900 yen. I was in love with the red kimono I rented. After getting all dolled up, you can walk around Kyoto and model your fancy attire. Let’s make all your friends jealous with some fabulous photos. 😛
Opening hours: 10am-7:30 pm
For a detailed guide on renting kimono in Kyoto, including proper etiquettes, check out Kiyoko’s article on Footsteps of A Dreamer.
Take the bus to Kiyomizu Dera. The vibrant architecture and nature makes an epic backdrop for your kimono photoshoot. Hope you have those graceful poses ready! This temple’s name literally means “pure water”. It is one of the most iconic temples in Japan and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the main hall is going under construction for its roof until March 2020, it’s still worth visiting. Check out the Jishu Shrine, a place to pray for love. And make sure to take a sip at the Otowa Waterfall, where its three streams of water each promises longevity, academic success, and great love life.
Opening hours: 6 am – 6 pm (until 6:30 pm on weekends and holidays from mid April to July and everyday in August and September).
Admission: 400 yen
Day 2 –Afternoon
Explore the Higashiyama District that oozes the vibe of old Japan. Walk on narrow stone lanes, browse through merchant shops in traditional wooden buildings. Check out pottery shops selling “Kiyomizu Yaki”, a pottery style that originated from Kiyomizu Dera. These hand painted teacups and dish ware are so kawaii that you may be unable to resist picking up a few. There are also a variety of sweets shops, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Here would be a good place to grab lunch!
After a bit of rest, walk to Yasaka Shrine. Also known as the Gion Shrine, it is right next to the popular Gion District. This colorful shrine is the hosting place of Gion Matsuri, the most well-known summer festival in Japan that takes place in July.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Want to know where can you spot geishas in Kyoto? Try your luck in the Gion district. Geishas are traditional Japanese artists trained in entertaining guests with dance and music performances. If you are a peasant like me and are not invited to one of the lavish private parties where maikos/geikos entertain, you can still get a taste of the culture at Gion Corner Theatre at Yasaka Hall. Here, geisha experiences are put on for tourists twice daily at 7 and 8 pm, March to November. Other than trying to stalk geishas, the Gion area itself is wonderful for strolling around. Pay attention to the wooden merchant shops, tea houses, and adorable looking eateries. Psst here’s your chance to find some matcha ice cream! For ladies and gents who are into beauty and skin care, visit the Yojija store. Yojiya is a famous cosmetic brand from Kyoto. Their facial oil blotting paper and make up setting powder are amazing!
Opening Hours: 24/7
Landmark Map of Kyoto
Where to stay in Kyoto
Looking for accommodation in Kyoto? Check out these great options:
- Excellent location and cheap price Rating 8.5 / Estimated price $25 USD
- Unique capsule hotel experience. Great for solo travelers Rating 8.3 / Estimated price $59 USD
- Well located and clean hotel popular amongst female travelers Rating 9.0/ Estimated price $22 USD
- Rated #1 Best Value Place to Stay in Kyoto on Tripadvisor Rating 9.0/Estimated price $115 USD
- Traditional Japanese style guesthouse located in Kyoto’s historic city center Rating 9.3 /Estimated price $182 USD
Kyoto 2 Days Itinerary PDF Printable
And that’s it! Although this Kyoto 2 Days Itinerary is jammed packed, it can definitely be accomplished. If you ever have the chance to visit Kyoto again, I beg you to allow yourself more days. With some extra time, you can do things such as take a day trip to beautiful Nara.
To help you further, I’ve made a PDF version of this itinerary that you can print out and bring with you on your trip. Enter your email below to get the download link in your inbox. By signing up, you will also receive the TBB newsletter where I share monthly travel tips, new itineraries, and exclusive goodies like free printables.
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