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Only have 2 days in Kyoto? We’ve got you covered.
Kyoto is arguably Japan’s most beautiful city and has many attractions to share – from ancient shrines and temples, to serene gardens and vibrant food markets. Of course many people visit Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms in spring and to admire the enchanting geisha and maiko who gracefully continue centuries old traditions among the chaos of this modern city
We’ve prepared a fast paced itinerary to help you cover all the highlights plus a few surprises along the way. As with all our published guides, this Kyoto two day itinerary has been refined from the trip we took and optimized for timing and travel times based on our experience.
In this guide we give you instructions for getting to and from each place you visit. You will also find accommodation and tour recommendations in this article.
What's in this article
What to see in Kyoto in 2 days: Itinerary Overview
The cultural and historic center of Japan, Kyoto is known for its ancient culture, period buildings and beautiful gardens. No fewer than 17 sites in the city are listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list in recognition of the central role the city played as the imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years.
The city is home to over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, so visiting several is an important part of your itinerary. If you are a fan of Japanese garden design and nature there are stops in here for you too.
And of course, we can’t forget trying all the local delicacies – from sushi to ramen, matcha ice-cream and other sweet treats. Don’t worry, this Kyoto itinerary includes many suggestions for snack stops, lunches and dinner.
Most of the travel within Kyoto can be done by walking, subway or taxi. There are some points where a bus is an option too. There is information on getting around Kyoto at the end of the article.
08:00 Fushimi Inari shine
Start your day early with a visit to Fushimi Inari shrine. This famous Shinto shrine, is known for its impressive vermilion torii gates that wind their way up Mount Inari. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan so get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
Thousands of gates line 4 kilometers of trails from the main 5 shrines at the base of the mountain. Most visitors don’t venture too far past the main shrine so if you want the best photos continue walking up the mountain. You can stop at some of the charming sub shrines along the way. The hike to the top is worth it for stunning views of Kyoto and is a 2-3 hour return journey.
Fushimi Inari was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century. Notice the many stone statues of foxes (the messenger of the god Inari) during your visit. You can also buy small Ema or tablets in the shape of a fox for 500Y to write your wish and leave it at the shrine.
Fushimi Inari information
Hours: Open 24/7
Address: 68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa Fushimi-ku, Kyoto
Transport: Inari Station [JR Nara line] or Fushimi-Inari Station [Meihan main line]
Next stop Nishiki Market – take the Keihan main line subway from Fushimi-Inari station to Gion Shijo station and walk 10 minutes to the market
10:30 Nishiki Market
The Nishiki market is known to locals as ‘Kyoto’s pantry’ and features many stalls where you can try the traditional cuisine of the city. Take a food tour or explore on your own, either way it’s a fun way to enjoy the local culture.
From the strange looking vegetables and yakitori sticks, to sashimi and wagyu beef, you can fill your belly at Nishiki market. Question is, will you try the Tako Tamago – baby octopus on a stick? Its head is stuffed with a quail egg! We gave it a miss and devoured okomiyaki and mochi instead
We did a food tour and it was a great idea. You can browse the stalls on your own but a guide will help you navigate the market, show you the best stalls and help you choose the food you wish to try.
Nishiki market food tour – 3 hour small group tour of the market and historic Gion area starting at 10:45am.along the way you will taste Japanese delicacies, visit a shrine and learn about aspects of the local culture – click here to book
Nishiki market information
Hours: Open daily 09:00 – 17:00 with some stalls closed on Wednesdays
Address: Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura)
Transport: Shijo Station [Karasuma subway line] or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Station [Hankyu line]
14:00 Shrines and temples of Gion or Nijo Castle
After your food experience it’s time to keep moving and explore more of Kyoto. Depending on your interests you may like to visit the shrines of the Gion area or explore the Edo era Nijo Castle where scenes from The Last Samurai were filmed.
Route 1 – Temples and Shrines of Gion
The Gion area is home to some of the most important temples and shrines in Kyoto, each with its own special charm. If you head to Shōren-in Monzeki temple you can make your way down to the Yasaka shrine with a stop at the imposing Chion-in temple on the way.
A beautiful and serene series of buildings set in tranquil gardens, Shōren-in temple dates back to the 12th century and has strong connections to the imperial family. Admire the historic structures including an elegant tea room and take a stroll through the gardens. They look particularly magnificent in fall/autumn when the maple trees change color. You can even ring the bell and make a wish.
On certain dates in Spring and Autumn you can attend a tea ceremony in the temple tea room – click here for more information
Cost: 500Y (800Y for special occasions)
Hours: 09:00 to 17:00 and later in spring and autumn when the gardens are lit up in a stunning light show
Address: 69-１Awadaguchi Sanjōbōchō
Transport: From Nishiki market it is a half hour walk to Shōren-in or go to the Shijotakakura bus stop and take the number 5 bus 6 stops to Jingu-michi bus stop
The head temple of the popular Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism, your first view of Chion-in temple is its majestic Sanmon gate. Dating back to the 17th century, it is the largest wooden gate in Japan and stands 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide.
Climb the huge set of stairs in front of the gate to reach the temple grounds. Once inside, you can explore the impressive temple buildings including the Miedo Hall – the main area of worship. There are also two stunning Japanese gardens to explore.
Cost: Free to enter grounds; Y500 to visit both gardens
Hours: 09:00 to 16:30 (last entry at 16.00) for temple buildings and gardens. The grounds are always open
Address: 400 Rinkachō
Transport: 5 minute walk from Shōren-in
One of the most famous shrines in Kyoto, Yasaka Shrine (also known as Gion shrine) was built in the 14th century. The main hall is decorated with lanterns and there are many smaller shrines in the complex. In spring time the area around the temple is known for beautiful cherry blossoms. Regardless of the season you can buy tasty treats from street food vendors who operate in the grounds
Cost: Free to enter
Hours: The grounds are always open
Address: 625 Kitagawa
Transport: 5 minute walk from Chion-in temple through pretty Maruyama park
Route 2 – Nijo Castle
Built by the powerful shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, Nijo Castle was built in the early 17th century in opulent style. Complete with turrets and a moat, you’ll need to pass through two huge gates before your reach the grounds of Ninomaru Palace within. Here you can visit the shogun’s residence, main hall and waiting room where several important pieces of art are displayed.
Listen for the uguisubari or nightingale floors are you make your way through the rooms. The floorboards were specially designed to squeak as people walked on them, to warn those in the castle of approaching visitors.
The castle also has wonderful gardens is a favorite spot to enjoy the cherry and plum blossoms in springtime.
Nijo castle information
Cost: From Y1000 – to avoid long lines for tickets get your skip the line entry on Klook
Hours: Open daily 08:45am – 16:00pm with extended opening hours in summer. Closed 29-31 December
Address: 541 Nijo-jo-cho, Horikawa-nishi-iru
Transport: Nijo castle is a 30 minute walk or 10 minute taxi ride from Nishiki market.
17:30 Geisha and Maiko spotting in Gion
As the sun goes down in Kyoto, you’ll be able to experience one of the most fascinating aspects of traditional culture. At this time the famous geisha and their apprentice maiko make their way to their evening performances through the streets of Gion.
If you slip down the side streets off Hanami-Koji Dori (Gion’s main street) and wait patiently you have the best chance of seeing Kyoto’s most famous residents. Immaculately dressed and with incredible poise, their very presence makes them stand out among the yakata wearing tourists. Make sure to be there before 17:30pm.
Remember to be respectful of these ladies who are simply doing their job. They may look beautiful and almost otherworldly as they glide down the street but they are also human beings. Admire and photograph them from a distance but definitely don’t chase them. Sadly this happens a little too frequently.
18:00 Dinner or Maiko show in Gion
After a full day exploring beautiful Kyoto, time to relax over dinner and reflect on what you saw or you can enjoy a dinner and show by a Maiko (apprentice Geisha or Geiko).
- Maiko show and dinner – if your glimpse of the geiko and maiko in the streets of Gion was not enough then you can attend a performance by a maiko accompanied by a traditional kaiseki style dinner. There are a few of these experiences on the market however what we like about this one is that you’re able to interact with the maiko and ask questions. You may even be invited to participate in a drinking game – click here for more info on Viator Performances start at 18:00pm
- Casual ramen dinner – Ramen Non [ 59 Kameichō, Higashiyama-ku] Japan if you love ramen then this tiny restaurant in Gion is sure to be a hit. We loved cosy Ramen Non where the servings are generous and very tasty. Choose between salt or soy sauce ramen base and there is also fried chicken if you’re still hungry – read reviews on TripAdvisor Note – closed on Tuesdays, closes 20:30pm
- Kaiseki dinner – Gion Hanaski [website] – multi-course set menu dinner featuring local produce and dishes. Expect beautifully presented seafood, soup, meat and vegetable dishes – read reviews on TripAdvisor
08:00 Kiyomizu-dera Shrine
Another early start to beat the crowds at Kiyomizu-dera Shrine. The grounds open at 06:00am so it is perfect if you are an early riser. Meaning “pure water” Kiyomizu-dera derives its name from the site of the Otowa Waterfall on which it is built.
Visit the main hall and its huge wooden veranda that juts out over the valley below for stunning panoramic views of Kyoto. Then take the short path around the temple complex to discover the Jishu Shrine dedicated to love and matchmaking and Koyasu Pagoda said to bring a safe and easy childbirth to women who visit.
At the waterfall you can drink some of the fresh, pure water from a cup on a long pole that gathers water from one of three streams. Each source of water is said to bestow a different benefit – a wonderful love life, success in your studies or longevity.
Kiyomizu-dera Shrine information
Hours: Open daily 06:00am – 18:00pm with extended opening hours in summer
Address: 1-chōme-294 Kiyomizu
Transport: 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan line. We took a taxi to the bottom of the hill from our accommodation as we had a long day ahead and it is a steep walk to the temple entrance
09:00 Optional kimono or yakata rental
One of the most popular activities for visitors to Kyoto is dressing up in traditional dress – a kimono or yakata for the day. We didn’t do this but I wish we had for a bit of fun and to appreciate the cultural intricacies of dressing in such beautiful garments.
There is a kimono rental shop just 5 minutes walk from Kiyomizu-dera temple where you can choose your favorite design, be dressed correctly and even have your hair done. Don’t worry about sizes, they have many options to suit western frames.
It’s best to book an appointment online and get there 15 minutes before the store opens at 09:00am so you don’t waste time standing in line. Allow 30 minutes to an hour to get dressed. If you have your hair styled this will take the full hour. Click here for more information on kimono hire on Klook
09:30 – 11:00 Walk through the Higashiyama district
After visiting Kiyomizu-dera, take a walk through lovely Higashiyama. One of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts, Higashiyama is quaint and characterful and the perfect place to take photos. If you rented a kimono the backdrop of the area is stunning.
You can easily spend half a day wandering the small streets, ducking into boutiques to admire crafts and stopping for a coffee and to try local sweets. Ceramics, bamboo ware and washi (paperie) are popular souvenirs and you’ll find these in abundance on Sanneizaka, the pedetrianized main street leading down towards Gion from Kiyomizu-dera.
There are also noteworthy temples and shrines along the way.
Hōkanji Temple – the Yasaka Pagoda
This stunning 5 storey pagoda towers over the Higashiyama district and is an iconic sight of Kyoto. There’s a small fee to enter if you want to climb to the higher floors for views of Kyoto and the pretty streets below.
Hours: 10:00am – 16:00pm
Address: 388 Yasaka Kami-machi
Kongoji (Yasaka Kōshindō) Temple
Decorated with bright colored balls, Kongoji temple is a fun place to duck into for a few minutes and a great place to take photos.
Tip – a few steps from Kongoji, %Arabica Kyoto Higashiyama [87-5 Hoshinochō] is a great stop to have coffee and admire the minimalist Japanese design aesthetic in the store.
Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple is a peaceful place to visit away from the hustle and bustle of the streets beyond. Visit Kennin-ji to admire the white karesansui or dry gravel Zen” garden and Hodo hall with two magnificent dragons painted on the roof.
Hours: 10:00am – 16:30pm – Closed Dec 28-31
Address: Komatsu-cho, Yamatooji-dori, Shijo sagaru
Around 11:00am make your way across the Kamo river to the Kawaramachi subway station where you take the Hankyu-Kyoto line 5 stops to Katsura station. Here you change to the Arashiyama line and travel 3 stops until you reach your next stop. The journey takes around half an hour and it is a bit quicker by taxi and will cost around Y2000
Arashiyama is in the west of Kyoto and it is where you find the famed Bamboo Groves. A very popular (and busy) tourist attraction, it is worth visiting to admire the soaring green shoots overhead, gently rustling in the breeze.
There are many other activities to fill your time in Arashiyama including temples, gardens, some delightful cafes and restaurants and souvenir boutiques.
As it will be around lunch time here are some recommendations.
- Yoshida-ya [20-24 Sagatenryuji Tsukurimichicho] – cute set meal restaurant with dishes from Y600
- Arashiyama Yoshimura [Togetsu-kyō kita] – delicious soba noodles. Sets from Y1000
There are also many street food stalls selling interesting snacks along the main road – Sagatenryūji Tsukurimichichō – if you just want a quick bite
Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
You’ll find the bamboo groves as you walk towards Kenru-ji temple. The way is not well signposted but you’ll find it by following the crowds. Yes, it is a very busy place and while still beautiful, you will not be able to take photos like the one above unless you arrive at 06:30am.
But, enjoy the 1 kilometer walk beneath the swaying branches regardless. The bamboo groves are popular for a reason and it’s because the light streaming through the bamboo is almost ethereal.
The parts of the trail away from the temple are the most quiet and beautiful.
Cost: Free to enter
Hours: open all day
Address: Arashiyama, Ukyo-ku
Tenryu-ji Temple Gardens
The stunning gardens of UNESCO listed Tenru-ji temple can be visited before or after walking through the bamboo grove as they are right next door to each other.
There are not too many notable buildings in the Zen temple compound as many have been lost to fires over the centuries. However Tenryu-ji’s gardens, designed by monk and master gardener Muso Soseki in the 14th century, are spectacular and the main reason to visit. In fall/autumn the grounds explode with color and contrast with Arashiyama mountains in the background.
Cost: Y500 plus Y300 to enter the temple buildings
Hours: 08:00 – 17:00
Your next stop is the Golden temple Kinkaku-ji. The fastest way to get there from Arashiyama is by taxi at around 25 minutes – cost Y2000. You could also take a combination of train and bus from Saga-Arashiyama station however the journey will take much longer.
16:00 Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion
The last stop on your Kyoto itinerary is at the golden pavilion Kinkaku-ji. This magnificent structure with top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf overlooking a pretty pond is an enduring symbol of the city.
Originally built as a retirement villa for a prominent shogun, Kinkaku-ji is opulent in design both inside and out. Unfortunately you are not able to enter the pavilion but can admire it and take photos as you walk through the grounds and along the shores of the pond.
Continue through the pretty garden until you reach the Edo era Sekkatei Teahouse. This is also just for viewing but there is a tea garden close by where you can try matcha tea and Japanese sweets.
Hours: 09:00 to 17:00
Address: 1 Kinkakujichō, Kita-ku
For your last night in Kyoto, have some fun and visit an izakaya (Japanase pub). If you’re not feeling confident about ordering food or want to learn a bit about Japanese drinking culture, this izakaya tour looks like fun.
Otherwise we recommend:
Sumibi-Torito [website] – delicious yakitori (grilled meat on skewers) and great sake
Yoshikawa Inn [website] – amazing tempura and sushi within a beautifully renovated hotel
- Gyoza Chao Chao Sanjo-Kiyamachi [Kiyamachi-dōri, Sanjō-sagaru, Nakagyō-ku] – the place to go for crispy gyoza (dumplings) – read reviews
Where to stay in Kyoto
With only 48 hours in Kyoto, we recommend choosing accommodation that is near to transport or some of the attractions you will be visiting so you are not spending a lot of time in transit.
Ryokan – traditional Japanese accommodation
Many people choose to stay in a ryokan in Kyoto to soak up as much as they can of Japan’s traditional culture. Ryokan are traditional inns featuring futon beds, tatami mats and often a small porch. Apart from the high end ryokan, bathing facilities are typically shared. Rates often include breakfast and a special dinner known as kaiseki that features local specialties.
- High end – Gion Hatanaka – located in Gion just a short walk from Yasaka and Kiyomizu-dera temples this stunning property offers serene and beautiful accommodation with private bathrooms. Guest rooms for up to four people are available- check availability and prices
- Mid range – Nishiyama Ryokan – Nishiki market is a quick 10 minute walk from this popular ryokan. Some of the rooms have private bathrooms and the kaiseki is highly recommended – check prices and availability
- Budget – Ryokan Shimuzu – very close to the main JR station and Kyoto tower, this friendly ryokan has rooms for up to three people. Private bathrooms are a welcome feature for western travelers – click for details
Western style hotels
- Highend – Hotel The Celestine Kyoto Gion – stunning luxury boutique hotel close to Gion in the Higashiyama ward. Rooms and beds are larger than Japanese standards and are elegantly decorated. There is an onsen onsite for a relaxing bath and the hotel offers a shuttle bus to Kyoto JR station – check availability and prices
- Mid range – Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo – in a lovely location close to the river and the Gion district, this hotel is also close to many transport options including the subway. Choose from a variety of different room types all decorated in modern Japanese style – check prices and availability
- Budget – The Share Hotels Rakuro Kyoto – this branch of fabulous Share Hotels group has a great location near Nijo Castle and Nishiki market. Rooms are modern and spacious with private bathrooms. The hotel rents out bikes so you can explore the city – more details and prices
Getting around Kyoto
Don’t worry. Rickshaws are not required! However, despite a huge network of subways, trains and buses, Kyoto can be a little tricky to navigate thanks to all the different operators. And unfortunately some of the main attractions do not have public transportation close by. Where possible, we kept this itinerary deliberately simple with activities within walkable distances.
The subway is easy to use as there are two main lines: the north-south Karasuma Line and the east-west Tozai Line. Another useful line is the privately owned Keihan main line that links Fushimi Inari and Gion. Buses were pretty slow and we often needed to change lines which isn’t great if you are short on time. Luckily you can use your Suica and Pasmo cards to pay the fares.
Honestly, when it all got too confusing and time consuming we got a taxi. If you are traveling on a budget this might not seem ideal but when you have three or more people the cost difference between getting a train/subway/bus was not worth worrying about.
Essential tours and experiences in Kyoto
Kyoto is one of those places that there’s almost too much to choose from in terms of cultural experiences. With this Kyoto 2 day itinerary we managed to fit in these popular activities:
- Food tour of the Nishiki market including tastings – more info
- Maiko performance and dinner – details
- Kimono rental for gorgeous photos of your time in Kyoto – more info
- Izakaya tour to learn about Japanese pub culture and try some drinking games – details
You may also like to try these experiences listed on Klook – the best value site for booking tours and activities (and your JR Rail pass!). Everything is in English and you can easily pay with your credit card which is often difficult with Japanese sites.
- Kyoto bike tour – cycle through the backstreets of Gion and Harashiyama – Kyoto’s pretty historic areas
- Onsen experience – after a long day sightseeing why not soak in the therapeutic waters at Fu Fu No Yu Onsen in Arashiyama
- Kyoto geisha districts tour – learn all about the fascinating world of Kyoto’s geisha on this 4 hour walking tour
Kyoto guidebooks and reading
We recommend Lonely Planet’s Kyoto Travel Guide to help get you acquainted with beautiful Kyoto. For a more in depth exploration of Japanese culture and history, the Eyewitness Japan guide is recommended.
Summary: 2 day Kyoto itinerary
Is 2 days in Kyoto enough? Not really. But sometimes that’s all our travel plans allow for. Once you’ve had a small taste of this picturesque and historic city, I can almost guarantee you’ll be planning a trip back to see the things you missed and soak up its special atmosphere.
We hope this guide has helped you plan what to see in Kyoto in 2 days. If you’re looking for more adventures in Japan, check out our guide to the small but very interesting city of Kanazawa on the west coast.
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