I created a super efficient Kyoto 2 day itinerary so when you visit Kyoto, you get to see all the unmissable highlights. While 2 days in Kyoto might seem too little, you can actually get to see Kyoto's main districts and top attractions.
I strongly recommend packing comfortable shoes as this Kyoto itinerary involves a lot of walking through Kyoto's ancient districts, well-preserved alleyways and a bit of temple hopping. Great news, though, Kyoto really is one of Japan's most walkable cities because it is fairly compact and flat. This really enables you to go from attraction to attraction fast, while seeing the most important highlights of the city.
What should you expect from this itinerary? You'll fall in love with this beautiful city and get a taste of authentic Japanese culture. You'll eat some of the best Kyoto food, see Unesco world heritage sites, walk through a bamboo grove and marvel at the famed Fushimi Inari shrine.
Visiting Kyoto is one of the best choices as it was one of our favourite places during our 2 weeks in Japan itinerary. This 2 days in Kyoto itinerary is based on the best things to do in Kyoto, compacted to fit your travel plans.
Let's face it, Kyoto is one of the best places to visit in Japan because it's home to over 1600 temples, traditional wooden townhouses (machiya), a bamboo forest and some of the best food in the country. This super efficient Kyoto 2 day itinerary will help you experience the top attractions.
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Best time to do your Kyoto 2 day itinerary
This Kyoto 2 day itinerary is best done off season. The most popular time to visit Kyoto is during the cherry blossom season, in Spring. And while cherry blossoms are incredible in Kyoto, this Kyoto itinerary will be too crowded for your comfort, and you might not end up making the most of it.
The best time to do your Kyoto 2 day itinerary is during summer or winter.
Where to stay in Kyoto
For this short Kyoto itinerary, it's a good ideal to position yourself either in Higashiyama Ward or central Kyoto.
Higashiyama Ward looks most impressive, and it's closest to many traditional attractions.
Being in downtown Kyoto near the Kyoto train station will ensure you have easy access to the main subway lines.
Here are our recommended hotels for your 2 days in Kyoto.
- Higashiyama - Dhawa Yura Kyoto (perfect for being close to main attractions)
- Gion - Kyomachiya Gion Kanau (perfect for traditional Japan)
- Downtown Kyoto - Mimaru Hotel (great for easy subway access)
We created a complete guide to where to stay in Kyoto where we wrote details about each location and hotel for more information, including points of interest for every area.
It should come at no surprise that we recommend visiting Kyoto on foot to ensure you soak up the atmosphere in the city. Our Kyoto 2 day itinerary is done in such as way that you can walk from attraction to attraction and still get to enjoy all the things in-between.
There will be times when you will need to grab the train or subway. To save time, grab a local IC card from the train station (Icoca, Pasmo or Suica) and put some money on it. When you then need to use the public transport, just tap your pre-paid card and go. This quick process will save precious time at the stations.
An alternative is to use your JR Pass on the trains. We strongly advise that you purchase a Japan Rail Pass to save ton of time and money when travelling across Japan. You can ride the bullet train (shinkansen) between cities and visit Japan more efficiently.
If public transport or walking don't seem exciting, you can rent a bike and cycle around Kyoto. The city is relatively flat, and you will have a lot of fun exploring at your leisure.
Kyoto 2 day itinerary overview and map
Here's an overview of what you will do during your 2 days in Kyoto.
- (1) Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- (2) Ōkōchi Sansō Garden
- (3) Gio-ji
- (4) Fu Fu No Yu Onsen
- (5) Fushimi Inari Shrine
- (6) Food at Kyoto Station
- (1) Ryōan-ji
- (2) Kinkaku-ji
- (3) Ginkaku-ji
- (4) Philospher's Path
- (5) Nanzen-ji
- (6) Kiyomizu-dera
- (7) Gion (Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Shijo-Dori, Hanamikoji)
- (8) Kaiseki Dinner
Kyoto itinerary Day 1: Bamboo forest and Fushimi Inari Shrine
Arashiyama bamboo grove
Start the day early and bright and take the train to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
To get to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, take the JR Sagano/San-in Main Line from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station (approx. 15 min train ride, 10-min walk to Bamboo Grove).
The Arashiyama bamboo forest is located beneath the "Storm Mountains" in the north of the city of Kyoto. The Arashiyama bamboo grove is open 24/7 and admission is free. We recommend arriving as early as possible to get the most interesting photos, without tourists around.
Good to know: If you walk through the bamboo forest on a quiet time, you can hear the wind producing a soft tune as it blows through the stalks. Fascinatingly, this sound is part of the 100 soundscapes of Japan.
Our recommendation: For a traditional experience, book a rickshaw tour and head towards the bamboo forest for sensational pictures.
Ōkōchi Sansō Garden
There is so much to be discovered in the Arashiyama district and seeing some of the magical temple grounds is one of the best things to do. From the bamboo forest, head to Ōkōchi Sansō Garden, a superb Japanese garden with stunning views.
Ōkōchi Sansō is the former home and garden of the Japanese jidaigeki actor Denjirō Ōkōchi. The villa and surrounding gardens are such a fine example of traditional Japanese architecture. The teahouse is a representation of the wabi-sabi aesthetic.
Ticket price for Ōkōchi Sansō is 1000 yen and it includes a welcome matcha tea with wagashi.
Gio-ji temple is a quiet temple known for its incredible moss garden. This was one of our favourite temple grounds when visiting Kyoto. You'll see the most picturesque moss garden, but also maple trees and a small bamboo grove.
Gio-ji was named after a dancer, Gio, who fell in love with the Heike Clan's leader Taira-no-Kiyomori. After their relationship ended, Gio became a priestess at this temple to live the rest of her life as a Buddhist priestess. The whole story is detailed in the classic Tale of Heike.
The entrance fee to Gio-ji temple is 300 yen.
Fu Fu No Yu Onsen
Kyoto is well known for its clear mountain waters, but also hot springs. You can't visit Kyoto without trying an onsen. Book a brief visit at the Fu Fu No Yu Onsen for a quick relaxing bath outdoors. This is a perfect place for a relaxing bath after a walk around Arashiyama.
You will rejuvenate and get to learn how to onsen the right way in Japan. Don't worry, you can rent a towel for just 200 yen, so you don't have to bring one with you.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Take the JR Sagano line from Arashiyama to Kyoto station. Change to the Nara line and take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station to Inari Station. The entire journey will take around 30-40 minutes.
Once you are at Inari station, walk towards the entrance to the Fushimi Inari shrine. Perhaps the most famous sights in Japan, Fushimi Inari Shrine is renowned for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Experience the whole path by hiking through the gates to the top of Mount Inari.
Since you are arriving here in the afternoon, we highly recommend hiking to the Yotsutsuji intersection to see Kyoto from above.
Good to know: Fushimi Inari is a popular tourist destination and one of the best Kyoto highlights. It is busy year round but if you hike a bit towards the Yotsutsuji intersection, you will get better chances of taking epic pictures.
Food at Kyoto station
There are two restaurants we recommend for your first evening in Kyoto, one which specialises in sushi and the other which is a tonkatsu restaurant. Both are located at the Kyoto station for your ease.
- Sushi no Musashi - Enjoy a sushi train experience at Sushi no Musashi, and pick up a variety of fresh fish sushi. It was one of the most exciting sushi places for us, as it serves a variety of shellfish nigiri.
- Katsukura - If you prefer a more substantial dinner, head to Katsukura, a delicious tonkatsu restaruant. Tonkatsu is pork cutlet fried in panko, served with a side of rice, miso soup and shredded cabbage. One of the best tonkatsu meals in Kyoto.
Kyoto itinerary Day 2: Traditional Kyoto and Geisha
Start your morning by making your way to Ryōan-ji, the scenic 15th century temple with its famous rock garden. Meditate and observe the zen garden, then meander around the landscaped grounds. Arrive as early as possible. From March to November, the temple is open from 8 am to 5 pm. From December to February, the temple is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Ryōan-ji is a zen temple known for its enigmatic arrangement of stones. Can you really spot all of them? This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The fee for Ryōan-ji is 500 yen for adults.
One of the most iconic and my personal favourite temple: Kinkaku-ji or the golden pavilion, is a must on your Kyoto 2 day itinerary.
Kinkaku-ji is extremely popular and there is always a queue of tourists waiting to take the iconic picture of the Golden temple with its stunning water reflection and landscape gardens.
Kinkaku-ji is called the golden pavilion because the two top floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
Once known as Rokuonji, the Kinkaku-ji temple was once the retirement of the wealthy shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. According to his will, he wanted the villa transformed into a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect.
You cannot enter the temple as it's off limits to the public. However, the landscape gardens are an absolute joy to admire and photograph.
The entry fee to Kinkaku-ji is 400 yen for adults.
Take the public transport to Ginkaku-ji, which marks the start of the Philosopher's Path. The Philosopher's Walk is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples.
Ginkaku-ji is often known as the Silver pavilion and it's a Zen temple with impressive buildings and stunning gardens. Ginkaku-ji is known as the Silver Pavilion because of the initial plans to plan some of its exterior with silver foil. Since it has never been properly finished, it is now a testament of the wabi-sabi aesthetics.
Ginkaku-ji, like Kinkaku-ji, was commissioned as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Just like the golden pavilion, it is now a Zen temple as per the shogun's will.
The entry fee to Ginkaku-ji is 500 yen per adult.
Walk on the Philosopher's Path (Tetsugaku no michi) located in the stunning Higashiyama district. It's very popular during the sakura season, being one of the most popular hanami spots in Kyoto.
The path is named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice his meditation sessions while walking on this path.
There are many restaurants, cafes and smaller temples and shrines along the path, so you will have plenty to discover on your walk. The walk is 2 kilometres long.
Insider Tip: The Philosopher's Path looks stunning during the autumn foliage. Some of the magical bright red leaves make this place an ideal location to meditate and soak up the Kyoto atmosphere. Besides, it really is the perfect location for taking pictures in Kyoto.
Nanzen-ji is known for its massive main entrance and its unusual Roman style aqueduct. Enter Nanzen-ji and find yourself exploring twelve more sub-temples here. Nanzen-ji was established in 1291 by Emperor Kameyama.
It was believed that Nanzen-ji was once plagued by a dark spirit. Not only this but the temple was repeatedly destroyed by fire in 1393, 1447, and 1467, rebuilt in 1597.
Today, however, you can enjoy a contemplative location and a sacred place for meditation.
I strongly recommend that you go to Okuten in the grounds of Nanzen-ji Temple and try the oldest boiled tofu restaurant in Japan.
Nanzen-ji temple grounds are open free of charge, but fees apply for entering the temple buildings and sub temples.
The next stop is the stunning Kiyomizu-dera temple, a Buddhist temple and a Unesco World Heritage site. The temple is well known for its impressive viewing platform, the three-storey pagoda and the medicinal pure waters at the Otowa Spring.
Kiyomizu-dera is located on Mount Otowa. The temple was founded in the early Heian period. What I find most interesting about Kiyomizu-dera is the Edo-period tradition that if one were to survive the 13-metre jump from the temple stage, they would be grated one wish. During the Edo period, 234 jumps were recorded, and of those, 85.4% survived.
While at Kiyomizu-dera, don't miss drawing an omikuji which is a Japanese fortune-telling paper strip.
The entry fee to Kiyomizu-dera is 400 yen.
Japanese tea ceremony
If you are like me and are fascinated by the Japanese culture, then you will want to book a tea ceremony during your Kyoto 2 day itinerary. The ceremony takes just 45 minutes in a traditional tea house located just 10 minutes walk from Kiyomizu-dera.
The centuries old ritual of making and enjoying matcha tea is extremely fascinating because it helps people connect with Japanese history and way of life. The ceremony is also an opportunity to ask a local questions about Japanese traditions.
Gion is my favourite districts in Kyoto because you see atmospheric narrow alleyways with traditional architecture, tea houses and kaiseki restaurants. It's also the best place to spot geishas.
Walk the well-preserved alleys in Gion and make your way to Yasaka Shrine. Once called Gion Shrine, Yasaka Shrine is a popular Shinto Shrine considered to be a powerful place for love in Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine consists of several buildings including large Vermillion gates, a main hall and a stage. The famed Gion festival with a tradition of more than 1150 years takes place at Yasaka Shrine.
Walk around Maruyama Park and see the popular weeping cherry tree located at the heart of the park. In the evenings, this special tree is illuminated, making the park and the pond around it atmospheric and inviting.
Don't miss the Hanamikoji Street, one of the best places for geisha spotting in Kyoto. The street which means "blossom viewing lane" is a well-preserved historic street and a popular tourist attraction. For an expensive souvenir, go into a kimono shop here and purchase your own silk treasure.
End your Kyoto 2 day itinerary with the best food experience the city is known for: kaiseki. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner made up of beautifully plated dishes. It takes a lot of skill and patience to create such dinners, and chefs train for years to perfect their craft. Kaiseki dinners sometimes change weekly because they are made with only the freshest seasonal ingredients.
We ate our way around Japan, and I highly recommend trying Kaiseki when visiting Kyoto. Here are my favourite restaurants:
- Hanasaki manjiro - This is our favourite restaurant for high end kaiseki in Kyoto. You'll dine in a period house with tatami floors and if you reserve a meal of over 10,000 yen ($70 per person) you could opt for a private room. Private rooms are limited, and we recommend booking yours well in advance. We especially love it that this restaurant can arrange for a maiko private dinner for an extra special celebration.
Address: 518 Washiocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0072
- Kikunoi restaurant - This is by far the best option for Kyoto if your budget allows it. A 3 Michelin star restaurant ran by chef Yoshihiro Murata, known to be the only one in the world with 7 Michelin stars. You can expect the absolute best meal, with exquisite presentation in one of the most beautiful private rooms with tatami and garden view. It goes without that it usually books 2 months in advance. Reserve your table via Tableall.
Adress: 〒605-0825 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Shimokawaracho, 459
- Sakuragawa - Expect fantastic hospitality and beautiful seasonal ingredients. You'll love how every dish is made with so much skill and perfection. The presentation is incredible and the food is exquisite. What makes this restaurant stand out for us is that you can enjoy the food preparation at the counter. The counter is considered sacred, and in this restaurant is hand made from Japanese cypress.
Address: 491 Kamikorikicho, Nakagyo Ward, 京都市中京区 Kyoto 604-0923
Special tip: End your Kyoto itinerary with a special private dinner with a Geisha and ask all your questions, or go for a formal dance and musical performance.
There are so many wonderful things to do in Kyoto, and you can easily end up spending weeks here. Based on our experience travelling around Japan, we think 2 days in Kyoto is just enough time to catch the major highlights.
Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and definitely a must-visit when you are in Japan. From ancient temples, landscape gardens and epic food, Kyoto bursts with infinite points of interests and attractions.