Kyoto is absolutely magical, and was my favorite city that we visited in Japan. I recommend spending at LEAST 2 days here. Two days will give you time to see the highlights, but you’ll have to use your time efficiently, so if you can spend longer – DO IT!
We had 2.5 days and managed to do everything at the top of our list, but I could’ve spent a week here exploring all the temples, shrines, gardens, restaurants, and shops.
Here’s everything we saw and did in our jam-packed few days in Kyoto:
One of the most recognizable shrines in Kyoto with over 10,000 bright orange torii gates, Fushimi Inari is an absolute MUST. It was definitely one of my favorite sights from our entire trip.
Plan to spend at least 2 hours here – The trail through the gates is about 2.5 miles up Mount Inari, but you can turn around at any point.
The shrine is free to visit and open 24 hours, but you should try to arrive early to beat the crowds. Of course. there will most likely always be a bit of a crowd at the entrance, but if you walk farther into the path, the crowds thin drastically which really gives you a chance to appreciate and enjoy the shrine, and snap some great photos sans tourists.
Famous “preserved” village with lots of old homes turned into small stores and restaurants – a complete 180 from the modern aesthetic of Tokyo. There’s a lot to do in this area so you could easily spend half a day here or longer:
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple // Buddhist temple that overlooks Kyoto, and another one of the more popular temples in the area. There is a small fee to enter the main hall, however it was under construction during our visit, so we enjoyed the view from the pagoda.
- Gion // The geisha district – if you’re lucky you may spot one walking to or from an engagement, but you will definietly see plenty of tourists dressed in the traditional attire as well. Be sure to check out Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka, 2 beautiful streets lined with restaurants, shops, and teahouses while you’re exploring this area.
- Hokan-ji Temple // 46-meter tall pagoda is one of the most visible landmarks in the Higashiyama District. If you can time it up, be there for sunset (great viewpoint up the hill on Yasaka-dori).
- Yasui Konpira-gu // This shrine was interactive AND unique looking. The shrine is meant for binding or severing relationships depending which way you climb through the hole.
BAMBOO FOREST OF ARASHIYAMA
What a cool place. Definitely another must see in my opinion. Another perk? It’s free to visit.
It’s a little farther out from central Kyoto, so you will either need to take a train or a taxi. We opted for a taxi simply because it was quicker and it really wasn’t too expensive (especially splitting it between our group of 4).
You absolutely NEED to get here early. It’s not a very large area – only a small path through the grove, and it gets extremely crowded. We got there around 7:30AM, and there was only a handful of people. We were able to get some great photos and have a very quiet and peaceful experience. By 8:00AM it was already getting crowded, and this was during the off-season. I can only imagine was peak season is like.
Also known as the Golden Pavilion, this temple is stunning. It will cost you a small fee to enter (500 JPY), but definitely worth it. The building, of course, is remarkable, but the grounds are also beautiful.
This 2 kilometer path runs along a canal lined with cherry trees (a popular place during the cherry blossom bloom in spring), but there are also a lot of temples and shrines just off the path. A few of the ones we stopped at:
- Ginkakuji // The “Silver Pavilion” which actually isn’t silver at all.
- Eikando Temple // Famous for its incredible fall foliage.
- Honen-in Temple // A very scenic temple that feels hidden in the forest.
Tofukuji Temple // Large Zen temple also known for its autumn colors.
There are so many temples (over 1600) and shrines (google says 80,000) in Kyoto! I found this website helpful in choosing which ones to see. . .because you just won’t be able to see them all.
My advice: pick out your favorites and plan your itinerary with those in mind, but give yourself time to explore and just see which ones you come across.
A narrow, 5-block long shopping street with tons of shops, food vendors, and restaurants.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
WHEN TO VISIT
Spring and fall are especially popular for tourists; spring for the famous cherry blossoms and fall for the colorful foliage. We were lucky for a late peak of the beautiful autumn colors during our trip so the crowds weren’t too bad, and of course, seeing the iconic cherry blossoms is something I’d love to experience.
Don’t let the thought of crowds deter you – just plan accordingly (make accommodation reservations in advance) and be prepared (earlier wake up calls or search for more “off the beaten path” locations).
Kyoto is very walkable, and it’s the best way to discover the many hidden gems of the city. Biking is another great option if the weather permits (it was a little too cold during our visit).
Public transportation is also another option. Trains and taxis are easy and convenient, especially if you’re trying to go to some of the farther out destinations like the Bamboo Forest or the Golden Pavilion.
Honestly, Kyoto has so much to offer that no matter how much time you spend here, you’ll wish you had more.