Kyoto 2-Day-Itinerary (2-3 Days): The Ultimate First Timer Guide (2023)
by Coco Tran On October 28, 2023
I’m visiting the amazing city of Kyoto and want to make the most of my time there. After extensive research, I’ve created the perfect kyoto 2-day-itinerary to see the top highlights and hidden gems. This guide will provide all the information needed to explore this fascinating city, from getting around to must-see attractions. Let’s dive in!
Kyoto 2-Day-Itinerary : The Ultimate First Timer Guide (2023)
Kyoto is a city that dazzles the senses with its seamless blend of old and new. As the former imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, Kyoto has over 2,000 temples and shrines, 17 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Behind the serene temple gates lies a vibrant food scene and charming geisha districts waiting to be discovered.
With only 48 hours to spare, this 2-day kyoto itinerary focuses on must-see attractions balanced with local experiences. It can be followed exactly or used as a guideline when planning your own adventure in Kyoto.
2 days kyoto itinerary summary
Here is a quick overview of what is included in this 2-day Kyoto itinerary:
Day 1: Fushimi Inari Shrine, Philosopher’s Path, Gion District
Day 2: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Golden Pavilion, Nishiki Market
Getting Around: Subway, buses, walking
Where to Stay: Downtown Kyoto or near Kyoto Station
Day Trips: Osaka, Nara, Himeji Castle
Top Things to Do in Kyoto & Must Do in Kyoto
Beyond the classic shrines and temples, be sure to make time for these quintessential Kyoto experiences:
- Tea Ceremony In Kyoto – Witness this ritual tradition firsthand with a private or group tea ceremony workshop. Observe the graceful preparation steps and sample fresh matcha in a tranquil setting. This tea ceremony experience is authentic and well-reviewed.
- Kimono Rental in Kyoto – Embrace Japanese culture by renting a kimono or yukata to wear for the day. Professional studios can help you select a beautiful kimono and provide full dressing assistance. Take photos around temples and Gion historic district!
- Cooking Class – Learn to prepare classic Kyoto-style kaiseki cuisine in a small group cooking lesson. Shop at Nishiki Market for ingredients, then master chopping techniques, soup stocks, and plating.
- Ikebana Class – Study the meditative art of Japanese flower arranging. Create your own unique ikebana flower piece to take home under the guidance of a skilled instructor.
- Sumi-e Painting – Try your hand at sumi-e, traditional ink wash painting. Follow along as a teacher leads you through thebrush strokes required for various flowers, scenery, and kanji characters using black ink.
- Bike the Philosopher’s Path – Rent a bicycle and ride along the scenic canal route passing temples, shrines, and modern art installations. Stop for photo ops along the way.
- Meditate in a Zen Garden – Sit in contemplation while observing the meticulously raked rocks and patterns of a zen temple garden. Experience karesansui, the dry landscape rock garden style perfected by Buddhist monks.
- Explore Gion at Night – Wander the lantern-lit streets of Gion’s geisha district after dusk when teahouses come alive. Soak in the romantic atmosphere while perhaps spotting a geisha.
- Visit a Craft Workshop – Watch artisans demonstrate their skills up close. See how art forms like pottery, silk dyeing, gold leafing, and paper umbrella making are done using traditional techniques.
- Stroll Through Nishiki Market – Snack your way through Kyoto’s lively covered food market with over 100 stalls. Grab sushi, sweets, pickles, and tea as you explore this bustling shopping street.
the best Kyoto Tours
Joining a tour takes the hassle out of sightseeing and provides a local’s perspective on Kyoto. Here are some top tours selected with the best reviews and quality in mind:
- Full-Day Temples & Shrines walking Tour – This comfortable air-conditioned bus tour hits Kyoto’s religious highlights in one go. See the Golden Pavilion, Fushimi Inari, Bamboo Grove, and more with ease. Ideal for those with limited time.
- Tea Ceremony – Witness this graceful ritual firsthand and sample fresh matcha. Learn about the traditions behind Japanese tea culture from an expert host. Offered in small groups or privately. This tour also includes your kimono and hair done!
- Gion Food & Drink Tour – Taste your way through Kyoto’s atmospheric geisha district. Snack on regional specialties at 5-8 local eateries while hearing stories from your guide.
- Kaiseki Dinner – Indulge in Kyoto-style kaiseki, a 10+ course formal dining tradition focused on flavor, texture, and beauty. An unforgettable culinary experience.
- Kimono Photo Shoot – Get professionally dressed up in a kimono of your choice. Then have a personalized photoshoot around Kyoto’s top sites with an expert photographer to capture the memories.
Tours take the hassle out of planning and allow you to see more sites comfortably. Explore Kyoto from a local’s perspective by booking one!
How to get to Kyoto
Kyoto does not have its own airport, so if you’re flying in, you’ll fly into Osaka’s Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Itami Airport (ITM).
How To Get To Kyoto From Tokyo
How long does it take to get to Tokyo From Kyoto
- Bullet train: 2.5 hours to Kyoto Station; covered by Japan Rail Pass
How to get From Tokyo to Kyoto Shinkansen Bullet Train
The fastest way to reach Kyoto from Tokyo is by bullet train. There are frequent Shinkansen departures from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station.
- The ride takes about 2 hours 40 minutes on the Hikari or Kodama trains covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
- The fastest Nozomi bullet trains make the trip in around 2 hours 20 minutes but are not covered by the rail pass.
- Reserve seats at least 1 day in advance to get the best fares, especially during peak seasons.
- Tokyo Station is connected to the metro lines for easy access. Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before departure time.
- When you arrive at Kyoto Station, the main tourist districts are accessible within 30 minutes by subway and bus.
How To Get To Kyoto From Osaka
How long does it take to get to Kyoto From Osaka
- Bullet train: 15 minutes to Kyoto Station
- Regular train: 30 minutes and cheaper than bullet train
How to get From Osaka to Kyoto Shinkansen bullet train
You can reach Kyoto in as little as 13 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station on the bullet train. Or opt for regular trains from Osaka Station for big savings.
- The JR Special Rapid takes 30 minutes from Osaka Station and costs just ¥560 one-way to Kyoto Station.
- Take the Loop Line or Midosuji subway to get to Osaka Station, or check which lines connect to the station you are closest to.
- The Hankyu or Keihan railway lines also run frequent trains to Kyoto from major stations around Osaka like Umeda and Yodoyabashi.
- When possible, avoid trains during rush hours from 7-9am and 5-7pm when they are crowded.
Getting Around Kyoto
Kyoto has an excellent public transportation system that makes getting around easy for visitors. Here are the best options:
- Subway: Quickest way to travel long distances
- Buses: Convenient for reaching temples and shrines
- Taxis: Easiest option but expensive
- Biking: Fun way to explore the city
- Walking: Ideal for temple districts like Higashiyama
How To Get around in Kyoto by train and Buses
Kyoto’s subway and bus system is straightforward to use. I recommend getting an IC card like ICOCA or PASMO which can be used on all public transport.
Purchase a 1-day unlimited pass (¥900) if you plan on taking more than a few rides per day.
How To Get around in Kyoto by Taxis
Taxis in Kyoto are clean and reliable, but expensive compared to public transport. Still, they can be useful for quicker trips between destinations.
Be sure to have addresses written in Japanese to show the driver. Also, back doors open and close automatically so watch your fingers!
How To Get around in Kyoto by Bicycle Rentals
Kyoto is quite flat and cycling can be an enjoyable way to explore. Convenient bike rental shops are available across the city and rentals cost around ¥1000 per day. Book your bike rental below.
Best Time to Visit Kyoto
Kyoto enjoys four distinct seasons, each with its own charm:
- Spring (March-May): Pleasant weather, cherry blossoms
- Summer (June-August): Hot and humid, summer festivals
- Autumn (September-November): Cooler weather, fall foliage
- Winter (December-February): Chilly but dry, low season
For this itinerary, I recommend visiting in autumn to avoid summer crowds and heat. The fall foliage creates an incredibly scenic backdrop across Kyoto’s shrines and temples.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Kyoto offers a wide range of accommodations. For convenience, I recommend staying in these two areas:
This central location puts you steps away from shops, restaurants, and nightlife. It provides easy access to the downtown bus terminal and Karasuma subway line.
Kyoto Station Area
Based around the city’s main station, this area allows quick access for day trips. The station itself is a sight with its ultra-modern architecture and huge selection of shops and restaurants.
Recommended hotels: Hotel Granvia Kyoto, Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto, Four Season Kyoto
Is 2 days in Kyoto enough?
While 2 days is enough time to see the top highlights of Kyoto, I recommend staying for 3 days if possible. With just 48 hours, you’ll need to be highly selective and efficient with your time in order to see the most famous shrines, temples, and districts. It makes for a more rushed trip.
is it better to go to kyoto for 2 days or 3 days?
Adding a third day allows you to better balance sightseeing with experiencing local culture at a more relaxed pace:
- Visit more lesser-known temples off the main tourist routes
- Wander atmospheric neighborhoods like Gion and Pontocho
- Explore some of Kyoto’s excellent museums
- Do an activity like a tea ceremony or cooking class
- Take scenic day trips to nearby Nara, Osaka, or Himeji Castle
- Build in chill downtime for shopping, cafes, and people watching
Many travelers end up wishing they had more time in Kyoto. The city has an overwhelming amount to see spread across a large area. But visiting for 2 days will still let you marvel at the top highlights and get a taste of its magic
With 17 UNESCO sites, over 2,000 temples and shrines, charming geisha districts, and stunning scenery, Kyoto is absolutely worth a visit even if you only have a couple days to spare.
how many days do you need in kyoto?
Here is some more detail on how many days I would recommend for Kyoto:
If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, you’ll want to allow enough time to properly experience Japan’s cultural capital without becoming overwhelmed. Here are some general guidelines on number of days needed:
- 2 days – Enough to see the top highlights like Fushimi Inari, Kinkakuji, Arashiyama. You’ll be rushing around and miss out on many temples.
- 3-4 days – The ideal minimal time to see the main sights while also relaxing and doing some activities. Allows a day trip.
- 5-7 days – Gives time for deeper exploration of temples, museums, and day trips out of the city. Recommended first visit.
- 1+ week – Luxury of seeing virtually all of Kyoto’s attractions at a leisurely pace, plus multiple day/overnight trips.
As a major city, Kyoto really rewards those who can spend a full week or longer immersed in its incredible history and culture. But even just 3-4 days makes for an enjoyable visit if that’s all you can spare.
I’d suggest picking 2 must-see highlights per day and leaving the rest open for wandering, dining, and soaking in each area’s atmosphere. Rushing to jam in too many temples will just leave you exhausted. Focus on quality over quantity in marvelous Kyoto!
is kyoto worth visiting?
Is Kyoto worth visiting? Absolutely! Let me convince you why this magical city needs to be on your Japan itinerary.
For starters, Kyoto offers a portal into traditional Japan unlike anywhere else. As the capital for over 1,000 years, it is literally overflowing with centuries-old shrines, temples, castles, and traditional architecture. You’ll feel transported back in time wandering areas like Gion’s geisha district.
But don’t think Kyoto is stuck in the past – it has amazing modern dining, shopping, nightlife and more. You get the perfect blend of experiencing ancient traditions and cutting-edge culture.
The cherry blossoms in spring and fall foliage that paint the temples and gardens are simply stunning. Few places rival Kyoto’s sheer beauty through the seasons.
And I can’t forget the food! Kyoto is considered Japan’s cultural cuisine capital. From intricate kaiseki dinners to vegetarian Buddhist temple food, Kyoto’s dining scene shines.
With so much variety across history, scenery, architecture, food and crafts, there’s something for everyone in Kyoto. Best of all, it’s easy to combine with visits to nearby Osaka, Nara and Himeji Castle for the perfect Kansai experience.
For a trip you’ll never forget, Kyoto should be at the top of your Japan travel list! Wandering the atmospheric streets, temples and gardens here is an experience of pure magic. Get ready to fall in love with this captivating city!
Kyoto 2-Day-Itinerary: The Perfect 2 Days in Kyoto
Below you’ll find a detailed itinerary for exploring Kyoto over 2 days, including transportation information to help you get around.
Day 1: East Kyoto Itinerary
Start your day in eastern Kyoto at one of the city’s most iconic attractions. Then make your way northwest through charming historic districts.
Morning: Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Opening hours: 24 hours
- Entry fee: Free
Arrive at Fushimi Inari Shrine early to beat the crowds. This stunning shrine complex features thousands of vermilion torii gates winding through the forested mountain. Walking the entire route takes 2-3 hours, but even just seeing the first few hundred gates is impressive.
Stop for photos along the way before the groups arrive! Purchase a snack from one of the food stalls lining the entrance on your way out.
Take the JR Nara Line 2 stops from Kyoto Station to Inari Station (5 minutes, ¥140)
Morning Kyoto Itinerary: Tofukuji Temple
- Opening hours: 9am-4pm (Oct-Feb), 8:30am-5:30pm (Mar-Sep)
- Entry fee: ¥400 (gardens only)
From Fushimi Inari, take the train 2 stops to Tofukuji Station. Here you can admire Tofukuji’s spectacular gardens ablaze with fall colors (best in November). The grounds offer peaceful city views away from the crowds.
Don’t miss the Tsutenkyo Bridge lined with 100 maple trees. You can easily spend 30-60 minutes wandering this Temple complex.
Take the JR Nara Line 2 stops from Inari Station to Tofukuji Station (5 minutes, ¥140)
Lunch: Gion District
Walk 15 minutes from Tofukuji to the famous Gion District, home to Kyoto’s traditional geisha community. Known as Kyoto’s most exclusive neighborhood, Gion is filled with high-end shops and restaurants.
Stop for a lunch break at a cafe or restaurant along Hanami Koji Street. Be sure to peek down the narrow backstreets for a glimpse of kimono-clad geisha on their way to appointments.
Afternoon: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Opening hours: 6am-6pm
- Entry fee: ¥400
After lunch, take bus #100 or #206 for 15 minutes up to famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Dating back to 798 AD, this temple complex has panoramic views over Kyoto from its large wooden viewing platform. Don’t miss the three-story pagoda and the famous Otowa waterfall.
Spend 1-2 hours wandering the atmospheric temple grounds. From Kiyomizu-dera, it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk downhill along quaint teahouse-lined lanes to Yasaka Shrine.
Afternoon: Maruyama Park
Exiting the shrine, cross the street to Maruyama Park. This picturesque park explodes with cherry blossom trees during cherry blossom season in spring. In autumn, it offers a colorful backdrop for a relaxing stroll among locals.
Look for the huge Gion Shidare-zakura, Kyoto’s most famous cherry tree. Its cascading weeping branches create an amazing sight in April.
Spend 30-60 minutes exploring the park before grabbing an early dinner nearby.
Evening: Gion Nightlife
Spend your evening immersed in Gion’s exclusive nightlife. Start with dinner at an izakaya restaurant on Pontocho Alley.
Afterward, check out Gion Corner for a showcase of traditional performing arts like koto music, puppet shows, and tea ceremonies. Finish up with a stroll along Hanami Koji to spot geisha and maiko heading to appointments.
Take a taxi back to your hotel or Kyoto Station
Day 2: West Kyoto Itinerary
On your second day, visit Arashiyama’s serene bamboo grove and temples before seeing the Golden Pavilion. Then enjoy street food and shopping downtown.
Morning Kyoto Itinerary : Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Opening hours: Always open
- Entry fee: Free
Escape the city and journey west to Arashiyama. After arriving, admire the morning light filtering through the stalks at the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Try to arrive just as it opens at 9am to avoid the biggest crowds.
Lose yourself in this tranquil forest atmosphere while snapping photos. The grove is quite long so you can keep walking 30+ minutes before popping out at Tenryuji Temple.
Morning Kyoto Itinerary: Tenryuji Temple
- Opening hours: 8:30am-5:30pm
- Entry fee: ¥700 (temple), ¥500 (gardens)
Next, spend 1-2 hours wandering through Tenryuji Temple ‘s expansive grounds. Founded in 1339, Tenryuji is one of Kyoto’s most important Zen temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Highlights include the stunning Japanese garden, spacious temple buildings, and sweeping views over Arashiyama. Take time to sit and reflect alongside the central pond garden.
Lunch: Arashiyama Center
After leaving Tenryuji, stop for a lunch break along the main central street in Arashiyama. Fuel up on soba noodles, onigiri, or try other local foods at one of the eateries.
Be sure to peek down small side streets to find quieter cafes and teahouses if you want to avoid the tourist crowds.
Afternoon Kyoto Itinerary : Kinkakuji Temple
- Opening hours: 9am-5pm
- Entry fee: ¥400
Kyoto’s most picturesque temple is Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This Zen temple is coated in brilliant gold leaf that shimmers picture-perfect in its garden setting.
The grounds include a beautiful pond and famous stone garden. However, the real highlight is the gleaming gold structure itself.
Due to its popularity, Kinkakuji gets packed with crowds so visit early afternoon to avoid the biggest tourist buses. You’ll need 1-2 hours here to leisurely see the buildings and full grounds.
Take bus #59 from Arashiyama to Kinkakuji-michi (40 minutes), then walk to the temple entrance
Afternoon Kyoto Itinerary: Ryoanji Temple
- Opening hours: 8am-5pm (Mar-Nov), 8:30am-4:30pm (Dec-Feb)
- Entry fee: ¥500
Nearby Ryoanji Temple is home to Japan’s most famous zen rock garden. This carefully curated minimalist garden contains 15 rocks placed over white gravel ripples. The effect is simple yet strikingly elegant.
Spend 30-60 minutes taking in the garden design from various angles as you ponder its meaning and balance. The temple’s grounds also house a tranquil pond and interesting bonsai garden.
Entry is a 12-minute walk northeast from Kinkakuji
Evening Kyoto Itinerary: Nishiki Market
Spend your final evening enjoying Kyoto’s lively downtown area. Start at the city’s main market for dinner and browsing. Nishiki Market contains around 120 stalls selling fresh seafood, produce, Japanese sweets, knives, and crafts.
Take your time exploring the covered market while snacking on delicious street food like grilled fish skewers and matcha soft serve. Afterward, check out the bustling shops and arcades nearby.
Take bus #204 from Kinkakuji-michi back to Kyoto Station, then walk 5 minutes to the market
Evening: Kyoto Tower
End the evening with city views from atop Kyoto Tower. At 131 meters high, this ultra-modern tower offers 360-degree panoramic views over Kyoto. It houses an observation deck, shops, restaurants, and even a shrine at the base.
Ride up just before sunset for a breathtaking vista over this ancient city reflecting the orange light. You’ll need 30-60 minutes here. A perfect way to conclude an amazing 2 days in Kyoto!
Extend Your Stay in Kyoto
If you have more time, Kyoto’s list of temples, shrines, parks, and museums goes on. Consider adding these great spots to your itinerary:
- Nijo Castle – Lavish shogun residence showcasing ornate decor
- Imperial Palace – Stunning parklands surrounding the emperor’s former home
- Ginkakuji – Temple whose name means “Silver Pavilion”
- Sanjusangendo Hall – Houses 1,001 golden Kannon statues!
- Kyoto National Museum – Japan’s finest collection of local art and artifacts
Kyoto also makes an ideal base for exploring the Kansai region on a day trip:
- Osaka – Lively food and nightlife scene
- Nara – Historic town dotted with temples housing curious deer
- Himeji Castle – The huge and elegant White Heron Castle
Handy Day Trip
The Kansai Thru Pass offers unlimited train rides on non-consecutive days perfect for day trips from Kyoto.
Get your pass here:
How to Spend 2 Days in Kyoto
Day 1 in Itinerary Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – Tofukuji Temple – Gion District – Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Maruyama Park – Gion Nightlife
Day 2 Itinerary Kyoto
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Tenryuji Temple – Kinkakuji Temple – Ryoanji Temple – Nishiki Market – Kyoto Tower
kyoto itinerary 3 days
3 Days in Kyoto
Extending your trip to 3 days allows a more relaxed pace with time to dive deeper into Kyoto’s incredible sights, cuisine, and culture.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Tofukuji Temple
- Philosopher’s Path
- Gion District
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Tenryuji Temple
- Kimono rental and photoshoot
- Pontocho alley
- Kinkakuji Temple
- Ryoanji Temple
- Nishiki Market
- Cooking class
With 3 days, you can include additional activities like wearing a kimono, learning to cook local dishes, or joining a specialized tour. The extra time also means less rushing around to see the highlights.
I’d recommend staying in the Gion area for easy access to both eastern and western Kyoto. Consider adding on a side trip to Nara, Osaka, or Himeji Castle if you can.
Kyoto Travel Tips for an Amazing Kyoto Experience
Kyoto often involves walking between temples and public transit. Pack minimally and wear comfortable walking shoes. Packing for Japan Guide
Study Transit Maps
Kyoto’s web of trains and buses can seem complex initially. Review route maps beforehand so you can navigate confidently. These 10 apps are essentials apps you need to have for your trip.
Purchase Temple Tickets
Save time by getting combination tickets covering multiple temples. Or time visits for late afternoon when crowds thin.
Dine Local Style
Sitting on the floor at small restaurants is part of the cultural experience. Don’t be shy to kick off your shoes and join in!
Learn Temple Etiquette
Show respect by following the customs when entering sacred grounds. Check guidelines at the entrance. Things you should know when visiting Japan Guide
Seek Hidden Gems
Venture off the main tourist routes down small backstreets and alleyways to find Kyoto’s hidden secrets.
Experiment with Transport
Try getting around Kyoto in different ways – walk, subway, taxi, or rent a bike for variety.
Don’t turn in too early! Kyoto has atmospheric bars, izakayas, jazz clubs, and more to experience after dark.
Kyoto Money Saving Tips
Kyoto offers many ways to experience this fascinating city on a budget:
- Purchase a 1-day bus & subway pass for unlimited travel. At only ¥900, it pays for itself quickly.
- Walk between temple districts like Higashiyama rather than taking expensive taxis.
- BYO lunch from convenience stores to eat picnic-style in parks and temple grounds.
- Visit temple complexes in the late afternoon when entry fees are reduced.
- Watch cultural shows for free at theaters like Gion Corner rather than expensive tours.
- Shop at large department store basements for discounted souvenirs and tax-free deals.
- Stay at a guesthouse instead of a high-end ryokan for significant savings.
- Time your temple visits on off-season weekdays to avoid inflated peak admission rates.
- Check temples like Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari at night for free illuminations.
- Rent a bicycle for the day rather than relying solely on public transportation.
Final Thoughts on 2 Day Kyoto Itinerary
In just 2 days you can marvel at Kyoto’s top shrines, immerse yourself in local life, and understand why this city captivates visitors from across the globe.
Follow this recommended itinerary to maximize your precious 48 hours. But don’t try to rush around checking off every sight – take time to get lost wandering Kyoto’s magical lanes as that’s often where you find its real charm.
With its endless temples, Zen gardens, geisha, nature, and tradition, Kyoto truly embodies the essence of Japan. This trip will surely leave you longing to further explore its riches. Just one visit here and Kyoto is sure to capture your heart forever.
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