Visiting Kyoto is like discovering ancient Japan and traveling through time! Kyoto is famous for its Shinto temples, imperial palaces, and traditional wooden houses. Here are the TOP 13 things to do in Kyoto, our tips, favorite places to see, and itineraries to explore one of the most beautiful cities in Japan.
How many days to visit Kyoto?
The ideal duration to visit Kyoto is at least two full days. The city is full of temples and palaces, and you can easily spend three or four days there without getting bored.
Good to know. It is quite simple to get to Nara National Park from Kyoto. This vast park is a magical place where you can see deers roaming freely in an environment filled with temples and shrines. Here are our itineraries for visiting Kyoto in 2, 3, or 4 days.
Visiting Kyoto in 2 days: itinerary and top things to do
Here’s what you can do in Kyoto for 2 full days.
Day 1: Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kiyomizu-dera, Gion district, Yasaka-jinja
On this first day, let’s visit the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, famous for its 10,000 gates. Then, continue along the same train line, the Keihan Main Line, to see the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera temple and the famous Gion district of Kyoto. And at the end of the day, let’s visit the Yasaka-jinja shrine, which has such a special charm in the evening.
1. Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
This shrine is one of the must-see places in Kyoto. Access to the shrine is free. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is open 24 hours a day (see it on Google Maps). To avoid crowds and enjoy the place more, arrive early in the morning or late in the evening.
There are more than 10,000 gates in the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Don’t just stop at the first ones because this is where most people will be. As you climb higher, fewer people will be, and you can take beautiful photos alone.
To visit the shrine, you should spend at least one hour on-site. If you want to go up the hill and come back down, plan for at least two hours.
2. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most beautiful temples to see in Kyoto. Its views are breathtaking! The temple’s origins date back to 778. Like other historic sites in Kyoto, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Japanese, “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” means taking a risk. This phrase was once literal because, from the Edo period (17th- 19th centuries), 234 jumps were recorded from the temple, with the hope that wishes would come true. Only 15% ended successfully (source: Wikipedia).
This temple is much closer to the city center of Kyoto (open on Google Maps) than the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine we saw earlier. It is also one of the most visited places in Kyoto. It’s a beautiful sight to see in Kyoto!
3. Gion District and its pedestrian streets
The Gion district is an absolute must-see if you visit Kyoto for 2, 3, or 4 days! It is known for its pedestrian streets and traditional Japanese wooden houses. This area is incredibly charming and very close to the Kiyomizu-dera temple we just visited.
Sanneizaka and Nineizaka. Remember these two streets. The views from here are the prettiest of all Kyoto. Get lost in the lanes of the district to make the most of its atmosphere. However, to avoid crowds, the only solution is to come here before 9 am or late evening, but shops and cafes will be closed.
4. Yasaka-jinja Shrine
After visiting the Gion district, you can discover the Yasaka-jinja Shrine. It is a beautiful shrine open 24/7 and free of charge. In the vicinity of the shrine is a beautiful park: Maruyama Park. You can take the opportunity to take a quiet break.
In the evening, you can visit the long street that starts at Yasaka-jinja Shrine. When the sun comes down, the lanterns of the shrine and the street light up, and it’s lovely to see.
Day 2: Kinkaku-ji, Heian-jingū, Ginkaku-ji, Path of Philosophy, Pontocho District
Let’s start the second day of sightseeing with these three magnificent places to visit in Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji, Heian-jingū, and Ginkaku-ji. They are all on the same bus line (bus 204). If you’re short on time, you can skip the visit to Ginkaku-ji.
5. Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
Why is this temple so unique and famous? Its building is completely covered in gold, except for the ground floor. The origins of the Kinkaku-ji temple go back to 1397. Set on fire by a monk in 1950, the temple was completely rebuilt five years later.
The visit to the Kinkaku-ji temple is quick: plan for one hour on-site. Since it’s a highly visited location, prefer the morning as soon as the temple opens. As is often the case with most temples in Japan, the temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm (check the schedule on the official website).
6. Heian-jingū Shinto Shrine
The uniqueness of this shrine lies in its impressive inner courtyard and beautiful garden. Compared to other places to visit in Kyoto, it feels less crowded here. The garden is worth the detour, but there is an entrance fee.
7. Ginkaku-ji Buddhist Temple (Silver Pavilion)
Depending on the time available, you can add the Silver Pavilion to this 2-day travel itinerary in Kyoto! It’s an optional visit or a replacement for the Heian-jingū Shinto Shrine. This temple was built in 1482.
Like the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion was also supposed to serve as a peaceful and solitary retreat for the shogun. Shoguns were the rulers of Japan before the restoration of imperial power in 1867.
8. Path of Philosophy
The Path of Philosophy, or Tetsugaku No Michi, is ideal for a stroll. If you’re visiting Kyoto, don’t miss this relaxing spot. Maybe revelations will come to you during the walk. You’ll find out for yourself if the path lives up to its name.
9. Kyoto’s Pontocho District
In the evening, Pontocho is one of the best neighborhoods for going out and strolling in Kyoto, Japan. The alleys of this district are charming, especially the ones with the canal. Moreover, you can also take the time to discover the Kamo-gawa River. This district is lovely at dusk and offers a new face of Kyoto.
Visiting Kyoto in 3 Days: Itinerary for the 3rd Day
If you spend at least 3 days in Kyoto, take the opportunity to discover Nijō-jō Castle, the Nishiki covered market (open until 5 pm), and the beautiful Arashiyama Park with its bamboo forest.
Day 3: Nijō-jō, Nishiki Market, Arashiyama
Here are three other great visits to make in Kyoto! You can add them to your 3-day itinerary in Kyoto, Japan, or replace them with other places, such as the one to Nara (see below).
10. Kyoto Castle: Nijō-jō
Nijō-jō Castle is the former residence of the Tokugawa shogunate. The architecture of some parts of the castle may remind us of Tokyo Castle or Osaka Castle.
The best time to visit Kyoto Castle is at the opening or in the morning, as it will be less crowded than in the afternoon. Find more information for visiting on the official castle website.
11. Visiting Kyoto Market: Nishiki Market
A 30-minute walk from Kyoto Castle is Nishiki Market. A market that is over 400 years old! It’s a lively place and an excellent spot for lunch or just for a walk. However, be aware that after 5 pm, there’s not much going on, and the stalls are closed. Therefore, It’s better to come here during the daytime.
12. Arashiyama and its Bamboo Forest
After lunch, you can set off to discover Arashiyama! This park is far away but quite famous on Instagram, especially for its majestic bamboo forest. If you visit Kyoto in 3 or 4 days, it’s an ideal place to relax. The bamboo forest is very small, so go also to the riverside, which is worth seeing.
Visiting Kyoto in 4 Days: Itinerary for the 4th Day
There are numerous temples and shrines to see in Kyoto! For instance, we have not yet examined Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji, Tenryu-ji, and Nanzen-ji. However, to change things up, you may choose to have a green day instead on your fourth day in Kyoto.
Good to know. Zoos in Japan can often be uncomfortable for International travelers. The spaces for the animals are tiny. Even though Kyoto Zoo or Tokyo Zoo (especially in Ueno Park) are very popular among locals, they are not a priority visit to Japan.
Day 4: Nara National Park
Nara National Park is among the best places to explore in Japan. You can visit this park from Kyoto or Osaka. Both are possible, but note that the journey by train from Kyoto will be faster. That’s why we added it to this travel itinerary in Kyoto.
13. Visiting Nara from Kyoto
You can travel to Nara National Park from Kyoto on a direct train via the Nara Line. The same train line also takes you to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine (our 1st thing to do in Kyoto).
Nara Park is known for its deer and doe. Here, they roam freely, and you can also feed them by buying food at the available kiosks. A perfect nature escape awaits you!
Where to eat in Kyoto
Here are the lovely places to walk in the evening in Kyoto, Japan, and eat: the Pontocho district, Nishiki Market, and the adjacent streets. You can also go to the shopping malls near the Kyoto station. You can also find some tasty restaurants in the train station underground mall. In Japan, there are a lot of restaurants in the underground alleys. However, remember that the more praising reviews a restaurant has, the bigger the queue.
Good to know. Many restaurants in Japan are only open until 2 or 3 pm, and others only open from 5 pm. Few restaurants are open all day, except those in shopping malls. In Japan, you will often queue for a restaurant. If you have spotted a good restaurant in Kyoto, book in advance (you can ask your hotel to do it for you).
Tipping in Japan. Do not tip in Japan. Great service is expected everywhere, so tipping is never expected. It can even be insulting to the waiter. In restaurants, cash payment is still widely practiced.
Konbini. It is the name of the convenience stores (7-Eleven, Family Mart) found all over Japan. They are open 24/7, and you can find pre-made dishes, salads, and local specialties there. If you visit many places in Kyoto on the same day, this is an easy solution for a quick lunch.
Districts and hotels to stay at for visiting Kyoto
If you’re visiting Kyoto for 2, 3, or 4 days, prefer accommodations:
- near the Karasuma, Sanjo, or Higashiyama stations (to be closer to lively districts, although compared to Tokyo, Kyoto is a much calmer city);
- near the Kyoto station and the Kyoto Tower (for faster transfer).
The Gracery Kyoto Sanjo (downtown Kyoto) or the Kyoto Granbell Hotel (traditional district of Kyoto) are among the best accommodations. Find our favorite places and best neighborhoods here: Where to stay in Kyoto.
Travel tips for Japan
Travel itinerary. You can visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, or even Hiroshima for a two-week trip to Japan. All these cities are different and show a different Japan. Here’s an example of an itinerary in Japan in two weeks.
How to get around Japan. The train is perfect for getting around Japan. You can purchase individual tickets or opt for the JR pass (not always interesting). For long-distance trips, buy tickets in advance to ensure you sit together.
Public transport. Public transport is practical, especially in Tokyo or Osaka. In Kyoto, some lines can be very crowded. You can use local taxis (when they are available) or the Uber app. The taxi is worth it to save time.
How to pay in Japan. Cash is still widely used in Japan. Many restaurants do not accept credit cards. Make sure to always have yens with you.
If you are going to Japan, Kyoto is a must-visit destination! It’s an ideal place to discover Shinto scales and Japanese culture. And if you want to take a break from temples and shrines, don’t hesitate to walk on the Path of Philosophy or visit Nara National Park from Kyoto.