Not sure how to fill a 2 days in Kyoto itinerary? As the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is dotted with historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites, charming traditional streets and more! Let guest author Sean Lau show you how to properly tackle this rich city in this two day Kyoto itinerary.
Also, check out our Japan trip planner, the highlights of Japan and how to get off the beaten path in Japan.
Two Days in Kyoto Itinerary
As the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is dotted with historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites (17 in total!), top-notch Japanese restaurants, charming traditional streets and more!
We will show you how to properly tackle this rich city in this 2-day Kyoto itinerary.
IS 2 DAYS IN KYOTO ENOUGH?
If you are planning a 2 days in Kyoto itinerary, you must wonder whether two days is enough to see its best attractions. While the number of days in Kyoto spent depends on the type of traveler, 2 days in Kyoto is generally enough time.
One day in Kyoto is a viable option for those that are limited on time. You might be able to see the best of what Kyoto has to offer but you won’t be able to do it at an enjoyable pace. If you want to dive deeper into some of the attractions of Kyoto, sorry but you just won’t have the time to do so.
Three days or more in Kyoto are perfect for slower travellers. These are the travellers that like to get in-depth with whatever they are interested in. With Kyoto’s rich history, travellers can spend a lot of time in the temples, learning about Gion and the history of the geishas, exploring the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city, or even taking a day trip to a nearby city in the Kansai region.
Two days is the perfect amount of time for travellers to see all the best attractions in Kyoto without having to rush anything. It will give you enough time to explore at your own pace and go on one of the many tours in Kyoto. However, with just 2 days, you won’t be able to take any day trips from Kyoto.
SHOULD YOU PURCHASE THE KYOTO 2-DAY PASS?
In every major touristy city in Japan, there are passes designed for tourists to maximize their experience and save money. In Tokyo, there is the Greater Tokyo Pass. In Osaka, there is the Amazing Osaka Pass. In Kyoto, there is the Kyoto Day Pass.
If you only have 48 hours in Kyoto, you might be tempted to get the 2-day pass. However, unlike most of the passes in other cities, the Kyoto Day Pass doesn’t offer free entrances to any of the attractions in Kyoto. The Kyoto Day Pass only offers passholders an unlimited number of rides on the Kyoto City Subway, Kyoto City Bus, Kyoto Bus, and Keihan Bus.
Though that covers the entirety of Kyoto, it is missing some of the most major networks such as the popular JR Line and Keihan Main Line, both of which are owned by private companies.
If you have the Kyoto Day Pass, you are more likely going to use the Kyoto buses. The buses in Kyoto aren’t exactly the most convenient or quickest method of transportation. Bus stops are often difficult to locate and not tourist-friendly. If you happen to travel during some of the busier times of the day, traffic congestion can often delay your journey by twice as long. Even without traffic, it usually takes longer to get somewhere on a bus than a train.
No one wants to get stuck on a crowded bus for 2 hours. Trust me, no one.
If you have to take a bus, we would recommend you to take the train to the closest station, and then catching a taxi from there.
For those reasons, we wouldn’t recommend getting the Kyoto 2-Day Pass as part of your 2 days in Kyoto itinerary.
—Day 1 – Kyoto Itinerary
Day 1 Overview:
Day 1 of our Kyoto itinerary will explore some of the attractions located on the outskirts of town. Starting with the Arashiymama Bamboo Forest in the morning, we will continue onto Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Philosopher’s Path and finally visiting the Kyoto Tower for a night/sunset view.
Arashiyamam Bamboo Forest
If you are planning a trip to Kyoto, the Instagram-famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest must be on your mind. With tens of thousands of soaring Bamboo trees, Arashiyama Bamboo forest’s magnificence cannot be denied. Visitors can stroll along the narrow path and find themselves surrounded by these nature’s giants. As they limit light and noise to enter the dense bamboo grove, they create an unworldly and almost alien atmosphere.
This feeling is enhanced when there are only a few visitors. That is why we recommend visiting Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as early as possible, ideally no later than 8 AM. Try to avoid visiting during the day as the crowd will certainly strip away some of its charms.
After visiting Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, make a stop at the nearby Tenryuji Temple. Considered as the top Zen Buddhism Temple in Kyoto, this 1300s temple features relaxing large gardens, tea houses, and many historical buildings. When visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto, visitors must purchase tickets for different parts of the temple.
For example, the ticket for visiting the serene Japanese garden in Tenryuji is 500 yen. If you want to visit the various buildings and halls, that would cost an additional 300 yen. If you would like to see the main Dharma Hall and its Cloud Dragon Painting, that is another additional 500 yen. Though the admission to Tenryuji Temple isn’t necessarily the cheapest, it is worth the price.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Located at the top of Mount Arashiyma is the Iwatayama Monkey Park, home of over 120 Japanese macaque monkeys. Visitors can embark on a short hike through the lush greenery of Mount Arashiyama. If you are lucky, you might see a few of the wild monkeys in action.
Don’t worry though. At the top of Mouna Arashiyama, you will find an abundance of these monkeys. Though wild, the monkeys usually congregate at the top of the mountain because the park staff feeds them. Willing travelers can also purchase some food from the park officials and feed the monkeys through a metal gate. At 155 meters high, Mount Arashiyama also offers stunning views of Kyoto from above. The beauty of this view is amplified during the cherry blossom or autumn foliage season.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji, also known as the Rokuonji or Golden Pavilion, is one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto. This UNESCO World Heritage Zen Buddhist Temple uniqueness comes from its extravagant construction. The top two floors of the structure are completely covered in golden leaves, hence earning its name “Golden Pavilion”.
Built during the Yoshimitsu’s time, the Kinakuji was shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s retirement home and a way to showcase the extravagant Kitayama culture. In fact, the Kinkakuji, though only containing three floors, exemplifies three types of architecture: Shinden, Buke, and Chinese Hall.
Though visitors cannot enter Kinkakuji, they can admire its beauty from the outside. Built adjacent to a large serene pond, the beauty of the Kinkakuji is further amplified.
Located at the foot of the eastern mountains of Kyoto’s is Ginkakuji, also known as Jishoji, home of the Silver Pavilion. Ginkakuji was built by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482 to be used as his retirement home. The villa was modeled after the Golden Pavillion, which was the retirement home of his grandfather shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Unlike the Golden Pavilion that was covered in golden flakes, the Silver Pavilion is not made of anything silver.
Whereas the Golden Pavilion was an example of Kitayama Culture, the Silver Pavilion became the center of Higashiyama Culture. From Higashiyama Culture came practices such as the tea ceremony, garden design, noh theater, and more.
One of the most outstanding features of the Kinkakuji is the surreal dry-sand Zen garden known as “Sea of Silver Sand”. It’s uniform and meticulous arrangement of dry sand is quite pleasing to look at. Continue past the Zen garden and you will reach Ginakakuji’s moss garden, another feature of a typical Zen Buddhist temple. With its small streams, ponds, and various plants, it adds to the tranquil atmosphere of the temple.
The Philosopher’s Path is a 2-km stone path that starts from the Ginkakuji Temple and ends at Nanzenji Temple, another temple worth seeing if you can spare the extra time. This path earned its name from Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japnese philosopher who often meditated on this path. This casual stone path runs along a canal and passes through numerous cafes, restaurants, small shrines and temples. If you are visiting Kyoto during cherry blossom or fall foliage season, expect an explosion of colors!
Because most of the attractions in Kyoto are temples, your sightseeing journey ends in the early evening. Before you explore Kyoto’s nightlife, grab some dinner, or head back to your hotel, make a stop at Kyoto Tower. At 131 meters high, Kyoto Tower is the tallest structure in Kyoto and the tallest non-steel structure in the world. It features a gorgeous observation deck at 100 meters high where guests can have panoramic views of the city below.
If you can arrive at Kyoto Tower before sunset, that would be great. If not, Kyoto’s night view is sure to impress as well. Just keep in mind that depending on the season, the opening hours of Kyoto Tower differ. Check with the official site to plan your visit accordingly!
—Day 2 – Kyoto Itinerary
Day 2 Overview
Start the day with an informative Kyoto Walking Tour, then head over to the Instagram-famous Fushimi Inari Taisha, continue to Nishiki Market, Kiyomizu-dera, and finally finishing off the night with a performance at Gion Corner and a stroll in the Gion District. That will conclude your 2 days in Kyoto itinerary.
Kyoto Walking Tour
As the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto’s rich history is difficult to unravel without the help of a guide. That is why on the second day of our Kyoto itinerary, you will start out by going on a walking tour. While there are many types of walking tours in Kyoto, we highly recommend going on one that is about Gion and its history. Depending on your budget, you can choose to take a free walking tour (where tips are expected) or a private tour.
Here are some recommendations from Get Your Guide for your 2 days in Kyoto itinerary.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
No Kyoto trip is complete without a visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Kyoto. Though one of the most significant Shinto shrines, Fushimi Inari Taisha is more known for its vermillion torii gates that each to the top of Mount Inari. Their vibrant colors and ink inscribed writing make Fushimi Inari Taisha one of the most picturesque locations in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the most important shrine that dedicates to the Shinto deity Inari, or the goddess of rice, and we don’t need to tell you how important rice is in Japanese cuisine.
While many know about the beauty of Fushimi Inari Taisha, not many visitors know that it involves a hike. Starting from the foot of Mount Inari, it takes about 2 hours to reach the top of Mount Inari. As you reach higher up the mountain, the frequency of the torii gates decreases but so does the number of tourists. If you want to grab a good photo and fully appreciate their beauty, we recommend you to hike high enough to avoid the crowd.
With no views at the top of Mount Inari, there is no reason for you to hike all the way up. However, there is a scenic vantage point about 45 minutes into the hike called the Yotsu-Tsuji intersection. We recommend not going much further than this point!
After hiking at Fushimi Inari Taisha, you must be hungry. Luckily, our next stop on the Kyoto itinerary is the famous Nishiki Market, the biggest food market in Kyoto. Spanning a total of 5 blocks, there are over hundreds of stalls and restaurants here serving some of the best food in Kyoto. Each stall specializes one a certain type of product, and most products sold are locally made.
One of the specialties of the Nishiki Market is fresh and ready-to-eat seafood. There are several stalls that sell seafood skewers, oysters, and the likes. Many of them might seem too strange to eat (like the small octopus with a quail egg inside its head) but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Located on the site of the Otowa Waterfall, the Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) is one of the most celebrated Buddhist temples in all of Japan. It was founded in 778 and has been one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto since 1994. Unlike many of the other temples in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera temple is highly interactive, perfect for anyone traveling to Kyoto with kids.
Located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall is the Otowa Waterfall and its wish-granting water. The waterfall’s water is split into three streams, representing longevity, success, and lucky love life. Attached to the fall is a bucket with a long handle where visitors can drink from one of the three streams. However, don’t drink from more than one because that is considered greedy and your wish will not be granted.
Kiyomizu-dera’s most popular feature is the wooden platform that juts out of the main hall, rising 13 meters above the ground. This platform is one of the best places to view the cherry blossom season and/or the sunset. We highly recommend you timing your visit perfectly so that you can admire the sun dip below the horizon at this location!
After the sun has set, it is time to learn more about the history of Kyoto, namely the art of the geishas. Hiring a private geisha for an evening of entertainment might cause you thousands of dollars, but there is a place where visitors can travelers can enjoy a public performance – Gion Corner. Not only can visitors see the kyo-mai dance performed by maikos (geisha’s apprentices), but 6 other kinds of performing arts.
The show starts at 6 PM and 7 PM daily, except on special holidays or during the winter. We recommend checking with their official site and planning your visit accordingly. The cost of admission (for adults) is 3,150 JPY per person.
If you still got the energy, spend your last night in Kyoto exploring the Gion, otherwise known as the geisha’s district. Here, visitors will find some of the oldest streets in Kyoto such as Hanamikoji street. Along these old charming streets are traditional tea houses (ochayas) and other wooden merchant houses, often hidden behind small narrow alleys.
There are many scenic places that you cannot miss in Gion at night, such as the Gion Shirakawa Canal, Ninenzaka, and Yasaka-dori.
—What to Eat in Kyoto
Japanese cuisine is considered some of the best food in the world. Luckily for you, Kyoto has some of the best restaurants in Japan. Here are some restaurants we recommend:
No Japan trip is complete without trying some of its world-renowned sushi, and there is no better place to do so than at Gion Matsudaya. With a maximum seating of 6 guests, each patron is seated in front of the sushi chef as he prepares the most delicious sushi you will taste in your life. Be sure to make a reservation in advance!
PREMIUM POUND GION
Any meat lover must not miss Premium Pound Gion, a restaurant specialising in Kobe beef. Kobe’s beef is renowned for its texture, flavour, marbling, and melt-in-your-mouth quality that will surely delight anyone that is lucky enough to have a try! Because it is produced in the nearby city of Kobe, Kyoto is one of the best and cheapest places to try Kobe beef in the world!
KYOTO TEMPURA ENDO OKAZAKI
One of the most popular food in Japan is Tempura, a dish consisting of battered and deep-fried seafood, meat, and vegetables. Though it might not sound like there is a lot of art to making it, the difference between average and excellent tempura is astronomical. At Kyoto Tempura Endo Okazaki, guests can have the experience of trying some of the best tempura in Japan!
—Where To Stay In Kyoto
If you only have two nights in Kyoto, staying in the proper neighbourhood will allow you to maximise your time. As you can see from our itinerary, Kyoto sightseeing spots are scattered throughout the city. That is why we recommend staying somewhere central in Kyoto next to some of the major transportation hubs in Kyoto.
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RECOMMENDED PLACES TO STAY
Hotel Granvia Kyoto – Considered one of the best 5-star hotels in Kyoto, Hotel Granvia Kyoto is the place to stay if you want luxury. Chic and modern decor combined with big and spacious rooms will certainly provide guests the utmost comfort on their Kyoto visit.
The Thousand Kyoto – Located across from the Kyoto Station, this 5-star hotel offers ease of access to the main attractions in Kyoto and the entire Kansai region. Its futuristic decor is its most iconic feature, but guests will unquestionably find a dreamy stay here among the excellent hospitality, delicious food, and cozy rooms.
Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae Natural Hot Spring – An excellent value-for-money hotel that offers clean and comfy rooms. It features natural hot springs, a sauna, and massages, perfect for guests that to relax after a long day of exploring Kyoto.
—Best Time To Visit Kyoto
Kyoto is an all-year destination but we would generally advise against going in the winter (December to February). Though the city of Kyoto does give off a unique charm when covered in pristine white snow, the weather is generally a little too cold to go sightseeing.
- Autumn (September to November) and Spring (March to June) are generally very good months to visit Kyoto. The temperatures are moderate and allow for pleasant sightseeing. During spring, the famous cherry blossom blooming paints the city with a surreal elegance. If you are a photographer, the best time to visit Kyoto is during the cherry blossom blooming period. Alternatively, the fall foliage also creates a different but equally stunning scenery in Kyoto. Beware of visiting during those times, as you might need to make reservations well in advance.
- Summer (July to August) brings a huge flock of tourists to Kyoto due to the summer holidays. Visitors planning to visit in the summer should take into consideration the hot and humid weather. July is also the month of celebration of the Gion Festival. Visitors will surely receive a unique experience when visiting in July
This concludes our 2 days in Kyoto itinerary. We hope it has given you the information you need to plan your perfect Kyoto trip!
About The Author
Hey, I am Sean Lau of LivingOutLau. In 2018, I left the comfort of my home and job in New York City to find out what truly inspires me. Since then, I have trekked through the Andes, tested my lungs at over 5,000 meters above sea level, encountered the world’s deadliest spider in the Amazon Rainforest, and explored the world’s most catastrophic nuclear disaster. On my blog, you will find personal information, guides and travel tips as I share my discoveries of the world. This is me Living Out Loud(Lau).
More About Travel in Japan
Start with our Japan Trip Planner and itineraries and then move on to our other articles and resources on travel in Japan.
- The Highlights of Japan – read about Japan’s top attractions
- How to spend five days in Tokyo – your step by step itinerary
- This snowy festival is beautiful and I want to take you there
- The secret to the longest life expectancy in the world
- What this Nagasaki bomb survivor wants you to know
- How to enjoy hot octopus in the snow in Japan
- How to climb Mount Fuji as a day trip from Tokyo
- What is Hiroshima like today?
- The best day trips from Tokyo – you’ll be amazed at how much you can see.