Best Itineraries for Kyoto:
Suggested Stay: 4-5 Full Days
Important Hours: Many museums and temples close at 5pm with the last admission 4pm. Nijo Castle is closed on Tuesdays in December, January, July & August. Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest are open 24/7 and can be great after dark.
Best Time Of Year To Visit: Early April for Cherry Blossom season is the best, although you’ll need to book your hotels very far in advance. During the peak Fall colors of late Autumn (end of November-early December) is also another great time to visit.
Dividing Your Time in Kyoto:
Suggested itineraries for Kyoto can get a little bit tricky since there are around 6 main areas of town to see which are quite spread out. You can power through a lot of sights in just 24 or 48 hours in Kyoto, but at least 4-5 full days to make room for everything while also allowing for a side trip or two. To make things easier for yourself you need to stay either right in the heart of old town or close to the train station. The suggested itineraries for Kyoto that we’ve come up with are from our own first-hand experiences and hopefully help you make the most of your visit.
One Day In Kyoto:
Having just 1 day in Kyoto you are going to need to focus your itinerary on the main sights while reducing wasted time hopping around time. We like to start the morning early to hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its trails through the 10,000 vermilion colored torii gates that line the mountainside. The shrine is only 5 minutes from Kyoto Station by train and is dedicated to the fox spirit Inari. The tourist crowds are a lot smaller early in the morning which lets you feel better connected to nature as you hike the shaded trails. With only 24 hours in Kyoto avoiding the crowds is important. As you work through the tunnels of torii gates, stop to relax at one of the tea houses on the route to the summit which date back to the 1600s. Hiking the entire 2-hour long trail to the top is very rewarding, but if pressed for time you’ll want to go at least halfway up.
After your hike, take the train for 15 minutes to Gion Station and walk over to Maruyama Park for lunch at its outdoor courtyard under a ton of weeping cherry trees. From the park, you can spend the afternoon walking straight South to tour the streets of Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama). As you weave uphill through the cobblestone market streets of Ninenzaka (nin-in-zaka) and Sannenzaka (son-in-zaka) you’ll pass the timeless Yasaka Pagoda and tons of tourists dressed in full costumes like Geishas. The highlight of Old Town is the Kiyomizudera Temple complex which has a lot of hidden symbolism, great valley views, and a sacred fountain where you can get water for good luck.
As the day fades into evening watch how the streets of Kyoto turn magically at twilight. In the evening, work your way back downhill to the Gion District for the chance to see a real-life Geisha leaving one of the private tea houses. The streets of Shirakawa and Hanamikoji Dori in Gion are amazing in after dark and are a must for any suggested itinerary for Kyoto. After your Geisha safari, go to the narrow Pontocho Alley and visit one of the restaurants on the Eastside of the road with a patio overlooking the river for dinner. If there are curtains over the door the restaurant is open. With a full belly and relaxed soul, head one block to Kiyamachi Street for drinks to cap your amazing 24 hours in Kyoto.
Morning: Hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Mid-day: Lunch in Maruyama Park. Afternoon tour of Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama).
Evening: Walk through Gion on the way to Pontocho Alley for a patio dinner followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
Two Days In Kyoto:
Having a full 48 hours in Kyoto still makes for a pretty busy pace, but gives you just enough time to touch on all four corners of town. We love having at least two days in Kyoto as it let you visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine and most of Old Town just like out one day suggested itinerary, followed by a focus on the West side of town the second day. You can start day two early with a quick 15 minutes train ride to the Arashiyama neighborhood for a walk through the amazing bamboo forest. The huge grove is only a 10-minute stroll from the train station and is filled with towering bamboo trees over 110 feet tall. Getting here early before the hoards of tour groups is the best way to experience the path through the bamboo. It is extra magical at dawn and dusk as the path is illuminated.
Just across the river from the bamboo grove is the hilltop Iwatayama Monkey Park. The park has excellent views of Kyoto and is home to over 100 wild Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys. The monkeys free roam around the grounds and they also have an excellent indoor area you can go in to feed the monkeys. The monkey park needs to be on any suggested itineraries for Kyoto which are 2 days or more. Expect 20-25 minute walk to the entrance of the monkey park from the bamboo, 25 minutes up the hill, then 30 minutes back to the train station. On your way back to the train station stop at one of Arashiayama’s restaurants for a tofu lunch, a dish which the neighborhood is famous for.
After your time in Arashiyama, you can head to the Northern side of town to visit the famed Golden Pavilion. The royal pavilion is covered in gold leaf and beautifully reflects over its pond. It can get quite crowded late in the day and on the weekends, but the views of the Golden Pavilion make up for any hassle. A short bus ride or walk from the Pavilion is Kyoto’s best Zen garden at Ryoan-ji Temple. The peaceful grounds give you time to relax and complicate life’s mysteries. It is important to note that no matter where you sit along the viewing platform, you can only ever see 14 of the gardens main 15 rocks at once. If you are able to complete the Golden Pavilion and Zen Garden visit early enough you will also have time to visit the Nijo Castle, but keep in mind that all three close at 5pm with the last admission at 4pm. You’ll just have to play it by feel at the end of the day to get the most out of your 2 days in Kyoto.
•Day 1: Morning hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Lunch in Maruyama Park. Afternoon tour Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama). Evening walk through the Gion District with a Kaiseki-style dinner and drinks on Hanamikoji Dori Street.
•Day 2: Morning in Arashiyama for the bamboo forest and monkey park. Lunch at a tofu restaurant. Afternoon at the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Zen Garden. Evening dinner on Pontocho Alley followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
Morning: Visit the Arashiyama bamboo forest and riverfront.
Late Morning: Visit the Arashiyama monkey park followed by a tofu lunch.
Afternoon: Go to the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Zen Garden -or- Nijo Castle.
Three Days In Kyoto:
3 days in Kyoto is where you will really fall completely in love with this timeless city. Not only will you be able to fit in all of the main sights around town, but having 72 hours in Kyoto also lets you many of the wonderful food options. From local tofu and noodles, to signature desserts and sweets, this suggested itinerary covers it all with an added mix of wonderful dining venues. A traditional Kaiseki-style dinner is a must and we also love to fit in a stop for Kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi). In addition to the extra diversity in your food options, 3 days in Kyoto lets you explore a little more also.
We love to start the last morning at the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) which was built in 1482 by the grandson of the shogun who built the Golden Pavilion. The villa was converted into a Zen garden after the grandson’s death and the grounds are awesome to walk around. You may feel that the outside of the wooden pavilion is a little bare, and that is because the grandson never got to cover it in gold leaf as intended before he died. Expect about 30 minutes by bus or taxi to the Silver Pavilion from Kyoto Station.
After roaming the grounds stroll downhill to the walkway next to the cherry blossom lined stream known as Philosopher’s Path. The path was nicknamed after a professor from nearby Kyoto University that would walk here and is the perfect place to clear your mind while taking in nature’s beauty. The path is especially gorgeous in early April when the cherry blossoms bloom. Toward the end of the path, we like to visit the main gate of Nanzenji Temple and the Dragon Pagoda at Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple before touring the vast complex of the Heian Jingu Shrine. The diversity you will see taking the morning to tour these temples will make you appreciate each of them more.
With the temples time behind you, head over the center of Kyoto to eat a lunch in the early afternoon at Honke Owariya Noodle Restaurant which has been open since 1465. The restaurant is only a 10-minute walk from one of our favorite places in Kyoto, Nijo Castle. The castle was built in the shadow of the nearby Imperial Palace by the local shogun warlord in 1603 and is famous for its Nightingale floors that squeak to warn of intruders. In 1867 the shoguns were disbanded as Japan united around a new capital in Tokyo and Nijo Castle became a vacation house for the Emperor.
We like to finish our 3rd day in Kyoto at Nishiki Market which has got its first shops in 1310 and has grown into a 7 block long covered market. The market is often called Kyoto’s Kitchen as it has over 100 small restaurants in addition to serving as a lively market for seafood, dry goods, and spices. There are two 10 block long shopping arcades that crisscross the market which provides excellent souvenir shopping as you work toward the river. This puts you in the perfect spot to end the night and this suggested itinerary for Kyoto with dinner on Pontocho Alley followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
•Day 1: Morning hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Lunch in Maruyama Park. Afternoon tour Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama). Evening walk through the Gion District with a Kaiseki-style dinner on Hanamikoji Dori Street.
•Day 2: Morning in Arashiyama for the bamboo forest and monkey park. Possible scenic train or boat ride. Lunch at a tofu restaurant. Afternoon at the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Zen Garden. Conveyor belt sushi for dinner.
•Day 3: Morning tour the Silver Pavilion, walk the Philosopher’s Path, and visit some of the surrounding temples. Lunch at Honke Owariya Noodle Restaurant. Afternoon Nijo Castle followed by Nishiki Market. Evening dinner on Pontocho Alley followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
Morning: Visit the Silver Pavilion temple complex.
Morning: Walk the Philosopher’s Path.
Afternoon: Tour Nijo Castle followed by Nishiki Market.
Four Days In Kyoto:
We love having at least 4 days in Kyoto as not only will it help you to really fall in love with the city, but it will also give you a chance to fit in an amazing day trip to Himeji. With 4 days, we carry over everything from our 3 day suggested itinerary for Kyoto but bump the third day back to squeeze the day trip in the middle. We like to do it this way so you have the flexibility to adjust your days for weather and to make sure you’ll have time the last day in Kyoto to revisit anything you’ve missed.
Luckily Himeji is only around 55 minutes from Kyoto by high-speed rail and covered by the JR Rail Pass. You can head over in the morning to tour the grounds of the best preserved Feudal castle in Japan. The wooden interior of the castle are just as impressive as the exterior, and there are always plenty of workers dressed up in both ninja and samurai gear to take photos with you. In the afternoon, take the bus to the cable car for a ride up Mount Shosha to tour its temples. The highlight is the Engyo-Ji complex where the hit movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise was filmed. On you way back to Kyoto in the evening, stop by Kobe to grab an unforgettable famous Kobe Beef dinner at a local steakhouse near the train station.
•Day 1: Morning hike around the Fushimi Inari Shine. Lunch in Maruyama Park. Afternoon tour Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama). Evening walk through the Gion District with a Kaiseki-style dinner and drinks on Hanamikoji Dori Street.
•Day 2: Morning bamboo forest and monkey park in Arashiyama. Lunch at a tofu restaurant. Afternoon at the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Zen Garden.
•Day 3: Morning leave on a day trip to Himeji Castle. Tour Heimeji Castle and visit Engyo-Ji Temple on Mount Shosha. Kobe beef dinner in Kobe on the way back.
•Day 4: Morning Silver Pavilion & Philosopher’s Path. Lunch at Honke Owariya Noodle Restaurant. Afternoon Nijo Castle followed by Nishiki Market. Evening dinner on Pontocho Alley followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
Day 3 Day Trip: Visit Himeji for the castle and Mount Shosha Temples.
Day 3 Day Trip: Visit Himeji for the castle and Mount Shosha Temples.
Day 3 Day Trip: Evening stop in Kobe on your way back for dinner at a beef steakhouse.
Five Days In Kyoto:
With a full 5 days in Kyoto, you will be able to move the Fushimi Inari Shrine to the final day and open up some extended time to explore Old Town on your first day. With the Shrine moved out of the first morning, mix your day up a little and time and fit in a 1-hour long afternoon tea ceremony at En (website) inside of the Chion-in Temple at Maruyama Park. Follow up your tea ceremony with some shopping on Shijo-Dori before exploring Gion in the evening.
With most of the other days staying the same as the suggested itineraries for Kyoto listed above your time in the morning to hike all the way to the summit while taking time to explore the tunnels of torii gates. We like to relax at one of the mountain tea house, which dates back to the 1600s for a traditional lunch with a view.
After your hike, you will be in a perfect position to visit the nearby village of Nara only a short 60-minute train ride straight South of Fushimi Inari. The village of Nara was the ancient capital of Japan before it was moved to Kyoto and later Tokyo. It is filled with main historic temples including Tōdai-ji which was first constructed in 752AD. Although re-built in 1692 at only two thirds the size than the original building, the temple remained the largest wooden building in the world until 1998 and is massive. Make sure to visit the 49 foot tall giant bronze Buddha inside the hall to get an idea of why they had to build the hall so large.
The real highlight of a side trip to Nara is the sacred deer that roam freely around town and are said by legend to be the messengers of the gods. The friendly deer will politely bow to you to ask for a deer biscuit treat which are sold in the vending machines all around town. It is really fun.
This 5-day plan is our favorite of the suggested itineraries for Kyoto, although extending your stay in the region another 2-3 days will also let you explore Osaka and spend a night in a temple with the monks in Koyasan.
•Day 1: Morning tour Old Town Kyoto (Higashiyama). Late lunch in Maruyama Park. Afternoon tea ceremony at Chion-in Temple in the park. Evening walk through the Gion District with a Kaiseki-style dinner and drinks on Hanamikoji Dori Street.
•Day 2: Morning bamboo forest and monkey park in Arashiyama. Possible flatboat or scenic train tour. Lunch at a tofu restaurant. Afternoon at the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Zen Garden. Conveyor belt sushi for dinner.
•Day 3: Morning leave on a day trip to Himeji Castle. Tour Himeji Castle and visit Engyo-Ji Temple on Mount Shosha. Kobe beef dinner in Kobe on the way back.
•Day 4: Morning Silver Pavilion & Philosopher’s Path walk. Lunch at Honke Owariya Noodle Restaurant. Afternoon Nijo Castle followed by Nishiki Market. Evening dinner on Pontocho Alley followed by drinks on Kiyamachi Street.
•Day 5: Morning hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Lunch at a mountain tea house. Afternoon side trip to Nara for the deer and temples. Dinner near the Kyoto train station.
Morning: Hike around the Fushimi Inari Shrine followed by a late lunch at a mountain tea house.
Afternoon: Visit Nara to see the Tōdai-ji Temple complex and giant Buddha statue.
Afternoon: Visit Nara to feed to sacred bowing deer.
Top 10 Things To Do In Kyoto:
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
2. Cherry Blossoms & Fall Foliage
3. Old Town (Higashiyama)
4. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest & Monkey Park
5. Gion Geishas District
Read More: Top 10 Things To Do In Kyoto