Make the most of your Kyoto trip with our Kyoto itineraries for visits lasting 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 4 days and 5 days, plus tailored Kyoto itineraries for Shoppers, Temple Lovers, Hikers and Garden Lovers
image © Jeffrey Friedl
There’s so much to do in Kyoto, how do you make the most of your time? Here, you’ll find time-tested itineraries for any length trip, plus a few specialist itineraries for those with specific interests.
Kyoto One-Day Itinerary
Even if you’ve only got one full day in the city, you can still make some memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s what we suggest:
- 8:30am: Head up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Sure, it’s mercantile and touristy, but it’s also beautiful and it’s got a great view over the city. By going early, you’ll beat the daily crowds. Whatever you do, don’t forget to enter the subterranean Tainai-Meguri.
- 9:30am: Walk down Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, two preserved streets, to Maruyama-koen Park to enjoy some greenery.
- 10:30am: Walk through Chion-in Temple but don’t linger, since it’s under construction.
- 11:00am: Enter Shoren-in Temple and enjoy a cup of tea overlooking the garden.
- Noon: Get on the Tozai Subway Line at Higashiyama Station and get off at Kyoto Shiyakushomae (downtown).
- Noon ~ 2:30pm: Eat lunch downtown and explore Nishiki Market and the food floor at nearby Daimaru Department Store.
- 2:30pm: Take the Keihan Line to Fushimi-Inari Station and walk to nearby Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine. Climb as far up the mountain as your energy permits.
- Dusk: Return to your hotel and relax and freshen up. (For Kyoto hotel recommendations, see the Kyoto Hotels page).
- Evening: Eat dinner downtown, then walk over to Shimbashi in Gion and keep your eyes peeled for geisha.
You may also wish to consider the Must See Kyoto 1 Day Itinerary which I’ve written up separately.
It’s important to think about your hotel location for making the most of your time in Kyoto. See Where To Stay In Kyoto for a rundown of the most convenient Kyoto districts for sightseeing. You might also find my pick of the best places to stay in Kyoto useful.
Kyoto Two-Day Itinerary
Two days is enough to get a good taste of what Kyoto has to offer (and to whet your appetite for more). I suggest spending your first day in the Higashiyama sightseeing district and your second day in the Arashiyama sightseeing district, with a few sights in the northwest of the city for good measure.
- Do the One-Day Itinerary listed above.
- 8:30am: Head west to Arashiyama by taxi, train or bus.
- 9:00am: Enter Tenryu-ji Temple and explore the temple.
- 10:00am: Leave Tenryu-ji Temple by the north gate, which will bring you into the famed Bamboo Forest. Explore the Bamboo Forest for about half an hour.
- 10:30am: Leave the Bamboo Forest and enter Okochi-Sanso Villa.
- 11:30am: Leave Okochi-Sanso Villa and return to central Arashiyama. Eat a simple lunch of noodles or rice in one of the shokudo (simple eateries) on the main strip.
- 12:30pm: Take a taxi over to Kinkaku-ji Temple, the famed “Golden Pavilion” in Northwest Kyoto.
- 1:00pm: Explore Kinkaku-ji Temple. Yes, it will be crowded at this time, but it almost always is.
- 2:00pm: Take a taxi down to Daitoku-ji Temple and enjoy the peace and quiet of a small subtemple there. Consider Koto-in Temple.
- 3:00pm: Take the Karasuma Subway Line to Shijo Station and enjoy a bit of shopping or café life.
- 4:00pm: Take a rest at your hotel.
- 6:00pm: Eat dinner downtown and then take an evening stroll on Pontocho Alley or on Kiyamachi-dori south of Shijo-dori.
Kyoto Three-Day Itinerary
Three days allows you to see a lot of Kyoto. If you’ve only got one week in Japan, two days in Tokyo, a day in Nara or Takayama and three days in Kyoto is ideal. Here’s the best way to make use of your three days in Kyoto.
Days 1 and 2:
- Do the Kyoto Two-Day Itinerary listed above
- Morning: Take a day trip to Kurama and Kibune (ideally, hike over the mountain from Kurama to Kibune).
- Afternoon: Visit the Northern Higashiyama area: Ginkaku-ji Temple, Honen-in Temple, the Path of Philosophy and Nanzen-ji Temple.
Kyoto Five-Day Itinerary
Five days in Kyoto allows you to hit most of the must-see sights in Kyoto and still have time left over for some off-the-beaten track sights and a sidetrip to Nara. You can also do some activities like Zen meditation or tea ceremony.
Days 1, 2 and 3:
- Do the Kyoto Three-Day Itinerary listed above.
- Take a daytrip to Nara.
- Visit some lesser-known temples like Tofuku-ji Temple.
- Do the hike up Mt Daimon-ji.
- Do some shopping on Teramachi-dori and Shijo-dori.
- Try an experience like Zen meditation at Myoshin-ji temple or the tea ceremony.
Kyoto Garden Lover’s Itinerary
Kyoto is the best city in Japan for gardens, bar none. You could spend months going from one garden to the next. Assuming you have about five days, here’s a collection of Kyoto’s finest gardens to gladden the heart of the most ardent garden lover.
- Ryoan-ji: This is the classic karesansui (“Zen rock garden”) It’s almost always crowded, so try to go on a Monday morning.
- Tofuku-ji: The Hojo Garden here is another brilliant karesansui garden and it’s almost never crowded.
- Koke-dera: Sure, you have to go through the application procedure, but it’s worth it to see this moss-covered paradise.
- Okochi-Sanso Villa: This is the most wonderful stroll garden in the city.
- Koto-in: This subtemple at Daitoku-ji Temple is a tiny pocket of paradise.
- Ginkaku-ji: This spacious stroll garden is a stunner, but you’ll need to show up on a Monday morning to beat the crowds.
- Gio-ji: Overlooked by almost all tourists, this tiny pocket moss garden is not to be missed.
- Taizo-in: Many garden lovers rate this ornate garden at Myoshin-ji Temple as one of the best in the city.
- Honen-in: You can enter this lovely stroll garden for free. This may be my favorite escape in all of Kyoto.
Kyoto Temple Lover’s Itinerary
- Shoren-in: On the tourist trail but overlooked by the masses, this temple looks out over a tranquil pond. Order a cup of matcha (powdered green tea) and soak up the view.
- Nanzen-ji: A sprawling Zen temple at the base of the Higashiyama Mountains, this will always rank as one of my favorite Kyoto temples.
- Chion-in: The main hall is presently under reconstruction. When it’s finished, it will be awe-inspiring.
- Honen-in: A tiny temple just around the corner from perpetually-crowded Ginkaku-ji. Go there for the peace and quiet.
- Shinyo-do: Few people make it to this sublime temple atop Yoshida-yama. It’s a magical place.
- Tofuku-ji: This Zen temple in the southeast of the city boasts huge main halls and a brilliant karesansui garden.
- Myoshin-ji: A walled-in world of brilliant Zen temples and subtemples, may with fine gardens.
- Anraku-ji: Only open twice a year, this tiny temple has a fine Buddhist altar and a tragic history.
- Kurama-dera: This mountain-top temple will always be my favorite place in Kyoto.
Kyoto Shopper’s Itinerary
- Nishiki Market: Kyoto’s finest food market, hands down.
- Daimaru Depachika: The basement food floor is like Aladdin’s Cave.
- Morita Washi: The best place on earth to see Japanese handmade paper (washi).
- Zohiko: The best lacquerware shop in Kyoto, with a museum on its second floor.
- Ippodo: If you like green tea, you must make a pilgrimage to this atmospheric old shop.
- Tenjin-san: Old kimono, bric-a-brac and antiques are among the many offerings at this fine flea market.
- Kobo-san: Similar to the above: it’s a must-see if you’re in town when it’s on.
- Kyoto Handicraft Center: A step up from most souvenir emporiums. Wood-block prints are especially good here.
- Junkudo: The best bookstore in Kyoto, with a good selection of English-language books.
- Aritsugu: Kyoto’s finest knife shop.
Kyoto Hiker’s Itinerary
- Daimon-ji: The classic Kyoto hike. Two hours of bliss.
- Fushimi-Inari Circuit: Get in shape and gain spiritual merit on this mountain-top circuit. And, yes, you’ll pass through thousands of vermillion tori (Shinto shrine gates).
- Kurama and Kibune: My favorite hike in the Kyoto area. It’s a half-day classic and a nice break from the city.
- Takao-Hozukyo: Sample some lovely temples than amble for a few hours alongside a crystal-clear river.
- Daimon-ji to Nanzen-ji: This traverse along the top of the Higashiyama Mountains is the perfect half-day hike.
Browse All Kyoto Itineraries
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