Three days in Kyoto allows you to explore the main sightseeing districts and then head off the beaten path into the northern mountains. This is the perfect way to spend three full days in Kyoto.
Sagano Bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto © caseyyee
First: A Few Things to Keep in Mind
The first two days of this itinerary are the same as our Kyoto Two-Day Itinerary. These two days cover Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing districts: Southern Higashiyama and Arashiyama (the third day covers less popular areas). Thus, this is a good itinerary to do in the off-season (summer or winter). In high-season (spring and fall), it may be too crowded for comfort. If you will be in Kyoto in high-season, or simply like quieter spots, check out our Off the Beaten Track Itineraries. If you’ll be in town during cherry blossom season, check out our Kyoto Cherry Blossom Itinerary.
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- Duration: Three days of 6 to 8 hours of touring (not including evening strolls)
- Areas Covered: Southern Higashiyama, Downtown, Fushimi, (optional: Gion), Arashiyama, Central Kyoto, Kurama/Kibune, Northern Higashiyama
- Sights visited: Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Sannen and Ninen-zaka Area, Chion-in Temple, Shoren-in Temple, Downtown, Nishiki Market, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, (optional: Gion Shimbashi); Arashiyama, Kinkaku-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple, Kurama-dera Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Honen-in Temple, the Path of Philosophy and Nanzen-ji Temple.
Day 1: Southern Higashiyama, Downtown and Fushimi-Inari
Kiyomizu-dera Temple © wkc1
8:30am: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Take a bus or taxi to the Gojo-Kawaramachi intersection. The closest bus stop is Gojozaka. Walk up Gojo-zaka, which is the main street that leads east, up the hill, to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Most likely, you can just follow the people. Halfway up, you can bear right up Chawan-zaka, which gets you away from most of the cars and buses. Enter the temple and fully explore the temple. Don’t forget to visit the wonderful Tainai-Meguri.
Ninen-zaka area © sergejf
9:30am: Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka, then Maruyama-koen Park
After exploring Kiyomizu-dera, exit via the front of the temple and walk down Matsubara-dori Street (lined with shops) to reach the lovely preserved district of Sannen-zaka Hill. Continue down the street to where it flattens out and then go a bit further and take a right down into Ninnen-zaka, another lovely preserved district. You will come to a larger cross street with cars. Go left down the hill then quickly turn right into Nene-no-Michi, which is mostly free from cars. Follow this north, with one quick right-left jog to reach Maruyama-koen Park.
Chion-in Temple gate © ruthanddave
10:30am: Chion-in Temple
Exit the north side of Maruyama-koen and follow the street north to the impressive main gate of Chion-in Temple. Climb the steep steps and enter the wide courtyard of Chion-in. The main hall is under construction how and will be for several years, so you don’t have to linger here. Return down the steps and continue north.
Shoren-in Temple garden – image © Damien Douxchamps
11:00am: Shoren-in Temple
You’ll soon pass the enormous camphor trees in front of Shoren-in Temple. Enter the temple and enjoy a nice cup of green tea and a sweet while looking out over the garden.
Fancy Kyoto Subway train © raes_antics
11:45: Travel to Downtown Kyoto
Exit Shoren-in and walk north (downhill) to reach Sanjo-dori Street. Walk a short distance west (left) on Sanjo-dori to reach Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line. Take it two stops west and get off at Kyoto Shiyakushomae (downtown).
Downtown Kyoto © kahtava
Nishiki Market © stupid_dream
1pm: Nishiki Market
After eating lunch, make your way to the east end of Nishiki Market (where it joins the Teramachi Shopping Arcade). It’s usually crowded here, even during the off-season. Hint: If you get tired of the crowds, you can bail by walking one block south and continuing along Shijo-dori Street.
2pm: Daimaru Basement Food Floor
After you emerge from the west end of Nishiki, continue straight for a block and you’ll see Daimaru Department Store on your left. Go down the stairs in front of the entrance and enter the food floor. Explore the food floor and be sure to check out the Japanese sweets and tea section.
Keihan Line trains © 115599971@N02
2:30pm: Take the Keihan Line to Fushimi-Inari Station
Exit Daimaru via the main entrance onto Shijo-dori Street. Walk east on Shijo-dori, across the Kamo-gawa River, and walk downstairs into Keihan Gion-Shijo Station. Take the Keihan Line south to Fushimi-Inari Station (all trains EXCEPT the limited express stop at Fushimi-Inari).
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine © themonnie
3pm: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
The way is clearly marked from the station. Walk out of the station, take a left and walk up the hill, crossing the JR tracks. After crossing one relatively major street, you will see the first torii (gate) of the shrine. Walk up through this and you’ll shortly get to the main precinct of the shrine. Our Fushimi-Inari Hike gives a detailed route description. We don’t suggest doing the whole route on this day, but going up as far as Shin-ike Pond is a good idea.
Late Afternoon: Return to Hotel for Rest
By this point, you’ll definitely be in need of a rest. Take either the Keihan Line or the JR Line back from Fushimi-Inari to central Kyoto, depending upon where in town you are staying.
Kyoto Kamo-gawa River in the evening © zoonyzoozoodazoo
7pm: Dinner Downtown
Downtown Kyoto has the best selection of restaurants in town. For some picks, check out our Downtown Kyoto District page.
Gion Shimbashi in the evening © kentwang
After Dinner: Gion Shimbashi
After dinner, if you still have energy, a walk through Gion is a great idea. Start from Shijo-Ohashi Bridge (the big bridge on Shijo-dori over the Kamo-gawa River). At the east end of the bridge, cross Kawabata-dori and walk north on the east side of Kawabata for about 100 meters. You will soon see a tree-lined pedestrian lane. This is the end of Shirakawa-dori. Follow it east and you’ll get to the Shimbashi District (also known as Shirakawa), which is the most beautiful street in Kyoto. In busy seasons, it will be crowded with people. After checking it out, make your way through the alleys south to Shijo-dori and walk east to Shijo and cross over into Hanami-koji, another picturesque lane. This is geisha territory, so keep your eyes peeled.
Day 2: Arashiyama, Kinkaku-ji and Daitoku-ji
8:30am: Head west to Arashiyama by taxi, train or bus
Your choice of transport out to Arashiyama will depend on where you are staying and your willingness to take taxis. See our Arashiyama District page for transport information to Arashiyama (scroll to near the end of the page).
Tenryu-ji Temple pond in spring © neekohfi
9:00am: Tenryu-ji Temple
First, explore the superb Tenryu-ji Temple, being sure to check out both the inside of the main hall and the expansive stroll garden.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove © norwegian-cactus
10:00am: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Leave Tenryu-ji by the north gate (accessible through the garden), and take a left, which will bring you into the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Take your time savoring the magical atmosphere here, while working slowly uphill.
Okochi-Sanso Villa © hslo
10:30am: Okochi-Sanso Villa
At the top of the hill in the Bamboo Grove, you will see a small hut and a road leading up the hill into the forest. This is the entrance to the superb Okochi-Sanso Villa, the former home of a wealthy Japanese actor. Enter the villa and take your time exploring the garden. Be sure to hold onto the ticket they give you, because it will get you a nice cup of green tea and a sweet after the garden tour.
11:30am: Lunch in Arashiyama
Leave Okochi-Sanso Villa and return to central Arashiyama. Eat a simple lunch of noodles or rice in one of the shokudo (noodle and rice restaurants) on the main strip. For some picks, see our Arashiyama District page.
12:30pm: Taxi to Kinkaku-ji Temple
There really isn’t a good way by public transport, so from Arashiyama, take a taxi over to Kinkaku-ji Temple, the famed “Golden Pavilion” in Northwest Kyoto. A taxi from Arashiyama to Kinkaku-ji will cost around Y2,000.
Kinkaku-ji Temple © neepster
1:00pm: Kinkaku-ji Temple
Take your time strolling through the grounds of Kinkaku-ji. Yes, it will most likely be crowded at this time, but it almost always is.
2:00pm: Taxi to Daitoku-ji Temple
Again, there’s really no good way to go by public transport, so jump in a taxi to Daitoku-ji Temple. It will cost around Y2,000 from Kinkaku-ji. Note that if you’re starting to feel templed out by this point, consider cutting out Daitoku-ji and just head back to downtown Kyoto. Buses run for the Kinkakuji-michi stop to downtown and Kyoto Station.
Zuiho-in Subtemple at Daitoku-ji – image © Damien Douxchamps
2:30pm: Daitoku-ji Temple
Explore the Zen world of Daitoku-ji Temple. Consider entering one of the subtemples like Koto-in. For full details on Daitoku-ji, see our Exploring Daitoku-ji Temple page.
3:00pm: Karasuma Subway Line to Shijo Station
From Daitoku-ji, it’s about a 20-minute walk east on Kitaoji-dori Street to reach Kitaoji Station on the Karasuma subway line. This subway will get you downtown or to Kyoto Station in a few minutes.
Late Afternoon: Rest at your hotel
By this point, you’ll certainly be in need of some down time.
Downtown Kyoto in the evening © cezzie901
Pontocho Alley in the evening © ajari
Day 3: Kurama/Kibune and Northern Higashiyama
Steps up to Kurama-dera Temple © 143466180@N07
In the morning, take a half-day trip up to the village of Kurama and do the hike over the mountain via the temple to the quaint village of Kibune. We give full transport directions and hiking directions on our Kurama to Kibune Hike page.
Noon or 1pm: Lunch back in Kyoto
After doing the Kurama to Kibune hike, take the Eizan train back to Demachiyanagi and eat lunch somewhere near the station. There are plenty of restaurants in the Hyakumamben area, which is the intersection of Imadegawa and Higashioji, about 10 minutes’ walk east of Demachiyanagi Station. For some restaurant recommendations, see our Northern Higashiyama District page.
Ginkaku-ji Temple © jmhullot
2pm: Ginkaku-ji Temple
After eating lunch, head east along Imadegawa-dori toward the Higashiyama mountains. It will take about 20 minutes to walk up to Ginkaku-ji Temple, which is at the base of the mountains. A taxi will get you there in a few minutes for around Y700 from Hyakumamben. Enter Ginkaku-ji Temple and explore.
Path of Philosophy – Kyoto © andersondotcom
3pm: Path of Philosophy
After exploring Ginkaku-ji Temple, walk about 100 meters down the hill and walk south along the famed Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi). It’s the canal that has a pedestrian path running alongside it. If you want, you can take a short detour up the hill to visit the lovely Honen-in Temple.
Nanzen-ji Temple San-Mon Gate © mshades
4pm: Nanzen-ji Temple
Continue walking south along the Path of Philosophy to the southern end, and then work your way further south to Nanzen-ji Temple (you’ll pass a high school en route). Even if you’re there after they close the inner garden, you can explore the grounds any time you want (the outer grounds are open 24 hours). After exploring the temple, you can walk a little south and west to reach Keage Station on the Tozai subway line. This will take you downtown for dinner or for a rest at your hotel. Alternatively, there’s a taxi rank near the front gate of Nanzen-ji.
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.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- Get travel insurance for Japan - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)