If you’ve got two days in Kyoto and want to enjoy the city without the crowds, this off-the-beaten-track itinerary is for you. It’s good any time of year, but especially during crowded seasons like spring and fall.
Shisen-do Temple garden – image © Damien Douxchamps
Quick Itinerary Summary and Notes
On the first day of this itinerary, you will explore some of the quieter and less commonly visited sights in the Northern Higashiyama district. On the second day, you will explore three temples in far Northern Higashiyama and then choose between heading up to Kurama/Kibune in the mountains north of the city or taking a stroll in the Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace Park). Here, we provide details on how to do this itinerary by public transport. But, you can also do most of this itinerary by bicycle (Kurama would be a bit too far for most people to go by bicycle, however).
Day 1: Northern Higashiyama and Yoshida-Yama Hill
Murin-an Villa garden in early summer – image © Damien Douxchamps
9:00 am: Murin-an Villa
Start your day by taking the Tozai Subway Line to Keage Station. Exit the station and walk down the hill past the International Community House (this is a good place for a bathroom stop if you need it). There is a koban (police box) on the corner – turn left here down the hill. Just before Hyotei Restaurant, take a right into a narrow lane. You’ll find the entrance to Murin-An Villa on your right. Squeeze through this narrow doorway to enter the magical secret world of Murin-an Villa. The garden here is superb.
Main garden at Konchi-in Temple – image © Damien Douxchamps
10:00am: Konchi-in Temple
Leave Murin-An and retrace your steps to the koban and cross the two main streets in front of you, heading toward the mountains and Nanzen-ji Temple, which is at the base of them. Just before the main gate of Nanzen-ji, you’ll see some steps up to the right, leading to a smaller gate. Walk through this and a few more steps will bring you to Konchi-in Temple, which has a superb garden. There is plenty of room for strolling around the grounds here.
Tenju-an garden with fall foliage – image © Damien Douxchamps
11:00am: Tenju-an Temple
Exit Konchi-in and make your way back to the main street and turn right and walk through the gate into Nanzen-ji. Walk up the hill past the public bathroom. When you are roughly even with the towering San-Mon Gate (on your left), look to your right and you will see the entrance to Tenju-an Temple. This subtemple has a fine garden that is usually ignored by both Japanese and foreign tourists (to their loss). After checking out Tenju-an, consider a brief stroll around the grounds of Nanzen-ji (if it’s not too crowded).
Around Noon: Lunch
There are a few restaurants within walking distance of Nanzen-ji Temple. In addition to the yudofu (tofu in a hotpot) restaurants on the north side of the temple, your best bet is probably Hinode Udon, a great noodle restaurant about 10 minutes’ walk north of Nanzen-ji. Keep in mind that it’s closed on Sundays. If you want to avoid waiting on line, try to get there around 11.30am. To get to Hinode Udon from Tenju-an, leave Tenju-an and cut across the main grounds of Nanzen-ji and exit via the north side. Follow the road around, past a high school and Eikan-do Temple and you’ll soon get to a turning with a sign for the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi). Continue straight here and after less than 100 meters, you will see Hinode Udon on your right. (Note: If Hinode Udon is closed or doesn’t suit your palate, you can find several restaurants near the Imadegawa-Shirakawa intersection, which you will cross after visiting the next stop, Honen-in Temple).
Honen-in Temple gate – image © Damien Douxchamps
1pm: Honen-in Temple
From Hinode Udon, backtrack to the sign for the Path of Philosophy and turn left up the hill (following the sign). After walking uphill toward the mountains, you will reach a slightly steeper incline with stone cobbles in the road. At the top of this, you will find the southern end of the Path of Philosophy (it is the footpath that runs next to the canal). Follow the Path of Philosophy north for about 15 or 20 minutes and as you approach the north end of the path, you’ll see a sign pointing up the hill for Honen-in Temple. Follow it to get to Honen-in (take a left at the top of the hill and you’ll soon come to the entrance). Enjoy this wonderful quiet temple.
Yoshida Shrine © mshades
2pm: Yoshida-yama Hill
Leave Honen-in and return to the Path of Philosophy, where you take a right (heading north). You’ll soon come to the busy approach to Ginkaku-ji Temple. Take a left here (on Ginkaku-ji Michi) and walk west to the intersection with Shirakawa-dori. Cross Shirakawa and head west (downhill) on Imadegawa-dori. After about 250 meters, a small road will come down from the left and immediately after that, you’ll see a bright orange Shinto shrine gate (torii). Walk through this and climb the pathways up to the top of Yoshida-Yama Mountain. There’s a lot to see up here, including three shrines, a park (great for kids) and two nice temples on the far side of the hill.
Fallen leaves at Shinyo-do Temple – image © Damien Douxchamps
3pm: Shinyo-do Temple
After exploring the top of Yoshida-yama, make your way to south to Munetada-jinja Shrine. There is a flight of steps that lead east (downhill and in the direction of the Higashiyama Mountains in the distance). Descend these steps and walk for 100 meters through a residential neighborhood and you will find the vermillion gate of Shinyo-do Temple in front of you. This is one of the true gems of Kyoto. If you pay Y500, you can check out the small but attractive garden in back of the main hall. Otherwise, just stroll around the grounds, which are superb in the late afternoon sun. Next, pick your way via back trails through the cemetery or take the car road to the adjoining temple, Kurodani Temple. Kurodani is another temple which looks great in the late afternoon sun. After exploring Kurodani, make you way via car roads or the footpath heading south to Marutamachi-dori Street. There are two bus stops near here on Marutamachi (Okazaki Jinjamae and Okazaki-michi) where you can catch buses downtown (No 203) down to Kyoto Station (bus No 100)
Day 2: Three Quiet Temples in Far Northern Higashiyama and Kurama/Kibune
Shisen-do Temple garden with fall foliage – image © Damien Douxchamps
9am: Shisen-do Temple
Take bus No 5 from Kyoto Station or downtown Kyoto to the Ichijoji Sagarimatsu-cho stop. You will see a Circle K convenience store. From the convenience store, walk uphill, toward the mountains. You will pass through a residential neighborhood and you will soon come to a pine tree and a large stone with一乗寺の下り松 (Ichijoji Sagarimatsu) inscribed on it. Several roads converge here. You will see a small Shinto shrine with a stone torii (Shinto shrine gate) up to your left. Take the road that goes on the right side of this (follow the sign and arrow that reads 詩仙堂 (Shisen-do). Follow the narrow road uphill toward the mountains. Just before the large signs and entry to Hachidai-jinja (八大神社 ), you will find the small sign for Shisen-do Temple (詩仙堂). Take some time to enjoy this superb quiet temple.
Enko-ji Temple from above – image © Damien Douxchamps
10am: Enko-ji Temple
After leaving Shinsen-do, retrace your steps and walk about 50 meters down the hill. Take your first right into a narrow street, following the signs for曼殊院 and 圓光寺 (Manshu-in and Enko-ji). Walk 80 meters along this narrow road and you will see the entrance for Enko-ji Temple on your right. Walk up the steps and enter this wonderful and rarely visited temple.
Manshu-in Temple garden – image © Damien Douxchamps
11am: Manshu-in Temple
After leaving Enko-ji, take a right on the narrow road and continue walking north and slightly east, following the small signs for 曼殊院. This section is a bit tricky and you might have to use our Google Map or ask directions (“Manshu-in wa doko desu ka?”). About 10 minutes of walking will bring you to Manshu-in Temple, yet another superb and rarely visited temple in this neighborhood.
Noon: Return to Downtown or Head North to Kurama
After checking out Manshu-in Temple, walk north along narrow lanes for about 200 meters until you reach a relatively large canal. Follow the canal downstream to the left (away from the mountains). About 10 minutes of walking will bring you back to Shirakawa-dori Street. Walk slightly south on Shirakawa and then take a right on Kitayama-dori Street. Walk about 100 meters on Kitayama and you will reach Shugaku-in Station on the Eizan tram line. Now, you have a decision to make. If you’re a bit tired, take the tram south to Demayanagi Station, eat lunch and take an easy stroll in the Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace Park). If you’re feeling fit and strong, take the tram north the last stop, Kurama Station, and do the 3.6km hike from Kurama to Kibune. Both are described below.
Kurama-dera Temple and Kitayama Mountains © donutgirl
- 12:30pm: Lunch in Kurama
After exiting Eizan Kurama Station, you will find several small restaurants on the main street of Kurama where you can eat lunch. See our Kurama and Kibune page for some recommended restaurants. After lunch, head up the wide stone steps to enter Kurama-dera Temple.
After Lunch Option A: Kurama-Kibune Hike (the tough option)
Steps leading up to Mt Kurama © zoonyzoozoodazoo
- 1:30pm: Kurama to Kibune Hike
Now, you will do the hike up to Kurama-dera Temple, over the top of the hill, and down into the village of Kibune. For full directions, see our Kurama to Kibune hike page.
Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace © lucamascaro
After Lunch Option B: Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace Park; the easy option)
12:30pm: Lunch near Demachiyanagi
You will find several lunch options near Demachiyanagi Station, including Falafel Garden. For more choices, head down to Imadegawa-dori Street.
Tree in Kyoto Gyoen © mustangjoe
- 1:30pm: Kyoto Gyoen (Kyoto Imperial Palace Park)
After lunch, walk south for a few minutes to reach Imadegawa-dori Street. Take Imadegawa west and cross over the Kamo-gawa River. Continue west on Imadegawa for about 10 minutes and you will reach the enclosure of the Kyoto Gyoen (Kyoto Imperial Palace Park). This sprawling park has tons of hidden spots, quiet paths and secret ponds. There are also benches where you can sit down and read a book or even take a nap.
Need more ideas? Check out all our itineraries on our Kyoto Itineraries page.
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)