kyoto_higashiyama
How long to spend in Kyoto

Vacationers

3-4 days

Culture buffs

5 days

Globetrotters


Kiyomizu-dera

DAY 1 – Higashiyama

Morning Southern Higashiyama
Afternoon Kiyomizu-dera
Evening Pontocho Alley & Gion

Get the metro to Higashiyama station and begin your day exploring one of the most beautiful and best preserved parts of Kyoto. A self-guided walk through the region will pass by many shrines and preserved streets, starting with Shoren-in Temple and the massive Choin-in Temple. Continue heading south until you reach the peaceful and pretty Maruyama Park (particularly beautiful in cherry blossom season). Then duck into the Yasaka Shrine, known as the place where the summer festival (Gion Matsuri) is celebrated every July. Next up along the path is Kodai-ji, a temple surrounded by intricate Zen gardens. Directly next to Kodai-ji, you won’t miss the massive Ryozen Kannon Temple statue.

Kyoto - HigashiyamaAs you’re walking around between the many temples, the small streets start to become a picturesque sight in themselves with fantastic and unique gift stores around every corner. The highlight is Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, two well preserved and popular streets often bustling with tourists and with good reason too, this area is simply stunning. Continue heading south until you reach Kiyomizu-dera Temple – saving the best temple for last and great if you can catch the sunset from. This massive temple set on a picturesque hillside location provides fantastic views over the city. Take your time making your way downhill to the Gojo station, the shops along here are some of the best places to purchase souvenirs and gifts in Kyoto. For a memorable and unique experience, get a personal rickshaw ride to see the area in a different light.

In the evening, dine at Pontocho Alley, a very thin but long alley and is filled to the brim with tea houses, bars and restaurants. After dinner go Geisha spotting whilst walking through the charming streets of Gion.

Kyoto - Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine

DAY 2

Morning Northern Higashiyama
Afternoon Fushimi-Inari
Evening Modern Kyoto

Start the day in the East again, this time in Northern Higashiyama at Ginkaku-ji Temple (The Silver Pavilion) – though not actually painted silver. You can either walk or rent a bike to explore this region. Not far from Ginkaku-ji is the Honen-in Temple. Then walk along the ‘Path of Philosophy‘, a gorgeous 2km canal-side path that looks just like a painting, especially during cherry-blossom season. After the path ends follow the signs to Nanzen-ji Temple. Next, start heading west to the Heian Shrine, passing under it’s massive Torii as you cross the bridge before the shrine. Behind the Heian Shrine is the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, another excellent spot to get traditional Japanese crafts and gifts.

After lunch, catch the train out to the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, one of the most photographed shrines in Kyoto for it’s trippy infinity effect as you’re walking along it’s paths. Thousands of vermilion Torii gates are lined up next to each other along a 4km path that winds its way up a mountain. A round trip takes 2-3hrs however you can turn around whenever you feel you’ve gone far enough.

You’ll need a rest after Fushimi-Inari! Get the train back to Kyoto main station and get out there to see a completely different side to Kyoto (although you may have seen this on your initial arrival). Kyoto station’s experimental and futuristic architecture is in stark contrast to the rest of the city, and has many restaurants, bars, shops, a cinema, hotel and department stores which makes it easy to spend a few hours here. Directly opposite the station is Kyoto Tower, another controversial and out-of-place landmark which is the tallest structure in Kyoto.

Are you a Speedy Gonzalez Globetrotter? If you cut out a temple or two you might be able to squeeze Northern & Southern Higashiyama into Day 1. In which case, spend your morning on Day 2 exploring Arashiyama instead (see Vacationers itinerary below).

Vacationers

Follow the Globetrotters itinerary for days 1-2.


Arashiyama - Bamboo ForestDAY 3 – North

Morning Arashiyama
Afternoon Kinkaku-ji & Nijo Castle
Evening Nishiki market

Today head north west to the Arashiyama district. You can get there via train to Arashiyama station. There are enough sights to fill an entire day in Arashiyama however if you only have 3 days for Kyoto, a half day here is enough to see the main points of interest. First explore Tenryu-ji Temple and it’s gardens, then exit via the north gate which will bring you into the Bamboo Forest, another Kyoto favorite for avid photographers. Meandering along the path will take you past many fields and it’ll start to feel more rural. Perhaps venture by another temple or two, such as Jojakkoji and Nisonin before returning to the town and having lunch near the Togetsukyo bridge.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) is another one of those classic scenes of Kyoto that you would have seen on postcards and posters everywhere. The temple is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately it’s one of the most difficult to get to, so to maximise time consider getting a taxi rather than the slow trek via train and bus (or go via an organised tour).

To top off an eventful day, in the afternoon head to Nijo Castle, which is closer to the city centre. This was the residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 16th Century and later used as an imperial palace. It’s a great example of classic Japanese palace architecture and well worth a visit.

In the early evening, spend some more time exploring modern Kyoto at the Nishiki market, then dine along the city’s main shopping strips, Teramachi-dori & Shijo-dori.


DAY 4

If time allows, consider spending the entire day in Arashiyama on Day 3 and devote either another half day or full day for Kinkaku-ji, Nijo Castle, a bit of shopping downtown and perhaps another sight or two from the Culture Buffs’ Day 4 itinerary below.

Culture buffs


Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)DAY 4

Morning Kinkaku-ji & Nijo Castle
Afternoon Central Kyoto
Evening Tea Ceremony / Gion

Follow the Globetrotters itinerary for Days 1-3, however spend the entire day in Arashiyama on Day 3.

Spend the morning visiting Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) followed by Nijo Castle. I wouldn’t bother with Ryoan-ji, the overrated “classic” Zen garden which is quite out of the way and the least peaceful Zen garden in Kyoto. Only go if you’re really keen.

In the afternoon, there are still some great temples in the city center (yes, there’s still more): Higashi Honganji, Nishi Honganji & Sanjusangendo (a very unique temple housing 1001 Buddist statues!). There is the Imperial Palace too however it can only be visited if arranged via a tour group and does dull a bit in comparison to all the other temples.

In the evening, go to an organised tea ceremony in Gion to experience this Japanese tradition.


DAY 5

Feeling like you’ve seen a few too many temples by now? Kyoto has a number of museums and other attractions that could fill another half day or full day depending on your interests:
- Kyoto National Museum
- Museum of Modern Art
- Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art
- Museum of Kyoto
- Nishijin Textile Center
- Manga Museum
- Kyoto Aquarium

Got more time?

Many travellers opt to use Kyoto as a base for many fantastic day trips in the surrounding area, and this is a great idea! If you have more time up your sleeve it’s worth looking into the following:
- Nara. Walking around Nara Park amongst many deer and seeing the Big Buddha makes a fun day out from Kyoto.
- Osaka. A modern metropolis. Do yourself a favour and base yourself in Kyoto, not Osaka (which can be covered in a single day).
- Himeji. For Himeji Castle.
- Kobe

Days mapped out

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Ever wondered how long you need to spend in a particular city or place? You can spend hours crawling the web trying to find a well informed answer.

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