Here is a two day trip guide to Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan. Famous for its shrines, palaces, and tradition, Kyoto is a beautiful city to stop by if you’re around the area (like in Osaka). However, you can also take it slow and enjoy all the sites that Kyoto offers.
If budget permits, I would recommend experiencing an onsen (hot springs resort) or ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) during your stay in Kyoto. Kyoto is relatively more peaceful compared to other bustling city centers like Osaka and Tokyo, and the tranquil nearby areas also add to the city’s allure, making it ideal to enjoy a traditional onsen or ryokan.
Staying at an onsen or ryokan, you can also most likely enjoy a ‘kaiseki‘ meal, where you are given a multi-course meal is presented in beautiful, small, delectable portions, with emphasis on freshness and natural taste.
There are lots of onsen options a little ways out of Kyoto (and easily reachable by local train), such as around Lake Biwa, like in the city of Otsu, and ryokans are plentiful in this historical center. Below are some links to start your search!
Alternatively, if you just want to enjoy a kaiseki meal and save on accommodation, there are plenty of restaurants in Kyoto to choose from as well.
Transportation: Bus and Subway; for more information on public transportation in Japan, please head to this post.
- Kimono/Yukata rental: Depending on what season you are visiting Kyoto in, you will be able to rent out a kimono or yukata (only available in the summer, usually until September) in one of the many rental places found around the city. Don these traditional Japanese clothing pieces and head out to the shrines or take a walk around town! Make sure to be respectful to the culture while wearing these though! Also, don’t be surprised by people taking pictures of you and be respectful to people who are wearing it too. Ask and don’t go up in their face with your camera. When we were there, some tourist was chasing after a little girl in her yukata and the mom was running after her child, yelling ‘that weird guy keeps on taking pictures of our kid.’ Yeah, don’t be that guy.
- Recommendation: We went to Kyo-gokoro for our yukata rental. For ¥5,800, we were able to keep out yukata and the package came with a pair of geta (like flip-flops) and a traditional pouch to carry your belongings in while you’re in a yukata. The people there were really nice! Reservations can be made online on the website or through email, which can be typed in English. There are lots of packages to choose from so don’t be shy to ask them about it!
- Tō-ji (東寺): Dating from the Heian period, Tō-ji is a Buddhist temple that once guarded the entrance to the capital city. Its iconic five-story pagoda is the tallest wooden structure in Japan.
- Price: ¥500
- Address: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-8473, Japan (around 15 minutes away from Kyoto Station)
- Kinkaku-j (金閣寺)i: The beautiful Golden Pavilion temple is a zen-Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf, its reflection casting softly into the lake in front of it. The surrounding gardens are a tranquil place to take a walk around as well. Grab some green tea ice cream on your way out if you’re sweating buckets or hungry!
- Price: ¥400
- Address: Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361, Japan
- Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社): Perhaps the most iconic of Kyoto’s iconoic shrines is the Fushimi Inarai-taisha. In this shrine dedicated to the Inari foxes, you’ll find thousands of red torii gates. If you have time, make your way up the hill and visit all the little shrines on the way! The Inari are the bringers of prosperity and success so you’ll find that lots of the torii gates here were donated by a Japanese business.
- Price: FREE
- Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Japan (JR Inari Station)
- Gion District (祇園, ぎおん) and Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社): The Gion District is bustling with tourists, but that doesn’t mean it’s a tourist trap or anything! In fact, this is where you can find lots of local delicacies, hidden and top rated restaurants, and lots of cultural experiences. The Gion District is full of traditional Japanese architecture and taste and ideal for taking a look into a more traditional way of living. Gion is also the most well-known for being a geisha (geiko in Kyoto) district. There are some places that offer a chance to watch geiko performances and you may even be able to catch an annual public dance, such as the Miyako Odori, while you’re there. If you spot a geisha on the street, don’t mob her…she’s trying to get somewhere too. Yasaka Shrine is located in front of Gion. Go during the summer for one of the most popular festivals in Japan.
- Nijō Castle (二条城): Built for the first shogun of the Edo period and later as an imperial palace, Nijō Castle holds historical and cultural importance in Japan. The gardens of this castle are plentiful and feature different styles with flowers and trees planted all around to show beauty, no matter what season. The castle is now a UNESCO site.
- Price: ¥600 (make sure to check opening times as the castle is often closed on Tuesdays during the first half of the year)
- Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan
- Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所): The former imperial ruling palace of Japan before the capital was moved to Tokyo.
- Price: FREE
- Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881, Japan
- Arashiyama (嵐山): Located a little ways outside of city centre, Arashiyama District is an expansive area featuring many must-go destinations. Depending on time, you should pick and choose where you want to go. Recommendations include the grand bamboo groves, Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street, and Togetsukyo Bridge
Places to eat:
Generally, the Gion district has lots to choose from if you’re looking for restaurants. Many places look ‘closed’ since the doors are not open and you can’t really see inside but in fact, everything is open, so try opening the door before leaving HAHA.
Izuu: Izuu is a small and quiet restaurant that serves up delicious Kyoto-styled sushi which features a thick slice of kelp wrapped around the rice. Remove it and eat it separately when eating.
Address: 367 Kiyomotocho, Higashiyamaku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0084, Japan
Ippudo: A chain ramen restaurant founded Fukuoka and now available in cities around the world. It’s one of my favorite ramen chains.
Santouka: Another famous chain ramen restaurant, this time from Hokkaido. Delicious, hearty broth and soft chashu yum.
Gogyo: Famous for ‘burnt’ miso ramen. Located in Nishiki Market
Address: 〒604-8121 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 柳馬場通蛸薬師下る十文字町452番地
Nishiki Market: Plenty of restaurant options and fresh produce can be found here! You can find many of Kyoto’s specialties along this street so come here to try a little of everything.
Address: 〒604-8054 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 富小路通四条上る西大文字町609
Kichi Kichi: A very, very famous omelette rice (omurice) restaurant. Reservations recommended/basically required.
Book here!!: ✩
Address: 185-4 Zaimokucho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8017, Japan