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Kyoto is often high on the list for first-time visitors to Japan, the possibility of seeing a Geisha and the iconic shrines offer an often relaxing escape from the busy metropolis of Tokyo. Allocating 2 days in Kyoto will not allow you to see the entire city but it will be enough time to see the main attractions as well as a few hidden gems. This two days itinerary for Kyoto is aimed at being efficient in order to see the most in the available time.
Read before you visit: Interesting facts about Japan to help you plan your first trip.
This itinerary was created as part of my 10 days in Japan, therefore if you have a bit more time in Japan be sure to check that post out.
An Efficient Kyoto 2 Day Itinerary
Things to know before visiting Japan:
- If you are planning on travelling around Japan then you will need to buy a J Rail Pass in order to use the Shinkansen (bullet train). These 7, 14 or 21-day passes are only available to tourists and you can only purchase this in advance before arriving in Japan. Click here to secure your J Rail Pass.
I also advise downloading the Hyperdia App on your mobile phone. This app will give you access to the train timetable as well as the platform they will be leaving from – train stations in Japan are huge, therefore quickly knowing platforms will save a lot of time.
- Card payment is not always available in Japan, aside from large chains, most places only accept cash. Therefore ensure you have Yen before arriving in the country. If you need to withdraw cash while in Japan, most 7/11 stores have international ATMs, however, the majority of these only work with Visa and not Mastercard.
- Rent a portable wifi box. Wifi is not readily available across Japan but it is needed, for booking trains, Google Maps, Google Translate, etc. I rented this portable wifi box with unlimited internet access and collected on arrival at Haneda Airport (you can also collect from Narita Airport). At all times the internet was available and fast, you can also connect up to 9 devices at one time meaning if you are travelling as part of a group it is very affordable. Renting a wifi box will work out cheaper than purchasing a sim card in Japan.
Where to stay in Kyoto
If you are looking for affordable yet private accommodation during your 2 days in Kyoto then I would recommend the Gion Ryokan Q-beh in the Gion District. We stayed in a private traditional Ryokan room but there are also shared dorm rooms available as well. I found the Q-beh in an excellent location central to the main tourist attractions mentioned in this itinerary as well as close to the main transport links.
However, it is important to note the Gion district does close quite early, therefore you would need to go to the Kyoto Central area for dinner and drinks, from our accommodation, this meant catching a 20-minute bus. If you prefer to be close to evening entertainment then I would recommend staying at the Ibis Styles which is located opposite the main train station in central Kyoto.
Getting around Kyoto
Kyoto is not as well connected as larger cities such as Osaka and Tokyo. There is no metro (underground) available and not as many train lines, therefore the majority of travel around the city is by local bus. The buses do get busy, however, they also run frequently.
You can purchase a 1-day bus pass for ¥600 (£4.30) or pay for each journey at ¥230 (£1.65). Both of these are purchased on the bus (cash only) and you pay when leaving the bus, as opposed to when boarding.
Uber is widely available across Kyoto.
As quite active people, we walked a lot in Kyoto. To give perspective, it took us 30 minutes to walk from Kyoto Station to the Gion District. Kyoto is relatively flat and therefore, we did not find walking to be too strenuous.
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Suggested 2 day Kyoto itinerary
As I have created this as an efficient itinerary it does include early starts, this is so you can see as much as possible during your two days in Kyoto. This is most important if you are travelling to Kyoto during autumn and winter, as it often starts to get dark around 4 pm over these seasons.
I would advise arriving in Kyoto the previous evening, this will allow you to wake early and have the full day to explore.
Start the day by visiting the Bamboo Forest. The bamboo forest is one of the busiest attractions in Kyoto and I advise arriving early (8 am) to see it when it is less crowded. You can reach the Bamboo forest by taking the JR Line (included in your JR Pass) from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station. From the station, it is a well-signposted 10-15 minute walk.
I will say I found the bamboo forest to be slightly over-rated, it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be and looks a lot more impressive in photos than in real life. However, I do still think it is worth visiting and this is because of the area surrounding it. A A walk through the bamboo forest will lead you on a large park which is great for taking a walk around and leads on to various parks, it will also lead on to the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
The Arashiyama Monkey Park is home to over 120 wild Japanese Macaques or ‘snow monkeys’ as they are more commonly known as. These macaques are free-roaming and wild, however, they are used to the tourists which visit the park daily.
In this area, you also have the opportunity to board the Sagano scenic railway train. The traditional truck train takes a beautiful scenic route around the area and is most popular during the Japanese autumn foliage as well as during cherry blossom season. The most popular route is from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station which takes around 25 minutes and is priced at ¥240 per person/ per ride. Seated tickets on the train are limited, therefore, on arrival to the Bamboo Forest, book your tickets at the train station just outside before they sell out. This is another reason I would advise arriving early to the Bamboo Forest, the tickets sell out extremely quickly.
After the Bamboo Forest, take the train back to Gion-Shijo Station to spend the afternoon exploring the Gion District. This train is not included within the JRail Pass, therefore you will need to buy a ticket, alternatively, if you would like to save money, you can take the train back to Kyoto Station (as part of the JR pass) and then use your bus pass to get the bus to the Gion District – be aware this route takes quite a bit longer.
Gion is Kyoto’s Geisha district and the centre for the traditional arts, such as Japanese Tea ceremonies. The Gion district is very traditional looking with lots of winding cobbled streets lined with various Japanese shops. It is, without doubt, the prettiest area of Kyoto but due to the popularity, it is very busy.
Due to the area still being residential, various alleys are well signposted with photography bans, please request the wishes in this area as they do carry a heavy fine if ignored.
Spend the after exploring the area as well as visiting the various shops and picking up Japanese souvenirs. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli, there is a huge official store in the heart of the Gion District with an attached cafe. Here you purchase a ton of official merchandise from animations such as My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away.
In Gion, you will also find the Yasaka Shrine, a Shinto shrine situated at the east end of Shijō-dōri. Entry is free and the shrine is open 24/7.
Other things to do in Gion, Kyoto:
On the first evening of your 2 days in Kyoto, I recommend booking a traditional Ninja training class at Ninja Dojo. Ninja Dojo has a variety of different sessions, however, the 1 hour Ninja training is a great session for those limited on time.
We found this class to be super fun yet still informative. During the sessions, you learn the history of Ninjas in Japan as well as the basics of training. You will get the opportunity to learn how to use various Ninja weapons such as swords, blow darts and throwing stars as well as learn core Ninja defence moves. The sessions are relaxed and taught in an enjoyable way, they are also suitable for all ages.
I found this to be one of the best experiences we had in Kyoto and definitely recommend booking the experience for your trip.
After your Ninja training, head further into Central Kyoto for dinner and drinks. For dinner, I recommend Dragon Burger for burgers and sake or if you prefer more traditional Japanese food then head to Chao Chao for Gyoza.
Day 2 in Kyoto
On your second morning in Kyoto head to the famous Fushimi Inari shrine. Located in Fushimi-Ku, in the south of Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is the ultimate Torii gate experience. Here you will find over 1000 Torii gates which straddle a network of trails, the trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.
Like the bamboo forest, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan. However, unlike the forest, I do think this lives up to the hype. If possible I do also recommend taking the hike through the gates up to the top of Mount Inari, for beautiful panoramic views of Kyoto.
The walk in a steady incline which takes roughly 45 minutes but sadly, it is not wheelchair accessible. There are odd stops along the way to purchase water but I would recommend filling a reusable water bottle before you arrive.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is free to enter and the nearest train station is Inari Station. Inari Station is located on a JR line and is therefore included as part of your JRail Pass. After visiting, take the train back to Kyoto Central Station.
On arrival back to Kyoto Central Station, head to bus stop B3 to take the #205 bus to the world-famous Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji Temple. The bus takes approximately 45 minutes, unfortunately, there is currently no train to the Golden Temple.
Kinkakuji, officially named Rokuon-Ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple and is famous for being the beautiful Golden Temple overlooking the water. The grounds surrounding the temple are stunning especially during the Autumn season when the goldens are complemented by the reds and oranges.
The current price to enter the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji Temple is ¥400 per person.
Spend your final evening in Kyoto at the Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto. Here you will find tons of stalls perfect for picking up traditional Japanese street food such as Dango, Octopus and Okonomiyaki as well as various places to stop and drink Sake. In this area, you will also find a fantastic ramen bar called Engine Ramen.
Where to go after Kyoto
After spending 2 days in Kyoto, the most popular tourist route is to then get the train to Osaka or Tokyo. However, if you have additional time, I recommend taking a day trip to Nara.
Nara Station can be accessed from Kyoto Central Station on the JR line and the journey will take roughly 45 minutes on the express train.
Nara is home to the famous Nara Deer Park, a great way to ethically see animals in Japan. Nara Park is home to over 1,000 sacred deer. Though born wild, the deer have become extremely wise to tourists and have chosen to interact if there is food involved (please be sure to only feed the deer food available for purchase in the park).
Deer crackers are available to purchase for ¥200 with all proceeds going towards the care of the deer. After purchasing your deer crackers, the deers will quickly find you and you will be quickly surrounded by many, many deer.
Located inside Nara you will also find the Todaiji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples.
Both the Todaiji Temple and Nara Deer Park are free to visit.
For a great place to eat in Nara, I recommend Monks on the Moon.
This Kyoto 2 Day Itinerary aims to be efficient and show you the main highlights of the city during your first visit to Japan. Due to the Shinkansen trains, it is possible to see so much of Japan in 2 weeks and Kyoto is a must-see during your itinerary.