5 Days in Kyoto, Japan
Updated March 2019
Kyoto is a vibrant city full of rich history, beautiful shrines, and Buddhist temples. The Zen gardens cannot compare and formal traditions such as seeing a Geisha in real life and multi-course kaiseki dining make this city quite unique.
Each time we’ve visited Japan, Kyoto is always a place we go back to (it’s honestly our favorite city in Japan!). This 5 day Kyoto itinerary if full of attractions and restaurants so you can experience Kyoto to the fullest! If you have a shorter time, say 2 days in Kyoto, you are welcome to pick and choose from this comprehensive itinerary but we will go over items that you simply cannot miss while you’re in Kyoto. 🙂
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Where is Kyoto located?
Kyoto is a major city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is conveniently located roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes by train from Osaka Airport Station.
Where is the Best Place to Stay for Your 5 Days in Kyoto?
Each time we’ve visited Kyoto we have stayed in different hotels depending on which area of Kyoto we want to be close to. With limitless options to choose from during your 5 days in Kyoto, you may begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by the choices. Here are the hotels we have stayed at during our visits to Kyoto.
Budget-Friendly and Convenient Access: Kyoto Ibis Styles Hotel
If you are looking for a no frills place to stay in Kyoto, the Kyoto Ibis Style Hotel is in a convenient location and is also budget-friendly. The Ibis Style is located across the street from the Kyoto JR station which makes your stay here easy to have as your base while in Kyoto. However, keep in mind that at roughly 8,000¥ a night, there isn’t much space to sprawl out in your room.
During our stay, we slept comfortably on the double bed and had enough space to put our belongings as it was just the two of us. We also utilized the coin laundry and ice machine located in the hotel. For a small fee, you can also have breakfast at the Ibis Styles, which includes traditional Japanese items as well as more western-style dining too.
Boutique Luxury and Charm: Hotel Mume
Voted as one of the most luxurious and best services in the entire country, Hotel Mume is a hidden gem. From the second you enter this boutique inn the staff absolutely pampers you. Trained with the mindset of European maids/butlers, blended with traditional Japanese ryokan characteristics, Mume’s crowning jewel is their customer service.
In the evenings before we left, the staff was sure to ask us where we were going or if we needed any suggestions on places to eat or visit. The staff would make calls and reservations that allowed us to spend less time planning and more time enjoying ourselves. Another greatly appreciated effort made by the staff was when they printed a map with directions to the desired destination and provided a picture of what it looked like. Mume also offers a complimentary happy hour with, beverages and snacks every afternoon and a delicious breakfast each morning.
Other Places to Stay in Kyoto
BUDGET: K’s House Kyoto
MID-RANGE: Kyoto Granbell Hotel
LUXURY: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
DAY ONE – 5 DAYS IN KYOTO
Since we arrived in Kyoto in the morning, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel and made our first stop Nishiki Market. Nishiki Market is a highly regarded culinary experience to enjoy while in Kyoto but, the charm and character alone of this open-air market is worth going to “Kyoto’s Kitchen” for.
This is the perfect place to taste test many Japanese foods as well as shop at local establishments. While you are strolling around Nishiki Market we recommend trying small street food items such as Tako Tamago, a small octopus with quails egg, the savory yakitori skewers, and the traditional sticky dango.
Price: Free to visit
After eating as much street food as we could at Nishiki Market we decided to visit our first temple in Kyoto. Normally Sanjusangendo Hall is extremely crowded, but if you get there early enough you can often beat the masses. Sanjusangendo Hall is an extremely tranquil place to visit with serene gardens nearby as well as places to make wishes and prayers. It was originally founded in 1164 but rebuilt a century later after being destroyed by a fire. Sanjusangendo Hall is most famous for its 1,000 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, that are located inside the main hall.
Cost to Visit: 600¥
As you are not allowed to take photographs while inside the hall, we did not take the above photo. This was scanned from a postcard set we purchased while visiting Sanjusangendo Hall. We merely wanted you to be able to see the magnificence of the 1,000 statues of Kannon. 😉
LUNCH: Chojiro, Shijo-Kiyamachi
Since we arrived late morning in Kyoto from Osaka and only had a few snacks at Nishiki Market we began feeling pretty hungry after visiting Sanjusangendo Hall. Chojiro was the perfect place to enjoy an excellent meal at affordable prices (and stuff our faces too!). With many locations around Kyoto, Chojiro is popular for its conveyor belt sushi or you can also enjoy your meal in a separate seating where you order sushi from a tablet. This is the option we chose and was perfect lunch because we were able to order each type of nigiri a la carte and as much as we wanted (priced per order).
Shop for Yukata and Kimono
After having lunch we decided to take some time to go shopping on a few of the popular shopping streets. We decided to head to Bentendou Street due to it’s close proximity to the Gear Art Complex 1928 Show (the next stop on this Kyoto trip itinerary).
One thing that we both wanted to purchase while visiting Japan was our own yukata/kimono. We found a store called Kyotoya NY that sold gently used clothing, yukata/kimono, and obi where we purchased yukata as gifts for family members and purchased beautiful summer yukata and kimono from a small Bentendou shop for ourselves. If you aren’t looking for yukata or kimono the shopping on Bentendou is still great for other souvenirs.
GEAR Art Complex 1928 Show
When we planned out our trip to Kyoto, the GEAR Art Complex was an attraction we added last minute because we had an evening open and it was close to the shopping streets we planned to visit. When we arrived at the location we were a bit early and enjoyed shopping in the stores nearby. The show is on the third floor of the 1928 building, above a bar and coffee shop.
There were plenty of signs and directions that got us to where we needed to be but we recommend using Google Maps to find the 1928 building prior to your arrival. We went to a 7:00pm showing and had previously reserved tickets. You are able to pick them up an hour beforehand. The show itself is 75 minutes long.
The venue is very personal, the seats are all close and I don’t think the venue could hold much more than 50 people. When we sat down they said we could take some photos before the show, but asked that we put our cameras away when the show started. Then they proceeded to hand us a clipboard with a short plot outline and safety goggles. When I asked the hostess what the goggles were for she just smiled at us and said we would soon find out – we won’t share all the details so we don’t spoil the fun!
The amount of detail in the props and plot is astounding. However, the defining element of the GEAR Art Complex show is the passion of the actors and actress. We felt they put 110% into their performance, and were able to share that energy with the audience. It was incredible how so many emotions were conveyed and not a single word was spoken. Yes, you read that right, this performance has NO WORDS.
DINNER: Kanidoraku Kyoto Main
After going to the Gear Art Complex show we tried to find a place for dinner that was still open and close to the 1928 building. We had remembered passing Kanidoraku Kyoto Main while walking to the play so we decided to head back and try out a Japanese crab hot pot. We arrived around
Overall we were pleased with our visit here. The staff was friendly and the restaurant itself was a “modernized” traditional Japanese style restaurant however you are required to remove your shoes and it does have traditional Japanese seating. Since we had snacked on many items at Nishiki Market prior to the Gear Art Complex show we decided to share a crab hot pot which included cut crab claws, tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage all cooked in a light broth.
DAY TWO – 5 DAYS IN KYOTO
Fushimi Inari Shrine
When we first planned our visit to Japan, Fushimi Inari was the site that we were most looking forward to. The earliest structures of Fushimi Inari are recorded to have been built around 711 A.D. The beauty and ambiance of this shrine span over a breathtaking 10,000 orange gates, or Torii (鳥居), that envelope a path that winds over 2.5 miles up the Inari mountain.
While we were hiking up the path (which is estimated to take 2 hours to reach the top at a moderate pace) we stopped to talk to some locals who told us of one of the folklore of the shrine. They told us it is commonly believed that making the journey to the top of the mountain brings good fortune and longevity. We highly recommend visiting this fantastic cultural site as early as you can, because it becomes quite busy as the day continues on.
LUNCH: Ramen Factory Kyoto
We decided to have lunch at Ramen Factory Kyoto because we heard that not only do you get to savor delicious ramen, but make it yourself! Ramen Factory Kyoto will teach you all the steps to make your own bowl of ramen including how to wrap the chicken, make your dough and own noodles, create your broth to perfection, and put all of the ingredients to make a ramen that you’ll never forget due to the experience as well as the taste.
After having lunch at Ramen Factory Kyoto we were ready to start up our Kyoto itinerary again! We decided to walk off some of our meal and visit Tofukuji Temple. From our experience visiting in the summertime, Tofukuji Temple is not as frequented by other tourists which is surprising as is it one of the “five great zen temples in Kyoto.” However, the lack of tourists makes this spot a bit calmer and easy to enjoy (we have heard that it becomes very busy during autumn due to fall foliage).
Cost to Visit: 400¥ for Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, an additional 400¥ for Hojo and the gardens
Kenninji Temple is a lesser known temple that has beautiful paintings and a fabulous zen garden. Visitors can also enjoy the images of dragons painted on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall. One of the reasons we enjoyed Kenninji Temple was due to the lack of traffic.
DINNER: Chao Chao Sanjo Kimyamachi
After eating so much at lunch we weren’t extremely hungry for dinner but knew that we had to try some gyoza at Chao Chao! We were so glad we did because they had the best gyoza we had in Japan! Chao Chao also has many different styles of gyoza instead of just traditional pork. We also ordered shrimp, mozzarella chicken, and crab gyoza.
DAY THREE – 5 DAYS IN KYOTO
Arashiyama, The Bamboo Forest
Arashiyama is one of the most iconic destinations in Kyoto and features a gorgeous bamboo forest that will make you feel like you’re walking in another world. Something many people don’t know about Arashiyama is how short it really is! Though while walking through Arashiyama you will stumble upon a number of temples and gardens that you can visit for a short spell. If you are truly dedicated and would like to visit Arashiyama without heaps of other tourists it’s best to arrive between 6am-8am.
Cost to Visit: Free
At the end of Arashiyama, you’ll see an entrance for what appears to be another temple. However, it’s actually a garden! Okochisanso Garden is a bit more pricey than other gardens, shrines, and temples in Kyoto but don’t let the entrance fee scare you off. The gardens and villa were the former residence of Denjiro Okochi, a silent film actor from the 1920s. The gardens itself are lovely as well as the gorgeous views of the mountains nearby. At the end of your visit, you are served complimentary green tea and a biscuit cookie.
Back towards the entrance of the bamboo forest is Tenryuji Temple. Tenryuji Temple consists of two parts, the temple itself and the gardens. The garden area is very pristine and beautiful and includes a few seating areas to enjoy the tranquil scenery.
Price: 500¥ (Extra 300¥ if you would like to visit the temple grounds as well).
LUNCH: Convenience Store
During our trip to the Arashiyama area, we did not dine at any of the restaurants because we were pressed for time. Instead, we chose to stop at a convenience store (konbini) and grab some onigiri, yakisoba, and other items to eat quickly. However, if you would like to have a sit-down meal and time allows it Shigetsu is really popular for vegetarian kaiseki cuisine, Unagiya Hirokawa has delicious looking unagi (eel) and rice bowls, and Taishou Hanana is known for fresh sashimi.
Monkey Park Iwatayama
If you are looking for an ethical animal tourism option, Monkey Park Iwatayama is a great option. However, there are some things you should know before visiting…
1) This isn’t just a park to view monkeys. It also has the most amazing skyline view of Kyoto, so even just for that, it would be a good place to visit.
2) It is a 20-minute mountain hike that can be a little steep at times so make sure you bring water and comfortable shoes. If you do get tired there are many “resting areas” along the trail.
3) This would be a terrific attraction for kids, but please note, you are not allowed to touch or pet the monkeys. Some of the kids we saw there were a little young to understand that.
4) For only 100¥ you can get a cup of food to feed the monkeys inside the air-conditioned resting room area.
READ MORE: Guide to Monkey Park Iwatayama
Located at Randen Arashiyama Station the Kimono Forest might be one of the most underrated spots in this area. In the daytime, you can see the intricate kimono fabrics placed in cylindrical displays lining the pathway around the station. In the evening, the displays illuminate creating a mesmerizing sight.
DINNER: Donguri Shijo-Omiya Store
After our visit to Monkey Park Iwatayama and the Kimono Forest, we were extremely hungry for dinner and had a 30-minute train ride to central Kyoto. We went to eat dinner at Donguri, Shijo-Omiya store (they also have a store at Kyoto Station if you are staying close to there). Donguri is known for Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba two very popular dishes in Japan.
Okonomiyaki is known as a Japanese pancake but it’s more savory than sweet like you might be thinking. Typically it is cooked with egg, cabbage, mixed vegetables
DAY FOUR – 5 DAYS IN KYOTO
BREAKFAST: Shinshindo Sanjo Kawaramachi
After eating at 7Eleven and our hotels each morning we decided to try something different for breakfast and headed to Shinshindo Sanjo Kawaramachi. Don’t let the inexpensive prices on their menu deceive you! The breakfast portions at this French-inspired bakery were quite large. We ordered french toast and a Monte Cristo sandwich which came with ample side items.
Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan and one of the most iconic in Kyoto. It was founded in 780 next to the Otowa Waterfall which gave it the name Kiyomizedera (pure water temple).
In the spring, visitors can enjoy the fragrant blossoms and the view of numerous cherry trees. Taking a more scenic route we stumbled across a somber yet beautiful street of family shrines and tombstones while walking the path to Kiyomizudera.
Upon arriving we were surprised to see just how much there was to see and do at Kiyomizudera. Make sure to take some time to visit the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love, the Otowa Waterfall, where you can drink water from three different streams.
Each stream has a different benefit such as longevity in life, success in academics, and fortune in love. But keep in mind that drinking from all three streams is considered selfish. The Koyasu Pagoda is located in the southern end of the temple grounds and beautifully stands among the trees.
After visiting Kiyomizudera Temple we ventured over to Sannezaka Ninezaka to do some shopping. Overall I’d have to say that this historic area was intriguing to see because of the historic streets and buildings. But the downfall is how unbelievably crowded it is due to the traffic from the Kiyomizudera. It is a huge tourist hotspot, which was to be expected but we wouldn’t suggest buying souvenirs here due to the overpriced items due to
One place we do recommend stopping at in the area is a small food truck called Rocca & Friends. They have specialty crafted tea lattes that are not only delicious but super cute! I got a hojicha tea latte that came with some cute and yummy decorations on top. 🙂
When in Kyoto we highly encourage you to have lunch or dinner at Menbakaichidai, Kyoto’s famous fire ramen. When we first arrived at Menbakaichidai, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We were asked if we wanted fire ramen, or regular ramen when we entered and of course we had to go with the fire ramen. When we finally had the opportunity to eat our dish, we were completely blown away by the broth, the noodles, and savory green onion.
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 and the former residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. The history of Nijo Castle is very interesting along with the amazing paintings and “Nightingale” flooring that was designed to add security to the castle and is nearly impossible to walk on without squeaking!
When visiting Japan, we recommend trying a traditional Japanese sweet called wagashi. Although it is an acquired taste for most, the delicate balance of flavors is worth putting your taste buds to the test. Toraya Ichijo is a tea house is located down the street from the sweet store of the same name. It offers beautifully crafted wagashi and various teas, that you can enjoy either inside or by sitting outside in the garden.
Price: 500-1500¥ depending on the set
JR Kyoto Station
That evening we went to JR Kyoto Station to shop, dine, and appreciate the architecture of this public transit and the views of Kyoto Tower. It might seem silly to account for time at a train station but there are a number of things to occupy your time.
DAY FIVE – 5 DAYS IN KYOTO
Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple)
We had heard about Kinkaku-ji Temple based on other travel reviews and upon arriving in Kyoto and while it was the most crowded attraction we visited, the temple itself was beautiful. We recommend that if you are only spending a weekend in Kyoto, add this to your itinerary, plan to be there early in the morning.
While we were there we also tried a strawberry shaved ice with mochi from a nearby vendor which was SO YUMMY on a hot summer day, if you happen to see a vendor nearby selling shaved ice stop and get one!
While we were in the area of Kinkaku-ji we decided to visit a few more local shrines in the area. Imamiya Shrine is a local shrine that was recommended to us by locals. It had a few beautiful bridges and was nice to explore because there were no tourists when we visited.
After visiting Imamiya Shrine we stopped at Ichiwa, a Japanese confectionary shop known for aburi mochi. Aburi mochi is a rice flour cake that is rolled in soybean powder and grilled over hot charcoal. After cooking, it is coated in a sweet sauce. You may notice that there are two aburi mochi shops across from each other. No, they are not the same store. These two shops have a nearly 400-year-old rivialry with one another. Ichiwa, where we visited has been in the same location for over 1,000 years and is run by the 25th generation of the same family!
Koto-in Temple is a smaller temple that is tucked away in a quiet sector of Kyoto. Similar to Imayima Shrine, it was especially enjoyable due to the lack of tourists visiting.
Lunch: Sobanomi Yoshimura
Sobanomi Yoshimura which is a popular soba shop in Kyoto among locals and travelers alike. There are countless sets that you can choose from, some even including sashimi! After enjoying our meal we took a moment to stop by the cashier and watch the fresh soba being made right in front of us. Each time we visit Kyoto we are always sure to stop here as it’s quickly become one of our favorites.
Spend the Evening in Gion
On our last evening in Kyoto, we decided to dress in our yukata we purchased at Bentendou. After getting dressed up, we ventured through Gion, the Geisha district and went out to dinner. Gion is a famous area to spot maiko and geisha on their way to work or heading home from work. But should you have the privilege of seeing a maiko, be sure to avoid chasing her down to take a photo!
Dinner: Wabiya Korekido (Gion Hanamikoji Honten)
We wanted to dine somewhere in the historic Gion and decided to drop into Wabiya Korekido based on a recommendation from Hotel Mume. Keep in mind that Wabiya is a pretty popular place and there are a limited number of seats so be mindful of a potential wait. This restaurant has an English menu for those so inclined, and you order each “stick” of yakitori a la carte. This format is nice because it allows you to order various types, and as much as you like.
A few words of wisdom:
1) The prices aren’t too ridiculous but they can add up quickly if you don’t keep an eye on it.
2) The most expensive dish is described as what we thought was a chicken yakitori containing a rare cheese, in actuality, the entire yakitori was only cheese. Granted, it was delicious cheese it really had us laughing when they brought out a plate of skewered cheese!
After eating dinner at Wabiya Korekido we walked over to Yasaka Shrine, one of our top things to do in Kyoto at night. Yasaka Shrine is incredibly popular to visit during the day, but at night illuminated lanterns add a special touch to this area. Spend your last evening enjoying the beauty of this shrine at night before you head back to your hotel!
Kyoto will always hold a special place in our hearts as we fell in love with the culture and serenity of one of the most iconic places in Japan.