A Complete 5-Day Kyoto Itinerary
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 Maiko in real life, tea ceremonies, and multi-course kaiseki dining make this city quite unique.
Nearly every time we visit Japan, Kyoto is always a place we go back to. This 5-day Kyoto itinerary is full of attractions and restaurants so you can experience Kyoto to the fullest! If you have a shorter time in Kyoto, don’t worry! You are welcome to pick and choose from this comprehensive itinerary but we will go over places that you simply cannot miss while you’re in Kyoto!
Where is Kyoto Located?
Kyoto is the former capital city of Japan and is still a major city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is conveniently located roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes by train from Osaka Airport (KIX).
How to Get to Kyoto
How to Get to Kyoto by Plane
If you are flying into Japan and are first visiting Kyoto there are three airports that you are most likely going to consider flying to. The first two are Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo Haneda (HND) which are the two main airports in Tokyo. From there you would most likely take another flight into Osaka Kansai (KIX) and then take a few trains to get to Kyoto or take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.
There are many different ways to get to Kyoto from Tokyo Narita including an airport limousine bus, the Keisei Skyliner, and other regular train options for those on a budget but for the sake of this Kyoto itinerary, I’ll be covering the quickest and easiest way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo airports by train.
If traveling from Narita Airport to Kyoto by train you’ll want to take the JR Narita Express to Tokyo Station which takes about one hour. You will then transfer at Tokyo Station to the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen bound for Kyoto Station which takes about 2 hours 15 minutes making the whole journey roughly 3 hours 30 minutes including transfer time.
If traveling from Haneda Airport to Kyoto by train you’ll want to take either the Tokyo Monorail or the Keikyū Airport Line. The Tokyo Monorail is covered by the JR Pass which is an added perk but would require an extra transfer to the Yamanote line (also JR) making it a little less convenient than the Keikyū Line in regards to getting to Kyoto.
The Keikyū Line is not covered by the JR Pass and costs around 300 yen one-way. From Haneda Airport you would take the Keikyū Line to Shinagawa Station which takes about 20-30 minutes and transfer to the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Kyoto Station which takes about 2 hours making the journey about 2 hours 30 minutes.
As I said, there are many ways to get to Kyoto from Tokyo’s airports but if you are planning to visit Kyoto as your first stop the easiest option would be to fly into Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) from Tokyo and then take a train to get to Kyoto. From KIX you would take the Haruka Express train direct to Kyoto Station. They run every half hour and it takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes costing roughly ¥3,440 one-way.
In conclusion, I would recommend planning your itinerary to visit Kyoto after spending some time in Tokyo or Osaka (whichever you fly into) because it will make your trip much easier! However, if you have your heart set on visiting Kyoto first, it can be done!
How to Get to Kyoto by Train
How to Get to Kyoto from Tokyo
To take the Shinkansen to Kyoto from Tokyo you’ll either depart at Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station and take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen on the Nozomi, Hikari, or Kodama line (note that Nozomi trains are not included in the JR pass). From Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Kyoto Station takes about 2 hours so my suggestion would be to book tickets at the station that works best for your itinerary!
How to Get to Kyoto from Osaka
From Osaka, there are a few different ways to get to Kyoto. I’ve highlighted each of them below.
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen: The fastest way to get to Kyoto from Osaka is by taking the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station. This journey takes about 15 minutes and is covered by the JR pass or costs roughly ¥2,880 per person.
JR Kyoto Line: The JR Kyoto Line is the second fastest way to get to Kyoto from Osaka. This line leaves from Osaka Station or Shin-Osaka Station for Kyoto Station and takes about 30 minutes. It is also covered by the JR pass.
Hankyu Kyoto Main Line: These limited express trains run between Hankyu Osaka-Umeda Station and Kyoto Kawaramachi Station in central Kyoto. The journey takes about 45 minutes and costs 400 yen per person.
Keihan Main Line: The Keihan Main Line departs from Yodoyabashi Station, Kitahama Station, or Temmabashi Station to a number of local stations in Kyoto at roughly 410 yen per person. If taking the Keihan Main Line I recommend buying an additional reserved seat ticket from the vending machine outside of the train platform which only costs 1,000 yen per person. It gives you a guaranteed seat and a spot to put your luggage. This train takes about one hour so it is slower than some of the other options but the perk is that it stops at many of the smaller stations in Kyoto making it more convenient for those traveling with luggage if your hotel is along this route.
Transportation in Kyoto
Kyoto is a unique city in regard to public transportation because it is one of Japan’s oldest cities and has many destinations spread out across the city. Because of this, you’ll be walking a lot or utilizing public transportation heavily.
If you have a JR Pass you might be surprised to find that many of the train and subway lines in Kyoto aren’t eligible for your pass. This is because they’re privately owned lines and aren’t on JR routes. Because of this, I recommend you get an IC card to use on the subways, trains, and buses.
An IC card is a public transit card that you can purchase at most train stations. However, the easiest way is to add the Suica or PASMO transit card to your Apple Wallet if you have an iPhone and then add funds via Apple Pay. However, if you are traveling with young kids or want a physical card you can visit one of the ticket machines and purchase an IC card.
Keep in mind you’ll need one for each person in your group. You’ll have to fund the IC card with cash at the machine in order to purchase and you can load more money onto the card as needed. We usually start with 2,000 yen and add more as needed. If you are using a physical card you can see the balance on the card as you tap in or out of a station or you can always check your balance at one of the ticket kiosk machines.
Kyoto has many private lines that run intercity and two subway lines that run mainly north-south or east-west. Here is the train and subway map.
In addition to the train and subway, Kyoto has an extensive public bus system. One of the best things about buses in Kyoto is that they cover almost everywhere in the city whereas the trains and subways are a bit more limited. The only downfall is that the buses often take longer than trains and buses often get very crowded, especially during high tourism and rush hours. I always recommend accounting for extra time between activities when visiting Kyoto because it often takes longer to get from place to place.
Buses are different all over Japan in regard to entrances/exits and bus rates. When using the bus in Kyoto you’ll enter through the middle door and leave through the front. When leaving you’ll pay a flat rate of 230 yen (adult fee) and 120 yen (child fee) with an IC card or coin currency (no bills). If you need to make change you can do so at the machine by the driver, just make sure you do so prior to your stop so you don’t hold up the bus. With IC cards you’ll simply tap as you exit.
Where is the Best Place to Stay for Your Kyoto Itinerary?
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 Kyoto itinerary, you may begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by the choices. Here are the hotels we stayed at during our visits to Kyoto and recommend.
Kyoto Ibis Styles Hotel
Budget-Friendly and Convenient Access to the Shinkansen
If you are looking for a no-frills place to stay in Kyoto, the Kyoto Ibis Style Hotel is in a convenient location for day trips and is also budget-friendly. The Ibis Style is located across the street from Kyoto Station which makes your stay here easy to access the Shinkansen. However, keep in mind that because it is a budget hotel, there isn’t much space to sprawl out in your room.
During our stay, we had a double bed and enough space to put our belongings as it was just the two of us and we didn’t spend much time in our hotel room. However, if you are planning to stay 5 days in Kyoto you might want to splurge for a bit more space.
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. If you are looking for an inexpensive place to stay, plan to do a day trip or two, and don’t mind being a little further away from the main temples and shrines, this is a great place to make your home base in Kyoto.
Kyoto Granbell Hotel
Reasonable Boutique Hotel in the Heart of Gion
One of our recent favorites is Kyoto Granbell Hotel which is conveniently located in the heart of Gion making it a great spot to get to and from most of the attractions on this 5-day Kyoto itinerary. The stunning architecture and details make this hotel appear like a luxurious boutique property, however, the prices are affordable!
Another thing we love about Kyoto Granbell Hotel is that although the Western-style rooms are small, they’re mindfully thought out and have king-sized beds which aren’t as common in Japan. If you choose to stay in one of their Japanese-style rooms they appear to be more spacious.
Another perk of staying in the Kyoto Granbell Hotel is the large hot spring for guest use that is surrounded by a beautiful garden view. They also offer bicycle rentals for hotel guests as well as coin laundry which we utilized during our stay.
Boutique Luxury and Romantic Charm
Voted as one of the most luxurious and best services in the entire country, Hotel Mume is a gem and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a romantic place to stay in Kyoto. From the second you enter this boutique inn the staff absolutely pampers you. Although a Western-style hotel, you can still find many traditional Japanese ryokan characteristics.
One of the many highlights of Hotel Mume is the impeccable 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 also make calls and reservations that allowed us to spend less time planning and more time enjoying Kyoto. 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
K’s House Kyoto: If you’re on a budget or a solo traveler looking to make friends while traveling in Japan, K’s House Kyoto is a highly rated backpackers hostel situated south of Gion near the Kamo River.
Mimaru Kyoto Shinmachi Sanjo: This hotel has spacious rooms perfect for those traveling with kids or larger families. It is perfectly placed between Nijo Castle and Nishiki Market making it a convenient spot for many Kyoto attractions.
Hyatt Regency Kyoto: Logan and I are both big fans of Hyatt properties and often stay in them whenever we travel. The Hyatt Regency Kyoto is a stunning hotel located close to Kiyomizu-dera.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto: Of course, everyone knows the Ritz Carlton hotel properties are one of the ultimate luxuries but the one in Kyoto is unmatched. It is located right on the Kamo River making the scenery exceptional and isn’t far from Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Philosopher’s Path.
Places to Eat in Kyoto
Shinshindo Sanjo Kawaramachi
If you are looking for a more Western breakfast then head to Shinshindo Sanjo Kawaramachi. The breakfast portions at this French-inspired bakery are quite hearty and are sure to curb your hunger until lunch or your next 7-Eleven snack! We ordered French toast and a Monte Cristo sandwich which came with ample side items.
Location: Japan, 〒604-8004 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 三条通河原町東入ル中島町74番地 // MAP
Sobanomi Yoshimura 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. I suggest ordering a soba set that includes hot and cold soba so you can try both versions. After enjoying your meal take a moment to stop by the cashier and watch the fresh soba being made right in front of you! Each time we visit Kyoto we are always sure to stop here as it quickly became one of our favorites.
Location: 420 Matsuyacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8105, Japan // MAP
When in Kyoto we encourage you to have a memorable meal at Menbakaichidai, Kyoto’s famous fire ramen. When we first arrived at Menbakaichidai, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. You’re first seated at a counter where you order your ramen and are quickly presented with a bowl of steaming noodles which is then promptly set on fire right before your eyes! It’s wild, marvelous, and so fun! When we finally had the opportunity to eat our dish, we were completely blown away by the broth, the noodles, and the savory green onion.
Location: 757-2 Minamiiseyacho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8153, Japan // MAP
Kanidoraku Kyoto Main
We remembered passing Kanidoraku Kyoto Main while walking in Kyoto one night so we decided to head back and try out a Japanese crab hot pot. We were fortunate to get in because normally the restaurant is packed and requires reservations which you can make on their website.
One of the unique features of this restaurant is the “modernized” traditional Japanese-style seating. When you enter you’ll be required to remove your shoes and walk along the tatami mats to your kotatsu table. Of course, the best thing to order at Kanidoraku is a crab hot pot which comes with many crab legs, tofu, noodles, mushrooms, cabbage, and other vegetables. We have also ordered crab rice before which was really delicious!
Location: 525 Tenshojimaecho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8081, Japan // MAP
Chojiro is a kaitenzushi restaurant also known as conveyor belt sushi. It is the perfect place to try a bunch of different nigiri sushi pieces at affordable prices and a quick meal
With a few locations around Kyoto, Chojiro is a fast favorite. You have the option to sit at the bar or you can also enjoy your meal in a separate seating where you order sushi from a tablet. Chojiro is perfect for lunch or dinner because you can order as much or as little sushi as you want.
Location: 103 2 Hashimotocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8011, Japan // MAP
If you’re looking for a place to try Kansai-style okonomiyaki, Donguri is a great spot! We first visited their 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 as you might be thinking. Typically it is cooked with egg, cabbage, mixed vegetables,
Location: Japan, 〒600-8389 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, ル南側 // MAP
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 and make a reservation early if you know your schedule.
Previously Wabiya Korekido offered an a la carte yakitori menu but has since switched to a set course menu that changes seasonally and provides guests with fresh, popular Kyoto ingredients. However, if you go for lunch you’ll find that they only serve one item, oyakodon, which is a dish of rice, chicken, and eggs served in a hot stone bowl.
Location: Japan, 〒605-0000 Kyoto, Gionmachi Minamigawa, 歌舞練場北側 // MAP
Chao Chao Sanjo Kimyamachi
If you’re in the mood for some Japanese beer and gyoza head to Chao Chao! While traditionally a Chinese dish, gyoza has been a popular street food in Japan for many years. The gyoza at Chao Chao is perfectly pan-fried and available in many different options including traditional pork, shrimp gyoza, and we’ve even had one special that was mozzarella chicken one time we visited!
Location: 117番地 Ishiyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8002, Japan // MAP
Along the Philosopher’s Path you’ll find Yudofu Kisaki, a traditional Japanese restaurant that specializes in tofu dishes. While most areas of Japan have their own regional tofu dishes, Kyoto has their own history with tofu and is often regarded as the best place to enjoy tofu. This is partly due to the rich farmlands for soybeans in the Kyoto prefecture as well as the influence of shojin-ryori vegetarian temple cuisine.
At Yudofu Kisaki, the tofu is prepared each morning so it is as fresh as possible. We greatly enjoyed trying the many different tofu dishes that Yudofu Kisaki has to offer and I highly recommend ordering one of their set menus so you can do the same! Our set came with a seasonal appetizer, vegetable and shrimp tempura, rice, Kyoto pickles, and of course, yudofu.
Yudofu is tofu blocks places in a boiling pot of water to heat for a few seconds. You can then add the tofu block to a soy based sauce and add a variety of toppings such as green onion, ginger, and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Additionally I recommend ordering awafu dengaku if it is available because it is another specialty in Kyoto. Awafu dengaku is grilled wheat gluten with a variety of sweet miso pastes.
Location: 173-19 Jodoji Minamidacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8403, Japan // MAP
If you are interested in splurging a little for yakiniku make a reservation at Nanzan! Nanzan has delectable cuts of high quality beef that you can grill yourself. Nanzan has a terrific a la carte menu that also includes a few chicken and seafood options, but if you aren’t sure what to order you can browse through one of their set menus featuring some of their best cuts. Additionally, if you are looking for halal beef in Kyoto, Nanzan has halal certification which is not as common to find at yakiniku restaurants in Japan.
Location: Japan, 〒606-0846 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Shimogamo Kitanonokamicho, ３１ 北山通ノートルダム小前 // MAP
When visiting Japan, we recommend trying a traditional Japanese sweet called wagashi. Although it can be an acquired texture, the delicate balance of flavors is worth putting your taste buds to the test. I absolutely love Wagashi and wish I could find some similar to what I had in Japan at home.
One place to try wagashi is Toraya Ichijo, a tea house 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.
Location: Japan, 〒602-0911 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Hirohashidonocho, 400 // MAP
Cost: 500-1,500 yen depending on the set
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY ONE
- Nishiki Market
- Sanjusangendo Hall
- Shopping in Kyoto
- Gear Art Complex Show
Because you’ll most likely be arriving in Kyoto in the morning from another city, you can take it a little slower this day if you are planning to have 5 days in Kyoto. First, arrive in Kyoto, drop off your luggage at your hotel, and make your first stop at Nishiki Market to gorge on some delicious street food items for breakfast!
I recommend going this early for a few reasons, the first being that you’ll get first pick of everything the vendors have, and the second is that the market gets swamped with people as the day goes on! Nishiki Market is a highly regarded culinary experience to enjoy while in Kyoto but, the charm and character alone of this open-air market are 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 traditional dango.
If you are looking for a good souvenir to take home make sure you stop at Ochanokosaisai for some furikake (rice seasoning). They offer samples so you can try their products before purchasing but trust me, you need to go home with at least one bag of their famous furikake.
Location: 609番地 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8054, Japan // MAP
Cost: Free to visit
After eating as much street food as you can at Nishiki Market head to your first temple in Kyoto, Sanjusangendo Hall. Sanjusangedo Hall can be crowded, but if you get there early enough you can often have fewer crowds!
Sanjusangendo Hall is a temple complex comprised of a few different areas including the main hall, tranquil gardens, and prayer areas. It was originally founded in 1164 but rebuilt a century later after being destroyed by a fire.
It is most famous for its 1,000 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, which are located inside the main hall. Out of the 1,000 statues, 124 are original to the temple and were rescued from the fire in 1249. The remainder of the statues are from the 13th century. It’s fascinating to see this piece of history so up close!
P.S. 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 so you can see the magnificence of the 1,000 statues of Kannon!
Location: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0941, Japan // MAP
Cost: 600 yen
Go Shopping in Kyoto
After visiting Sanjusangendo Hall, grab lunch and then take some time to go shopping on a few of the popular shopping streets. We usually head to Bentendou Street, Shijo-dori, or Kurumayacho.
On our first trip to Kyoto, one thing that we both wanted to purchase was our own yukata or 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, a kimono, and jinbei for ourselves. Unfortunately, that shop has since closed but other stores I recommend for kimono and yukata are Ochikochiya or Harajuku Chicago Kyoto Store for more second-hand items. If you aren’t looking for yukata or kimono the shopping on Bentendou is still great for other souvenirs that are specific to Kyoto!
Some of our favorite stores to shop at:
- Bento&Co: Gift shop with bento boxes and other kitchenware.
- 3 Coins: A chain store similar to Daiso or dollar stores in the U.S. that has cute, inexpensive items for purchase.
- Miyawaki Baisen-an: If you want to purchase a beautiful Japanese fan, this is the place!
- Kyukyodo: Japanese stationary shop.
- Yasuda-Nenju: Buddhist bead shop, they have stunning beaded bracelets.
- Roger’s: Vintage and used clothing store.
- Bentendo Co: This shop has beautiful textiles, souvenirs, and more. I purchased a vintage kimono from here too!
- Globe Specs: If you are in the market for some new glasses they have a ton of Japanese and European brands with unique styles.
- Traveler’s Factory Kyoto: Customizable travel-themed stationery shop.
- Tokyu Hands: Popular Japanese lifestyle and home goods store.
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 reserved seats for the 7:00 pm showing and the show is 75 minutes long.
The venue is very personal, the seats are all close to the stage. 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 actresses. 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. Even though it has been years since we first saw this show and we’ve been on many more trips to Kyoto since then, it is still one of our favorite things to do in Kyoto.
Location: Japan, 〒604-8082 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Benkeiishicho, 56 1928ビル 3階 // MAP
Cost: 6,800 yen/adult, 4,800 yen/high school and younger
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY TWO
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Tofukuji Temple
- Ramen Factory Kyoto
- Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Philosopher’s Path
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The next morning take the train to Kyoto’s most infamous shrine, Fushimi Inari. When we planned our first visit to Japan, Fushimi Inari was the site that we were most looking forward to, and even after visiting multiple times, we are still amazed by the beauty. The earliest structures of this shrine are recorded to have been built around 711 and has been widely used for worship for Inari Okami, the god of agriculture, businesses, prosperity, and family safety.
As you begin to walk around the grounds of the shrine you’ll begin to notice the many fox statues and symbols. This is the spirit fox of the shrine that conveys the wishes and prayers made at the shrine to Inari Okami. Then you’ll make your way to the breathtaking path of 10,000 vermillion torii gates that envelope a path that winds over 2.5 miles up the Inari mountain.
The striking vermillion color of the torii has long been considered to ward away bad spirits and omens whereas the torii you’ll see have been offered by worshippers as their prayers and professions of gratitude.
While hiking up the path to Fushimi Inari Mountain, enjoy the view of the torii gates while stopping for smaller shrines on the sides of the path, this is how you can get some of the best pictures without people in them! It is believed that making the journey to the top of the mountain brings good fortune and longevity.
Location: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan // MAP
Tofukuji was founded in 1236 by the Fujiwara clan and is considered to be one of the five great zen temples in Kyoto. It has a number of impressive buildings you can visit for free, although there are a few paid exhibits and buildings too. One of the most popular spots at Tofukuji is Tsutenkyo Bridge, which overlooks a lush forest of maple trees that becomes a vibrant red in November.
Because of the bright, fall foliage, Tofukuji is extremely popular to visit in the autumn months. However, from our experience visiting first in the summertime, Tofukuji wasn’t nearly as busy as other major attractions in Kyoto like Fushimi Inari or Kinkaku-ji.
Location: 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan // MAP
Cost: 400 yen for Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, an additional 400 yen for Hojo and the gardens
Ramen Factory Kyoto
Next, head to Ramen Factory Kyoto. Not only do you get to savor delicious ramen, but make you’ll get to 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 noodles, and create your broth to perfection.
Creating your own ramen takes a little more than an hour but the experience is something that you’ll never forget! We have since made ramen at home a number of times using the recipe we received from Ramen Factory Kyoto.
Location: 814-18 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan // MAP
Cost: 15,000 yen/adult, 14,000 yen/child
READ MORE: Guide to Ramen Factory Kyoto
Kyoto Imperial Palace & Park
After your cooking class take a short walk over to Kyoto Imperial Palace which was the former residence of the Imperial Family until 1868 when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Imperial Palace you’ll see today was reconstructed in 1855 after a fire damaged it significantly however much of the original architecture was implemented in this design.
Previously Kyoto Imperial Palace was only accessible by advanced reservation on guided tours but today the palace ground can be explored without a reservation and independently or on a free guided tour. Although the buildings cannot be entered you can still enjoy viewing the palace buildings and gardens.
Location: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0881, Japan // MAP
Cost: Free to visit, free guided tours in English are available daily at 10am and 2pm and last around 50 minutes.
After visiting the Imperial Palace make your way to the Philosopher’s Path. Philosopher’s Path got its name from Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japanese philosopher who was said to have practiced meditation here while on his daily commute to Kyoto University via this path.
The path is around 2 km (1.2 miles) and starts around Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, and ends near Nanzen-ji. In late March-early April the path of trees outlining the stone streets bloom with stunning and fragrant cherry blossoms making this a particularly popular place to visit in the spring. However, it is still a great place to walk even without sakura due to the picturesque canal leading through the path.
As you walk along the path make sure you stop at some of the boutiques, shops, and restaurants. There are quite a few notable shrines and temples to visit along the way too including Higashiyama Jisho-ji, also referred to as Ginkakuji, Honen-in, Okazaki Shrine, Heian Shrine, and Nanzen-ji.
Location: Tetsugaku No Michi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8426, Japan // MAP
Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Temple)
On the Philosopher’s Path, one of the most visited temples is Jisho-ji which is commonly referred to as Ginkaku-ji, ‘The Silver Temple.’ Ginkakuji was constructed in 1482 by order of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a retirement villa inspired heavily by Kinkakuji, ‘the Golden Temple.’ Similarly, after Yoshimasa’s passing, he requested it become a temple renaming it Jisho-ji.
On the temple grounds, you’ll find the stunning garden covered in moss surrounding Kinkyo Pond and other aesthetic landscape designs reflecting the beauty of the passing seasons.
Location: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8402, Japan // MAP
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY THREE
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Okochisanso Garden
- Tenryuji Temple
- Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Kimono Forest
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. But something many people don’t know about Arashiyama is how short it really is!
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 before 9am.
One thing I also want to mention is that when walking through the bamboo grove you’ll probably notice the many carvings on the bamboo. I think it goes without saying that this was an intentional act of vandalism and isn’t okay. So if you do visit, please don’t carve into the bamboo so people for generations can enjoy this unique place.
Location: Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0000, Japan // MAP
At one end of Arashiyama, you’ll see an entrance to 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 residences of Denjiro Okochi, a silent film actor from the 1920s. The gardens themselves 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.
Location: 8 Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8394, Japan // MAP
Back towards the entrance of the bamboo forest is Tenryuji. Tenryuji is the most important temple in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto for a number of reasons. But primarily because it is the head temple of its own school in the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. It is also a registered world heritage site and is ranked first among the five great Zen temples in Kyoto.
Tenryuji was originally built in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji, the shogun at the time. Unfortunately, the temple buildings have been lost over the years on numerous occasions due to fires. The current buildings you’ll see are dated from the Meiji Period between 1868-1912.
But despite the hardships that the buildings of Tenryuji faced, the gardens survived and remain in their original form. The gardens are absolutely pristine and offer a spectacular view of the beautifully manicured pond and the Asahiyama mountains.
Location: Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, 6 8 // MAP
Cost: 500¥ (Extra 300¥ if you would like to visit the temple grounds as well).
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…
In order to get to Monkey Park Iwatayama, you’ll have to be able to complete a brief 20-minute mountain hike. This hike can be a little steep at times so make sure you bring water and comfortable shoes. If you do get tired there are many benches or resting areas along the trail.
Once you reach the top you’ll see a number of wild monkeys. Keep in mind that this is their home, and you are a guest. You are not allowed to touch or pet the monkeys for their safety and yours. While the primary reason to visit Monkey Park Iwatayama is to see the Japanese Macaques, 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.
Location: Japan, 〒616-0004 Kyoto, Nishikyo Ward, Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho, 6 1 // MAP
Cost: 550 yen/adults, 250 yen/children
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. Although I know many who would probably differ in this opinion… but here me out. In the daytime, you can see the intricate kimono fabrics placed in cylindrical displays lining the pathway around the station.
But, in the evening, the displays illuminate creating a mesmerizing sight. Although the path is short, it’s a beautiful place to stop before heading back into central Kyoto. Plus it’s at one of the stations, so in my mind, if you’re there after dark, it’s a must-visit!
Location: 35-28 Sagatenryuji Tsukurimichicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8384, Japan // MAP
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY FOUR
- Kiyomizudera Temple
- Sannezaka Ninezaka
- Kenninji Temple
- Nijo Castle
- JR Kyoto Station
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, in the summer vibrant greenery surrounds the temple, and in the autumn months, you can enjoy the stunning fall foliage. We’ve visited in all different seasons and each has its charm! In fact, we’re always surprised to see just how much there is to enjoy at Kiyomizudera every time we visit.
While there, 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 at the southern end of the temple grounds and beautifully stands among the trees.
Location: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan // MAP
Cost: 300 yen/adults, 200 yen/children
After visiting Kiyomizudera Temple venture over to Sannezaka Ninezaka. 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
Location: 2 Chome-221 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan // MAP
Kenninji is another temple that is included as one of the five most important temples in Kyoto. It was constructed in 1202 and is considered to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto! Currently, Kenninji serves as one of the head temples of the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Similar to other temples in Kyoto, Kenninji consists of a few different buildings and gardens. Many are free to visit, however, the main hall does have a small entrance fee. One of the reasons we were so drawn to this temple was the beautiful paintings and moss gardens.
Visitors can also enjoy the images of dragons painted on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall which was commissioned in 2002 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Kenninji.
Location: 584 Komatsucho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0811, Japan // MAP
Cost: 500 yen
Next up, Nijo Castle! Nijo Castle was built in 1603 and was the former residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. Today it is a designated World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the best surviving examples of castle architecture during Japan’s feudal era.
When visiting, you’ll enter the large gate on the eastern side of the castle to get to the castle grounds. Once inside the grounds head to the main entrance of the castle and begin your tour. I highly recommend getting the English audio guide to take on your self-guided tour of the castle because Nijo Castle has witnessed some of the most fascinating historical events in Japan’s history.
I don’t want to spoil all the fun information you’ll learn on the tour and photography is not allowed inside the castle, but make sure you pay attention to the stunning paintings in each of the rooms. Another thing I found intriguing was the “Nightingale” flooring that was designed to add security to the castle and is nearly impossible to walk on without squeaking!
After visiting the inside of the castle stop by Seiryu-en, Honmaru, and Ninomaru, the palace gardens. Seiryu-en is a newer garden that was laid out in 1965 with a fusion of Eastern and Western styles. It features two tea houses and beautiful lawns. On the contrary, Honmaru is a historical garden that has the present Honmaru-goten Palace which was moved to this location in 1893, from the grounds of Kyoto Imperial Palace. Honmaru-goten Palace is a unique and rare survival of palace architecture from an imperial princely family. Last, Ninomaru is a classic Shoin-zukuri style garden with three islands symbolizing paradise and longevity. All of the gardens at Nijo Castle are well worth visiting and have beautiful scenery in all seasons.
Location: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301, Japan // MAP
Cost: 630 yen (castle only) 1,030 yen (castle and garden)
JR Kyoto Station
In the late afternoon or evening, head to JR Kyoto Station to shop and appreciate the architecture of this public transit and the views of Kyoto Tower. It might seem silly to account for time spent at a train station but there are a number of things to do at Kyoto Station and it’s one of the coolest train stations we’ve ever been to!
JR Kyoto Station also has a number of fantastic restaurants to eat at so browse the directory and take your pick! On the 10th floor, there is Kyoto Ramen Street which features ramen from all over Japan. Also on the 10th floor is Chasen, a sweets shop that sells matcha-flavored parfaits, cakes, and other sweets. On the 11th floor, you’ll find The Cube Gourmet Street you’ll find various kinds of Japanese cuisine including tonkatsu, kushi katsu, okonomiyaki, soba, tempura, and more. There are also a few Western-inspired restaurants here too.
For shopping, I recommend checking out Isetan Department Store which spans over 13 floors of the station! Much of the areas are dedicated to fashion but I personally enjoy looking at home goods, stationary, incense, and other souvenirs. Another area of Kyoto Station I like to shop in is The Cube which is located on B2, B1, and F1 on the NW side of the station. It has souvenirs, confectionary items, and smaller fashion brands.
Location: Higashishiokoji Kamadonocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan // MAP
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY FIVE
- Kinkakuji Temple
- Imamiya Shrine + Ichimonjiya Wasuke
- Koto-in Temple
- Walk Around Gion
- Attend Maiko Show
- Yasaka Shrine
Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple)
Kinkakuji is perhaps one of the most visited and well-known temples in Kyoto and perhaps all of Japan. The lavish exterior is covered completely in gold leaf creating a sparkling reflection on the large pond it sits on even the cloudiest day.
The temple was first created as a villa for the former shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397 until his passing in which he willed it to become a temple. However, the existing structure you’ll see today is not the original which was badly damaged and burned down a few times by war and even once burned down by a monk in 1950. The structure that is currently there for viewing was built in 1955.
We have visited Kinkakuji on two different Kyoto trips. The first time we visited we stopped there midday and were met with extreme crowds of tour groups. The next time we visited was late in the afternoon and we found it to be much more enjoyable!
Location: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan // MAP
Cost: 500 yen
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 shrine that was recommended to us by our friends who are Kyoto locals.
Most people who go to Imamiya Shrine visit to pray for good health or recovery from illnesses. There is also a magic stone that can predict if your wishes will come true or not which was neat to hear about from our friends. In addition to these unique features, it has a few beautiful bridges and was nice to explore. But one other reason our friends took us to this shrine was to visit a shop close by, Ichiwa.
Location: Japan, 〒603-8243 Kyoto, Kita Ward, Murasakino Imamiyacho, 21 // MAP
After visiting Imamiya Shrine stop at Ichimonjiya Wasuke (also known as 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 miso sauce.
Our friends have been coming to Ichiwa since they were young and thus we had the privilege of learning more about this historic sweets shop and now visit nearly every time we are in Kyoto. Upon arriving, you may notice that there are two aburi mochi shops across from each other. But no, they are not the same store.
These two shops have a nearly 400-year-old playful rivalry with one another. Ichiwa, which we visited has been in the same location for over 1,000 years and is run by the 25th generation of the same family. Talk about a family-owned and operated business! Stop and get some tea and aburi mochi before heading to your next temple!
Location: Japan, 〒603-8243 Kyoto, Kita Ward, Murasakino Imamiyacho, 6 9 // MAP
Hours: 10am-5pm daily
This small temple, Koto-in, is a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji. It is tucked away in a quiet sector of Kyoto. Similar to Imayima Shrine, it is especially enjoyable because although small, it’s beautiful and less visited. The beautiful lush green pathway to enter the temple was one spot in this temple that we really enjoyed. While there, make sure you also go to Shoko-ken, the onsite teahouse.
Location: 73-1 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8231, Japan // MAP
Cost: 400 yen
Stroll Around Gion & Shop at Shijo-dori
Each time we visit Kyoto, we tend to spend our last evening in Gion or walk to some of the shops on Shijo-dori. 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 in public, be sure to avoid chasing her down to take a photo. Instead, enjoy a traditional tea ceremony with a maiko or see a maiko show.
Attend a Maiko Show
If you happen to be in Kyoto on a Tuesday or Friday, you must consider attending the Maiko Show at Kyoto Granbell Hotel. A Maiko is, an apprentice Geisha. When we stayed at the Granbell we became aware of this show and jumped at the chance to see a Maiko perform, a rarity that most people do not typically get to experience!
During the show, you will experience traditional dancing, shamisen music, play games, and take a photo with a Maiko. There are only 30 seats available at this show so be sure to book in advance!
Currently, Kyoto Granbell has postponed their Maiko experience but we hope it will resume soon!
Location: Japan, 〒605-0802 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Yamatocho, 27−番 // MAP
Hours: Tuesdays & Friday 8:40pm-10:10pm
Cost: 5,000 yen (non-hotel guest), 4,000 yen (hotel guest)
After the maiko show, head 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!
Location: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0073, Japan // MAP
Kyoto will always hold a special place in our hearts and I’m sure you’ll also fall in love with the serenity of this historic city.