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 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. 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, 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 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 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.
Mid-Range in the Heart of Gion: Kyoto Granbell Hotel
One of our recent favorites is Kyoto Granbell Hotel which is conveniently located in the heart of Gion. The stunning architecture and details make this hotel appear like a five-star luxury property, however, the prices are affordable! Another thing we love about Kyoto Granbell Hotel is the spacious rooms and the option to have king-sized beds which aren’t as common in Japan.
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 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 service, 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
LUXURY: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY ONE
- Nishiki Market
- Sanjusangendo Hall
- Lunch: Chojiro
- Shopping in Kyoto
- Gear Art Complex Show
- Dinner: Kanidoraku Kyoto Main
Since we arrived in Kyoto in the morning, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel and made our first stop Nishiki Market to gorge on some delicious street food items for breakfast. 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 the traditional sticky dango.
Location: 609番地 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8054, Japan // MAP
Cost: 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 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.
Sanjusangendo Hall is most famous for its 1,000 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, that 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.
FYI: 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.
Location: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0941, Japan // MAP
Cost: 600 yen
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 is the perfect place to enjoy a quick 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. Since the sushi bar was full when we first arrived we sat at a table. Chojiro was perfect for lunch because we were able to order each type of nigiri a la carte and as much as we wanted (priced per order).
Location: 103 2 Hashimotocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8011, Japan // MAP
Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10:45pm, Saturday & Sunday 11:30am-10:45pm
Shopping in Kyoto (Including 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 its close proximity to the Gear Art Complex 1928 Show (the next stop on this Kyoto 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 that are specific to Kyoto.
Some of our favorite stores to shop at:
- HiKESHi SPiRiT: A Japanese clothing brand.
- Hamamonyo: Textile shop
- Bento&Co: Gift shop
- 3 Coins: A chain store similar to a dollar store 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!
- Roger’s: Vintage and used clothing store.
- This shop is one of our favorites but I don’t know the name so I’ve provided the coordinates on Google Maps. It has beautiful textiles, souvenirs, and more.
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 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.
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
DINNER: Kanidoraku Kyoto Main
After attending 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 crab, tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage all cooked in a light broth.
Location: 525 Tenshojimaecho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8081, Japan // MAP
Hours: 11am-10pm daily
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY TWO
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Lunch: Ramen Factory Kyoto
- Tofukuji Temple
- Kenninji Temple
- Dinner: Chao Chao Sanjo Kimyamachi
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 this shrine 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.
Location: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan // MAP
Hours: Open 24 hours
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 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: 4,500 yen/adult, 3,500 yen/child (for the basic ramen making package)
READ MORE: Guide to Ramen Factory Kyoto
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 meals and visit Tofukuji.
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 become 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 in the summertime, Tofukuji wasn’t nearly as busy as other major attractions in Kyoto like Fushimi Inari or Kinkakuji.
Location: 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan // MAP
Hours: 8:30am-4pm daily
Cost: 400 yen for Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, an additional 400 yen for Hojo and the gardens
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
Hours: 10am-4:30pm daily
Cost: 500 yen
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! While traditionally a Chinese dish, gyoza has been a popular street food in Japan for many years.
We were so glad we tried Chao Chao because they had the best gyoza we’ve had while 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.
Location: 117番地 Ishiyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8002, Japan // MAP
Hours: Sunday 2pm-12am, Monday-Friday 5pm-2am, Saturday 2pm-2am
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY THREE
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Okochisanso Garden
- Tenryuji Temple
- Lunch: Konbini
- Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Kimono Forest
- Dinner: Donguri Shijo-Omiya Store
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.
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 stalks. 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
Hours: Open 24 hours
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 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
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
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
Hours: 8:30am-5:30pm daily
Cost: 500¥ (Extra 300¥ if you would like to visit the temple grounds as well).
LUNCH: Konbini (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…
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
Hours: 9am-4pm daily
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 beg to differ… 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
Hours: Open 24 hours
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,
Location: Japan, 〒600-8389 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, ル南側 // MAP
Hours: 5pm-1am daily
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY FOUR
- Breakfast: Shinshindo Sanjo Kawaramachi
- Kiyomizudera Temple
- Sannezaka Ninezaka
- Lunch: Menbakaichidai
- Nijo Castle
- Toraya Ichijo
- JR Kyoto Station
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.
Location: Japan, 〒604-8004 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 三条通河原町東入ル中島町74番地 // MAP
Hours: 7am-10pm daily
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. 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 at the southern end of the temple grounds and beautifully stands among the trees.
Location: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan // MAP
Hours: 6am-6pm daily
Cost: 300 yen/adults, 200 yen/children
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 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. 🙂
Location: 2 Chome-221 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan // MAP
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.
Location: 757-2 Minamiiseyacho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8153, Japan // MAP
Hours: 11am-10pm daily
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 and the former residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. Today it is a designated World Heritage Site and 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. I highly recommend getting the English audio guide to take on your self-guided tour of the castle. I don’t want to spoil all the fun information you’ll learn but the history is very interesting, especially the “Nightingale” flooring that was designed to add security to the castle and is nearly impossible to walk on without squeaking!
Location: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301, Japan // MAP
Hours: 8am-5pm daily
Cost: 630 yen (castle only) 1,030 yen (castle and garden)
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 in the U.S.!
One place to try wagashi is Toraya Ichijo, 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.
Location: Japan, 〒602-0911 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Hirohashidonocho, 415 // MAP
Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 9am-6pm
Cost: 500-1,500 yen depending on the set
JR Kyoto Station
That evening we went to the 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 at a train station but there are a number of things to occupy your time 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.
Location: Higashishiokoji Kamadonocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan // MAP
KYOTO ITINERARY: DAY FIVE
- Kinkakuji Temple
- Imamiya Shrine
- Koto-in Temple
- Lunch: Sobanomi Yoshimura
- Walk Around Gion
- Attend Maiko Show
- Dinner: Wabiya Korekido
- Yasaka Shrine
Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple)
Kinkakji 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 the late 1300s. However, the existing structure is not the original which was badly damaged and burned down a few times by war and even once by a monk in 1950. The structure that is currently there for viewing was built in 1955.
We had heard about Kinkakuji 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 kakigori (Japanese shave ice) with mochi from a nearby vendor which was SO YUMMY on a hot summer day, if you happen to see a shave ice vendor nearby make sure you get one!
Location: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan // MAP
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
Cost: 400 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. We spent most of the time there with them and I honestly forgot to take photos of the shrine!
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 because there were no tourists when we visited. 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
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
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.
The friends I mentioned above have been coming to Ichiwa since they were young and thus we had the privilege of learning more about this confectionary. 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 rivalry 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. Talk about a family-owned and operated business.
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 was especially enjoyable due to the lack of other tourists visiting. 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
Hours: 9am-4pm daily
Cost: 400 yen
LUNCH: Sobanomi Yoshimura
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 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!
Location: 420 Matsuyacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8105, Japan // MAP
Hours: 11am-4pm, 5pm-9pm daily
Stroll Around Gion
Each time we visit Kyoto, we tend to spend our last evening in Gion. The first time we were there we decided to dress in our yukata we purchased. 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 in public, be sure to avoid chasing her down to take a photo! Instead, go to the show (linked below) and spot from afar when on the streets. 🙂
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. For those wondering what a Maiko is, it’s 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!
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)
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.
When you take your seat, you order each yakitori a la carte. This format is nice because it allows you to order various types, and as much as you like! The prices aren’t outrageous, but they can add up quickly. The most expensive yakitori we purchased was a rare cheese that we thought was with chicken, but it actually ended up being only cheese. Definitely not complaining though because it was delicious.
Location: Japan, 〒605-0000 Kyoto, Gionmachi Minamigawa, 歌舞練場北側 // MAP
Hours: 11:30am-2pm, 5pm-11pm daily
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!
Location: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0073, Japan // MAP
Hours: Open 24 hours
Kyoto will always hold a special place in our hearts and I’m sure you’ll also fall in love with the culture and serenity of this historic city.