Kyoto Itinerary 4 Days: A City of a Million Temples (2023)
Does Kyoto really have a million temples?
Actually, it only has 1,600 temples.
But when I was in Kyoto, it sure felt like a million.
Even before I set foot in the city, I was overwhelmed with how many temples, shrines, gardens, and museums there were to see in the city that I went crazy trying to plan my trip.
And like Tokyo, Kyoto’s attractions are spread out all over the city, so it was tricky figuring out how to see everything I wanted to see in 4 days.
So I’ve developed this 4-day Kyoto itinerary. Hopefully, you’ll avoid going crazy trying to plan your trip and it’ll make your first time in Kyoto easy and stress-free.
Four days is the perfect amount of time to see the main attractions in Kyoto. But if you want to take some day trips to nearby cities like Nara, Himeji, Osaka, or even Hiroshima, you can easily add a few more days to this itinerary. Here are 2 guides for day trips from Kyoto:
You can also take a train for an overnight stay in Naoshima to see some fabulous art. It’s about 3.5 hours from Kyoto.
This itinerary is part of my 3-week Japan itinerary. Check it out!
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You can jump to each day of this Kyoto itinerary by clicking on the links below.
How to get around Kyoto?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this itinerary, let’s talk about how to get around Kyoto.
I got around the city on foot and by public transportation.
Kyoto has 2 subway lines (Tozai line and Karasuma line), 3 JR lines (Nara, Sagano, and Tokaido – you can use your JR Pass on these lines), and a few other local tram and train lines (Keihan line). Here is a map of the different lines.
It’s also got an extensive bus system.
Most of the time I used the bus. I stayed in downtown Kyoto and there were so many buses that passed by my hotel that it was just easier to take the bus than the subway.
Make sure to have the following apps on your phone:
- Navitime app. This amazing app tells you which bus, subway, or train you need to take to get from point A to point B.
- Google Maps or Maps Me. You can’t use Google Maps offline in Japan, so make sure to get a Japanese SIM card or pocket wifi. To find out how to get these things, read this post on how to prepare for your trip to Japan.
You can also get a map from the Tourism Office at Kyoto station. Make sure to stop there at the beginning of your trip.
Ask your hotel or hostel for bus information. The place I stayed at, The Hotel Resol, had a helpful list of bus stops and bus lines for getting to the city’s main attractions.
Even if you’re a first-time visitor to Kyoto, you should have no trouble navigating the city’s public transportation system.
You might be interested in these posts:
Day 1 – Southern Higashiyama
On day 1 of your Kyoto itinerary, explore the southern Higashiyama district.
This area is filled with some of the city’s best temples and Shinto shrines. You’ll also find cool cafes, loads of souvenir shops, and quiet maze-like lanes lined with traditional Japanese architecture.
It is one of the best places in Japan to buy souvenirs.
Your first day begins at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and ends at Shoren-in Temple and Gardens. Except for the initial bus ride to the first temple, the rest of the itinerary should be done on foot. Most of the streets you’ll encounter are pedestrian-only.
Here is day 1’s itinerary:
- Kiyomizudera Temple
- Sannenzaka Street
- Maccha House
- Ninenzaka Street
- Japanese-Style Starbucks
- Ichibeikoji Street
- Kodai-ji Temple
- Maruyama Park
- Yasaka Jinja Shrine
- Chionin Temple
- Shoren-in Temple and Garden
This day’s itinerary will take all day to finish, so start out early. You definitely don’t want to be in a rush!
In the evening, don’t plan to do anything too strenuous as you’re probably going to be doing a lot of walking during the day.
Kyoto has tons of restaurants to choose from no matter which neighborhood you’re staying in.
How to get to Southern Higashiyama:
Kyoto Station: Take bus #206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Then walk for 10 minutes to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Downtown Kyoto: Take bus #207 from the Shijo Kawaramachi bus stop and get off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Then walk for 10 minutes to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Double-check this information on Navitime, Google Maps, or Maps.Me.
Begin your Kyoto itinerary at Kiyomizu-dera, a beautiful Buddhist temple built in 1633.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to the beautiful wooden main hall with its stunning statue of KannonBodhisattva, there are 3 other not-to-miss sights at Kiyomizu-dera:
1. A waterfall beneath the main hall.
2. Tainai-meguri – a dark underground chamber that represents the womb of the Boddhisatva. Enter by walking down a flight of stairs. Then walk through a pitch-black tunnel while holding a rope. You’ll come to a stone with a light shining over it. Spin the stone and make a wish. Tainai-meguri is to the left of the main temple in Zui-go Do Hall, a white building with dark brown wooden trim. It’s NOT easy to find.
3. Jizu statues – To the left of Tainai-meguri along a pathway, you can find a row of Jizo statues. Found all over the temples, shrines, and cemeteries throughout Japan, the statues often wear red bibs and red caps. They are the protector of children, women, and travelers.
Special Night Viewing
Kiyomizu-dera is open until 9:30 pm 4 times per year for a special night tour.
Here are the dates for 2022:
- March 4 – 13
- March 26 – April 3
- August 15 – 16
- November 18 – 30
Check their website for the dates for 2023.
2. Sannenzaka Street
COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
After you exit Kiyumizudera, you’ll begin walking down a busy shopping street overloaded with souvenir shops.
On the right side, you’ll see a set of stairs going down. The stairs will take you to Sannenzaka Street.
Sannenzaka Street is filled with traditional wooden shops, tea houses, restaurants, and houses.
This street probably had the best souvenirs of any place I’d been to in Kyoto.
There’s a small museum along the street called Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum (Google Maps), which exhibits works of art from the Edo and Meiji periods. Rent a magnifying glass to see the details on the miniatures.
The street was the highlight of my day!
You might be interested in these hidden gems of Japan:
3. Maccha House
OPEN: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Before leaving Sannenzaka Sreet, drop in at Maccha House to get your matcha fix.
You can get matcha latte, matcha tiramisu, and lots of other matcha drinks and sweets.
It’s a pleasant and relaxing place to take a rest.
4. Ninenzaka Street
COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
After getting a taste of matcha, keep on walking along Sannenzaka for a few minutes. Look out for a side street on your right. This street is Ninenzaka Street. This is another beautiful street lined with shops, cafes, and traditional Japanese homes.
5. Japanese-Style Starbucks
OPEN: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Before leaving Ninenzaka Street, look out for the Starbucks sign.
This Starbucks is a little special.
Located in a 100-year-old teahouse, the coffee shop is a Japanese-style Starbucks.
You order like you normally do at Starbucks. The difference is that you sit on tatami mats.
There are also great views of the street below from the second floor.
6. Ichibei-koji Street
COST: free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
Don’t miss this stone-walled alley off of Nene-no-michi Street. Ichibei-koji is a narrow maze-like street lined with stone walls and some beautiful Japanese-style architecture.
The street curves to the right, eventually becoming a quiet and peaceful alleyway with both pavement and walls made of stone. There was only one other tourist with the same idea as me, making it a great place to escape from the rest of the hordes of tourists.
You eventually come to a dead end, which means you need to retrace your steps back to where you started.
The next stop on this Kyoto itinerary is to one of my favorite temples in Kyoto—Kodai-ji.
Some people say that Kodai-ji is more feminine than other temples in Kyoto. It might be since it was founded by a woman, Kita-no-Mandokoro (Nene), the wife of one of Japan’s most important historical figures, Toyotami Hideyoshi.
Hideyoshi was a famous military leader who is credited with reunifying Japan after 150 years of civil war.
When her husband died, she became a nun at Kodai-ji.
Don’t miss these highlights:
- Founder’s Hall and Sanctuary – beautiful lacquer work containing gold insets. The ceiling is covered with the hull of Hideyoshi’s ship and his wife’s oxcart.
- Rock garden
- The path leading uphill to the teahouse of Sen-no-Riki, Japan’s most famous tea master.
- A path leading downhill from the teahouse through a bamboo grove
8. Maruyama Park
COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
Ninenzaka Street then cuts through Maruyama Park.
I didn’t explore the park.
Instead, I headed to the next important sight, which is located inside the park, the Yasaka Shrine.
9. Yasaka Jinja (Shinto shrine)
COST: free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
Yasaka Shrine was one of my favorite shrines in Kyoto for its lively vibe and its eye-catching orange temples hung with white lanterns.
Its front entrance attracts people coming from the Gion District (geisha district) and its back attracts tourists coming from the southern Higashiyama walk.
During the shogun and samurai times, the shrine was popular with geishas and kabuki actors who made the Gion District their home.
The Buddhist temple, Chion-in, is one place you won’t miss. The front wooden gate is humungous. It’s impressive and as I looked at it across the street while sitting on a bench, I was eager to go in and investigate.
Unfortunately, after taking a hundred photos of the gate, I was sorely disappointed.
Chion-in was under construction when I was there. The buildings were completely covered in tarps and scaffolding. I couldn’t see any of them.
But it’s all good now and construction is completed.
The temple is important because it’s the headquarters of the largest Buddhist set in Japan: the Pureland Sect.
You’ve made it to your final temple. I hope you’re not sick of another temple.
Luckily, Shoren-in is not only a temple. It’s also a beautiful garden.
Don’t skip it!
The complex is made up of a series of wooden walkways connecting the temple buildings. Gardens surround the buildings.
Grab a spot on one of the many verandas overlooking the gardens.
Just sit and relax.
The temple has a very zen-like atmosphere even though it’s not a Zen Temple. The temple belongs to the Tendai sect of Buddhism.
Day 2 – Arashiyama and Northwest Kyoto
THIS is it!
Today is the day you get to visit the Bamboo Forest.
You’ve seen the photos of the pathway through the forest of bamboo.
But does it live up to its hype?
Can you get that Instagram-worthy photo that will make all your friends jealous?
YES, but ONLY if you get to the Bamboo Forest EARLY.
Ideally, 7:00 but no later than 8:00.
If you get to the Bamboo Forest too late, you might be disappointed, because you don’t get the sense of serenity and tranquility that you should get from a forest of bamboo.
And the crowds will ruin your photos!
After that, the day is filled with some of Kyoto’s best ancient temples and most beautiful Japanese gardens.
Here is your itinerary for day 2:
- Bamboo Forest
- Okochi Sanso Garden
- Tenryu-ji Temple
- Ryoan-ji Temple
- Kinkaku-ji Temple
- Daitoku-ji Temple
How to get to Arashiyama
- Downtown Kyoto (Kawaramachi Sanjo area) – Take bus #11. Get off at Tenryu-Ji bus stop. It took my bus 45 minutes to get there. An alternative is to take the Keifuku Train Line.
- Kyoto Station area – Take the JR Sagano line and get off at Saga-Arashiyama Station.
- You can find transport information on Navitime, Google Maps, or Maps.Me.
1. The Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
Start the second day of your 4-day Kyoto itinerary at the Arayashima Bamboo Grove.
You’ll find a path that gradually goes uphill and that cuts through a small forest of bamboo.
It’s best to be experienced when there aren’t many other tourists around, so you should get an early start–ideally, arrive at 7:00 am but no later than 8:00.
If you just can’t arrive that early, visit in the very late afternoon.
You can check out this great website that gives real-time information on how congested different attractions are in Kyoto.
2. Okochi Sanso Garden
COST: ¥1,000 (US$6.88|£6.21|€7.06) | OPEN: 9:00 am-5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
The Bamboo Forest will eventually end at a fork in the road.
At that fork, you’ll find the beautiful Okochi Sanso Garden–the former villa of a famous actor who died long ago.
Okochi Sanso includes a villa on top of a hill (it’s a bummer that you can’t go inside) and a garden. To be honest, neither are all that special.
Don’t skip it!
Okocho has 2 additional features that make visiting it definitely worth your time:
- a fantastic view of Kyoto and its surrounding hills
- a teahouse – your entrance fee includes a FREE cup of tea and a Japanese traditional snack!
When you arrive, you’ll get a ticket for a free cup of matcha tea and a sweet that you can use at the villa’s wonderful teahouse. You can sit down at a table sipping your tea and looking out at the bamboo grove.
3. Tenryu-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)
COST: ¥800 (US$5.50|£5|€5.65) | OPEN: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
To get to the next stop on your Kyoto itinerary, you’ll need to go back through the Bamboo Forest.
Before leaving the forest, you’ll come across the back gate of Tenryu-ji.
This Zen Buddhist temple has a lovely garden with a pond, a rock garden, and a series of wooden halls used for worship connected by a beautiful walkway.
You can read more about it in this post: The Best of Kyoto: Tenryu-ji Temple.
You’ve got a lot of good lunch options near the Bamboo Forest and Tenryu-ji.
There are several restaurants that serve kaiseki meals, so it might be a good opportunity to try one here.
Kaiseki is a true Japanese culinary experience that you should try at least once during your trip to Japan. It’s basically a traditional multi-course meal with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and presentation. It’s also cheaper to eat kaiseki for lunch than for dinner.
These are the restaurants that repeatedly turned up on lists of recommended restaurants in Arashiyama:
- Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu – They serve Kyoto temple food (vegetarian). The restaurant is inside the grounds of Tenryu-Ji Temple. It was a bit hard to find. (Rating: 4.5 – 230 reviews)
- Yudofu Sagano – tofu kaiseki (Rating: 4.3 – 851 reviews)
- Otsuka – Kobe beef (Rating: 4.6 – 909 reviews)
- Unagiya Hirokawa – classic unagi (eel) dishes (Rating: 4.3 – 1500 reviews)
- Arashiyama Yoshimura – hand-made soba noodles (Rating: 4.2 – 1600 reviews)
- Arashiyama Udon Ozuru – udon noodles; this is where I ate. I had a set meal for ¥1430. Nothing special but the location was good. (Rating: 4.0 – reviews 700)
- Sushi Bar Naritaya – sushi (Rating: 4.8 – 600 reviews)
A small temple but very unique and beautiful!
And completely worth the hype!
Ryoan-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple famous for its enigmatic rock garden.
Look out for a really cool stone water basin.
How to get to Ryoan-ji from Arashiyama
To get to Ryoan-ji from Arashiyama, you can take bus #11 and then transfer to bus #59. It’s really easier than it sounds. When bus #11 gets to the end of the line, you’ll be at a bus terminal. Follow all of the other tourists as they wait for bus #59. Super easy.
6. Kinkaku-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)
COST: ¥400 (US$2.75|£2.48|€2.83) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
One of the highlights of my 4 days in Kyoto was Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.
The outside of the temple is covered in gold leaf.
There’s not a lot to see here and you can’t go inside the pavilion, so it’s a quick trip.
Most people go to just take a photo of the Pavilion across the lake.
The rest of the grounds contain some not-very-memorable gardens that I walked through and a teahouse that I didn’t go to.
How to get from Ryoan-ji to the Golden Pavilion
To get to Kinkakuji, take bus #59 from Ryoanji.
7. Daitoku-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)
COST: ¥400 (US$2.75|£2.48|€2.83) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
If you still have the energy and/or time for one more temple on this day’s Kyoto itinerary, visit Daitoku-ji.
There are a few beautiful rock gardens, several green gardens, and sub-temples.
If you can’t visit it on this day, smush it into the fourth day of your Kyoto itinerary.
How to get to Daitoku-ji
To get to Daitoku-ji, you can take bus #205 from Kinkaku-ji or walk there in 25 minutes.
More things to do on day 2:
Here is a list of more things to do in Kyoto. Feel free to substitute one place for another from this list or add it to this day’s itinerary:
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – (Map | Website) You could add this park to your itinerary after Tenryu-ji. It’s a park with roaming monkeys and views of Kyoto. You’ve got to walk up a very steep hill to get to the monkeys.
Kyoto Imperial Palace – (Map | Website) You could skip Daitoku-ji and replace it with the Imperial Palace. This was the home of the imperial family until 1868 when the capital moved to Tokyo. Sadly, you can’t enter any of the buildings and the buildings that you do see were built in 1855 after the original structures had burnt down, so I’m not sure how interesting it is to visit.
Shimogamo-jinja – (Map | Website) This shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could stop here after Daitoku-ji or at the end of day 4. The shrine complex has the usual beautiful vermilion-colored temples and torii gates.
Kamigamo-jinja – (Map | Website) Another UNESCO World Heritage Site that you could visit at the end of day 2 or 4. The original was built in 678 but the buildings that you see now are from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
Day 3 – Downtown Kyoto
By day 3 you’re probably going to need a break from walking so much and visiting so many temples and shrines.
Devote this day to the food of Kyoto by visiting the 400-year-old Nishiki Market and going on a food tour in the evening.
You can also add a cooking class to your itinerary that includes a guided tour of the market.
Add a tour of the Gion Neighborhood in the late afternoon. If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot a Geisha on her way to entertain a client.
Here is your itinerary for day 3:
Start your day by visiting the spectacular Nijo-jo. This castle was the home of the greatest shogun in Japan’s history, Tokugawa Ieyasu when he visited Kyoto.
You can do a guided tour for an additional 1,000 at 10:00 am and 12:00 pm. Buy your tickets just inside the Higashi Otemon gate of the castle. Tickets are on sale starting at 9:00 am.
Alternatively, you can rent an audio guide for 600 in various languages at the general information center. See the castle website for more information.
Highlights of a visit to Nijo-jo:
- Karamon gate – Beautiful main gate
- Ninomaru Palace – The palace buildings are connected by wooden corridors that contain nightingale floors that squeak when you walk on them. Supposedly, this was to warn the shogun and his bodyguards of intruders.
- Ninomaru Garden – beautiful traditional Japanese garden that should not be missed
- Cherry trees are all over the castle grounds so it’s a great place to visit during Cherry Blossom season.
How to get to Nijo-jo:
- From downtown Kyoto, it’s a 30-minute walk or you can take the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station.
- From Kyoto Station area, take the #9 bus and get off at Nijojo-mae.
2. Nishiki Market
COST: free | OPEN: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm but many shops are closed on Wednesdays and Sundays | LOCATION: Google Maps
Known as the “Kitchen of Kyoto”, Nishiki Market is a popular market for both tourists and locals. It’s been around for 400 years. It’s a narrow street going on for five blocks of shops specializing in local foods and restaurants.
Take your time strolling through the market munching on the different snacks and meat skewers. Take in the sites, sounds, and especially the smells of the market. You can also buy kitchen utensils like knives.
How to get to Nishiki Market:
From Nijo-jo it’s a 30-minute walk or you can take the Karasuma Line. Alternatively, you can take the Tozai Line and then transfer to the Karasuma Line.
The BEST way to visit the market is with a guided tour. In this way, you get to learn the background of the market food, meet the food vendors, and try the food.
- Walking Tour of Nishiki Market and Gion + Breakfast – This affordable tour includes a morning walk through Gion and then a tour of the market. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy a Japanese breakfast along with 4 or 5 additional dishes.
- Nishiki Market Food Tour – On this tour, you’ll stop at 12 family-owned food stalls to sample and learn about the food (yuba, preserved vegetables, octopus, kamaboko, and mochi). Includes a 7-course lunch. RATING: 5/5 Read Reviews
3. Japanese Cooking Course (optional)
An optional activity on this Kyoto itinerary is a cooking course.
I recommend doing at least one cooking class while in Japan. If you haven’t done one already, Kyoto has a few good ones, including one that combines a tour of the Nishiki Market with a cooking course.
Here are a few cooking classes in Kyoto:
- Nishiki Market Tour + Donburi Cooking Course – Donburi is a bowl of rice topped with meat, seafood, vegetables, or tempura. Learn about the history of the market. Course and tour start at 11:30 am (M, Tu, Th, F) RATING: 5/5 – Read Reviews
- Izakaya Cooking Course – Learn to cook 4-5 authentic Japanese dishes. Quite affordable! RATING: 4.8/5 (over 70 Reviews!)
- Bento Box Cooking Course – Learn how to cook typical Japanese dishes that go into a bento box. This includes sushi, tempura, and miso soup. Very affordable and EXCELLENT reviews RATING: 5/5 – Read Reviews
4. Gion Neighborhood
COST: free to walk around BEST TIMES: late afternoon and early evening | LOCATION: Google Maps
You can walk from Nishiki Market to the Gion neighborhood. Coming from Nishiki market, you can first check out the area around Shirakawa river called Gion Shirakawa and then head to the main road called Hanami-koji. This street is bisected by Koji-dori Street into south Hanami and north Hanami-koji.
The best way to explore this area is to wander around without a plan. Go down one of the side streets off of Hanami-koji Street (like in the above photo) and get lost for a while.
Gion was the pleasure quarter of Kyoto starting in the early 1600s when the Shogun designated a specific area of Kyoto for female entertainers. Thus, Gion became a place where you could find any form of entertainment. Today it still has tearooms, but it also has tons of shops, restaurants, and a different kind of pleasure seeker: tourists.
You can also see geishas (called geikos in Kyoto) and maikos (geisha apprentices). Contrary to popular American literature and movies, geishas are not prostitutes. They are entertainers. In fact, the word “geisha” is a Japanese word that can be directly translated as “artist” or “person of the arts” and the Kyoto word “geiko” is “woman of the arts.”
If you want to see geikos and maikos, I heard that you should go to Pontocho Alley and Hanami-koji.
Supposedly, the best time to see Geishas walking around is early evening on the weekends or holidays when they are on their way to work.
Gion is also a good place to see Kyoto’s heritage architecture. You can see some beautiful old wooden merchant houses (machiya) and tea houses (ochiya) where the geikos and meikos perform(ed).
A great way to tour Gion is with a guided tour. Here are a few highly-rated tours at various price points:
- Night Walk in Gion – For only US$12, you can learn about the history and lives of Geishas with a walking tour of Gion. Another great way for solo travelers to meet people and explore the city’s nightlife. You might also be able to spot a Geisha! RATING: 4.5/5 (795 reviews) | Check Reviews Here
- 2-Hour Gion Geisha Tour – Explore the Gion District with a guide who can explain the history and culture of the geishas of Kyoto. Includes a visit to a zen temple and a shrine at night. RATING: 5/5 | Check Reviews
5. Food tour of Kyoto
The best way to finish up your third day in Kyoto is with a food tour. For those who travel to eat, this is the PERFECT thing to do.
For solo travelers, it’s the PERFECT way to meet people!
Some of the food tours also include tours of the Gion District.
Here are some popular and highly-rated food tours in Kyoto:
- Food and Culture Tour of Gion –This is the PERFECT tour for those who want to experience the nightlife of Kyoto but don’t want to do it on their own. Ideal for solo travelers! You’ll also learn about the lives of Geishas and sample the local cuisine. The tour stops at the best nightlife spots in the Gion District, Ponto-cho, and Kiyamachi. The tour includes food at 2 restaurants and 2 drinks. You also get to see Yasaka Shrine all lit up at night. RATING: 4.9/5 | Check Reviews Here
- Luxury Kyoto Food Tour – This food tour is more expensive than the others, but it includes a 10-course Kaiseki meal. Honestly, if you REALLY want to experience Japanese food culture, you’ve got to try a kaiseki meal at least once during your trip. The tour also includes an exploration of the Ponto-cho and Gion Districts. RATING: 5/5 | Check Reviews Here
More things to see and do on Day 3:
If you want to squeeze one or two more sights into this day’s itinerary, here are a few other things to do in Kyoto.
Kennin-ji – (Website | Map) If you can swing it and you’re not too tired of visiting another temple, try to add this stunning temple to your tour of the Gion District. Built in 1202, Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. The gardens are particularly beautiful. Look out for the painting of the twin dragons on the ceiling of the main hall.
DAY 4 – South Kyoto + North Higashiyama
I’ve saved the best for last.
The last day of this itinerary includes, in my opinion, the highlight of Kyoto: the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
This is by far my favorite place in Kyoto.
After that, head to the Northern Higashiyama neighborhood, where you’ll take a walk along the Path of Philosophy stopping off at some lovely Buddhist temples along the way.
Itinerary for Day 4
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shinto shrine)
COST: free | OPEN: dawn to dusk | LOCATION: Google Maps
Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most unique and beautiful place in Kyoto. It’s even more special than the Bamboo Forest.
It’s a good idea to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine as early as you can (ideally 7:00 am but no later than 8:00 am) to beat the crowds. Alternatively, visit very late in the afternoon when the crowds have thinned out.
What makes this Shinto shrine so special is the arcades of over 10,000 torii gates snaking their way up Inari Mountain.
Along the way, you’ll see these beautiful statues of foxes with red bibs and sometimes a key in their mouths. They are the guardians of the shrine.
It should take between 2 and 3 hours to get to the top of the mountain, where you’ll find some beautiful views of Kyoto.
Check out this detailed guide to Fushimi Inari Shrine. It includes insider tips for seeing the shrine as well as its history and religious meaning.
How to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha
- From downtown Kyoto, take the Keihan train line and get off at Fushimi Inari Station.
- From Kyoto Station, take the local JR Nara Line (if you stay on the line, you’ll get to Nara) and get off at Inari Station
- You can find public transportation information on Navitime, Google Maps, or Maps.Me.
2. Nanzen-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)
COST: The temple grounds are free but each structure costs ¥600 (US4.13|£3.72|€4.24) | OPEN: 8:40 am – 4:30/5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
The first stop in the Higashiyama Northern District is the beautiful temple complex of Nanzen-Ji. Constructed in the 1200s, Nanzen-ji is one of the most important Zen Buddhist temples in Japan.
The reason I loved visiting this temple so much was that its extensive grounds had so many interesting features.
- Main Gate: The first interesting structure you’ll come to is the massive wooden main gate, Sanmon, which was built in the 1600s. You can climb to the top floor for lovely views of Kyoto.
- Rock Garden: The other place not to miss at Nanzen-ji is the main hall’s beautiful rock garden.
- Sub-Temples: There are 3 sub-temples with lovely Zen gardens. It’s not necessary to visit them all.
- Aqueduct: Don’t leave the temple without checking out the aqueduct, built during the Meiji Period.
Lonely Planet says that there is a waterfall in the woods behind the temple, but I was unable to find it.
How to get to Nanzen-ji
From Fushimi Inari Shrine, take the JR train from Inari Station to Rokujizo Station. Then change to the Tozai line. Get off at Keage Station.
Alternatively, take the Keihan train line to Sanjo Station. Then change to the Tozai subway line getting off at Keage Station.
Blue Bottle Coffeeshop (Google Maps) – Near Keage Station is a Blue Bottle Coffeeshop, where you can grab a really good cup of coffee before tackling more temples. Blue Bottle is a brand of coffee shops that serves high-quality premium coffee sourced from one individual farm.
Just a short walk from Nanzen-ji, Eikan-do is a temple that you must visit if you are in Kyoto in the autumn. It’s famous for its beautiful fall foliage.
The temple is illuminated in the evenings in the fall.
Highlights of Eikan-do:
- Tahota Pagoda – This pagoda is situated on the side of a hill. Climb to the top for views of Kyoto
- Hojo Pond – Cross a stone bridge to visit the small shrine located on an island in the middle of Hojo pond.
- Founder’s Hall – Check out the architectural details of this beautiful hall.
4. Philosopher’s Path
COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
You can walk from Eikan-do to Ginkaku-ji along the Philosopher’s Path.
The Path is a tree-lined pedestrian walkway that runs along a canal. You’ll find temples, shrines, little Jizo statues with their red bibs, and a few cafes and restaurants.
I’m sure that in the fall when the leaves turn color and in the spring when the cherry blossoms come out that the walk is beautiful.
The path was named after Nishida Kitano, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers. He would often take strolls along the path whenever he needed to take a break from working on deep philosophical problems.
The path is a total of 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) long.
Not many people visit Honen-in temple so it’s very peaceful.
The temple is a 2-minute walk from the Path of Philosophy.
The main hall is only open from April 1-7 and November 1-7 (double-check their website), but it’s still worth walking around the grounds, especially in the fall.
Highlights of Honen-in
- A small gate with a thatch roof that is covered in vibrant green moss
- 2 sand-art mounds as you enter the moss-covered gate
- Main Hall with its Black Buddha statue
The temple used to be part of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. However, it is now no longer associated with any specific sect and is an independent temple.
If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, there’s a really good tofu restaurant near Honen-in called Yudofu Kisaki (Google Maps). It’s a vegetarian restaurant that specializes in yudofu (silken tofu cooked in a pot at your table).
7. Ginkaku-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)
COST: ¥500 (US$3.44|£3.10|€3.53) | OPEN: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm (Dec-Feb: 9:00-4:30) | LOCATION: Map
The last temple of this itinerary is Ginkaku–ji, better known in English as the Silver Pavilion. Surprisingly, the pavilion is not covered in silver like the Golden Pavilion is covered in gold.
Ginkaku-ji was originally the villa of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. After his death in 1490, it was turned into a Buddhist temple.
The pavilion was supposed to be covered in silver leaf in order to emphasize its contrast with the Golden Pavilion. However, the Onin Wars disrupted the project and silver never made it onto the temple’s exterior.
Highlights of Ginkaku-ji
- Silver Pavilion – a pavilion that is beautiful in its simplicity and its ability to blend in with the environment.
- Moss Garden – behind the Silver Pavilion and up a small hill is a beautiful garden covered in moss.
- Rock Garden – a garden of raked white sand with a very cool cone of sand called the “Moon Viewing Platform” placed in the middle of the garden.
8. Geisha Performance
There are a few ways that you can see a geisha dance and music performance or have dinner with a geiko or maiko.
1. Gion Corner
COST: ¥3,150 (US$22|£20|€23) but from July 1 to February 28, foreign tourists can get tickets for ¥2,200 (US$16|£14|€16) | TIME: 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm for 50 minutes |LOCATION: Google Maps | WEBSITE: Gion Corner
Attending a performance at Gion Corner is the least expensive option. According to their website, the geiko does a dance performance along with a tea and flower arranging ceremony.
2. Private Geisha Dinner
You can also have a private dinner or party with your own geiko or maiko. It’s exorbitantly expensive, though. Some prices I’ve seen are ¥47,700 (US$433) per guest for 2 guests and ¥17,700 (US$161) per guest with 9 to 10 guests. If you want the geiko or maiko to dance, you’ll need to pay more for a shamisen player. The more you pay, the more you get. Also, ask whether you are getting a geiko or a maiko.
You can book through one of the online tour marketplaces. Here are a few options, but check out their reviews yourself. This isn’t an endorsement of any of them.
3. Spring and Autumn Geisha Dance Performances
COST: ¥4,000 – ¥7,000 TIME: March, April, and May or October
In the spring (March-May) and fall (October), the geikos of Kyoto hold dance and music performances at 4 different venues across the city.
For more information on dates, ticket prices, and venue locations, visit Discover Kyoto
You can buy tickets online at the individual theater websites that you can find below.
- DATES: April 1 – 30, 2023 (tickets go on sale January 6, 2023); 3 shows per day
- COST: ¥4,000, ¥6,000 and ¥7,000
- LOCATION: Kyoto Shijo Minamiza Theater
- WEBSITE: Miyako Odori
- You can buy tickets on their website.
- DATES: October 8 – 22, 2022; In 2023 it will be held in the spring
- COST: ¥5,500 (US$38|£34|€39)
- LOCATION: Kamishichiken Kaburenjō Theater
- BUY TICKETS ONLINE: Kitani Odori
Pontocho Kamogawa Odori
- DATES: October 20 – 23, 2022 (4:00 pm)
- COST: ¥5,000 – unreserved seats – ¥8,000 – ¥10,000 – reserved seats
- LOCATION: Pontocho Kaburenjo
- WEBSITE: Pontocho Kamogawa Odori
More places to add to day 4:
Tofuku-ji – (Map | Website) Just 1 train stop from Fushimi Inari Shrine is another beautiful temple. This Buddhist temple of the Rinzai sect has beautiful gardens, the oldest gate in Japna, and 24 sub-temples. It’s very popular during the fall when the leaves change color.
Kyoto National Museum – (Map | Website) Only 3 subway stops from Fushimi Inari Shrine is the Kyoto National Museum. It is one of the four top art museums in Kyoto. It houses archaeological artifacts and pre-modern works of art such as paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, and sculpture.
Shugaku-in Rikyu Imperial Villa – (Map | Website) You could add this attraction after visiting Ginkaku-ji. However, by public transportation, it could take between 40 and 60 minutes to get there. This villa was the summer retreat for the royal family. You can only tour the gardens and you cannot enter the buildings.
Day Trips from Kyoto
Kyoto is a great place to use as a base for visiting some other popular destinations in Japan:
Nara – Japan’s former capital, Nara is probably the best day trip you can take from Kyoto. It has a lot of things to see like historically important temples and shrines, Buddhist art, museums, the largest wooden building in the world, and these uber-friendly tame deer. Get a one-day itinerary for Nara. (30 – 60 minutes by train from Kyoto)
Himeji –The most beautiful castle in Japan can be found in Himeji. Constructed in 1580, it is also one of only 12 original feudal-era castles left in the country. If you can, definitely add this to your itinerary. (50 – 90 minutes by train from Kyoto)
Osaka –- Instead of staying overnight in Osaka, why not just make a day trip out of it, especially if you’re short on time? Osaka is Japan’s third largest city. The best reason to visit the city is to chow down on its food and marvel at its neon lights. (15 – 60 minutes by train from Kyoto)
Hiroshima and Miyajima–Hiroshima has the Peace Museum, the remains of a building destroyed by the atomic bomb, and loads of opportunities to try okonomiyaki. Miyajima is mostly famous for views of a Shinto shrine surrounded by a body of water. Get a free guide to Hiroshima and Miyajima. (2 or 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto)
Koya-san – Koya-san is a tranquil temple town tucked away in the Kii Mountain Range. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Koya-san is considered to be one of Japan’s most spiritual places. It’s great for spending time in nature, hiking, learning more about Japanese history and culture, or taking photos. But getting to it on your own and then back to Kyoto on the same day is tricky. It’s best to join a tour or have your own vehicle.
Kinosaki Onsen – You could also make a day trip out of visiting the hot springs of Kinosaki Onsen. It is one of Japan’s best hot spring resorts. (2.5 hours by train from Kyoto)
Where to stay in Kyoto
Kyoto has a lot of great hotels and hostels to choose from for every type of traveler.
My favorite neighborhoods to stay in are the following:
- Downtown Kyoto – near lots of restaurants and cafes; great public transportation; you can walk to Ponto-cho and Gion neighborhood
- Gion Neighborhood – traditional Japanese architecture, great for walking around, loads of attractions, restaurants, and cafes and good transportation.
- Southern Higashiyama – near Kiyumizu-dera and Sanenzaka Street; traditional Japanese architecture and near many great attractions and transportation
- Kyoto Train Station Area – the best thing is that it’s near the station so it’s very convenient for getting in and out of Kyoto and for visiting the sights around the city.
EXCELLENT location in Gion District. Perfect for walking around at night, loads of restaurants and cafes, and great location for catching public transportation. Has dorm rooms for US$22 and private rooms for US$60. Dorms have privacy curtains and loads of amenities. Also has a shared kitchen and lounge. RATING: 9.1 (700+ Reviews) | Read reviews here!
This guesthouse has incredible reviews! It’s in a beautifully designed traditional Japanese guesthouse. Very welcoming and kind hosts. Breakfast included. But the location isn’t so great. RATING: 9.8 (200+ reviews) | Read Reviews Here!
I loved this hotel! I stayed here when I was in Kyoto. An EXCELLENT hotel in an amazing location in downtown Kyoto. Super comfortable and modern rooms. The staff is kind and helpful. The location is near public transportation, with loads of restaurants, cafes, and shops. I felt safe walking around alone late at night. Easy to take a bus or subway from here to the sights around Kyoto. RATING: 8.7 (7,000+ reviews!) | Read reviews here!
Located in the Gion and Yasaka neighborhoods, this hotel is just about perfect if you’re looking for a place with both traditional Japanese aesthetics and modern comforts in an excellent location. Just a stone’s throw from Yasaka Shrine and Ishibei-koji. RATING: 9.3 (300+ reviews) | Read Reviews Here!
Check out this Japan itinerary for more ideas.
Looking for more on Japan? Check out these posts:
- Japan Itinerary: The Perfect 3 Weeks in Japan
- Tokyo Itinerary: How to Spend 4 Perfect Days in Tokyo
- Hakone Itinerary: How to Spend 2 Days in Hakone
- Kyoto Itinerary 4 Weeks: A City of a Million Temples
- Nara Itinerary: The Perfect Day Trip from Kyoto
- Matsumoto Itinerary: Exploring Japan's Coolest Castle
- Shirakawago Itinerary: Enter a Japanese Fairytale
- The Ultimate Day Trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima
- Kamikochi Hiking: The Perfect Day Trip from Takayama
- Takayama Itinerary: Travel Back in Time to Old Japan
- The Best Ever Guide to Japan's Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
- Top 10 Must-See Places to Visit in Kyoto
- 13 Things You Need to Know Before Going to Japan
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