Kyoto Itinerary 4 Days: A City of a Million Temples

by Nov 18, 2023Itinerary, Japan, Travel

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 so 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 JAMPACKED 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 too!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website's Disclosure for more info.

BONUS: I've created a FREE PDF version of my Japan itinerary guide. It includes detailed day-to-day itineraries for Tokyo, Kyoto, and 9 other destinations in Japan.  You'll also get step-by-step instructions for buying and using your Japan Rail Pass.

Click here to get lots of great tips for traveling around Asia as well as my FREE Japan itinerary guide. 

How to get around Kyoto?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this itinerary, let’s talk about how to get around Kyoto.

My 2 main modes of transport were my own 2 feet and Kyoto’s fabulous public transportation system.

Kyoto has the following lines:

  • 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 that is easy to use.

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. To use Google Maps offline, download maps for Japan before arriving in Japan. However, you need WiFi to use the transportation feature. Get a 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.

One more thing:

Although you can pay for the bus and subway with cash, it’s more convenient to use a Welcome Suica or Pasmo Passport card. You can add money to the card and use it to pay for rides on subway lines, trains, and buses. However, you need to buy the card at Narita or Haneda Airports when you first arrive in Japan or from an online travel agency like Klook before arriving in Japan.

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:

  1. Kiyomizudera Temple
  2. Sannenzaka Street
  3. Maccha House
  4. Honan-Ji Temple
  5. Ninenzaka Street
  6. Japanese-Style Starbucks
  7. Ichibeikoji Street
  8. Kodai-ji Temple
  9. Maruyama Park
  10. Yasaka Jinja Shrine
  11. Chionin Temple
  12. Shoren-in Temple and Garden

Click here to view map in Google Maps 

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.

1. Kiyomizu-dera (Buddhist temple)

COST: ¥400 (US$2.75|£2.48|€2.83) | OPEN: 6:00 am – 6:00/6:30 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps  | OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Kiyomizu Temple of Kyoto, Japan in the fall and at sunset

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 3 times per year for a special night tour.

Here are the dates for 2023:

  1. March 25 – April 2
  2. August 14 – 16
  3. November 18 – 30

Check their website for the dates for 2024.

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!

3. Maccha House

OPEN: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

Next, 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. Yasaka Pagoda at Honan-Ji Temple

COST: ¥400 | OPEN: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

2 people walking down a street lined with traditional wooden buildings in Kyoto with a pagoda in the background

Sannen-Zaka Street will gradually curve to the left. Keep on walking and you’ll come to one of the best surprises in Kyoto.

Unfortunately, everyone else has found this surprise too and what you’ll see has become the most popular Instagram spot in Japan (above photo).

The pagoda in the distance is Yasaka Pagoda and is part of Hokan-Ji Temple. It’s a small temple so you don’t need much time to explore it.

However, most travelers linger on the street snapping photos of the traditional wooden buildings and the pagoda in the distance or stopping in the souvenir shops, coffee shops, and restaurants.

This place is so popular now that you’re unlikely to get your own photo like the one above (without people) unless you visit this area early in the morning (6:00 or 7:00 am).

You can also try visiting in the evening and getting a night shot of the street and pagoda.

5. Ninenzaka Street

COST: Free | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps

After Honan-Ji Temple, retrace your steps and walk back along Sannen-Zaka Street.

Take a left onto Ninenzaka Street.

This is another beautiful street lined with shops, cafes, and traditional Japanese homes.

6. Japanese-Style Starbucks

OPEN:  8:00 am – 8:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

Before leaving Ninenzaka Street, look out for a 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.

7. 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.

8. Kodai-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)

COST: ¥600 (US$4.13|£3.72|€4.24) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps | WEBSITE: Kodai-Ji Park

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 because it was founded by a woman, Kita-no-Mandokoro (Nene), the wife of one of Japan’s most important historical figures, Toyotomi 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 lacquerwork 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

9. 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.

10.  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.

11. Chionin (Buddhist Temple)

COST: grounds – free; gardens – ¥500 (US$4.50) | OPEN:  10:00 am – 4:20 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps | CHIONIN TEMPLE WEBSITE

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.

12. Shoren-in Temple and Gardens (Buddhist)

COST: ¥500 (US$3.44|£3.10|€3.53) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps |SHOREN-IN WEBSITE

You’ve made it to your final stop on day 1 of this Kyoto itinerary. 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.

My advice:

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. It 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 shot that will make all your friends jealous?


YES, but…

ONLY if you get to the Bamboo Forest EARLY.

Ideally, 7:00 am or even earlier.

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 Kyoto itinerary for day 2:

  1. Bamboo Forest
  2. Okochi Sanso Garden
  3. Tenryu-ji Temple
  4. Lunch
  5. Ryoan-ji Temple
  6. Kinkaku-ji Temple
  7. 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 cutting 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 no later than 7:00 am.

If you just can’t arrive that early, visit in the evening.

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 is all that special.


Don’t skip it!

Okocho has 2 additional features that make visiting it definitely worth your time:

  • Fantastic view of Kyoto and its surrounding hills
  • 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 while looking 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. All are connected by a beautiful walkway.

You can read more about it in this post: The Best of Kyoto: Tenryu-ji Temple.

4. Lunch

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)

Top 3 Tours in Kyoto

5. Ryoan-ji (Zen Buddhist temple)

COST: ¥500 (US$3.44|£3.10|€3.53)| OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps | Ryoan-ji Website

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.

Get a detailed guide to the Golden Pavilion.

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

Zen Garden at Ryogen-in, the subtemple of the Daitoku-ji Buddhist temple

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 some 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 Kyoto itinerary for day 3:

  1. Nijo-jo Castle
  2. Nishiki Market
  3. Japanese Cooking Course (optional)
  4. Gion Neighborhood
  5. Food Tour of Kyoto

1. Nijo-jo (Castle)

COST: ¥800 for castle grounds + ¥500 for Ninomaru Palace | OPEN: 8:45 am – 5:00 pm; it’s closed on Tuesdays in January, July, August and December, December 26-28, January 1-3 | LOCATION: Map | WEBSITE: Nijo-jo Castle

White tower and entrance gate to Nijo castle with stone walls and water filled moat

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

Pickled cucumber selling in Nishiki market in Kyoto, Japan

Known as the “Kitchen of Kyoto”, Nishiki Market is a popular market for both tourists and locals. It’s been around for 400 years.

The market consists of a narrow street going on for 5 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 sights, sounds, and especially the smells of the market.

Some cool things to buy in the market are 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. 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:

Top Tours and Cooking Classes in Kyoto

4. Gion Neighborhood

COST: free to walk around BEST TIMES: late afternoon and early evening | LOCATION: Google Maps

Traditional Japanese wooden buildings along a back alley of Gion Hanamikoji Street. Kyoto,

You can walk from Nishiki Market to the Gion neighborhood.

First, though, 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.

Three geishas walking on a street of Gion (Kyoto, Japan)

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).

Check Out These AMAZING Tours of Gion:

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.

TOP Food Tours of 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.

Kyoto International Manga Museum – (Website | Map) If you love manga, then visit this museum. The museum has over 50,000 manga on display.

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 Shrine
  2. Nanzen-ji Temple
  3. Eikan-do Temple
  4. Philosopher’s Path
  5. Honen-in Temple
  6. Lunch
  7. Ginkaku-ji Temple
  8. Geisha Performance
map of the route of the Philosophers Path

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.

To beat the crowds, it’s a good idea to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine as early as possible (ideally 7:00 a.m. but no later than 8:00 a.m.). 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.

3. Eikan-do (Buddhist temple)

COST: Ordinary visit¥600 (US4.13|£3.72|€4.24); Visit in the autumn – ¥1,000 (US$6.86|£6.21|€7.07); Evening illumination – ¥600 (US4.13|£3.72|€4.24) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps  | WEBSITE: Eikan-do

a garden with a stone bridge crossing a river and the ground littered with fall leaves of red, orange, and yellow

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 the walk is beautiful. If it’s the summer, it’s not all that special. 

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.

5. Honen-in (Buddhist temple)

COST: Free for the grounds; spring opening ¥500 (US$3.44|£3.10|€3.53) and fall opening ¥800 (US$5.50|£5|€5.65) | OPEN: 6:00 am – 4:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps | WEBSITE

a path leading up to a gate with a roof covered in moss and surrounded by trees

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.

6. Lunch

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: ¥6,600 (Premium Seats); ¥6,050 (Seats with Japanese Tea and Sweets); ¥5,500 (Regular Seats) | 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 and either a Noh or a puppet performance.

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.

Miyako Odori
Kitano Odori
Pontocho Kamogawa Odori
Kyo Odori

More Ideas for Geisha Tours

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)

Stone lanterns at Kasuga shrine in Nara

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)

Torii gate in the middle of a sea with mountains in the background

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.


Ryokan Hostel | Agoda

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!

Guest House Kyoto | Agoda

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!


Hotel Resol | Agoda

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!


Luxury Hotel | Agoda

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!


Where to get more information

Final Thoughts: Kyoto Itinerary

This itinerary is for 4 days, but I would stay a couple of days longer in order to do some day trips to Nara and Hiroshima. You can tack on Miyajima to your day trip to Hiroshima.

From Kyoto, you can travel easily to Osaka or Takayama to see the Japan Alps. You can do some hiking in the Alps or visit a fairy-tale village called Shirakawa-go.

Check out this Japan itinerary for more ideas.

Best Resources for Your Trip to Japan

Book Your Flights for Japan

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Japan. They will turn up results for all airlines including major ones and local airlines. You’re going to find EVERYTHING that’s available and thus get the cheapest price.

Book Your Accommodations for Japan:

The best hotel booking sites for Japan are and Agoda. They have the biggest selection, and they consistently churn out hotels and hostels at the lowest prices of any other booking site. Another website for backpackers and budget travelers is Hostel World.

Book Your Tours for Japan:

The three best tour booking sites for Japan are Viator, Get Your Guide, and Klook. Viator has the biggest selection. Get Your Guide has terrific customer service. Klook specializes in tours in Asia.

Get Connected when in Japan:

You’ve got 3 options for staying connected in Japan: a pocket WiFi (what I used), a physical SIM card, or an eSIM. Several companies offer eSIMs for Japan. I recommend getting one through Klook or Airalo.

Book your Japan Rail Passes:

Japan has many different types of passes. The JR Pass is one of the most popular passes. Buy them through Klook before your trip to Japan. There are other passes as well like the Hakone Freepass.

Get Your Rail Pass for Tokyo

Get an unlimited train pass for most metro lines in Tokyo. They’re good for 1, 2, or 3 days. I always get the 3-day pass.

Pin it for Later

Fushiminari Shrine
Kyoto - 3 photos of temples and 1 of water spout

About the Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

Get Your FREE Japan Itinerary Guide Here!

Subscribe to my newsletter to receive the latest travel tips for Asia and get a free 4-page PDF version of my 3-Week Japan Itinerary.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest