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The Perfect Kyoto 2 Day Itinerary and City Guide

Kyoto is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan and with good reason! From beautiful temples to historic neighborhoods and the famous Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, Kyoto is a magical city and a must-do on any Japan itinerary.

It's not easy to choose from the many different things to do in Kyoto and narrow down a feasible Kyoto 2 day itinerary.

That's why I wrote this post, to help you make the most of your trip to Kyoto!

Kyoto 2 day itinerary and city guide

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Kyoto 2 day itinerary with the best things to do in Kyoto including Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. #Kyoto #Japan
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Things to know before traveling to Kyoto

What is the best time to visit Kyoto?

Spring (March/April) and autumn (October/November) are the best (but also the busiest) times to visit Kyoto. As summers are quite hot and very humid I wouldn't recommend traveling to Kyoto between June and August.

If you don't mind cold weather, winter can be a magical time to visit Kyoto and you can find great accommodation deals as this is the low season.

Which currency is used in Kyoto?

The official currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (¥). Here you can find the current exchange rates, at the time of writing €1 is approximately 120¥, and $1 is around 110¥.

What is Kyoto famous for?

For over a thousand years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the seat of the Emperor. Because of this rich history, Kyoto is home to countless beautiful temples and shrines.

How to get to Kyoto?

Kyoto doesn't have its own airport, the nearest airport is Kansai International Airport in Osaka. However, you can easily travel to Kyoto by bullet train.

From Shin-Osaka the journey by shinkansen takes just 15 minutes. From Tokyo, it takes 160 minutes to travel to Kyoto by Hikari train (which is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, read more below).
 Bullet train Japan

Is the Japan Rail Pass worth buying?

The short answer is: yes. However, a more honest answer is: it depends.

If you plan on covering long distances in Japan within a short period of time, a JR pass can be a really great option.

This pass gives you unlimited travel on all JR trains (including the famous shinkansen, aka bullet train), JR buses, and several other lines. You can choose a pass valid for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days.

That being said, while the Japan Rail Pass offers great value for money it may not always be the most economical option for your trip. It’s worth calculating the costs of your itinerary to Japan with and without the rail pass to see which option is best for you.

You can use Hyperdia to check the costs of your intended Japan itinerary and decide whether or not the JR Pass is worth the money for your trip.

Local trains are much cheaper than the shinkansen, but they’re also a lot slower. So it’s a bit of a trade-off between how much time and how much money you have available for your trip to Japan.

Important note: the JR Rail Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan. If you’re interested in getting a JR Rail Pass for your trip, be sure to buy one before you arrive in Japan.

How to get around Kyoto by public transport?

The cheapest and easiest way to travel around Kyoto is by bus, you can buy a Kyoto city bus all-day pass, ticket prices and more information can be found here.

This all-day bus ticket gives you unlimited rides within the area on the bus map and that area covers pretty much all the major highlights in Kyoto.

The Kyoto bus station is located in front of the train station, this is also where you can find the bus ticket information center. The information center staff will gladly provide you with a city map and a bus map.

Travel by bus in Kyoto - all-day pass

Where to stay in Kyoto

In the table below you can find my Kyoto accommodation selection, suitable for any budget.

Carta Hotel Kyoto Gion☆☆☆8.7US$33Click here
OneFive Kyoto Shijo☆☆☆☆8.7US$54Click here
Auberge AZABU☆☆☆☆9.3US$175Click here

Note: Prices for these hotels depend on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Therefore, the prices mentioned above are a rough indication of the price per night to help you compare the different options. Use ‘click here' to see the latest prices on and book ahead to get the best deal.

Carta Hotel Kyoto Gion ☆☆☆

Carta Hotel Kyoto is a clean and modern hotel in Gion that offers comfortable beds and a private bathroom with a Japanese toilet (yes, one with lots of buttons).

The hotel is centrally located and there is a bus stop just a few steps from the hotel.

Room rates are usually less than €50 a night. A pretty sweet deal for such a well-reviewed 3-star hotel in one of Japan's most popular tourist destinations!

Be sure to book ahead, this hotel is often sold out.

OneFive Kyoto Shijo ☆☆☆☆

The OneFive Kyoto Shijo is a stylish hotel and an excellent place to stay in Kyoto. It's only a 3-minute walk to Omiya Station and Shijo Omiya Station and across the hotel, there is a bus stop, making it very easy to get around the city.

Rooms are spacious, have spotlessly clean bathrooms, and are nonsmoking (which surprisingly isn't always the case in Japan). The is a coin laundry (second floor) and free coffee is available in the lobby.

Auberge AZABU ☆☆☆☆

Auberge AZABU is quite possibly the best boutique hotel in Kyoto. It's the perfect combination of modern design in a historical building.

The attentive staff, excellent dining opportunities (breakfast is delicious as well), central location, and great attention to small details make this a great place to stay in Kyoto.

The best things to do in Kyoto

As the cultural capital of Japan, there are plenty of popular attractions to visit in Kyoto. In fact, there is so much to see that it can be difficult to decide where to go if you have only two days in Kyoto…

Below you can find my list of the best places to visit in Kyoto, it's a mix of ancient temples and other Kyoto highlights, and will help you plan an awesome Kyoto sightseeing itinerary.

You can download this list at the end of the post.

The best things to do in Kyoto

The perfect 2 day Kyoto itinerary: map

Click here for the interactive map

The 10 best things to do in Kyoto in 2 days

  1. Wander through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  2. Walk the Philosophers Path
  3. Visit the Honen-in and Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temples
  4. Stroll through the streets of historic Gion
  5. Explore Pontocho street
  6. Marvel at the Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion)
  7. Buy quirky foods at Nishiki market
  8. Have a picnic in the Imperial Palace Park
  9. Climb to the top of Kyoto station
  10. Walk under the thousands of vermilion Torii gates at Inari Fukushi

Kyoto itinerary day 1

Wander through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

The Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto

Wondering how to avoid the crowds in Arashiyama bamboo grove?

Get up early.

Very early…

In the early morning (before most tourists arrive) Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a really nice and relaxing place!

Personally, I had never seen a bamboo forest before in my life, it was very different from the pine tree and broadleaf forests in my home country (the Netherlands).

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a lovely place to explore, especially early in the morning when you've (almost) got the entire place to yourself.

Take your time exploring this magical place in Kyoto, but as more and more people arrive it's time to head to your next destination.

Walk the Philosophers Path

The Philosophers Path in Northern Higashima, Kyoto

Let your mind wander while walking the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Japanese).

You can find this lovely pedestrian street in Northern Higashiyama, and you'll be surprised by how quiet and peaceful this pretty path is!

Walking through this green tunnel I almost felt like I was in a small village instead of a city with 1.5 million residents.

Note: The Philosophers Path is a popular cherry blossom spot, so if you're visiting Kyoto during cherry blossom season (lucky you!) the early morning is your best bet for a quiet walk.

Visit the Honen-in temple complex

Green garden at Honen-in temple in Kyoto

Along the Philosopher's Path, you'll come across many temples. We visited one of those temples, the Honen-in temple. I particularly loved the beautiful gardens on the peaceful temple grounds.

Visit Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temple

The Nanzen-ji Zuiryusan Nanzen-ji Zenrin-ji Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto

Ginkakuji temple is more famous than Nanzen-ji, however, there are also a lot more people at Ginkakuji which is why I recommend visiting Nanzen-ji instead. 

Nanzen-ji is a beautiful temple that was founded in 1291. The wooden structures are impressive and made with incredible attention to detail.

Take a stroll around the historic Gion district

The historic district Gion in Kyoto, Japan

Subsequently, head to Gion, the historic district of Kyoto. You can easily spend a few hours getting lost in the quaint narrow streets lined with old (wooden) buildings!

This is Kyoto’s geisha district and if you are lucky you may see a geisha as she walks to her appointment.

A common but severe misconception is that geishas are prostitutes, which most certainly isn't true! In fact, geishas are highly respected in Japan and it's very difficult to become one.

There are many cafes, restaurants, and traditional teahouses in Gion as well. It's best to visit as night begins to fall, small lanterns will be lit everywhere and it will feel like you've stepped into another world.

Visit Pontocho street

Pontocho street in Kyoto - best area for nightlife

Don't forget to pay a visit to Pontocho street, one of the most atmospheric streets in Gion.

Pontocho Street is a narrow street running from Shijo-Dori to Sanjo-Dori and is lined with beautiful wooden buildings.

If you have more time in Kyoto, also visit the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This World Heritage site on Mount Otowa offers magnificent views over Kyoto.

Or, if you only have a day, check out this one day Kyoto itinerary to make the most of your limited time in this beautiful Japanese city.

Kyoto itinerary day 2

Marvel at the Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion)

Kinkakuji temple, also known at the Golden Pavilion, is one of the best things to see in Kyoto

On your second day, make another early start, as you want to make sure to be at Kinkakuji temple on time. Kinkakuji is also known as the Golden Pavilion and is definitely a Kyoto highlight.

We arrived at 8.30 am and even though the gates only opened at 9 am, a crowd had already gathered! At 9 am exactly (the Japanese are very punctual!) the gates were opened and we got to admire the beautiful Golden Pavilion.

While Kinkakuji Temple is the main attraction, the surrounding gardens are lovely as well. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to stroll through the beautiful and typical Japanese gardens.

Buy quirky foods at Nishiki market

Be prepared when visiting the Nishiki Market, I was astonished by the number of strange and unfamiliar foods on display. I still don't know what the food in the left picture is, perhaps sea cucumbers?

In any case, be sure to try out some samples handed out by the vendors and buy some snacks for a picnic at the next stop on your Kyoto itinerary!

The Imperial Palace Park

The Imperial Palace Park in Kyoto

Visit the Imperial Palace Park, a nice green area where you will see many Japanese families having a picnic or playing with their children.

This is the perfect place to eat the snacks you bought at the Nishiki market and relax for a bit before continuing your Kyoto travel itinerary.

Admire the view over Kyoto (and the Kyoto Tower)

Kyoto station

Beautiful architecture at Kyoto station

Kyoto station is the second-largest station in Japan and has an imposing structure.

This beautiful building was finished in 1997 and commemorates Kyoto's 1200th anniversary. Almost 125.000 people pass through Kyoto station on a daily basis.

Kyoto Tower

View of Kyoto tower from Kyoto station

Make sure to go up to the roof of the Kyoto station, you will have a great view of the city and of the Kyoto tower in front of the station.

Walk under the thousands of vermilion Torii gates at Inari Fukushi

Vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

One of Kyoto's must-do activities is visiting the famous Inari Fukushi shrine, known for its thousand vermilion Torii gates.

Following the path below the Torii gates is something I had been dreaming about since I booked our tickets to Japan. It was indeed very special to walk below the many gates…

This will definitely be a highlight of your Kyoto trip!

The vermilion Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of Kyoto highlights

To avoid most of the crowds, visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Also, if you hike to the top of the mountain (2-3 hour return) you will lose most tourists within the first hundred meters of the trail and have all the intriguing vermilion gates to yourself.

Where to eat in Kyoto

I spent a lot of time in Japan eating because Japanese food is absolutely delicious… Below you can find some of the dishes I ate during my time in Kyoto.

I have to admit we had a craving for Indian food while we were in Kyoto and ended up eating Indian for lunch two days in a row…

Abura soba

Delicious abura soba in Kyoto

Where to eat this: Aburasoba Nekomata, 〒605-0862 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, 清水4丁目138, +81 75-551-5088
Price: ¥700

Indian lunch menu at Kerala

Where to eat in Kyoto - Indian food at Kerala restaurant

Where to eat this: Kerala, 〒604-8006 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Nakagyō-ku, Shimomaruyachō (Kawaramachidōri)
Price: ¥900 for the set lunch menu

Indian lunch menu at Ganesha

Where to eat this: Ganesha, 〒603-8357 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Kita-ku, Hirano Miyanishichō
Price: ¥900 for the set lunch menu


紫蔵 Ramen - Best ramen in Kyoto

Where to eat this: 14 Hirano Miyakitachō, Kita-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 603-8352, +81 75-462-3737
Price: ¥600 (+ optional toppings, between ¥50 – ¥100)

Kyoto on a budget

A Kyoto holiday doesn't have to break the bank, it's definitely possible to visit Kyoto on a budget.

My husband and I spent an average of ¥9410/€75/$85 per day as a couple. Our expenses in Kyoto are divided into 4 categories:

  1. Accommodation: 37% of our costs
  2. Transport by bus: 11% of our costs
  3. Food & drinks: 49% of our costs
  4. Activities: 3% of our costs (the only activity we paid for was Kinkakuji temple, the rest of the activities we did were free!)

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✅ Travel safely and get reliable travel insurance from Safety Wing.

What to do in Kyoto: in conclusion

I hope I have convinced you to visit Kyoto in 2 days, it's a wonderful city and definitely worth a trip!

Though admittedly, you could easily spend a week in Kyoto if you have the time, there is much more to see and do…

Do you want to read more about traveling in Japan? Also read my other Japan posts:

This post was updated in February 2023.


Thursday 15th of March 2018

We went to Kyoto last spring and absolutely adored it! You’re really lucky to enjoy Arashiyama Bamboo Forest so early in the morning - it was teeming with people when we were there.


Friday 16th of March 2018

Kyoto is pretty great indeed! Yes, I'm glad we set our alarm very early to see Arashiyama before the flood of other tourist arrived;-)


Saturday 16th of September 2017

Great article Lotte, really helpful and informative! Thumbs up:-)


Sunday 17th of September 2017

Great itinerary! Kyoto is such a beautiful city...


Thursday 5th of January 2017

I love Kyoto and have been there many times. This is a great post! I don't agree on everything but that's unavoidable when you talk about a city with so much to do and see. I personally don't like to use buses to move around the city. They are cheap, sure, but often so crowded and very, very slow. I really like to move around Kyoto on a bicycle! And on foot (for shorter distances)!


Friday 6th of January 2017

I agree the buses take a long time, but because it was my first time in Kyoto I didn't mind as I found it a great way to do some sightseeing:-). We also walked around a lot, but for longer distances a bike would be perfect! As a Dutchie I'm used to cycling everywhere anyway;-).


Tuesday 3rd of January 2017

I was just in Japan for 2 weeks back in Nov and absolutely loved Kyoto. It was such a breath of fresh air after being in Tokyo for 3 days! And Gion is the best!! Great photos! It made me miss Japan.


Tuesday 3rd of January 2017

Gion is awesome! I am plotting to go back to Japan, I loved the country, the people and the food... What is your favorite place in Japan?


Sunday 1st of January 2017

I'm heading to Kyoto in 2 days and love this guide! Very useful info and thanks for the budget breakdown too because I'm having a hard time figuring out how much to bring


Sunday 1st of January 2017

Hi Mike, arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) for your kind comment! I am happy to hear you like my Kyoto guide:-). Have fun on your trip!