For over a thousand years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and seat of the Emperor. Because of this rich history Kyoto is home to countless beautiful temples. With so much to see it was difficult to decide where to go in the three days we would be spending in Kyoto…
While I absolutely love visiting temples, I personally do need to mix it up with other attractions. After viewing five temples in a row I tend to get a little temple-tired, beautiful and impressive as these temples may be.
Luckily, Kyoto has much more to offer than just temples and I loved our 3 days in this beautiful old Japanese city!
Our Kyoto itinerary: how to spend 3 days in Kyoto
In this Kyoto guide you’ll find:
- A map with all the things to do in Kyoto
- Our three day Kyoto itinerary
- Our Kyoto travel budget + budget breakdown infographic
- Where to stay in Kyoto on a budget
- How to get around in Kyoto
- Where to eat in Kyoto
The perfect 3 day Kyoto itinerary: map of the best things to do in Kyoto
Summary of our Kyoto itinerary
- Day 1: Gion and Pontocho street
- Day 2: Ayashima Bamboo Forest, the Philosophers Path, Honen-in, Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temple, Kyoto station, Inari Fukushi Torii gates and Inari Fukushi shrine
- Day 3: Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion), Imperial Palace Park and Nishiki market
Kyoto itinerary day 1
We started our sightseeing tour around Kyoto in the afternoon, having just traveled there from magical Koyasan. We first dropped off our bags at our Airbnb (read more about our accommodation below) and then headed out to Gion, the historic district of Kyoto.
We strolled along the quaint little streets, admiring the beautiful kimonos many women were wearing.
Pontocho street is a narrow street running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori. There are many bars and restaurants and if you are lucky you may even spot a geisha…
Kyoto itinerary day 2
Ayashima Bamboo Forest
My advice to avoid the crowds in Ayashima Bamboo Forest? Get up very early! In the early morning (before most tourist arrive) it is a really nice and relaxing place…
I had never seen something like the the enchanting bamboo forest before in my life, it was very different from the forests in my home country the Netherlands. It was lovely to walk around and have the place pretty much to ourselves. But as more and more people arrived, we headed to our next destination.
The Philosophers Path
the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Japanese) in Northern Higashima was surprisingly quiet! Walking through this green tunnel I almost felt like I was in a small village instead of a city with 1,5 million inhabitants.
Along the Philosophers Path you can find many temples. We visited one of those temples, the Honen-in temple. I particularly loved the garden, it was so green!
Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temple
We decided to skip the famous Ginkakuji temple because of the crowds and went to Nanzen-ji instead. Nanzen-ji is a beautiful wooden temple with incredible attention to detail.
View over Kyoto and the Kyoto Tower
Our next stop was Kyoto station where we went up the roof. From the roof you will have a great view over the city and of the Kyoto tower in front of the station.
Kyoto station is the second largest station in Japan and 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!
Inari Fukushi Torii gates and the Inari Fukushi shrine
The final stop on our itinerary for the day was the world-famous Inari Fukushi shrine, known for the thousand vermilion Torii gates.
Following the path below the Torii gates is something I had been dreaming about since booking a ticket to Japan. It was indeed very special to walk below the many many gates… Definitely a highlight of our Kyoto trip!
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 loose most tourists within the first hundred meters of the trail and have all the intriguing vermilion gates to yourself.
Kyoto itinerary day 3
Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion)
Our third day in Kyoto started with a visit to Kinkakuji temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. We arrived at 8.30am and even though the gates only open at 9am, a crowd had already gathered! At 9am exact (the Japanese are very punctual!) the gates were opened and we got to admire the beautiful Golden Pavilion.
Of course Kinkakuji temple is the main attraction, but the surrounding garden is very pretty too, so don’t forget to check those out as well!
The Imperial Palace Park
Up next was a visit to the Imperial Palace Park, a nice green area where a lot of families were picnicking and playing with their children. Too bad we didn’t bring any food with us, the park is a great stop for a lunch break!
Our last stop of the day was Nishiki market where I was absolutely 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?
How to spend 3 days in Kyoto on a budget
Kyoto travel budget: facts and figures
- I spent 3 days and 3 nights in Kyoto and traveled with my husband.
- The starting and endpoint of our Kyoto trip was Kyoto station.
- Our trip to Japan was in April/May 2016. The exchange rate around that time was approximately €1 = 125JPY (¥) and $1 = 110JPY (¥).
- In total we spent ¥28.231/€225/$255 in the 3 days we were in Kyoto, this comes down to an average of ¥9410/€75/$85 per day for us as a couple.
Our expenses in Kyoto are divided into 4 categories
- Airbnb accommodation: 37% of our costs
- Transport by bus: 11% of our costs
- Food & drinks: 49% of our costs
- Activities: 3% of our costs (the only activity we paid for was Kinkakuji temple, entrance fee ¥400 per person, the rest of the activities we did were free!)
Where to stay in Kyoto on a budget: our accommodation
We stayed at Mi’s via Airbnb for 3 nights.
What I liked
+ What you see is what you get! Yes, the apartment is old and basic, but that’s clearly indicated in the advertisement and it’s excellent value for money.
+ The apartment is close to Kinkakuji tempel (the Golden Pavilion) and there are a bus stop and a Lawson convenience store within 100 meters of the apartment.
+ Communication with Mi was superb, he responded to all my messages very quickly and he was flexible about our travel dates. I would stay here again in the future, budget accommodation in Kyoto is hard to find!
What I didn’t like
– It’s not fancy, I didn’t mind but if you are looking for something classy for your stay in Kyoto, this place is not for you!
• Airbnb rating: 4 stars
• Price paid per night: €28/$31.
• Click here to see the apartment on Airbnb.
How to get around in Kyoto: transportation information
The bus station of Kyoto is in front of the train station, as is the bus ticket information center. We were given a city map, a bus map and a Kyoto city bus all-day pass which was ¥500 per ticket.
This all-day bus ticket gives you unlimited rides withing the area on the bus map and that area covers pretty much all the major sites! Read more on the Kyoto Station website.
Where to eat in Kyoto
I spent a lot of time in Japan eating because Japanese food is absolutely delicious… I have written an extensive post detailing my favorite food in Japan, which you can find here. Below you can find the food 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 2 days in a row…
Where to eat this: Aburasoba Nekomata, 〒605-0862 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, 清水４丁目１３８, +81 75-551-5088
Indian lunch menu at Kerala
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
Where to eat this: 14 Hirano Miyakitachō, Kita-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 603-8352, +81 75-462-3737 (read more in my food post)
Price: ¥600 (+ optional toppings, between ¥50 – ¥100)
A final word about Kyoto
I hope I have convinced you to visit Kyoto, it’s a wonderful city and definitely worth a trip! We spent 3 days in Kyoto but there is much more to see and do so you could easily stay longer… Do you want to read more about traveling in Japan? Check out my other posts here.
This post has been updated in August 2018.