Kyoto Itinerary: The Best Things To Do In Kyoto In 3 Days

Kyoto itinerary - view from Kyoto station over Kyoto city

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!

The vermilion Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of Kyoto highlights


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

Gion

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.

The historic district Gion in Kyoto, Japan

We strolled along the quaint little streets, admiring the beautiful kimonos many women were wearing.

Pontocho street

Pontocho street in Kyoto - best area for nightlife

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

The Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto

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 Philosophers Path in Northern Higashima, Kyoto

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.

Honen-in

Green garden at Honen-in temple in Kyoto

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

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

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

View of Kyoto tower from Kyoto station

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

Beautiful architecture at Kyoto 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

Vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

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!

Beautiful lamps at the Inari Fukushi shrine in Kyoto

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)

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

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

The Imperial Palace Park in Kyoto

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!

Nishiki market

Nishiki market in Kyoto Japan Diverse products at Nishiki market in Kyoto

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

3 day itinerary for Kyoto: budget information, Kyoto highlights (Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and much more), recommended accommodation, transport information and where to eat delicious food! Plus downloadable map and budget breakdown infographic. #Kyoto #Japan

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

  1. Airbnb 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, entrance fee ¥400 per person, the rest of the activities we did were free!)

Impressive temples at Inari Fukushi in Kyoto


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!

Accommodation information

Airbnb rating: 4 stars
Price paid per night: €28/$31.
Click here to see the apartment on Airbnb.

Update August 2018: unfortunately this Airbnb is no longer available. Check other accommodation on AirbnbAgoda or Booking


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.

Travel by bus in Kyoto - all-day pass


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…

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

Indian lunch at Ganesh - best places to eat in Kyoto

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

Ramen

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 (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.

Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the Phenomenal Globe Travel Planning Library and my Travel Resource page!

3 day itinerary for Kyoto: budget information, Kyoto highlights (Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and much more), recommended accommodation, transport information and where to eat delicious food! Plus downloadable map and budget breakdown infographic. 3 day itinerary for Kyoto: budget information, Kyoto highlights (Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and much more), recommended accommodation, transport information and where to eat delicious food! Plus downloadable map and budget breakdown infographic.

This post has been updated in August 2018.

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10 Comments

  1. Mike
    January 1, 2017 / 10:17 am

    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

    • Lotte
      Author
      January 1, 2017 / 2:08 pm

      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!

  2. January 3, 2017 / 1:46 am

    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.

    • Lotte
      Author
      January 3, 2017 / 2:02 pm

      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?

  3. January 5, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    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 whith 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)!

    • Lotte
      Author
      January 6, 2017 / 2:31 pm

      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;-).

  4. September 16, 2017 / 11:47 am

    Great article Lotte, really helpful and informative! Thumbs up
    Check out this article written by one of our community, he’d put much effort on it and I think you’ll like it too. let me know what you think
    https://tripblan.com/trip/kyoto-itinerary

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 17, 2017 / 5:42 pm

      Great itinerary! Kyoto is such a beautiful city…

  5. March 15, 2018 / 3:44 pm

    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.

    • Lotte
      Author
      March 16, 2018 / 1:51 pm

      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;-)

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