This post has been updated in July 2019.
Kyoto is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan and with good reason! It’s not easy to choose from the many different things to do and narrow down your Kyoto itinerary! 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.
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Kyoto itinerary and city guide
In this Kyoto guide you’ll find:
- A map with the best things to do in Kyoto
- Our 3-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 best things to do in Kyoto
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 and shrines. 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 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 three days in this beautiful old Japanese city. Below you can find my list of the best things to do in Kyoto. You can download this list at the end of the post.
The perfect 3 day Kyoto itinerary: map
The best things to do in Kyoto in 3 days
- Stroll through the streets of historic Gion
- Explore Pontocho street
- Wander through Ayashima Bamboo Forest
- Ponder while walking down the Philosophers Path
- Visit the Honen-in and Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temples
- Climb to the top of Kyoto station
- Walk under the thousands of vermilion Torii gates at Inari Fukushi
- Marvel at the Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion)
- Buy quirky foods at Nishiki market
- Have a picnic in the Imperial Palace Park
Kyoto itinerary day 1
Stroll through the streets of historic Gion
Start your day by heading to Gion, the historic district of Kyoto. I know most guides will tell you to go in the evening, but this is also the busiest time. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the day.
You can easily spend a few hours getting lost in the quaint little streets lined with old (wooden) buildings!
Admire the view over Kyoto (and the Kyoto Tower)
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!
Make sure to go up to the roof of Kyoto, you will have a great view over the city and of the Kyoto tower in front of the station.
Visit Pontocho street
In the evening, head to Pontocho street! 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
Wander through Ayashima Bamboo Forest
My advice to avoid the crowds in Ayashima Bamboo Forest?
Get up early.
In the early morning (before most tourist arrive) Ayashima Bamboo Forest is a really nice and relaxing place! I had never seen a 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.
Ponder while walking down the Philosophers Path
Let your mind wander while walking the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Japanese).
You can find this lovely pedestrian street in Northern Higashima, when we were here it 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.
Visit the Honen-in temple (and garden)
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!
Visit Nanzen-ji Zen Buddhist temple
Yes Ginkakuji temple is more famous than Nanzen-ji . However, there are also a lot more people at Ginkakuji which is why I recommend to visit Nanzen-ji instead.
Nanzen-ji is a beautiful temple which was founded in 1291. The wooden structures are impressive and made with incredible attention to detail.
Walk under the thousands of vermilion Torii gates at Inari Fukushi
One of Kyoto’s must-do activities: visit 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 ticket to Japan. It was indeed very special to walk below the 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
Marvel at the Kinkakuji temple (the Golden Pavilion)
Another relatively early start, as you want to make sure to be at Kinkakuji temple on time. Kinkakuji is also known as the Golden Pavilion and other Kyoto highlight.
We arrived at 8.30am and even though the gates only open at 9am, a crowd had already gathered! At 9am exactly (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 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 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 to buy some snacks for a picnic at the next stop on your Kyoto itinerary!
The Imperial Palace Park
Visit the Imperial Palace Park, a nice green area where a lot of families were picnicking and playing with their children. A great place to eat the snacks you bought at Nishiki market and relax after your busy days in Kyoto…
If you have more time, also visit the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This World Heritage site on Mount Otowa offers magnificent views over Kyoto.
Kyoto on a budget
Kyoto travel budget: facts and figures
- I spent 3 days and 3 nights in Kyoto and traveled with my husband.
- 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
Accommodation discount: if you have never traveled with Airbnb before you can get €30 of your first Airbnb stay with this link!
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… 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
Price: ¥600 (+ optional toppings, between ¥50 – ¥100)
What to do in Kyoto: in conclusion
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? Also read my other Japan posts:
- Japan 1 month itinerary
- Japan on a budget
- Off the beaten track in Japan
- Camping in Japan: the perfect packing list
- Driving on Hokkaido
- Hokkaido road trip itinerary
- Tokyo itinerary
- Hiroshima itinerary
- Japanese Alps itinerary
- Kamikochi itinerary
- Things to do on Miyajima
- Hiking the Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail
- Quirky, funny and strange things in Japan that will make you laugh