Thinking about spending 2 days in Kyoto Japan? Keep reading to find the best things to do in Kyoto for the perfect 48 hours.
With the perfect balance of harmonious temples, unpretentious palaces and exquisitely peaceful gardens, Kyoto is firmly on the map as one of Japan’s favourite cities.
There’s something to see on every corner, ancient, traditional neighbourhoods to explore and evergreen gardens to find moments of stillness. It almost feels like parts of Kyoto are stuck in time in a long moment of zen-like stillness and away from the most popular bustling sights, small, unique temples, gardens and alleys await to be explored, not to mention many UNESCO World Heritage sites, during your 2 days in Kyoto.
In this Kyoto 2 day itinerary, you’ll find all the highlights of the city as well as a few other gems to see along the way. While two days in Kyoto is enough to see what the city has to offer, I highly recommend staying a little longer if you can, to really discover some off-the-beaten-track treasures.
Kyoto really is a stunning place to experience Japanese culture, Buddhist temples, its cute and narrow streets as well as the most popular attractions. It’s arguably one of my favourite cities in Japan.
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Best Time to Visit Kyoto
Kyoto, like much of Japan, is a year-round destination and when you visit will probably depend on a variety of different factors.
The busiest seasons are in spring, especially during sakura or cherry blossoms season (end of March – early April) and at the beginning of autumn (September-beginning of October) when the leaves begin to change, lighting up all the Japanese gardens like wildfire.
Summer(July and August) is often very hot and humid and normally receives a lot of rain and winter (December, January and February) is cold but not cold enough to stop you from exploring.
I visited at the end of June and it was perfect- the famous sights were not too crowded and the weather was mild and enjoyable. If you’ve only got 2 days in Kyoto and you’re already in Japan you might want to plan your visit at the last minute after checking the weather forecast.
Getting to Kyoto
The best and easiest way to get around Japan is by train. Train travel in Japan is efficient, clean and fast. Train travel in Japan can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be if you plan your trip right.
I always recommend going for the JR Pass which allows for unlimited train travel around Japan with JR Lines and even includes the bullet train.
JR Passes include 7 days and 14 days of unlimited train travel around Japan, as well as Regional Passes if you prefer getting to know one region in more depth.
The JR Pass really saved me hundreds of dollars on my trip to Japan. Make sure you don’t miss out!
From Osaka – The best way to get to Kyoto is by train, specifically on the JR Kyoto Line/Special Rapid Train.
The ticket will set you back 560 yen and it takes just under 30 minutes and is included in the Japan Rail Pass.
You can also take the Hankyu Railways straight to Arashiyama, as well as the JR Shinkansen (bullet train) or the Keihan Railways although these will cost you quite a bit more.
From Tokyo – The best way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is by Shinkansen or bullet train.
The fastest train will get you to Kyoto in 2 hours 20 minutes but if you have a Japan Rail Pass take the Hikari service as this is the only one included with the pass getting you to Kyoto in just 20 minutes more.
If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, (which I highly recommend you get) then opt for the Kodama train which takes almost twice as long but is also one of the cheaper options.
Getting to Kyoto by bus is also an option, however, travel times can be very long and it’s not really worth it if you’ve only got two days in Kyoto.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Kyoto is quite small and compact and most hotels are located centrally in the area around the train station, Hiroshiyama and Gion. If you’ve got just 2 days in Kyoto I’d highly recommend staying in those areas or in any of the options below.
Splurge– Hotel Resol Trinity Kyoto– A beautiful, zen, minimalist hotel with dark yet beautifully lit interiors, onsite onsen and a solid breakfast. If you love Japanese aesthetics and design, this hotel is for you. The location is brilliant too. Check rates and availability here.
Mid-range Oriental Hotel Kyoto Rokujo– Japanese aesthetic for grey value. This hotel delivers on all practicality, design and function fronts. It’s zen, minimalist yet having everything you may need for a great stay. Many rooms have thick Japanese-style mattresses on the floor so you can get a taste of traditional sleeping traditions with all the comforts. Check rates and availability here.
Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo– Brilliantly located and close to train and bus links, this hotel brings all your Western hotel comforts and combines it with Japanese style and zen feel. You’re overcome with a real sense of relaxation upon entering this place. Check rates and availability here.
Budget– The Pocket Hotel- Kyoto Shijo Karasuma – As the name suggests the most budget rooms here are simple and pocket-sized, assigned to you on arrival and come with a shared bathroom. They are still cosy, comfortable and extremely clean, perfect for a budget two-nights stay in Kyoto. Check rates and availability here.
Where to Eat in Kyoto
When it comes to healthy, nutritious food, Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to try a large range of authentic Japanese food. T
hey have plenty of plant-based restaurants as well as many others that are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Here are some of the places you simply must try during your 2 days in Kyoto.
Vegan Ramen Towzen– one of the first vegan ramen shops in Japan, if you want to try ramen with a delicious plant-based broth this place is unmissable. The food here is delicious and don’t miss the soy milk ramen and chlorella noodles. Address: Matsugasaki, Kyoto
Arashiyama-kan– The best place to stop for lunch in Arashiyama when exploring this area. The food here is delicate, delicious and distinctly Japanese. They serve a range of soups, vegetables, tempura, noodles and bento platters. Address: 41-3 Arashiyamanakaoshitach, Nishikyo, Kyoto
Veg Out– Located just 5 minutes from Kyoto station this is arguably one of the best vegan restaurants in Kyoto. With a focus on Western food, they also serve breakfast- perfect for when you get into Kyoto early. Address: west side of Shichijyo-Bride of The Kamo River, Kyoto
Gomacro– delicious little cafe serving set lunches and early dinners with a focus on nutrition. Food is made from simple, honest ingredients but has a lot of local flavour. You know you’re getting a nutritionally sound meal here. Address: 67-3 Jinmei-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
CHOICE– delicious little western-style food restaurant open for both lunch and dinner near Gion. Serves a range of burgers, soups, salads, pasta, risottos etc, all gluten-free. Address: 89-1 Sanjo Street, Ohashi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Kyoto 2 Day Itinerary
Kyoto is one of Japan’s highlights, with many ancient temples, gardens and beautiful areas to visit.
On a Kyoto 2 day itinerary it is definitely possible to see many of the highlights as the city is small, has good transport links and in parts completely walkable.
If you do want to discover some hidden gems or some off-the-beaten-track temples and gardens I would definitely suggest staying another day or two to fully take advantage of this gorgeous city.
Note: Overcrowding is also a huge problem as Kyoto might just be the most popular city in Japan. I’d highly encourage you to travel in the offseason, or, if this isn’t possible, visit places very early or later in the day.
This Kyoto 2 day itinerary takes this into account so you have the best possible experience during your stay and see the most in this short time.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Start the day early at one of Kyoto’s most popular places and most crowded sights the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
There aren’t many hours of the day when this beautiful shrine isn’t crowded so I highly encourage you to get there early to experience the peace and divinity here. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main shrine dedicated to the kami Inari, or holy powers of fertility in the Shinto religion.
At the Shinto shrines, you will see hundreds of torii gates, painted red and black, lining the path. The site is located at the base of a mountain, which, confusingly is also called Inari.
It’s possible to wander around the mountain following the trails that will lead you to many smaller shrines- a great idea if it happens to be really busy.
The shrine is open 24 hours a day and it’s free so it might be an idea to come and see what it looks like by night.
From here take the train directly north to the Higashiyama district, to Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto’s, if not Japan’s most famous temple.
This Buddhist temple dates back over 1200 years and is a place of peace, and worship for many and some of the best cityscapes in Kyoto.
You’ll be greeted by the large, red, deva gate and move onto the pagoda and finally the main hall, a wooden structure with a large veranda supported by uniquely-tall pillars that jut out over the hillside with the entire city of Kyoto in the background.
This temple is extremely popular with school groups so arrive as early as possible to avoid them.
After, make your way just 10 minutes north to the Yasaka Shrine, where you’ll encounter a beautiful red main gate inviting you to explore this beautiful Shinto shrine.
Again if you decide to miss this now, it’s open 24 hours a day so you can always come back after dark. Spend just a few minutes here before moving on.
From Yasaka Shrine, it’s a very scenic 45-minute walk, north-west to the Philosopher’s Path. On the way, you’ll pass many beautiful and photogenic streets, parks and shrines.
The Philosopher’s Path is a small footpath, lined with trees that follows a snaking narrow canal through this part of Kyoto. If you’re in Kyoto during cherry blossom season or in the autumn, a visit here is a must as blossoms here are vibrant and so are the autumnal colours of the surrounding foliage.
Walk around and explore all the cute shops nearby before heading to Ginkaku-ji or The Silver Temple.
There aren’t too many restaurants around this area for healthy, plant-based food so I would recommend looking around to see what you can find or heading to a nearby Lawson or 7-Eleven and ploughing on.
It might sound like a ridiculous idea but convenience stores in Japan take food to another level. Lawson, in particular, has a variety of vegan-friendly onigiri, filled with pickled vegetables, ready-to-go sushi as well as ready-to-eat tofu.
Pair that with a sugar-free iced green tea and you’ve just done lunch on a serious budget.
Almost adjacent to the Philospher’s Path is Ginkaku-ji, the sister temple of the world-famous Golden Pavilion.
For me, this is one of the most beautiful temples in Japan, the space consisting of a near-perfect moss-covered garden, punctuated by natural, wooden temples that harmonise perfectly with the surrounding environment.
This Zen temple is really somewhere you can sit and contemplate and simply be at peace in the moment. There’s so much beauty here that it really is difficult to leave and move on with the itinerary.
For the rest of the afternoon make your way back down to explore Higashiyama or Old Kyoto. If you love the traditional Japanese aesthetic then this area of Kyoto will be a dream.
Walk the small streets and admire the delicate shop fronts, unique houses and minimalist streets that are so photogenic they’re begging for you to start filling your SD card.