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 and 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 arguable one of my favourite cities in Japan.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT
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, lightening 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- 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 check the weather forecast.
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
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 aesthetic and design, this hotel is for you. The location is brilliant too.
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.
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.
Budget– Karaksa Hotel Kyoto– Probably one of the best value for money hotels in Kyoto, it feels a lot more luxurious than what you pay for. Sparkling clean, quiet and simple rooms ensure you have a great nights sleep and there’s also a common area with vending machines where you can eat, relax and meet others.
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.
There are also many options on Airbnb for great places to stay in Kyoto. If you haven’t yet signed up for Airbnb you’re missing out! Sign up here for up to $63 off your first booking or check out your options below.
WHERE TO EAT
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. They 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.
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.
Start the day early at one of Kyoto’s most popular place and most crowded sight 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, worship for many and some of the best cityscapes over Kyoto. You’ll be greeted but 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.
After dark end your day relaxing and have dinner at nearby Veg Out or CHOICE (last orders 7.30pm) or if you feel like it, take the train further north to Vegan Ramen Tawzen, for a ramen experience you won’t forget in a hurry- the trip is very much worth it.
Looking for some travel ideas for your trip? Read The Definitive Japan Bucket List | 30 Japan Ideas For Your Trip
Make the most of your 2 days in Kyoto and begin your day as early as possible. In Kyoto, the proverb ‘The early bird gets the worm’, rings especially true and even takes on new meaning. Make your way to the area of Arashiyama, and this morning to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in particular. The stunning Insta-famous Arashiyama bamboo forest is not only a photographer dream, it’s a place of tranquillity and extreme natural beauty, especially early in the day and at first light. Walk around, explore the nearby shrines and Kameyama Park, a great scenic spot during cherry blossom season and watch the city wake up.
Just steps away from the Bamboo forest is Tenryu-ji, a UNESCO registered temple, the next stop on your Kyoto 2 day itinerary. This 700-year-old zen temple consists of the main gate, teaching hall and main Ōhōjō (abbey) which looks out into a serene garden and pond. The garden here really is a highlight so spend as much time as you please enjoy the early morning air and light.
After exploring a little more of the Arashiyama area, head to Arashiyama-kan for an early lunch. Sample one of their bento boxes or go for delicious tempura or a noodle dish. Flavours are delicate and distinctively Japanese.
After lunch head north-west from Arashiyama to Ryōan-ji, a picturesque zen temple, famous for its unique stone garden. After visiting a few Japanese gardens you’ll notice that the texture of the earth is vital; some are grass, others shrub or even moss and others, like this one, perfectly formed stone. This ‘dry landscape’ design is based around the juxtaposition of larger rocks around which smaller pebbles are raked into perfect linear patterns. This UNESCO World Heritage stone garden is surrounded by mystery, beauty and energy.
From here is a short walk to Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavillion. This iconic temple is nothing short of superb. A Zen Buddhist Temple, built on what was once a statesman’s villa features a shimmering golden-roofed, wooden temple sitting beside a mirror pond and within a wonderful Japanese strolling garden. The garden calls for interaction between the inside and the outside world as the temple gets reflected in the mirror pond on a calm day. Walk around the relatively small grounds, admire the beauty having saved one of the best for last during these 2 days in Kyoto.
For dinner head to the Gion district, another example of ‘Old Kyoto’ which comes alive by night. Spend your time walking the streets and savouring the atmosphere, watching geishas going by or having a well-earned drink in a nearby cafe/bar. This area is incredibly photogenic, even by night so make sure you bring your camera to capture every corner of this stunning, historic area.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME
While 2 days in Kyoto is enough to see the above highlights, there is so much more to explore. If you have more time you can explore some of the following:
Nishiki Market– a wonderful traditional Japanese market selling all types of seasonal produce, Japanese wares and traditional foods. It’s the perfect place to walk around and sample some Japanese delicacies and even buy some to take home.
Kyoto Imperial Palace– This is the former residence of the Emperor of Japan, wooden buildings with exquisite simplicity and attention to detail. Inside you can see many tapestries and objects from the times of the Meiji Restoration.
Nijō Castle – Another beautiful castle with gold detail and while the building itself it small, its the gardens and castle grounds that really steal the show here.
Kyoto International Manga Museum- If you’re a fan of manga or the traditional Japanese comic book, then take a break from all the temples and garden and learn more about the history of this unique art form.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING KYOTO
↠ Start early- Kyoto is one of Japan’s most famous destinations which means places get crowded! Try to get an early start and visit popular places early in the morning and later in the day just before closing to have the best experiences.
↠ One of the best things to do is to just wander around without a plan and explore. It’s a charming, compact city made for exploring.
↠ Take a day trip to Nara if you have time. Nara is another lovely, historic city close to Kyoto and if you have the time it’s worth visiting for one of the largest wooden temples in the world and of course, friendly deer which you can feed.
↠ Learn some basic Japanese. Locals are very friendly and polite but English isn’t widely spoken. If you’d like to connect to locals then it’s worth learning as much Japanese as you can before your trip.
Have you got any comments or questions about your 2 days in Kyoto? Leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.
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