3 Days in Kyoto (Itinerary + Must See Temples)

The best itinerary for 3 days in Kyoto (+ a map with all must-see sights, the best temples to visit and my favourite places for soba noodles).

With over 2,000 temples and shrines and a remarkable history stretching back a thousand years, Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. The city’s well-preserved architecture, traditional tea houses and geisha districts will take you back to ancient Japan.

The city was founded in 794 AD when Emperor Kanmu relocated the capital to Heian-kyō and renamed it Kyoto. In fact, Kyoto in Japanese means a capital city. For the following 1,000 years, Kyoto served as an imperial capital.

Even during the Edo Period, when political power shifted to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), Kyoto retained its cultural and religious importance. The Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan from Edo but maintained a strong presence in Kyoto.

Best 3-day Kyoto Itinerary

Kyoto is home to beautiful temples, serene shrines, imperial palaces and tranquil Zen rock gardens. And let’s not forget the city’s incredible food scene, famous for its sake and tofu! With so many things to see and do, planning a Kyoto itinerary is no easy task. You have to take into account also that attractions are spread out, so travelling between them can be time-consuming.

If you’re visiting the city for the first time, my extensive 3-day Kyoto itinerary will help you plan a perfect trip. It has all the essential information you’ll require, including the best sights to visit, where to stay and my favourite restaurants for sushi and udon. At the end of the blog post, you’ll also find some ideas for day trips from Kyoto (if you have some extra time in the city).

3 Days in Kyoto Itinerary (for first-timers)

  • Day 1 – Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka Streets
  • Day 2 – Nijō Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace
  • Day 3 – Kinkaku-ji Temple, Ryōan-ji Temple, Tea Ceremony at Jōtoku-ji Temple

I’d personally suggest taking at least 3 or 4 full days to explore the city as there are more attractions to visit in comparison with Tokyo. Moreover, the public train transportation system is less extensive than in the capital city. With only two metro lines available, you’ll find yourself relying mainly on buses, which are slower and smaller, often resulting in queues at bus stops.

Furthermore, from Kyoto, you can take a day trip to explore Osaka with its stunning castle, Himeji Castle (one of Japan’s most famous castles), or the picturesque Nara Park, home to freely roaming deer.

Tips on your 3-day Kyoto itinerary

Accommodation – already have a hotel reserved? Then check its location to ensure it has convenient access to most of the attractions you’re planning to visit (find more info in my guide on where to stay in Kyoto first time).

My favourite place to stay in Kyoto: The Gate Hotel
Why: perfect central location with many dining options nearby, spacious rooms
What I like: cosy lounge with bonfire and free drinks, great city views

Restaurants – restaurants often specialize in a particular type of food, such as ramen, sushi, tempura, and more. If possible, consider making a reservation since there are often queues (even for lunch).

Mapfind here a map of this 3-day itinerary for Kyoto (with all attractions and restaurants’ websites).

Always book tours or skip the lines tickets with GetYourGuide (you get a mobile ticket + free cancellation). Tickets from the attractions’ official websites are mostly non-refundable.

Sightseeing – the popular attractions are far from each other, so don’t plan more than 2 or 3 sights per day. Even if you base yourself right in the city centre, you’ll spend a lot of time getting from one attraction to another. That’s why I included some extra time between the attractions in this Kyoto itinerary.

3 Days in Kyoto itinerary – Day 1

Morning

Breakfast at the hotel

I had trouble finding a good bakery, which is open before 8 AM during my trip to Kyoto. That’s why for the first day I’d recommend having breakfast at your hotel, as you should be quite early at Fushimi Inari Shrine (if you want to avoid the crowds).

Fushimi Inari Shrine

08:30 AM – 10:30 AM

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is not only Kyoto’s most famous attraction but also one of the most important Shinto shrines in the country. Given its huge popularity, there are crowds already even before 9 AM. Therefore, I highly recommend arriving as early as possible to make the most of your visit. I arrived a bit before 8 AM, and there were already people around. By 8:30 AM, it was completely packed.

The shrine is famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates that form a tunnel-like pathway leading up to the sacred Mount Inari. These gates are donated by individuals and businesses and each torii gate bears inscriptions of the donor’s name and the date of their donation.

Fushimi Inari Shrine torii
Fushimi Inari Shrine is a must-see during your 3 days in Kyoto

The path to the top of Mount Inari is about 4km (13,123.4 feet) and usually takes over an hour to complete. However you don’t need to hike all the way to the top, you can turn back any time you want. Still, for some scenic views of the city, be sure to hike up to the Yotsu-Tsuji intersection.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Inari is often depicted with foxes, considered messengers of the deity. That’s why you’ll see many fox statues across the shrine grounds, holding a symbolic key to the rice granary.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is free to visit.

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine fox
A fox statue in Fushimi Inari Shrine

Lunch at Vermillion Cafe

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

For lunch make your way to Vermillion Cafe. Try their famous Vermillion Plate (sausages, bacon, beans, poached eggs on toast and side salad) and the Matcha Ganache (delicious matcha and white chocolate terrine). I particularly enjoyed the Matcha Ganache, it was superb!

Keep in mind, that the cafe is really popular, so expect a wait time of 30 minutes to an hour for a table. You need to write down your name on the waiting list and wait until you’re called.

Vermillion Cafe
Vermillion Plate
Vermillion Cafe Matcha Ganache
Matcha Ganache

Afternoon

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

01:00 PM – 02:30 PM

Founded in 778 AD during the early Heian period, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the city’s oldest temples. The temple complex consists of several buildings, located on the foothills of Mount Otowa.

Kiyomizu-dera means pure water temple in Japanese. The temple is named after the Otowa Waterfall that flows through the temple grounds. The waters of the waterfall flow into three separate streams, from which you can drink. People believe that each stream has different benefits, including longevity, success, and a fortunate love life.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is most famous for its large wooden stage, offering an outstanding panoramic view of Kyoto. The stage, which juts out from the main hall, was built without a single nail. In the main hall, you’ll also see the large statue of the eleven-faced, thousand-armed statue of the goddess of mercy, Kannon.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple wooden stage
The wooden stage at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera shrine

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka Streets

02:30 PM – 03:00 PM

From Kiyomizu-dera Temple, make your way to Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka Streets. These two
charming historic streets are characterized by well-preserved traditional Japanese houses. Along these streets, you’ll find a variety of souvenir shops, teahouses, and small restaurants serving traditional Kyoto cuisine.

Keep in mind that Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are extremely popular, so expect large crowds. I arrived shortly after 7:30 AM, and there were already people around.

Sannen-zaka Street
Sannen-zaka Street before 8 AM

Dinner at Ukiya

For some excellent soba noodles head to Ukiya. This small cozy restaurant offers a variety of cold and hot soba noodles dishes, served with delicious tempura. I stumbled upon this restaurant by accident, but it turned out to be one of the best I’ve visited in Kyoto.

Ukiya
Ukiya – best for soba noodles with tempura

More ideas for 3 days in Kyoto – Day 1

Take a Sake Brewery Tour

Take this Insider Sake Brewery Tour to learn about the sake-making process and the history of the famous drink. You’ll visit the largest sake brewery in Fushimi, where you’ll witness the traditional brewing processes passed down through generations. The tour ends with a sake tasting (about 10 flavours of sake) accompanied by otsumami, traditional Japanese snacks.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine (Yasaka-jinja), also known as Gion Shrine, is one of Kyoto’s oldest and most revered shrines. Founded in 656 AD, the shrine is devoted to the Shinto god of storm, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, and his consort Inadahime-no-Mikoto. Some of the structures of the shrine complex feature hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. I highly recommend visiting Yasaka Shrine right before sunset, the atmosphere is magical.

Yasaka Shrine is where the famous Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival) happens. This summer festival, which takes place over the entire month of July, dates back more than 1150 years.

Yasaka Shrine
Sunset at Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine night
Yasaka Shrine at night

Explore the Geisha District

Right next to Yasaka Shrine, you’ll find the city’s most iconic district, Gion. It is famous for its well-preserved machiya houses (traditional wooden townhouses). Originally Gion was accommodating travelers visiting the nearby shrine before evolving into one of the most famous geisha districts in Japan. Today, you can still spot geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) walking around in their exquisite kimono.

Please be aware that starting April 2024, certain streets in Gion are off-limits to tourists due to incidents of disrespectful behaviour towards maiko and geisha. Make sure to watch out for any physical no-entry signs when you visit.

To learn more about the district’s history and the life of the geisha, join this Night Walk in Gion Tour.

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple, also known as Rengeō-in Temple is a Buddhist temple dating back to 1164. It is most famous for its 1001 human-sized statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. According to the legends, Kannon has eleven heads to see better the human suffering and one thousand arms to save all those in need.

Kōdai-ji Temple

Nene, the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most powerful samurai warlords, founded the Kōdai-ji Temple in 1606. The temple was built in memory of her husband to serve as a place of prayer for his soul.

The main hall and the sanctuary are lavishly decorated with a distinctive lacquer work technique called Kōdai-ji maki-e. This is a famous Japanese lacquer technique where gold and silver powder is sprinkled onto wet lacquer. You’ll also find beautiful Zen gardens, a rock garden and a small bamboo grove.

3 Days in Kyoto itinerary – Day 2

Morning

Breakfast at The City Bakery

08:15 AM – 09:00 AM

Begin your second day in Kyoto with breakfast at The City Bakery, located in the heart of the famous Nishiki Market. The bakery offers a wide range of both sweet and savoury pastries and sandwiches. Personally, I loved the Chocolate Babka and the Egg Salad Croissant.

Kyoto The City Bakery
The City Bakery – best bakery in Kyoto

You can also opt for breakfast at Fiveran, which opens at 9 AM. This bakery is closer to Nijō Castle, so you’ll have to walk less to reach the castle.

Nijō Castle

09:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Built in 1603, Nijō Castle served as Kyoto residence for Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years. In this Japanese feudal system, the military holds the true power instead of the Imperial family. The emperor is a ruler in name only and his role is primarily ceremonial.

The castle consists of two main areas – the Ninomaru Palace and the Honmaru Palace. The Ninomaru Palace was the actual home of the shogun and the place where he held his audiences. The rooms in the palace are connected by corridors with so-called nightingale floors. These floors chirp like birds when walked upon, serving as a security measure against intruders. Be sure not to miss the beautifully decorated ceilings and painted sliding doors, still well-preserved.

The entrance fee is 800 yen and you have to pay an additional 500 yen to visit the Ninomaru Palace (it’s worth it).

Nijō Castle gate
Nijō Castle is a must when visiting Kyoto
Nijō Castle
Ninomaru Palace

Lunch at Honke Owariya

12:00 PM – 01:30 PM

For lunch make your way to Honke Owariya, one of the oldest soba restaurants in Japan. Founded as a confectionery shop in 1465, it began serving soba noodles in the early 18th century, during the Edo Period. Don’t miss their speciality, Hourai Soba. It is a soba set of 8 small toppings: shiitake mushrooms, thin omelette, sesame seeds, shrimp tempura, wasabi, nori, Japanese leeks and daikon.

It’s a very popular restaurant, so expect wait times between 30 minutes and an hour.

Honke Owariya Hourai Soba
Honke Owariya is one of the oldest soba restaurants in Japan

Afternoon

Kyoto Imperial Palace

02:00 PM – 03:30 PM

The Kyoto Imperial Palace served as the residence of the Imperial family from the late Heian period (794-1185) until the capital moved to Tokyo in 1869. The palace complex features traditional Japanese architectural styles, characterized by wooden structures with sliding paper doors and beautiful gardens. Today, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is used for enthronement ceremonies.

The vast Kyoto Imperial Park, where you’ll also find the Sento Imperial Palace, surrounds the Imperial Palace. Sento Palace is where the retired emperors spend the remainder of their lives.

Entry ticket: free
Best guided tour: there are guided tours in English two times a day (at 10 AM and 2 PM) or you can download this Imperial Palace self-guided tour

Note that none of the Kyoto Imperial Palace buildings is open to visitors, however, you can see them from outside. To visit the beautiful garden of the Sento Imperial Palace, you have to join a guided tour (see how to book the tour here).

Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens
Kyoto Imperial Palace’s Gardens

If you have to choose between Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijō Castle, I suggest opting for the latter. In my opinion, Nijō Castle is far more impressive, and you also get the chance to explore its interior buildings.

Dinner at Anzukko

For some delicious gyoza, make your way to Anzukko. Anzukko specialises in tetsunabe gyoza, where the gyoza is prepared and served directly in a cast iron skillet. I recommend getting the sampler set for two people, which gives you a chance to sample everything.

Anzukko
Anzukko gyoza
Anzukko – best for tetsunabe gyoza

More ideas for 3 days in Kyoto – Day 2

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Ginkaku-ji, also known as the Silver Pavilion is a Zen Buddhist temple from the 15th century. Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, built the temple to serve as his retirement villa. After his death in 1490, Ginkaku-ji was converted into a Zen temple following his wishes.

Ginkaku-ji is modelled after Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather’s retirement villa (more on this on the 3rd day of this Kyoto itinerary). However, in contrast to the Golden Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji was never covered in silver.

Ginkaku-ji is famous for its stunning Japanese gardens, which include a beautiful moss garden and a dry sand garden.

Ginkaku-ji Temple
Ginkaku-ji is also known as the Silver Pavilion

Become a Samurai Warrior

Learn the skills of the samurai by joining this Samurai class. You’ll study the basic techniques of the ancient Japanese warriors, including how to bow, draw a sword and strike with stylized movements.

Nishiki Market

Located in the heart of Kyoto, Nishiki Market is the city’s iconic food market. Its history dates back to the early Edo period (around 1615). Home to more than 100 stalls, the market stretches for approximately five blocks, between Teramachi and Shinmachi streets. Nishiki Market is famous for its food stalls, offering everything from fresh seafood and vegetables to street food and snacks.

Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market

Cat Café MoCHA

If you’re a cat lover, you shouldn’t miss out on Cat Café MoCHA! They have two locations, right in the city centre, just a short stroll from each other. The cats are awesome and you can buy them little snacks in order to get their attention.

Every day at 10:30 AM and 7:30 PM, the cats line up neatly for their meals. It’s quite a spectacle! If you prefer a quieter experience, try visiting on a weekday just after the café opens.

Kyoto Cat Café MoCHA
Cat Café MoCHA

3 Days in Kyoto itinerary – Day 3

Morning

Breakfast at the hotel

I suggest having breakfast at your hotel if you want to arrive early at Kinkaku-ji Temple to beat the crowds. And depending on your hotel’s location, it may take you between 40 minutes and 1 hour to reach the temple.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

09:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of the most iconic Kyoto temples. It was originally built as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the 14th century. After his death in 1408, the villa was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple, following his wishes.

Kinkaku-ji is a mix of architectural styles. The design of the first floor is in the Shinden style, the second floor is in the Bukke style, and the third floor is influenced by Chinese Zen temple architecture. A shining phoenix sculpture crowns the top floor.

However, Kinkaku-ji’s most striking feature is its appearance. The top two stories of the temple are covered in gold leaf, creating a stunning reflection on the nearby pond.

Kinkaku-ji is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto, which means there are often crowds. My advice is to visit the temple as early in the morning as possible.

Kinkaku-ji Temple
Kinkaku-ji Temple – a must for your 3-day Kyoto itinerary

Ryōan-ji Temple

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Ryōan-ji Temple is where you’ll find one of the most famous Zen gardens in Japan. The garden is composed of 15 carefully arranged rocks, white gravel and patches of moss. It is designed to inspire meditation and contemplation. An interesting feature of the garden’s design is that, no matter where you stand, at least one of the rocks is always hidden from you.

Ryōan-ji Temple Zen garden
The Zen garden at Ryōan-ji Temple

Lunch at Kura Sushi – Kinkaku-ji

11:45 AM – 01:15 PM

Kura Sushi is a popular sushi restaurant chain, famous for its conveyor belt sushi. Plates of sushi travel on the conveyor belt, giving you the freedom to choose what you’d like. Plus, you can use a tablet to order freshly made sushi, which arrives at your table via another conveyor belt. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience!

Kura Sushi
Kura Sushi is a popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant

Afternoon

Tea Ceremony

Finish your last day in Kyoto with an authentic experience. Discover the art of tea by taking part in this Tea Ceremony at Jōtoku-ji Temple. You’ll learn about this ancient ritual and its importance in Japanese culture. Also, you’ll get the chance to sample some of the finest matcha tea!

Dinner at Tendon Makino Kyoto Teramachi

For delicious tendon head to Tendon Makino Kyoto Teramachi. Tendon is a mix of tempura (battered and fried items like mushrooms, fish, prawns, and vegetables) served atop a bowl of rice, with a sweet soy sauce drizzle.

There’s always a big queue, so arrive before the opening hours if possible.

More ideas for 3 days in Kyoto – Day 3

Ninna-ji Temple

Ninna-ji Temple dates back to the early Heian Era. In 888 AD the reigning Emperor Uda abdicated the throne and chose to retire as a Buddhist monk. He became the head priest of Ninna-ji Temple, which he had founded. During the following centuries, a member of the Imperial Family traditionally held the position of head priest at the temple.

The Goten, one of the most impressive buildings on the temple’s grounds, served as the head priest’s residence. Built in the style of an imperial palace, the building features elegantly painted sliding doors.

Ninna-ji Temple
Ninna-ji Temple is a hidden gem in Kyoto
Ninna-ji Temple pagoda
Ninna-ji Temple’s pagoda

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is rated as one of the city’s most popular attractions. It is famous for its towering bamboo stalks that reach heights of up to 9m (30 feet) or more. You can explore the grove by walking along a 400m (1312 feet) long promenade through the tall bamboo trees.

However, in my opinion, if you already have experienced a bamboo forest or can’t arrive early enough to beat the crowds (before 7 AM), I recommend giving it a pass. The place attracts hundreds of tourists and it’s hard to feel the real magic of the forest. Still, if it’s on your list, I suggest getting there no later than 7:30 AM. Start the 3rd day of this Kyoto itinerary with a visit to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and then continue to Kinkaku-ji Temple.

Another alternative is to explore Adashino Nenbutsu Temple instead of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The bamboo forest there is usually less crowded, allowing you to enjoy it in peace.

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Situated on the slopes of Mount Arashiyama, Iwatayama Monkey Park is a wildlife park, where you can observe monkeys in their natural habitat. The park is home to 120 wild snow monkeys, called Japanese Macaque. As you hike up to the park’s main area, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Arashiyama area, including the Hozugawa River and the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge.

1-day Kyoto itinerary

If you have only one day in Kyoto, I’d recommend picking up 2 or 3 attractions that you are interested in. If possible choose attractions close to each other to avoid spending too much time on transportation. In my opinion, the city’s most popular attractions are Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Nijō Castle and Ginkaku-ji Temple.

However, to see the best of Kyoto in just one day, I recommend taking this Perfect Kyoto 1-day Bus Tour. The tour takes you to 7 of the most popular places in Kyoto, including Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Nijō Castle and Ginkaku-ji Temple. It won’t be possible to see all this by yourself, as the attractions are far from each other.

Here is a sample itinerary for 1 day in Kyoto, which covers some of the most popular landmarks.

1 day in Kyoto

  • See the thousands of vermillion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Enjoy the city views from Kyoto’s most famous temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Lunch at Honke Owariya, the oldest soba restaurant in Japan
  • Visit the beautiful Ninomaru Palace in Nijō Castle
  • Taste the delicious tendon at Tendon Makino Kyoto Teramachi

2-day itinerary for Kyoto

2 days are not enough to cover all the popular attractions, but you can get a taste of the city. However, I strongly recommend adding one more day, so you can enjoy it without feeling rushed.

2 days in Kyoto

  • Day 1 – Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka Streets
  • Day 2 – Kinkaku-ji Temple, Ryōan-ji Temple, Nijō Castle

Where to stay in Kyoto

If you’re a first-time visitor to Kyoto, opt for a hotel in a central area, close to a metro station (such as Karasuma or Kawaramachi). Karasuma station provides convenient access to Kyoto Station, Karasuma metro line and Hankyu Line, while Kawaramachi station – to Keihan and Hankyu lines.

The best place to stay for first-timers is Downtown Kyoto, also known as Kawaramachi. It’s a great base for sightseeing, centrally located, just a short walk away from Nijō Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace and the famous Gion district. Furthermore, this location offers convenient reach to Kyoto Station, making it ideal for day trips to Osaka, Nara, and Himeji Castle.


Cross Hotel – Best mid-range

Guest rating: 9.1 | 3,200+ reviews

The Cross Hotel enjoys an excellent central location in Downtown Kyoto, conveniently situated next to two metro stations. Inside, the rooms blend cosy wooden furnishings with traditional Kyoto-style architecture. The hotel’s restaurant, KIHARU Brasserie, features a Western-inspired menu crafted from seasonal local ingredients.

Why book – 5min walk to Sanjo and Kawaramachi stations, great Asian and Western breakfast


Good Nature Hotel – Best luxury

Guest rating: 9.1 | 1,790+ reviews

Featuring Japan’s largest green wall, natural wood flooring and organic cotton towels, Good Nature Hotel offers an unforgettable experience. The hotel boasts a remarkable selection of 10 restaurants, among which stand out Velrosier (a Michelin two-star restaurant), Takayama (a Michelin one-star restaurant), and RAU Patisserie & Chocolate. Additionally, the Good Nature Market offers a selected assortment of natural products and organic foods.

Why book – 2min walk to Kawaramachi station, 2 Michelin-starred restaurants, small organic market on-site


Seikoro Ryokan – Best ryokan

Guest rating: 9.4 | 380+ reviews

Established in 1831, Seikoro Ryokan is a classic Japanese inn with a public onsen and a serene garden. The rooms feature a traditional Japanese design, with tatami flooring, comfortable futons, and private wooden bathtubs.

Why book – 2min walk to Kiyomizu-Gojō Station, delicious Japanese breakfast and kaiseki

Gion

Getting around in Kyoto

Kyoto has an extensive bus network, which covers almost all major tourist attractions. While buses can be slower due to traffic, they are a convenient way to reach many sights, especially those not directly accessible by train.

The train network consists of metro (only 2 lines – Karasuma and Tozai Lines) and a few private railways (Hankyu, Keihan and Kintetsu Railways). There are only two JR lines (Sagano Line and Nara Line), so you probably won’t use much your JR Pass here. Find here a map of all train lines in Kyoto.

While you can reach a few attractions easily by train, you may find buses are often your best option. However, keep in mind that usually buses are small and queues can be long, especially at Kyoto train station. Always plan some extra time between attractions, as it often takes longer to get from place to place.

In addition to the standard buses, there are also three Raku sightseeing buses. The Raku buses (lines 100, 101, and 102) stop at popular tourist locations such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, Ginkakuji Temple, and Nijo Castle.

The easiest way to get around is by buying a rechargeable IC card such as Suica, Pasmo and ICOCA. This is a prepaid contactless card, which is valid for metro, JR lines, buses and even private railways such as Hankyu, Keihan and Kintetsu.

Kyoto has flat-fare routes (within the city – usually the green-coloured buses) and non-flat-fare routes (cream-coloured buses), for which you pay according to the distance. To get on the bus you have to use the rear door and to get off – from the front door. When you ride a bus within the flat fare zone, you have to tap your IC card on a reader only when you get off. When you ride a bus beyond the flat fare zone you have to tap your IC card when you get on and then when you get off. To use the IC card on the metro – just tap it at the station gate when entering and then tap it again when exiting at your destination station.

How to get to Kyoto

By train

If you’re travelling from Tokyo via the Shinkansen (bullet train), you’ll arrive at Kyoto Railway Station. From there you can transfer to either JR or metro line to reach your accommodation. Check timetables and book tickets online for the Shinkansen here.

If you planning to visit multiple cities in Japan, get a JR Pass. The pass gives you unlimited access to all JR trains for 7, 14, or 21 days.

By air

The closest airport is Kansai International Airport (KIX), located near Osaka.

Day trips from Kyoto

Osaka

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, is located less than 30min away by train. Osaka is famous for its great nightlife and delicious street food.

The city’s highlight is the Osaka Castle, which has origins dating back to the late 16th century. The castle was initially constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a feudal lord and chief Imperial minister. From the top of Osaka Castle, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Osaka is my favourite castle near Kyoto, so I highly recommend adding it to your Japan itinerary.

For delicious pastries and sandwiches head to Boulangerie Fukushima (my all-time favourite bakery in Osaka).

Boulangerie Fukushima
Boulangerie Fukushima

How to get Osaka

  • the fastest way to get to Osaka is by taking the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station (15min journey) and then the metro to the city centre
  • you can also take the JR Kyoto Line from Kyoto Station to Osaka-Umeda Station (30min journey), which is closer to the city centre than Shin-Osaka Station
  • or you can take Hankyu-Kyoto Line from Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station to Osaka-Umeda Station (45 minutes journey)

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is one of the country’s most famous castles. Unlike many other Japanese castles, Himeji has never been destroyed by war, earthquakes, or fires. You can still see the castle exactly the way it was upon its completion in 1609. In fact, it is one of Japan’s twelve original castles.

The origins of Himeji Castle can be traced back to 1333 when a fortification was built on the site.
In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful military leader, commissioned the construction of the current castle. Later, in the early 17th century, Ikeda Terumasa, a feudal lord, expanded the castle to its present state.

Following your visit to the castle, make your way to Smash Cafe for brunch. Try the Smash Breakfast and Chunky Monkey (sweet sandwich with Nutella and banana).

Smash Cafe Breakfast
Smash Breakfast
Smash Cafe Chunky Monkey
Chunky Monkey

How to get to Himeji Castle
Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Himeji Station (50min journey). From there is about a 15min walk to the castle.

Nara

Nara was Japan’s capital from 710 to 794 AD, preceding Kyoto. The city is most famous for its friendly, free-roaming deer population and Nara Park itself is home to over a thousand deer. Deer are sacred in Shinto religion, as they are considered messengers to the gods.

Another must-see is the Tōdai-ji Temple, home to one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha.

How to get to Nara
Take the Kintetsu Limited Express from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station (35min journey). Nara Park is a 10min walk from the station, while Tōdai-ji Temple is a 15min walk.

What to see next

If you’re staying in Japan for more than a week, consider a visit to Tokyo, the country’s capital. The journey from Kyoto to Tokyo is less than 2h30min by Shinkansen. For more information take a look at my Tokyo itinerary for first-timers.

Best time to visit Kyoto

The best time to visit Kyoto is during either spring or autumn. Late March to early April is the prime period for cherry blossoms (sakura), while late October to late November offers beautiful fall foliage. Keep in mind that these times are the busiest of the year, so be sure to plan ahead for your trip.

Find more information in my complete Kyoto sakura guide.

For pleasant weather and fewer crowds, consider visiting Kyoto in late April (after the sakura season), May, September, or early October. Avoid the summer months of June, July, and August due to the rainy season, hot, and humid weather, as well as the peak of domestic travel.

Faqs about visiting Kyoto

How many days in Kyoto?

If you’re visiting Kyoto for the first time, I suggest planning a stay of at least 3-4 days. You’ll need 3 full days to see the most popular attractions, as they are spread out all over the city. Additionally, you may want to add another day or two to visit nearby destinations like Osaka, Nara, and Himeji Castle, which are well worth the trip.

Are 3 days enough for Kyoto?

3 days in Kyoto is the perfect amount to experience the city and visit iconic attractions such as Fushimi Inari Shrine and Ginkaku-ji Temple. However, if you’re travelling during the cherry blossom season or fall foliage, consider adding a day or two. This will give you more time to fully experience the beauty of these seasons, plus the crowds are larger, resulting in longer lines.

How much do you tip in Kyoto?

Tipping is not a common practice in Japan and it can even be inappropriate or rude in some situations.

Can you drink tap water in Kyoto?

Yes, you can generally drink tap water in Kyoto. Japan has strict water quality standards and the water is safe and of high quality.

Is Osaka better than Kyoto?

Osaka and Kyoto each offer unique experiences. While Osaka is famous for its vibrant city life, food scene, and modern attractions, Kyoto is rich in culture, history, and traditional beauty. Choose Osaka for entertainment and fun, or opt for Kyoto to immerse yourself in history and culture.

Can you do Kyoto in a day from Tokyo?

Kyoto is approximately a 2.5-hour Shinkansen ride away from Tokyo. While it’s technically possible to visit the city, I do not recommend it. The city’s tourist attractions are far from each other, making it challenging to explore them fully in a single day. If possible, I’d suggest spending 2-3 days in Kyoto.

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About the author

Avatar Milena Yordanova
I am a full-time traveller and I have visited over 20 countries across 2 continents. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places, cultures and food. I’m an expert in travel planning and I am here to help you plan your dream vacation.

4 Comments

  1. Wow, what a wonderful article! Everything you need to know is included. Great job! Kyoto is my bucket list. Thanks!

  2. I have visited Kyoto twice and will be there next week. Your comments and suggestions are spot-on. Thank you and happy travels 😎

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