2 days in Kyoto will bring alive the Japan of your dreams. Close your eyes and picture Japan. Do divine Japanese gardens, Buddhist temples, and alluring geishas come to mind? What you are imagining is the cultural capital of Japan – Kyoto. While Kyoto is not one of Japan’s biggest cities, it is surely one of the most beautiful and well-preserved. What was once Japan’s capital from 794 to 1868, is now one of the most gratifying cities to visit in Japan. Home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2,000 temples and shrines, Kyoto gives visitors an all-encompassing experience of historical and spiritual Japan.
In Kyoto, you can visit some of Japan’s most unique temples, stay in the country’s top Ryokan, and walk through lush bamboo forests. While there is a lot to see and do in Kyoto, the city is small, and therefore you can cover a lot of ground over just a few days. Here is our itinerary for the perfect 2 days in Kyoto. Come on, there’s a lot to cover!
Day One in Kyoto
Start your morning off early at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Wandering through a bamboo forest is a quintessential Japanese experience. Embrace the beauty of the majestic forest as you admire the seemingly endless pathway of dancing green bamboo strewn before you. The forest of towering bamboo stalks is one of the prettiest in the world. After leaving the forest, head to the center of Arashiyama. Although buzzing with tourists, the main shopping street is fun to explore for a bit. Consider visiting other shrines and temples in Arashiyama like Tenryuji Temple, Daikakuji Temple, and Nisonin Temple. If you are hungry, you can stop for a bite to eat on the main strip of Arashiyama.
Take a taxi to one of the most famous places in Kyoto, the Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple is also called the “Golden Pavilion” because its two top floors are covered in real gold. After exploring the temple, head to your hotel for some much-needed rest.
Head downtown to Pontocho Alley. Often called the most beautiful street in Kyoto, the area is lined with traditional Japanese wooden houses and is famous for being the home of the Geisha. At night, Pontocho comes to life, with some of Kyoto’s most exclusive residents coming out to dine at the many high-end restaurants in the area. If you don’t have special connections and a fat wallet, you probably won’t find yourself eating in one of these restaurants, but luckily, there are plenty of other places you will feel more comfortable at. Around Pontocho in other sections of the Kiyamachi strip, you can find inexpensive yakitori and soba, among other classic Japanese foods.
Day 2: Exploring Historical Kyoto
Start the morning early at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, one of the most popular places in Kyoto. The shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. The gates take you through the magical forest of Mount Inari. You may choose to do the entire 4km hike up Mount Inari. This will take you 2-3 hours. For a shorter walk that still offers a beautiful view of Kyoto, reach Yotsutsuji Intersection. This will take 30-40 minutes.
Travel to downtown Kyoto. Start off with some shopping on Sanjo-Dori Street. Then, head to the famed Nishiki Market. Spanning five blocks with over 100 shops and restaurants, the market sells everything food related from seafood and produce to knives and snacks. You can try Kyoto specialty items like pickled vegetables, Japanese sweets, and dried seafood. Try the candied skewer, Tako Tamago, a small baby octopus with a quail’s egg inside the head.
For something less intimidating, go for Japanese fish cakes, sesame dumplings, or mochi. At the market, you can also pick up souvenirs like engraved chopsticks and Aritsugu knives. After the market, if you still have more energy, check out the Daimaru department store. The basement of the store has a food court which is well worth exploring. You can look at all of the delicious-looking sweets and tea, and even purchase some to eat or bring home as gifts. If you have time after this, go back to your hotel to rest before heading out again.
After a bit of rest, head out to explore Kyoto’s most preserved historic district, Gion. You may very well feel like you’ve been sent back in a time machine. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district. The streets are lined with tiny wooden shops selling sweets, souvenirs, and pottery, as well as shrines, temples, and souvenirs. After enjoying a multi-course kaiseki meal, make your way to the Kyoto Tower, either by foot or train. While not as famous as its sister tower in Tokyo, the tower nonetheless offers amazing views of the city, particularly at night.