This little blog of mine is all about making the most out of limited travel time. Now, you obviously won’t be able to explore every little corner of Kyoto, but you’ll be able to hit up most of the must-see’s in just under 48 hours. Impossible? Nah. Ambitious? Just slightly. But if Mama Ko can do it, you can too! Here’s our comprehensive Kyoto 2 day itinerary.
This ain’t Mama Ko’s first rodeo in the Kansai region of Japan- having been here many times before, she told us Kyoto is even more breathtaking when it’s cherry blossom season or when it’s decked out in fall foliage. What a show off. Don’t mind her- Kyoto is beautiful regardless of the season.
What you need for this Kyoto 2 day itinerary:
- Comfortable shoes for walking
- Bus map of Kyoto – you should be able to grab one of these from the reception desk at your hotel or any info booth, or you can download the PDF here. This baby is gold- so listen to Gandalf and keep it secret, keep it safe
- Base yourself at a hotel/Airbnb/cardboard box within walkable distance to both a major bus hub and Keihan Railway stop. We stayed at Piece Hostel Sanjo which is close by Shijo Karasuma and Sanjo Station.
- Transportation: ¥500 for a 1-day bus pass (enter through the rear door and exit through the front door; pay upon exit) and ¥210 for train fare (fares vary depending on where you stay)
- Optional: Travel buddies with a good sense of humour (brownie points for taking your parents)
— Day 1 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary—
Get your butt on a bus and make your way towards Arashiyama (left side of this trusty map). Get off at Arashiyama Tenryuji-mae, which literally means “in front of Tenryu-ji“. You’ll eventually end up in the bamboo grove after you make your way through the gardens.
If you’re down to check out more temples and shrine compounds, there are a few you can choose from after you exit through the bamboo path. (i.e. Jojakko-ji, Nison-in, Gio-Ji ) If you’re ready to kick it (or if you’re traveling with your mum who doesn’t give a shit about temples and shrines), just follow the signs which will lead you back to the main road where the bus stop is.
The easiest way to get to Kinkaku-ji from Arashiyama by bus is to take the 11 and transfer at Yamagoe Nakacho for the 59. Get off at Kinkakuji-mae and ta-da, you’re there!
The grounds are gorgeous but this was by far the most crowded place we’ve visited in Kansai. Watch out for the hordes of Japanese students on school field trips and (some very classless) tourists. Some ajumma shoved me, quite hard actually, just so she could get a closer look at the Golden Pavilion. Ruuuuude.
There are a couple of different ways to get from Kinkaku-ji to Kiyomizu-dera. We got on the 205 and transferred at Shijo Kawaramachi for the 207. Hop off at Kiyomizu-michi and follow the signs.
If you wanna get fancy for photo opps you can head to a kimono rental store where they’ll do your hair and dress you up. If you’re peasants like us, just continue uphill in your peasant clothes. You might not be as kawaii but your photos will turn out just fine.
The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage were built using a traditional Japanese method of construction, with wooden pillars and without a single nail! But don’t worry, it’s hella sturdy- it has withstood hundreds of disasters over centuries like a champ.
Don’t forget to visit the Jishu Jinja Shrine to make a love wish! Given we were only 1 year into this supposedly lifelong marriage, I had to jump on the prayer bandwagon.
Legends say if you’re able to walk from one of these stone to the other that’s 10m away with your eyes closed, your wishes will come true. Tons of Japanese students cheered each other on as they made their way across. Awww young love is so cute.
Take the bus back to Gion and have dinner there. If you’re lucky you might even see a geisha! There are hundreds of restaurants and pubs in this area but don’t get too wasted (easy, tiger). You’ll want to wake up early the next morning to beat the crowds.
— Day 2 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary —
We left our hotel at around 7am and arrived at Fushimi Inari station via the Keihan Railway by 7:30am. It was dope because we had the whole place to ourselves.
It takes around 2-3hrs to hike (stroll, really, the stairs aren’t bad at all) through over 10,000 of these red gates. By the time we made it back down the mountain the whole plaza was packed. A complete 180 from what we saw early in the morning. You’ll thank yourself for not drinking that extra shot the night before.
Feast your eyes (and stomach) on this 400-yr old strip of shops and restaurants. You’ll find anything and everything food-related in this buzzing market. Mama Ko had a blast eating her way through these five blocks. This octopus with a quail egg in its head was her favourite.
AS and I spent no less than 4 hours (srs, no joke) at Daikoku Drug. This is the perfect place to stock up if you’re obsessed with Japanese products like we are. It’s also duty free for foreigners who spend more than ¥5000, which is easy to do considering we dropped close to 4 bills at this store. Oops!
To wrap up this Kyoto 2 day itinerary, spend your evening in Pontocho, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric areas to grab a bite. Most establishments offer a view of the Kamogawa River. Now’s your chance to load up on all that beer and sake you’ve been deprived of the previous night!