How to See Kyoto in 2 Days

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.

 

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

 

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—

Arashiyama

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

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-jiNison-inGio-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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

Read more: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

Kinkaku-ji

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!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kinkakuji

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.

Kiyomizu-dera

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

Am I doing this right?

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.

Gion

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 —

Fushimi-inari Taisha

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

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.

Read more: Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

Nishiki Market

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

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!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Pontocho

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!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Pontocho

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Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary

45 Comments

    • November 3, 2016 / 11:01 pm

      TAKE ME WITH YOU

  1. November 4, 2016 / 2:32 am

    Pontocho is so gorgeous in the day! I’d only seen it at night during my visit there and boy does this make me miss Japan. Take me back!

    • November 9, 2016 / 5:54 pm

      You’re going so soon!! Can’t wait to see all the pics 🙂

  2. November 5, 2016 / 10:24 am

    that looks amazing !! All this places ! Thank you for sharing that, hopefully one day I can visit Kyoto !

  3. November 8, 2016 / 9:03 am

    Great guide! I’m going to Japan in Jan and was thinking of tagging a couple of days onto my trip to check out Kyoto! This will be super useful! Kinkaku-ji looks gorgeous – I wonder what it would look like in the winter!

    • November 9, 2016 / 6:07 pm

      Yes definitely make time for Kyoto! Oh man I bet it’s GORGEOUS when it’s covered in snow

  4. November 8, 2016 / 11:19 am

    Haha! Love the personality you have put into this post! Travelling with your mom can be the best and the worst at the same time ha! Mine would have opted for the bus stop too ha! Breathtaking images, Japan is really truly beautiful. I just hope I get to see it one day! I’ll be referring back to this article when I do! Thanks for sharing!

    • November 9, 2016 / 6:08 pm

      Haha she’s a handful sometimes being so picky, but it’s so nice seeing their face lit up when they try something new and see new places!! She’s been wanting to go to Switzerland for the longest time, trying to make that work in the next few years!

      • Mary Chiou
        December 13, 2016 / 9:13 am

        Thanks Dear Ivy!
        I love to go with you &Anson.
        It’s the wonderful experience,
        and I expect to go to Switzerland .

        • December 13, 2016 / 5:01 pm

          haha maybe in 2018

  5. November 8, 2016 / 12:36 pm

    Did you see any Geishas? Is it possible to go for a Geisha performance..and how much would it cost? Also, is there an entry ticket to the bamboo forest?

    • November 9, 2016 / 6:10 pm

      No we weren’t so lucky. There are a few places that offer kaiseki dinners with maiko performances. Maikos are younger and less experienced (geisha apprentice, I think they’re called geiko in Kyoto rather than geisha) but I’m sure they’d still be entertaining to watch! The bamboo grove is free but you do have to pay an entrance fee for the gardens in Tenryuji.

  6. November 8, 2016 / 2:01 pm

    Kyoto is a haven on Earth. I love Kyoto so much especially the Bamboo Forest. 🙂 lucky you that you have a nice photo there without the crowd around.

    • November 9, 2016 / 6:11 pm

      All thanks to timing! And a patient husband haha

  7. November 8, 2016 / 5:40 pm

    What or who is an ajumma ? I liked how you have put subtle humour throughout your post. I will remember not to take the extra shot before going to Fushimi.

    • November 9, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      An ajumma is a Korean auntie/marriage-aged woman 😛 This one in particular wasn’t very friendly haha

  8. November 8, 2016 / 7:40 pm

    We loved the pictures of Bamboo path it’s amazing. Kinkaku-ji is soo beautiful and pleasant. And reaching Fushimi Inari early morning was perfect decision 🙂 We too usually plan early visits to avoid crowds.

  9. November 9, 2016 / 11:04 am

    Love the way you tell about Kyoto place covering must see places in 2days. It amazing information with wonderful pics. I’ve never gone there. Noted it.

  10. November 9, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    I lived in Kansai (specifically Osaka) for a year and loved it. I really regret not visiting Arashiyama! And the food is just amazing. I’m from Tokyo and I think the food down south is slightly better 🙂

    • November 23, 2016 / 8:56 pm

      That’s what I’ve heard too! It’s been 10 years since I last visited Tokyo so I can’t remember what the food tastes like there, but I’m sure it’s just as amazing 🙂

  11. November 9, 2016 / 7:41 pm

    Kyoto looks stunning and this is a very helpful guide. I particularly like the traditional Japanese buildings. Great for a picture opportunity. The market looks interesting too. Is any of the street food suitable for vegetarians? Whenever I think of Kyoto I always think immediately of the climate change agreement that was signed there!

    • November 23, 2016 / 8:56 pm

      Yes! We had a deep fried tofu and potato croquet skewer thing and they were both so good!

  12. November 9, 2016 / 7:48 pm

    I will be heading to Japan for our honeymoon and Kyoto is deffo on the list! We are thinking 3 nights so this guide has really helped! Arashiyama looks fantastic, I have dreamed about going here for so long and will definitely follow your advise. How long was your bus from Arashiyama to Kinkaku-ji?

    • November 23, 2016 / 8:58 pm

      Sorry, Katie, I can’t remember 🙁 but it was definitely under an hour

  13. November 9, 2016 / 7:55 pm

    Kyoto is such a gem. I visited about ten years back and am dying to return to the city. Your photos are beautiful and bring back many memories. I think I skipped Arashiyma though, which is a pity since it definitely seems like a highlight. Love the personality reflected in your writing!

  14. November 9, 2016 / 8:18 pm

    Wow this is gorgeous!! I’ve been loving your shots on Insta already so it’s nice to see the rest with some more info about your trip. Especially the funny candid one 🙂 Thanks for sharing! Pinning this for later.

  15. November 9, 2016 / 8:24 pm

    I love Japan, I only went to Tokyo but am desperate to go back – Kyoto looks amazing! You managed to pack such a lot into 2 days, pretty impressive. I bet there is so much more to see there if you have a bit more time!

    • November 23, 2016 / 8:58 pm

      For sure! Next time we’ll be back without my mum haha 😛

  16. November 9, 2016 / 8:38 pm

    Kinkaku-ji looks beautiful – I’ve been shoved by ajumma in tourist spots too haha. No one is safe! This is a great breakdown of two days! I honestly cannot wait to head over to Japan. I’ve been saving to go but it’s going to take a while.

    • November 23, 2016 / 8:58 pm

      Seriously… they can be so rude hahaha. And they’re everywhere!

  17. November 10, 2016 / 12:31 am

    Oh my goodness this is beautiful! I have yet to go to Japan, but this post has made Kyoto a must see when I do finally get to explore!

  18. November 10, 2016 / 1:03 am

    Those temples are really in serene locations. So amazing, and great photos of you. It must be really amazing to see it firsthand. And the food. So fresh and delicious. Octopus is my favorite food by far, but growing up in Missouri we never really had it…ummm ever. Haha I discovered it in Greece. Happy Traveling!

  19. November 10, 2016 / 8:32 am

    I really enjoyed your guide. It brought back my memories of visiting Kioto about ten years ago. I didn’t know then that city is quite big and transportation is important. Thanks for sharing!

  20. November 10, 2016 / 8:41 am

    Kyoto is one of my favourite places in Japan. I didn’t get the chance to visit Arashiyama though. The bamboo forest is stunning.

  21. November 10, 2016 / 9:37 am

    Thanks for this! Brought back so many lovely memories – I was in Japan in 2009 when I was 15, and had such a fabulous time in Kyoto, it left a lasting impression. Would love to travel back as an adult 🙂

  22. November 10, 2016 / 2:15 pm

    Great tips! Planning to go there next year so will definitely be referring back to your suggestions.

  23. November 10, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    I am 100% obsessed with your photography. I have been dreaming of visiting since I ALMOST studied abroad in Japan and then was unable to. Thank you for putting this back on the top of y list of places to visit. I am a foodie so the octopus quail egg I would love.

    • November 23, 2016 / 9:03 pm

      Thank you Nicki! <3 Hehe to be honest I thought that octopus quail egg tasted a little funky... but my hubby and mum loved it so maybe I'm just weird 😛

  24. November 10, 2016 / 5:29 pm

    You make Kyoto look so magical. Every part looks like it is made for a photoshoot.. those bamboo groves, Fushimi-inari Taisha.. sigh – right out of a fairytale!

  25. November 10, 2016 / 6:36 pm

    I desperately want to go to Kyoto as I fell in love with Tokyo and Japan. It looks stunning

  26. November 11, 2016 / 1:30 am

    Simply stunning. A lot of people say they’re dying to visit Tokyo, but I’m more interested in visiting other places in Japan, and Kyoto is one of the places I always list! Looks absolutely amazing and you’ve definitely demonstrated exactly why! Cheers!

    • November 23, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      Yes! Having been to both Tokyo and Kyoto I must say I like the Kansai region a LOT better. Tokyo was AWESOME with all the high tech stuff and crazy city life but we prefer something more laid back with more history flair 🙂

  27. November 11, 2016 / 2:58 am

    Fantastic! Kyoto is one of my favourite places! It would be so exhausting ( but defs doable) to see it in just 2 days! We were there last year and spent a week and still missed out on the bamboo forest! It did rain a bit whilst we were there though which made exploring a tiny bit difficult! Did you guys head to Nara? xx

    • November 23, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      We didn’t! We were so short on time but we got to chill with the cute deer on Miyajima Island so that made up for missing out 🙂

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