Start exploring Kyoto
You’ve just arrived in Kyoto. You are excited and eager to explore the city, visit a few temples and shrines, try some local food and interact with locals. But where to go first? How to make the most of your time in Kyoto? Whether you are staying in Kyoto just a for a few days or for a longer period there are a few places you should definitely see.
I’ve created model itineraries for two full days in Kyoto. Of course you can visit all of these places separately as well.
10:00 Start your day by visiting Kiyomizu-dera temple. It is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. Kiyomizu-dera is most famous for its wooden terrace from which visitors have a beautiful view not only on to the city of Kyoto, but also on to numerous cherry blossom and maple leaf trees, beautiful in spring and autumn in turn.
(Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall is being remodelled until March 2020, but visitors can still enter the main hall during the renovations.)
12:00 Stroll through the streets of one of Kyoto’s prettiest districts, Higashiyama! Along the slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains it is one of Kyoto’s historic districts where Kyoto looks the most authentic. It connects Kiyomizu-dera to Yasaka Shrine. The streets in are lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants so you can busy yourself buying little souvenirs as you go along. Why not have lunch in one of the restaurants along the streets of Highashiyama.
15:00: Enter the grounds of Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous Shrines in Kyoto, and definitely one of the biggest. It is located between Higashiyama and Gion districts. It is also famous for the Gion festival held in June and during cherry blossom season in spring.
17:00: Stroll through Gion as the sun goes down. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district.It is filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses, where the geisha or geiko and the maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain. In the twilight you might even be able to catch a glimpse of a real Geisha as she heads off to work.
22:00 Have a drink in Kiyamachi area. The streets are lined with bars, various izakaya (Japanese style bar) and clubs. You can spend the night pub crawling from one drinking spot to another, it is also a great opportunity to meet locals!
9:00: Visit The Arashiyama bamboo forest. You’d better get up early to avoid crowds. The Arashiyama Bamboo grove is always bustling with tourist, but if you manage to get there early enough you might be able to enjoy a little more peace and quiet.
If you have a little bit more time to spare it might be worth visiting Ōkōchi Sansō graden. A little bit of a hidden jewel only a few tourist venture on beyond the bamboo grove to Ōkōchi Sansō. You will have to pay an entry fee of 1000 yen, but it includes tea and a sweet that you can enjoy in the little tea house in the garden.
11:00 Hike up the mountain to see the snow monkeys of Iwatayama Monkey Park. You can feed the monkeys, who are always very eager to grab the treats out of the visitors hands. You can see them interact with each other, which is very interesting especially when they have babies.
Once back down the mountain have lunch along Arashiyama’s main road, there are many restaurants you can choose from.
14:00 Take the bus from Arashiyama Bus Stop to Kinkakuji: the golden pavilion. The golden pavilion is a Zen temple completely covered in gold leaf that absolutely stunning in photos. It was built as the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu before it became a Zen temple in accordance with his will after his death in 1408.
Take a break
15:00 Take a well deserved break, have a coffee or a tea. You will beed to save you strength for the evening!
18:00: From Kyoto station it is only 2 stops on the Nara Line to Fushimi Inari Taisha. View the thousands of torii gates as the sun sets over Kyoto. Climb up as far as you can you might even make it all the way to the top, but in any case I recommend to persevere until you reach the view point roughly halfway up the mountain. The view of the sun setting over Kyoto will be worth it!
Of course, there is much much more to see and do in Kyoto. But if you are looking to see a few of the cities most famous spots and are unsure where to start you can use these itineraries as guidelines for your own exploring of Kyoto.