KYOTO Itinerary • MUST READ! (December 2019)

Our EPIC Kyoto itinerary will show you all of the best things to do while you are in Kyoto no matter your travel style!

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Kyoto is an incredibly beautiful ancient city which was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years. It’s famed for its numerous gorgeous Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, traditional wooden pandolas, and Imperial Palaces.

Its scenic cityscape, bursting with cherry and maple trees, is iconic as are some of its buildings, dating millennia back! Kyoto’s cuisine is also famous throughout Japan.

Kyoto offers visitors an irresistible combination of ancient architecture and modern infrastructure. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, art or nature, the city has plenty to offer everyone.

Explore the best that this city has to offer with our 3-day Itinerary Kyoto! We’ve also put together the best day trips in the area, for those lucky enough to be spending more than a weekend in Kyoto.

 

Best time to visit Kyoto

when to visit Kyoto

These are the best times to visit Kyoto!

Kyoto’s climate is temperate humid. This means that winters are mild and summers are hot and rainy. The in-between months are best as they’re usually mild and sunny, and very pleasant.

Wondering when to visit Kyoto? Spring is absolutely idyllic when the cherry trees bloom and transform the Japanese landscape with their calm, beautiful pink. This starts in April, and is a great time to do a Kyoto walking tour! Keep in mind, the cherry trees bloom quickly, so if you’re planning a trip to Kyoto for its best season you’ll want to go in the first two weeks of April. The city is very popular at this time so the crowds will be large. But it’s well worth it!

The city is also gorgeous in Fall, when all those trees go red and orange. In Fall, the rains has ended but the crowds are reasonably small and everything is a little cheaper than during the springtime rush!

 Average TemperaturesChance of RainCrowdsOverall Grade
January4°C / 40°FLowCalm😐
February 5°C / 41°FLowCalm😐
March8°C / 46°F AverageCalm🙂
April 14°C / 57°FAverageBusy🙂
May18°C / 65°FAverageBusy🙂
June22°C / 72°FHighMedium🙂
July27°C / 80°FHighMedium🙁
August28°C / 82°FAverageMedium😐
September24°C / 74°FHighCalm😐
October17°C / 63°FAverageBusy😐
November12°C / 53°FLowBusy🙂
December7°C / 44°FLowMedium🙂

 

Where to Stay in Kyoto

Kyoto

These are the best places to stay in Kyoto!

So where is the best place to stay in Kyoto?  If you’re interested in temple-hopping – one of the best activities in Kyoto – try to find a place in the Higashiyama district! Famous for its many beautiful and historic temples, some of the best Kyoto attractions are located within easy walking distance. If you’re only spending a weekend in Kyoto this is ideal, as you won’t have to spend much time on transportation!

One of the coolest neighbourhoods in Kyoto is Gion. However, it’s unlikely you’ll actually find a place to stay here. It’s so popular, and most of its streets are dedicated primarily to its famous tea houses and merchant homes. Still, if you have the money to spend, give it a go! It’s not every day that you get to stay in a neighbourhood that is an iconic and integral part of a community’s culture!

Another great neighbourhood you can stay in is Downtown Kawaramachi. It’s central and modern, but really close to the oldest parts of Kyoto. A vacation in Kyoto is always really well spent here.

The best hostels in Kyoto are spread over the city. We have selected a few option below to get you started.

 

Kyoto itinerary

Len Kyoto is our pick for the best hostel in Kyoto!

Best Hostel in Kyoto – Len Kyoto

Centrally located and just a 1-minute walk from the Kamo River, Len Kyoto is a great hostel to choose! It has a café and bar lounge where you can grab a coffee and breakfast in the morning, and drinks at night. Rooms are spacious and clean, and the beds are comfortable. 

Check on HostelWorld

 

New House in Kyoto with Area for Family Group

New House in Kyoto with Area for Family Group is our pick for the best Airbnb in Kyoto!

Best Kyoto Airbnb – New House in Kyoto with Area for Family Group

Close to Kyoto Station, this Kyoto airbnb traditional home can sleep up to ten people, perfect for large families and friends travelling together. The sleeping arrangements are Japanese style, in that most people sleep in the same room on tatami mats on the ground.

The main sleeping room doubles as the living room, with a TV, table, and sofas as well. There’s another room that can be used for sleeping and/or eating, and you’ll find comfy floor seats in this room too.

There’s a separate toilet and bathroom and a well-equipped kitchen with a small breakfast bar. Lovely Japanese features can be found throughout the home.

Check on Airbnb

 

Kyoto itinerary

Sunput Nanajo Mibu is our pick for the best budget hotel in Kyoto!

Best Budget Hotel in Kyoto – Sunput Nanajo Mibu

This hotel is luxury on a budget! Each room has air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Located in the heart of Kyoto, it has everything you could want! The staff is friendly and helpful, and you can even rent bicycles.

Check on Booking.com    Check on HotelsCombined

 

Kyoto itinerary

Kyoto Four Sisters Residence is our pick for the best luxury hotel in Kyoto!

Best Luxury Hotel in Kyoto – Kyoto Four Sisters Residence

This 5-star hotel feels like a home away from home. Each apartment has its own balcony with fantastic views, a fully-equipped kitchen, and dining room. They also have all the amenities for a proper happy stay! Perfect for couples and families. The staff is friendly and professional, happy to provide any help you need.

Check on Booking.com    Check on HotelsCombined

 

Kyoto itinerary

kyoto itinerary

Welcome to our EPIC Kyoto itinerary

Our itinerary is jam-packed with amazing things to see and some of the best places to visit in Kyoto! But that doesn’t mean you need to stay in the middle of the city to make the most of it. The transportation in Kyoto is world-class, and you’ll be able to get anywhere in the large city in minutes. So breathe easy, touring Kyoto is a breeze!

The train and subway system is extensive, making it easy to get around the city, and also to reach nearby cities like Osaka and Nara very quickly. Japan is a very small, technologically advanced country, so it’s a great place to travel.

You can also catch the bus to get around the city. They are very reasonably priced and fun! You get on at the back, and depart from the front, paying when you leave. Within the main part of the city, all bus fares are ~$2 USD. You can also walk! But with such efficient, well-priced public transport, and limited time, you may choose not to.

However, our favorite option is cycling! Renting a bicycle for the day is a really great way to explore the city, and you’ll be able to see lots of lovely random things in-between stops. It’s also a common form of transportation in Kyoto, so you won’t be alone!

 

Day 1 Itinerary in Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple | Nijo Castle | Tea Ceremony | Gion District | Geisha dance in Gion | Nishiki Market

 

The first day of our Kyoto Itinerary includes some of the most beautiful places in the country! Put on your walking shoes – you’ll be touring ancient temples and markets, among other things. If you’re only doing Kyoto in a day, this is also the best way to do it!

 

Day 1/Stop 1 – Kinkakuji Temple

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s one of the most popular buildings in Japan and for good reason!
  • Cost – $4 entrance
  • Food recommendation – Grab a light breakfast at Visitor’s Teahouse

This serene, gold-colored temple is iconic! Perched on the water, with its leafy, mountainous backdrop, is a perfect example of Japanese architecture. Each level represents a different architectural style from the extravagant Kitayama culture. It looks like a painting from every angle!

Also known as the Golden Temple, or Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji is definitely one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in the world. It’s top two floors are covered in gold-leaf, making for a very impressive sight.

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

The building has been burnt down numerous times throughout its history – while the original was built in the 14th century, the most recent structure was rebuilt in 1995. But rest assured, it looks just the same!

There are also some truly lovely Zen gardens around the temple, which you should not miss. The effect, as a whole, is breathtaking.

Insider Tip: We’ve made this our first stop because it can get very crowded! So, start your day early and try to beat the rush.

 

Day 1/Stop 2 – Nijo Castle

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s a really impressive castle, and it has a moat!
  • Cost – $6, with an extra $4 for entrance to Ninomaru Palace
  • Food recommendation – Get coffee and snacks at Clamp Coffee Sarasa

This is a castle very different from any that you’ll find in Europe!

The gorgeous embellishments are made from wood and gold leaf. Marvel at the craftsmanship, and imagine the secrets and battles held in these walls. Its palace buildings are one of the best surviving examples of its architectural style from Japan’s feudal era.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle, Kyoto

You cannot take photos inside, but bring the camera anyway! It’s exterior is very impressive, with a moat and extensive grounds. There’s a main and second circle of defense – the Ninomaru Palace is in the second. The floors squeak when stepped upon as a security measure! Talk about cool ninja palace…

There’s also a traditional manicured Japanese landscape garden. This is a great place to stroll or sit and relax before moving onto the next stop, and certainly one of the most beautiful places in our Kyoto Itinerary!

Insider Tip: Go for the audio guide! The history of the castle is so interesting, it definitely adds to the experience.

 

 Day 1/Stop 3 – Tea Ceremony at Camellia FLOWER

  • Why it’s awesome – How often do you get to participate in an ancient ceremony?
  • Cost – $27
  • Food recommendation – Find something tasty at FabCafe Kyoto

A tea ceremony is the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha; powdered green tea. A great cultural experience, this is a must! You’ll learn more about Japanese history and tradition, and come away with a greater appreciation of the ancient civilization.

Zen Buddhism was a primary influence on the tradition, and it is still considered an art. Serene and calming, the tradition dates all the way back to the 9th century! It was practiced by Emperors and Japanese nobles. The fact that as a tourist, you can participate in this ceremony, is amazing. Be respectful and appreciative of your guide – this is an honor.

There are many places in Kyoto where you can participate in a tea ceremony. We suggest Camellia FLOWER because the staff are friendly and helpful, and speak fluent English. They are considered one of the best.

But when you get to Kyoto, have a look around your neighborhood. You’re sure to find one nestled somewhere!

 

The Best Travel Backpack?!

Pssssst! Not picked the perfect travel backpack yet? The Broke Backpacker team has tried out over thirty backpacks this year! Our favourite carry on backpack is the Nomatic Travel Bag.

Read our full review!

 

Day 1/Stop 4 – Gion District

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s Kyoto’s most famous traditional entertainment district!
  • Cost – Free
  • Food recommendation – Gion Takeuchi or one of the many restaurants here

Gion is Kyoto’s geisha district. It has held this title for centuries, and you’ll find a lot of traditional architecture and history here. You’ll also spot beautiful hostesses in colorful kimonos walking down the wooden Tatsumi Bridge and on the streets.

Admire the upscale restaurants and boutiques of the unique district. Watch one of the traditional Kyomai dances hosted at Gion Corner. There’s lots to do here, so be sure to set out a few hours for it. Geisha’s are ubiquitous across Japan. Therefore you should pop in a for a look when visiting Kyoto.

Gion District, Kyoto

Gion District, Kyoto

Geisha, or Geiko (Kyoto’s dialect, meaning ‘arts child’), entertain in traditional tea houses. There are also wooden machiya merchant houses lining the street, close together but stretching far back.

The entertainment district is at its most atmospheric in the early evening when lanterns are lit and the sun slowly sets. Take in the beauty of the rose-colored scene and marvel at the beauty of everyday Japan!

 

Day 1/Stop 5 – Geisha dance in Gion

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s an incredibly unique and moving experience
  • Cost – $18, or $40 for a ‘ first class’ ticket
  • Food recommendation – Enjoy some matcha tea at the teahouse you’re in

Stopped in tradition and culture, these dances are an art form long recognized in Japan! Once you’ve enjoyed the general delights of the district, enter a tea house if you can (many only cater to locals).

If you’re lucky, you will be able to observe a small performance in one of these teahouses. If you’re very lucky, or a good planner, you’ll be able to see a large performance, put on for the general community!

Geisha Dance

Geisha Dance, Kyoto

The five geisha districts of Kyoto put on annual performances for the public, and tourists are permitted to join the crowd. Here geiko and maiko (apprentices) perform with dance and music.

The dances are highly stylized and tightly choreographed. Every move is perfect, their slow and graceful forms hinting at the intensely hard work that goes into them. These dances are considered a great honor to perform in – and are certainly an honor to witness.

Each performance depicts some aspect of Japanese life and the changing of seasons. They are exquisitely beautiful, and certainly an experience you will never forget.

Insider Tip: The different Geisha districts host their dances in April, May, and November. April is the best time to go, because three are hosted, and it falls in line with the blooming of the cherry trees!

 

Day 1/Stop 6 – Nishiki Market

  • Why it’s awesome – So much amazing food and culture!
  • Cost – Free
  • Food recommendation – Sample Kyoto specialties at the vendors

Close off your busy day with a night-time visit to the Nishiki Market. A narrow, five-block long shopping street, this lively market is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”.

It specializes in all things food related, including fresh and cooked seafood, produce, and cookware. It’s the perfect great place to find seasonal Japanese foods and incredible Kyoto specialties. Almost everything sold here is locally produced!

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

The market is very busy but pleasant, and the crowd is more locals than tourists. There’s no better way to explore the many culinary delights of Kyoto. You can sample many different foods, and buy small portions. Spend a few hours strolling through the street. There is so much to take in in this vibrant space. It’s definitely one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto.

The market started centuries ago, as a fish wholesale district in the early 14th century. Many stores have been run by the same families for generations! Today the charming Nishiki Market remains an important space for locals and tourists alike. You won’t find fresher food than this!

Insider Tip: This is a great place to try out your haggling. We have a guide for that – the ultimate haggling guide!

 

Check Best Price

Guest House Ga-Jyun
Situated in Kyoto’s historic core, this guest house is just a short walk from many major attractions. Private rooms in various sizes are available as well as single-gender and mixed dorms.
    • $$
    • Free WiFi
    • Coin – operated washing machines
    • Bike rentals

 

Day 2 Itinerary in Kyoto

Yasaka Pagoda | Kiyomizudera Temple | Manga Museum | Ginkakuji Temple | Maruyama Park | Kyoto Station Building

Explore nature, modern Japanese architecture and art, and of course more temples in day 2 of our Kyoto Itinerary! It’s going to be an incredible day.

 

Day 2/Stop 1 – Yasaka Pagoda

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s a classic, gorgeous Pagoda, and one you may be able to enter!
  • Cost – $4
  • Food recommendation – Have a continental breakfast with incredible views at The Sodoh

Also known as Hakanji Temple or Yasaka-no-Tou, this pagoda is perfect. With an iconic design and great location, it feels like you’re in an old Japanese movie as you look at it.

Yasaka Pagoda, the last remnant of Hokanji Temple, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the district. Occasionally the interior is open to visitors, which is a rare opportunity. Almost all pagoda can only ever be viewed from the outside. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find out when public viewings are available unless you go and ask in person.

Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto

Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto | source: Travelerpix (shutterstock)

Still, it’s worth the visit just to see the outside! A 46-meter tall pagoda with graceful, sloping roofs on every tier, it lies in the middle of an old Kyoto neighborhood in Higashiyama which is wonderful to walk through. Admire the scene, old ladies sitting and gossiping together, light wooden buildings and cherry trees.

If you do get to see the interior, you’ll have the opportunity to Visitors are allowed inside to marvel at the tower’s architecture, statues and fading paintings. Originally built by the Imperial Prince Shotoku in 589, the pagoda is said to have been inspired by a dream.

 

Day 2/Stop 2 – Kiyomizudera Temple

  • Why it’s awesome – This temple at the base of a waterfall is truly unique and spiritual
  • Cost – $6 entrance
  • Food recommendation – Try something at Okabeya, a tofu restaurant

Kiyomizudera, or the ‘Pure Water Temple’, is one of the most beautiful and celebrated temples of Japan. Founded in 780 AD on the site of the Otowa Waterfall, it derives its name from that waterfall’s waters.

The temple is nestled in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, but you will be able to catch a bus to the area and stroll along a path through the forest to get there. It’s a great opportunity to leave the city for a few hours and admire the surrounding area.

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple has a wooden stage that extends from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. Here visitors have a fantastic view over the cherry and maple trees surrounding the temple. These are a sea of color in Spring! You’ll also see Kyoto in the distance.

The Otowa Waterfall, at the base of the main hall, has its waters divided into three separate streams. Visitors drink from them using cups attached to long poles. The waters are said to provide longevity, success, and love. But drinking from all three is considered greedy!

The main hall and stage were built without the use of nails! In the hall, you’ll find a golden statue of the eleven-faced, thousand armed Kannon. This is a deity of compassion and mercy, and the temple’s primary object of worship.

 

Day 2/Stop 3 – Kyoto International Manga Museum

  • Why it’s awesome – It’s a huge part of contemporary Japanese culture
  • Cost – $7 entrance
  • Food recommendation – Try amazing noodles at the nearby Honke Owariya

For something a little different and a little more modern, visit the Manga museum! Just as much a part of many Japanese people’s lives as the temples you’re visiting, Manga is very important in Japanese culture.

Manga are comics or graphic novels rendered in a very specific style, with its roots in Japanese art. Japanese people of all ages read manga! The comics cover every genre, the most popular of which are adventure and erotica. You’ll enjoy how absolutely different the style is from western comics!

Kyoto International Manga Museum, Kyoto

Kyoto International Manga Museum, Kyoto | source: Olivier Bruchez (Flickr)

The museum is extensive, it walls lined with shelves of Manga. Most of the works are by Japanese artists, but there are exhibitions of foreign work as well. It also features frequent temporary exhibitions in different themes.

The museum was once a school, and some relics from its very different past are on display! It’s a fun and unusual place to spend an hour or two and one of the best, offbeat things to do in Kyoto.

 

Day 2/Stop 4 – Ginkakuji Temple

  • Why it’s awesome – The sister temple of the Golden Pavilion, the temple is gorgeous
  • Cost – $5 entrance
  • Food recommendation – Have some lunch at the nearby Fu-ka Ginkakuji

Ginkakuji Temple, or the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, is elegant and lovely. Set at the base of the mountains, its grounds are gorgeous. A perfect example of curated Japanese landscape architecture.

Walk the trails around the lake, admire the raked sand garden, sit and look up at the blue sky through the trees. The gardens are a perfect post-lunch relaxing spot!

Ginkakuji Temple

Ginkakuji Temple, Kyoto

Modeled on its sister temple, the Golden Pavilion, the temple is not quite aptly named. Its walls are wooden brown and were never plated with silver. The Zen temple was once a retirement villa for the grandchild of the Golden Pavilion’s creator – hence its nickname.

Ginkakuji consists of multiple smaller temple buildings, and houses a statue of Kannon! You’ll find the temple beautiful from every angle. It’s also much less crowded than its sister. You can stroll around in relative peace and quiet.

 

Day 2/Stop 5 – Maruyama Park

  • Why it’s awesome – Beautiful and relaxing, this is a great place to take a break
  • Cost – Free
  • Food recommendation – Get tea and treats at Saka Maruyama, a café within the park

This public urban park is incredible in Spring! The cherry trees blossoming turn it into an ethereal landscape, and you feel like you’re on another planet. Any other time of the year though, it’s still a great place to visit in Kyoto!

The park’s centerpiece is a famous weeping cherry tree and gets lit up at night. You’ll be here in the evening, enjoying the park’s beauty in the golden hour! It’s a very popular park, so this is also a great time to go for the reduced crowds.

Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Maruyama Park Kyoto | source: cowardlion (shutterstock)

The park has a lovely duck pond, gurgling streams and plenty of trees. You can even enjoy a drink here, as Japan allows for drinking in public. It’s the perfect place for an evening picnic and some good end-of-day unwinding! Perfect for families and couples.

It’s also a great place to do some local people-watching! Residents of Kyoto love to hang out in the public space, and it can get quite a party vibe as the evening progresses.

Insider Tip: No matter the season, be sure to bring your camera and take advantage of some great photo opportunities!

 

Day 2/Stop 6 – Kyoto Station Building

  • Why it’s awesome – Nighttime shopping and trains – an uncommon and fun stop
  • Cost – Free entrance
  • Food recommendation – There are dozens of restaurants here – find one catering to exactly what you’re craving!

You would think this is an odd choice, being a train station. But the Kyoto Station Building showcases really impressive modern architecture! It’s also one of the best places to shop in Kyoto.

An ultra-modern structure of glass and steel, the station building houses a brilliant amount of shops, restaurants, and recreational facilities. If you’re looking for anything specific while you’re in Japan, this is where you’ll find it.

Kyoto Station Building, Kyoto

Kyoto Station Building, Kyoto

Of course, you can also catch a train! Japanese trains are incredibly fast and efficient. If you’re going to Tokyo or Osaka (or anywhere else in Japan) this is the best way to get around!

The station is enjoyable even just for its dramatic and imposing size. But there are plenty of maps, so don’t worry about getting lost! Whether you want to window-shop, buy something, or bring the kids someplace they recognize better than the temples, this is a great place to visit in Kyoto.

 

Gardens Neighborhood, Cape Town

You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.

GET IT HERE

 

Kyoto Itinerary – Day Three and Beyond

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine | Japanese Izakaya Cooking Class | Monkey Park Iwatayama | Mt. Kurama | Bike Tour

 

There is so much to do in the greater Kyoto prefecture, we hope you’re spending more than 3 days in Kyoto! These are the must-sees that just don’t fit into the busy structure of your first 2 days in Kyoto.

 

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine

  • The thousands of orange Torii gates are iconic
  • It’s a surreal walk up the hill through the seemingly never-ending gates
  • The gates date all the way back to 711 AD

Only 30-minutes from Kyoto by train, the Fushimi Shrine is an absolute must-see in Japan. With thousands of vermilion Torii gates and some really impressive buildings, it’s one of the most iconic holy places in the world.

The Torii gates symbolically mark the transition from the mundane and earthly to the sacred. That’s quite a transition! They stretch up past the shrine buildings, lining numerous paths up the mountain. You can walk all the way up the Inari mountain between the gates, finding smaller shrines as you go. The scene from the top is amazing, with Kyoto is the distance amidst the green mountains.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, Kyoto

The Shinto deity Inari is the god of many things, including rice and business! The shrine is so immense because of the deity’s patronage of business. Each of the torii gates has been donated by a Japanese business or individual. Look on the back of a few of the gates – the donor’s name and date of donation are inscribed on the back of each of them.

You’ll also find stacks of miniature torii at the smaller shrines on the mountains. These are donated by people seeking success without the budget of the larger companies! Bring your camera and your walking shoes. This stop is definitely one of the top Kyoto attractions and a worthwhile climb!

 

Take a Japanese Izakaya Cooking Class

  • Learn how to cook Japanese home dishes from a local
  • Enjoy a totally different experience, with delicious food
  • Bring friends/family or meet people there – it’s a fun social experience

 

Immerse yourself in the famous Kyoto foodie culture and learn how to make home-style Japanese dishes. You seldom get to try home-style dishes unless you’re invited to someone’s house here, so this is a great way to experience something unique to locals!

An izakaya is an informal Japanese space for casual after-work drinking and tapas. Your cooking experience will follow the same comfortable style, and you can drink and socialize while you learn to cook the Kyoto tapas.

Lasting 3-hours, the course covers a surprising amount of food! You’ll learn to make 2 or 3 local dishes, chatting and learning from your chef, before eating them together in a fantastic communal experience.

When you’re full and happy you’ll make another 2-3 dishes, allowing the food to settle while you learn. Then you’ll eat those! This is the perfect activity for foodies, families, couples, and people interested in learning an element of the local culture.

By the end of the class, you’ll leave amazed at what you can now do! Not to mention content and full of great food. Now, every time you wish you were in Kyoto again, you can make something tasty and feel like you’re right back here.

 

Monkey Park Iwatayama

  • There are hundreds of wild monkeys living their happy lives on the hilltop
  • They’re snow monkeys, which are super uncommon to see
  • You can feed them and watch them play, but it’s not a zoo, which is great

If you’re feeling a little overloaded from all the temples and shrines, take a little hike up this nearby hill to visit the Monkey Park! With only a $5 USD entrance fee and a very casual setup, it’s a great place to experience something entirely different.

It’s a 30-minute hike and quite steep, so, unfortunately, those with physical limitations may struggle. It’s also not wheelchair friendly. But you can take it as slow as you need to, and you’re well rewarded at the top!

Monkey Park Iwatayama, Kyoto

Monkey Park Iwatayama, Kyoto

When you reach the top the trees open up and you’ll enjoy panoramic views over Kyoto and the surrounds. There are warnings that stipulate: Don’t stare into the monkeys’ eyes. They are wild animals, and can sometimes become a little aggressive. But there are staff who keep an eye on things, and if you follow the rules, it’s only great fun!

The snow monkeys, also known as “Japanese macaque” are native to Japan, and really beautiful! It’s refreshing to see them outside of a cage, enjoying life in their natural habitat and relaxing in the sun. But you can still feed them! There is an enclosed area where you can buy apple chunks for the monkeys to gobble up while they hang from the bars. It’s a great opportunity to see them close-up.

The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm, and is very conveniently located! A visit will take 1-2 hours before you meander back down the path.

 

Mt. Kurama

  • This mountain is considered the birthplace of the Reiki practice
  • Less than an hour from the city center, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see rural Japan
  • Indulge in the indoor and outdoor baths at the town of Kurama

If you have half a day to spare, one of the greatest Kyoto points of interest is in its greater prefecture! Said to be the home the King of the Tengu – legendary creatures in Japanese folk religion – this mountain is mysterious and immense.

On the mountain, you’ll find Kurama, a rural town best known for its hot spring and beautiful Kurama-  temple. The hot spring is one of the most easily accessible from Kyoto! You can enjoy traditional outdoor and indoor baths at Kurama Onsen, at the upper end of the town.

Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama, Kyoto

The train stops just 10-minutes walk from the town. Stroll along the nature trail that follows the river. If you’re so taken with the little town that you want to stay longer, you can! And staying guests can use the baths for free.

If you want to visit the Buddhist temple of Kurama-Dera, you’ll find it located along the steep green mountainside above the town. It takes about 45-minutes to hike up to the temple from the town below. You can also catch a cable car halfway up the mountain, for only ~$2 USD!

The impressive temple’s main buildings stand on a terrace on the mountain slope and overlook the wooded valley. The red postboxes lining the walk, and the buildings’ traditional Japanese architecture with red wooden frames, make for stunning photography and a unique, aesthetic scene. You’ll definitely want to tick this off your itinerary for Kyoto!

 

Small Group Bike Tour

  • Learn about Kyoto’s complex and exciting history on a guided tour
  • Cycle along the ancient canals and see things difficult to find on your own
  • Get a little exercise and fun in while you see the sights

The last stop on our 3-day itinerary Kyoto is not quite a stop! But it is a really fun activity. This guided small group cycling tour is the perfect way to explore Japan’s cultural capital. It’s 6-hours long and takes you to places only the locals know about.

You’ll learn about Kyoto’s 1200-year history as you cycle along, stopping at the most interesting Kyoto points of interest and cycling along the river. Weave your way along the charming ancient canals before stopping at the Nanzenji Temple! This is one of Japan’s most important Zen temples and looks breathtaking with its backdrop of green mountains.

Next, you’ll cycle down the Path of Philosophy and ponder (you don’t really have to ponder, it just suits the name). It’s shaded by hundreds of cherry trees and explodes with color in Spring and Fall. the path was named by one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, Nishida Kitaro, on his daily commute to the nearby university.

On the half-day tour, you’ll see boathouses and back alleys. Shrines and canals. Shopping streets and locals going about their business. Pilgrims and grandmothers. It’s a lovely tour, and a perfect opportunity to observe the life and culture of contemporary Kyoto!

Don’t forget to pack a good book!

Lonely Planet Kyoto (Travel Guide): This is our top recommendation for an awesome and inspiring read on this magical city.

 

Staying Safe in Kyoto

Japan is a very safe country to visit! While Kyoto is a large city and very busy, it is, in fact, the safest city in Japan. You can walk around at night in safety. You can also use public transport alone. This means Kyoto is a really great city for solo travelers – so often we have to make sure we’re inside or in a group by dark. Here you can keep exploring into the night!

Like in every busy city, the flow of people attracts pickpockets. However, the risk is comparatively low. If you keep your bags closed and close to you, you’ll leave the city with everything you arrived with!

While not a safety measure per-se, there are a few things you should do to avoid being rude in Kyoto and greater Japan. Take off your shoes when you enter a home. Don’t eat or talk on the phone while you walk – Japanese folk find it quite offensive, and you’ll definitely get some funny looks. Don’t touch in public, it makes them uncomfortable.

Finally, don’t litter and don’t do drugs! That last one really is a safety issue, as there’s a zero-tolerance policy here and you could face some solid jail time. And no littering is important to practice everywhere, and a valuable part of sustainable travel.

Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.

 

Day Trips from Kyoto

Kyoto is surrounded by some really lovely spaces! If you’re spending more than a weekend in Kyoto, be sure to get out and explore the surrounding areas in one of these fantastic guided tours. That way, you’re sure to get the full experience of everything Kyoto has to offer.

 

Kyoto: Cultural and Spiritual Tour with Zen Meditation

Cultural and Spiritual Tour

While not a full day trip, this is a wonderful way to experience the local culture and expand your spirituality! You’ll have magnificent panoramic views of the Kyoto and Sagano valleys from your position in an ancient mountain-top temple.

Instructed in the art of Zen meditation by a Buddhist monk who lives in the temple, you’ll have the opportunity to meditate and relax. Then, participate in a green tea ceremony with the monk.

This is an incredible opportunity few have! While few of us practice Buddhism, it’s still a great way to rejuvenate and experience long-standing tradition first-hand. Afterward, you can wander through an ancient, towering bamboo grove and stroll along the mountain paths.

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Hiroshima & Miyajima UNESCO Tour with Bullet Train

Hiroshima & Miyajima UNESCO Tour

Catch the incredibly speedy bullet train all the way to Hiroshima. Seeing the Japanese Peace Memorial City should be on everyone’s list when visiting Japan!

This tour covers everything important, visiting the Peace Memorial Park, which commemorates the peaceful growth of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb attack, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and Miyajima Itsukushima Shrine.

The English-speaking tour guide is fluent and knowledgeable, escorting you on the tour and pointing out all the stops. The tour includes return tickets from Kyoto on the bullet train – an experience in itself!

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Arashiyama: Bamboo Grove and Temple Tour

Bamboo Grove and Temple Tour

The Bamboo Grove is one of the Kyoto must-see experiences, despite being outside of the city! Explore the famous grove and admire the tranquility of the unique forest.

Bamboo trees stretch up to the sky, and the sound they make rubbing together is a recognised soundscape in Japan! It’s incredible.

On this tour, you’ll also have the opportunity to stroll through the beautiful Arashiyama district, and visit the famous temples of Tenryu-ji and Jojakko-ji! You’ll even hang out with the monkeys who live in the foothills of the mountain.

Finally, you’ll enjoy an authentic meal at a restaurant popular among locals. Fantastic and fun, it’s definitely one of the best day trips from Kyoto!

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Osaka: Book a Local Friend

Book a Local Friend

If you want to visit Osaka but don’t know what sights to see, book a local! While a little unconventional, it’s a really great way to see the city the way you want to – whether you want to see things only locals do or the main attractions from a local angle.

The day is fully customized to your interests! The ‘local friends’ are fun and friendly, and usually have a lot to say about their home city. So you get a unique insider’s perspective!

Eat and drink like a local, trying the best street food at a market or relaxing at an authentic local eatery. This is really an experience for those who are looking for something off-the-beaten-track. Or even just a solo traveler looking for someone to join on the adventure!

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Northern Kyoto and Amanohashidate

Northern Kyoto and Amanohashidate

For those who have long dreamed of Japan’s idyllic landscape and sweeping vistas! Look down on Amanohashidate, a pine-covered sandbar, from the mountaintop. It’s one of Japan’s three most beautiful scenes!

You’ll get here by monorail, and spend some time admiring the views. Then take to the water and enjoy unspoiled views of Funaya, a small fishing village, from a sightseeing boat. Bring snacks and water! A light meal on the coast is the perfect way to top it off.

See more of Japan’s rural landscape, passing one or two villages and shrines. It’s wheelchair accessible, and perfect for all ages and groups!

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Universal Travel AdapterOne of the best investments you can make is a worldwide travel adapter that will work anywhere! The one featured here is tough, reliable and a solid buy – Don’t leave home without one.

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Conclusion

Isn’t it wonderful, what you can see and do on a short trip to Kyoto? The ancient city has so much to offer, both in Kyoto’s city center and beyond it. And the locals are welcoming and kind!

Whether you’re coming on a spiritual pilgrimage, a foodie foray, or a historical and cultural adventure, Kyoto is one of the best places in the world to do it! You will never walk away from this city disappointed. Not with this Kyoto itinerary! There are just too many incredible experiences to be had.

So if you’re planning a short vacation in Kyoto, print out this itinerary, have a look at our tips on what to pack for Southeast Asia, and get packing!

 

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through the site, The Broke Backpacker will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me keep the site going.


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Our EPIC Kyoto itinerary will show you all of the best things to do while you are in Kyoto no matter your travel style!

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