How to Spend 48 Hours in Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Temple| © 
Kinkaku-ji Temple| © 吉爾 Flickr
Photo of John Asano
27 October 2017

Kyoto is a historic city in the cultural heart of Japan, where Japanese traditions and culture still live on in everyday life. Old Japan can be found in the historic temples and shrines, well-preserved wooden buildings and tea houses as well as the traditional Japanese gardens and ryokans. You could spend months exploring Kyoto and only just scratch the surface. If you have only two days to spend, here is a great itinerary that will allow you to see some of the main attractions.

Day 1

9am: Tenryu-ji Temple

Head to Arashiyama, a popular tourist destination on the western outskirts of Kyoto for the UNESCO World Heritage Tenryu-ji Temple. One of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, it features an attractive Japanese stroll garden set against the backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery.

10am: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Located just outside the north gate of Tenryu-ji Temple, this magical out-of-this world bamboo grove is one of the must see attractions of Kyoto. Take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful bamboo that sways gently in the wind.

11am: Togetsukyo Bridge and Arashiyama

Head back to the river to check out the historic Togetsukyo Bridge, which offers fantastic views of the scenery around Arashiyama. Take the time to enjoy a rickshaw ride around the town and enjoy some of the local shops and souvenirs.

1pm: Lunch at Saga Tofu Ine

Enjoy lunch at Saga Tofu Ine, a restaurant that specialises in the flavours of the Saga-Arashiyama area. Here you can enjoy seasonal vegetables and tasty local tofu cuisine such as yuba (tofu skin) and yudofu (hot tofu).

3pm: Ryoan-ji Temple

Relax your mind and soul by visiting Ryoan-ji Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its iconic Zen rock garden, which is one of the symbols of Kyoto. Meditate and contemplate the world while you stare at the garden featuring 15 mystical rocks floating adrift in a sea of white sand.

4pm: Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion is one of the best known sites in Japan and one of Kyoto’s must see attractions. The Zen temple’s top two floors are completely covered in brilliant gold leaf creating a magnificent view against a bright blue sky and lush green garden.

6pm: Gion

Arrive in Gion to check into your ryokan (traditional Japanese-style Inn) for an exquisite multi-course kaiseki meal followed by a relaxing soak in an onsen (hot spring bath). If you still have energy left over enjoy an evening stroll along Hanami-koji Street which is a historic geisha district lined with traditional wooden houses and well preserved buildings.

Pontocho Alley in Gion | © ajari Flickr

Day 2

8:30am: Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Walk up the narrow streets and pedestrian lanes from Yasaka Shrine in Gion to the UNESCO World Heritage, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most celebrated temples in all of Japan. The main hall is built on a mountain slope with a wooden balcony perched out over the cliff offering spectacular views of Kyoto.

10:30am: Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka

After checking out the temple take a slow stroll back downhill to Gion along Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, two historic shopping lanes that have been catering to pilgrims for centuries. This part of Kyoto is famous for its well preserved architecture and views of the Yasaka Pagoda.

12pm: Lunch at Nishiki Market

Enjoy lunch at the 400 year old Nishiki Market in Gion, which is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” by the locals. The vibrant and atmospheric market is the best traditional food market in the city and is lined with stalls offering tasty goodies such as yakitori, tempura and sashimi.

2pm: Nijo Castle

Explore a real samurai castle that was once the official Kyoto residence of the Shogun during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Nijo Castle features the Ninomaru Palace with ornate sliding doors, elegantly decorated ceilings, tatami mat rooms and ninja proof chirping nightingale floors, as well as impressive traditional Japanese landscape gardens.

4:30pm Heian Jingu Shrine

Enjoy one of the most visually stunning shrines in all of Japan with colourful buildings and beautiful Japanese gardens. Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 to celebrate and commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto as the capital of Japan.

6pm: Gion

Return to Gion to check into your machiya (traditional Japanese style townhouse). Enjoy a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) meal at Gion Karyo, which is set in an atmospheric old Kyoto house.

8pm: Evening Stroll in Pontocho

Enjoy an evening stroll in the atmospheric Pontocho Alley, famous for its geisha and traditional Japanese tea houses. Keep an eye out as you might be lucky enough to spot a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) elegantly rushing down the street on their way to an evening appointment.

Crowds walk through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka | © pLeng Cheng Flickr

Day 3

9am: Kyoto Station

Leave the ancient capital of Kyoto to head to your next travel destination. Take the chance to explore the ultra modern Kyoto Station with its amazing array of shops and restaurants. We are sure that Kyoto has left an indelible mark on you, so you will soon be back to explore it further.

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