Two Days in Kyoto, Japan – Ultimate Travel Guide (EPIC Itinerary)

This Two days in Kyoto, Japan Guide covers everything you need to know for your next vacation in Kyoto including what to expect, where to stay, itinerary at a glance & in depth, what to pack, and what to do!

Famous torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine 

Backstory: My boyfriend and I took a trip to Japan in January spending three days in Tokyo, three days skiing in Hakuba Valley, and finishing with two days in Kyoto! We absolutely ADORED Kyoto, and felt like two days was plenty of time to see the city almost in full. Going in depth on everything we did during our time in Kyoto to help you plan an amazing trip too!

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What to Expect in Kyoto, Japan

  • Local Language: Japanese. We did not speak a word of Japanese and for the most part were able to make our way around easily. The translator app was a lifesaver for reading things as you can take a picture and it will translate to any language. Do not panic though as any transit area with have signs in both Japanese/English. We found that in hospitality/high tourist areas, you would get English speakers easily.
  • Currency: Japanese Yen. 1 USD = 158.56 Yen (as of date written). The value of the USD to Yen is almost at an all time high, so this is definitely a great time to take advantage of that in Japan!
  • Cash Withdrawals: You WILL need cash in Kyoto, many places were cash only. I will note further below when we needed cash for an activity (which was often).
  • Safety: Japan is one of the safest countries in the world! We felt so safe walking around, and the people were extremely friendly!
  • Toilets: The fun surprises of Japan, but almost all of the toilets were high tech with music and bidet to make sure you’re squeaky clean after use!
  • Timeliness: The Japanese are incredibly punctual, and trains will leave ON THE DOT to the time said. Make sure to give yourself extra time to find your train, as the system can get a bit confusing at times, and you have to line up exactly at your train cabin before it arrives.
  • Reviews: When looking at reviews, anything over 3 stars in Japan is GOOD! They are much more critical on the stars given, so do not fear when you are seeing lower stars than usual for places.
  • Restaurant Reservations: You can request your hotel to assist in reservations, choose to try walking in to spots, or leverage My Concierge which is what we used for the last night.

Where to Stay in Kyoto, Japan

When choosing a hotel, I would recommend thinking about what is most important to you whether it be price, location to a train station to get around, or amenities/quality of the place. For example, some hotel options may be an incredible space, however further from a train station, or less central to explore all sides of Kyoto easily. We stayed at the THE GENERAL KYOTO Bukkouji Shinmachi, which we had a great experience and checked all of our boxes for location, price, and walkability to some areas.

Luxury Hotels:

  • Park Hyatt Kyoto: Prices range from ~$1.2K-$3.3K per night.
  • Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto: In the heart of Kyoto with gorgeous architecture and gardens. There are even room offerings with views of the Nijo-Jo Castle. Prices range from ~$1K-$2.3K per night.

Mid Range Hotels:

  • THE GENERAL KYOTO Bukkouji Shinmachi: Where we stayed. The amenities were quite simple, but we were hardly in the room. The bed was comfortable, they had bluetooth speakers to connect to, and the location was great being so central to the city. Prices range from $150-$400 per night.
  • Higashiyama Shikikaboku: Gorgeous hotel with a great location. Includes a rooftop terrace and onsen baths. Prices range from ~$400-$700 per night.
  • nol kyoto sanjo: Great if traveling with a friend or group as the beds are all twins and they have larger suite options as well. The location is amazing and the spaces are simple and elegant. They also have the most gorgeous tubs in the bathrooms. Prices range from ~$200-$400 per night.

What to Pack (Winter Edition)

Kyoto was very cold in January so I would recommend packing a lot of layers, hats, gloves, wool coat, and comfy shoes for walking. See below photo links for a roundup up some of faves for packing inspo!

General Travel Essentials

Two Days in Kyoto at a Glance:

Day 1 in Kyoto

  • Morning:
    • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
    • Arashiyama Park Observation Deck
    • Tenryu-ji Temple
    • Brunch: Bread, Espresso & Arashiyama Garden
    • Explore Arashiyama
    • Iwatayama Monkey Park
  • Afternoon:
    • Katsura Imperial Villa
    • Rest
  • Evening:
    • Shop till you Drop – see further below for store recs
    • Dinner: Motoi Gyoza
    • Drinks: Bar Rocking Chair

Day 2 in Kyoto

  • Morning:
    • Fushimi Inari Taisha
    • Higashiyama
    • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
    • Brunch: Kissa Kishin Kyoto
    • Poj Studio
  • Afternoon:
    • Higashiyama/Ghibli Store
    • Philosopher’s Walk
    • Rest
  • Evening:
    • More shopping!
    • Pokemon Center Kyoto
    • Kagome Izakaya
    • Dinner: Godan Miyazawa
    • Drinks: Beatle Momo Music Bar

Some additional places/activities we opted out of but also fun options to explore if of interest to you:

  • Temples/Shrines:
    • Saiho-ji Temple: a bit out of way south of Arashiyama, but famous for moss garden
    • Kennin-ji Temple: another Buddhist temple. We skipped exploring the inside as looked very similar to the Tenryu-Ji Temple explored on Day 1.
    • Ryoanji Temple: Zen Temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We skipped because also further out north, but could be fun to visit if more time in Kyoto or want to do less shopping!
    • Kinkaku-ji: famous gold temple also further north (which is why we skipped) near the Ryoanji Temple.
    • Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple: more unique Buddhist temple known for the 1200 moss-covered rakan statues that cover the hillside around the grounds. Located about 1.5 miles northwest of Arashiyama.
    • Ginkaku-ji Temple: Buddhist Temple you can see when on the Philosopher’s Walk if of interest. We were honestly temple’d out at this point so opted to skip exploring.
    • Yasaka Shrine: Located in Higashiyama. We skipped since looked very similar to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.
  • Shugakuin Imperial Villa: Must book in advance. We opted out since signed up for the Katsura Imperial Villa tour (which I highly recommend)!
  • Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design
  • Motorikyu Nijo Castle
  • Okochi Sanso Garden
  • Maruyama Park
  • GEAR Non-Verbal Theater
  • Traditional Tea Ceremony

Detailed Kyoto Itinerary

Day 1 in Kyoto

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

8-9AM: Start your morning walking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. You can take an Uber directly there (what we decided to do) or take the train to Arashiyama and walk from there (longer journey but more cost effective).

Cost to Enter: Free

Photo below was taken at 9am in late January, and as you can see there was nobody else in the shot! (No photo editing either). We weren’t the only people there, however it felt very calm at the time of our arrival, and we could already feel the tourists picking up by the time we left. Getting there early ensures you get a more calm experience winding through the forest. In peak tourist months, you’ll likely need to arrive even earlier to beat the rush if you want to avoid large crowds walking through the trees as well.

This was definitely worth visiting in my opinion, the bamboo trees were stunning to walk through, and the early arrival felt very peaceful as we were walking through.

Time needed: ~30 minutes-one hour max to walk through

Prefer a Tour? Some options below!

Arashiyama Park Observation Deck

8:30-9AM: If looking for more scenic views, you can walk just a short ~15-20min uphill walk to the observation deck. There are a lot of stairs to reach this so wear comfy shoes and mentally prepare for an uphill climb! If pressed for time, I would say you can skip this, but we enjoyed walking around the park and admiring the views! We walked back through the bamboo forest after to get to the Tenryu-Ji Temple.

Cost: Free

Tenryu-ji Temple

9-10 AM: You can walk back through the bamboo forest to make your way to explore the Tenryu-ji Buddhist Temple. Established in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji and a present day world heritage site, this temple is an absolute must see! Once an enormous complex, the temple has suffered from fires over the centuries, however the original garden structure has remained almost fully intact.

Cost to enter: 500 Yen (bring cash) + an additional 300 Yen if you want to enter the building. We opted out of entering the building since you can see inside many parts of it as you walk through, and the garden was the main attraction to explore.

Despite it being winter, the garden was still beautiful and serene to explore, and I can imagine even more beautiful in peak seasons!

Bread, Espresso & Arashiyama Garden

10-11 AM: Walk over to the coziest cafe & bakery: Bread, Espresso & Arashiyama Garden. They open daily at 8am, and are a more traditional seating style where you must take your shoes off before sitting on the floor seats. They also offered blankets if chilly during colder months.

Cost: Refer to their menu for pricing. Try the afternoon tea set (3500 YEN), pictured below, which came out in the most adorable display and tasted SO good!! They have a bakery, so it was fun to try all of the breads that came in the set.

Make sure to stop by the bakery + shop! We snagged a cubed bread loaf (pictured below) to snack on for later.

Explore Arashiyama

11-11:30 AM: Stroll through the main street of Arashiyama to shop for souvenirs or grab a matcha. We stopped at Kumonocha Cafe for a matcha latte & matcha pastry which I was sadly disappointed with the taste of both. However it was quite an adorable space & pastry (pictured below)! Definitely fun to try if you are curious, just wasn’t my favorite matcha treat I had in Japan (and I am a HUGE matcha lover). Rilakkuma Sabo could be a great alternative to check out during your two days in Kyoto for Rilakkuma (bear character) souvenirs + themed Rilakkuma dishes. We did not make it in here, but they have great reviews!

Make sure to also stop at the Miffy Sakura Kitchen Shop which was fully Miffy (fictional rabbit character) themed. We snagged some chopstick souvenirs as gifts for friends, and they also have an adorable Miffy themed bakery. Reviews mention pastries sometimes running out, so if you are worried about this, I would recommend getting there as early as possible (they open 10am daily).

Iwatayama Monkey Park

11:30-12:30 PM: Walk across the bridge towards the Arashiyama Monkey Park. This was easily a highlight of the trip for us – def a must see! This park has over 120 Japanese macaque wild monkeys roaming around freely. Note it is quite the hike to get to the top (prepare for lots of stairs pictured below and uphill climbs) but SO worth it! The hike took us ~15 minutes to get all the way to the top from the bottom entrance.

Cost to Enter: 600 Yen for adults and 300 Yen for children. You can also purchase snacks to feed the monkeys! Note, you MUST BRING CASH – they do not accept cards.

There was an enclosed space where you can purchase snacks to feed the monkeys through the screen shown above. We purchased a bag of peanuts to feed them, and they were eager to snack from us! The monkeys were friendly, and it was really cool to see them roaming freely at the top outside of the enclosed space. Plus, the views of Kyoto were worth the trek to the top!

Katsura Imperial Villa

1-2 PM: Grab an Uber for a tour of Katsura Imperial Villa. You can also take the train (10 min ride) as an alternative option, you will just have to walk a bit more (~30 minutes total) to and from the stops. You can refer to their website here for more information on reserving a spot. Note, you MUST book a tour to view the Villa, but it is 1000% worth it!!! We absolutely LOVED the tour and the history was insane to learn about all of the thought & details that went into the garden + architecture.

Cost to Enter: 1,000 Yen per person for 18+ and free for everyone else (as of date written).

For context, I submitted our application on December 22nd to tour on January 26th at 1pm and we were accepted the next day December 23rd. If you are unable to secure a slot in advance, they also hold spots for walk ins (recommended to arrive before 11am). However, this is a less preferred method if trying to maximize your two days in Kyoto as you will not have a guaranteed time and have to then show up again for the later time slot.

According to their site, the following time slots are English guided tours for foreign visitors only.
9:20 / 11:20 / 13:20 / 15:20 / 16:20. You MUST bring your passport or ID to tour along with your permit number for the tour. Our tour guide conducted it in Japanese, and we had headsets to easily follow along at each stop in English.

Rest

2-3:30 PM: We took an Uber back to the hotel afterwards to drop some shopping bags and rest up for the late afternoon/night.

Shop till you Drop!

3:30-6:30 PM: There are so many amazing shops to check out during your two days in Kyoto! There are ENDLESS stores to explore but some of our favorite stops that stood out to us include:

  • Nishiki Market: tons of food & souvenir shops. We didn’t spend too much time in here but fun to walk through.
  • Mlesna Tea House Kyoto: we stumbled upon this and was the cutest shop with the sweetest workers! They spoke almost no english but were helpful in finding the right tea we were looking for
  • 45R Kyoto: Japanese clothing brand with gorgeous interior
  • Kyoto Musubi: such a fun furoshiki store and the shop worker spoke great English and gave a tutorial of how everything works! Hard to find searching on maps so address is: 67 Masuyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8111, Japan
  • Stüssy: American streetwear brand – cool to walk through
  • Graphpaper Kyoto: gorgeous shop with high quality Japanese denim.
  • master-piece: a MUST visit! shop with a gorgeous cafe in the back to sit and admire the garden
  • Beams: Japanese chain with fun clothing and specialty items

We were OBSESSED with the master-piece coffee shop – you walk through the store to the back where they had a cafe to take off your shoes and be seated with a gorg view of a traditional Japanese garden. Both the matcha latte and hot chocolate were made to perfection.

Motoi Gyoza

6:30-8 PM: PLEASE do yourself a favor and try Motoi Gyoza during your two days in Kyoto. These were some of the best gyozas of my life. They do not take reservations but we walked right in with no issues! Order a variety of flavors to try, they were all incredible! Definitely a more chill dinner vibe if that is what you are looking for with amazing food!

Bar Rocking Chair

8-9:30 PM: Finish the night with a cocktail at the coziest bar: Bar Rocking Chair. We were recommended this spot, and they had incredible service, vibe, and cocktails. Such a unique spot as they do not offer a cocktail menu, you just talk to your server about your taste preferences and they whip you something up. We LOVED both of our cocktails (mine pictured below right). You can refer to their full drink/food offerings here with prices.

Cost: 880 Yen Cover Charge. We did not have to wait for a spot to be seated. You can read their detailed policy in the photo below. Cocktails range from 1,430 to 1,870 Yen.

If you are a cigar lover, this place is also for you! My boyfriend took full advantage of their cigar selection while we sat in the cutest rocking chairs by the fire. We walked around for a bit afterwards and headed back to the hotel to rest for another fun day tomorrow!

Alternative Activity Options

Day 2 in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

8-9 AM: Start your second day in Kyoto early again to explore the famous red torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto shrine. This is the time range we explored the gates, however in peak seasons you may want to arrive even earlier to beat the crowds (open 24/7). We took an Uber to the entrance to save time but you could also take the train to Fushimi-inari stop and walk ~7 min from there to the entrance.

There is a HUGE torii gate marking the entrance (pictured bottom left) and then you walk through the second large building (pictured bottom right) to enter the main square.

Cost to Enter: FREE! There is a gift shop if you want to purchase a trinket – we purchased a small red torii gate to hang on our future Christmas tree 😊 (As always – bring cash)! Then you’ll begins the endless walk through almost TEN THOUSAND torii gates of varying sizes.

It’s a long walk through the gates and took us about an hour total to make the full loop. It was such a peaceful, beautiful experience to walk through these and we learned that the red torii gates are donations with markings representing the donor’s name + date donated.

The walk is a loop so at the end you will return right back to where you started!

Prefer a Tour? Some Options Below

Higashiyama

9-9:30 AM: Take an Uber or Train towards the gorgeous Ninenzaka/Sannenzaka historical alleyways. With the early morning start to beat the crowds, most of the shops weren’t open yet. Take advantage of this time to admire the historic streets beauty without the flocks of crowds. The shops open later in the day, and there will be time later in the day to return and walk around!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

9:30-10 AM: Continue walking your way to the stunning and colorful Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Cost to enter: 400 Yen. Note you MUST have cash for entry (learn from our mistakes as we accidentally ran out of cash and had to find another American to Venmo for some Yen 😅)

Kissa Kishin Kyoto:

10-11:30 AM: Walk down to Kissa Kishin for breakfast. The ambiance was amazing inside and the food hit the spot. We absolutely LOVED this spot and you should definitely try during your two days in Kyoto.

Poj Studio:

11:30-11:45 AM: Pop in around the corner to check out another hidden gem we came across: Poj Studio. My boyfriend bought some incense to gift to friends, and I secured a classic tea kettle to serve loose leaf tea. The girl in the shop was so friendly and spoke perfect English giving us a rundown of the store and was there to answer any questions we had.

Higashiyama

11:45-12:30 PM: Walk your way back towards Higashiyama (~15 minute walk) to explore more shops that may have been closed earlier in morning such as the Ghibli Souvenir store (pictured below)! If you aren’t familiar with Ghibli, you should definitely watch a movie or two before your trip to Japan. Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle were some of my favorites!

If hungry, there are plenty of shops along the streets you can pop into for a snack or lunch! I would recommend checking out Maccha House which is only a 3 minute walk from Ghibli. We didn’t get to it but looks amazing with fun matcha ice cream, tiramisu, and lattes! We also passed by so many adorable family run pottery shops + the CUTEST fluffiest pups below.

Make sure to walk to where you can see a view of the famous Hokan-ji Temple (pictured above).

Philosopher’s Walk:

12:30-1:30 PM: Take a 15 minute Uber, or you can walk for ~45 minutes to take a stroll down Philosopher’s Walk. It’s a very peaceful area and the full walk through the path can take up to 30 minutes if you do the full walk. You can also explore the Ginkaku-ji temple which is only a 15 minute walk north if of interest.

We were honestly a bit disappointed with the walk only because most of the trees/flowers were dead this time of year. However, I’m sure absolutely stunning during cherry blossom season or the fall!

Rest

1:30-3:30PM: We were exhausted after a busy morning during our two days in Kyoto, so give yourself time to REST if needed before a fun night out in Kyoto! We took an Uber back to the hotel and took a nice nap before freshening up for the night.

Pokemon Center Kyoto

3:30-4 PM: Walk over to explore the Pokemon Center Kyoto to check out an extensive collection limited edition Pokemon cards. I was a huge Pokemon fan growing up, so it was fun to walk around the store! This is a great stop if there are some kids in your life that you want to snag a fun gift for! Plus how cute is the Pikachu in the kimono below. 🥺

Shop Around

4-6 PM: We were overwhelmed with all the shops from the day before, so we spent some more time walking through the endless shops in Kyoto, and also returned to some favorites listed above. There are also chopstick shops where you can make custom chopsticks which was a blast picking out some for ourselves + friends! We got them engraved with our English name on one side and the Japanese script equivalent on the other.

Kagome Izakaya

6-7 PM: Swing by an Izakaya, a casual Japanese bar that serves drinks and snacks, similar to a pub or tapas bar. We stumbled upon Kagome, and had such a fun time in this spot, we didn’t want to leave! The owners were so sweet and we hungout with a few beers before dinner. The food looked delicious as well, we were just holding out for our dinner res. Make sure to bring cash!!

This spot was perfect with it only being a 5 minute walk to dinner.

Godan Miyazawa

7-9:30 PM: This was our last night in Japan after three days in Tokyo, three days skiing in Hakuba, and two days in Kyoto so we wanted to make it extra special! PLUS we were also celebrating my boyfriend’s 28th birthday so even more reason to end with a bang 🙂 After a lot of research, I made us a reservation at Godan Miyazawa, a 1-Star Michelin Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto.

Kaiseki is a style of traditional Japanese cuisine in which a series of small, intricate dishes are served. We lost track of how many dishes we were served at least 14+ throughout the meal, and we chose to do the sake pairing with it which was incredible! I didn’t even think I liked sake prior to this meal, but I was sold on it afterwards – it was SO good.

You can make a reservation in advance through My Concierge Japan here. We originally made an 8:30p reservation, but they offered to move us up to 7pm. You pay for the dinner in advance, and can add a drink pairing for an additional cost once at the restaurant. Total cost per person was $278 including the sake pairing.

This was easily one of the most unique dinner experiences we’ve ever had. The restaurant was such an intimate experience with only 4 other people eating at the restaurant while we were there. I did feel like not speaking Japanese gave us slightly less of the full experience, since the chefs did not speak much English, and typically from reading reviews they will converse with you more during the meal. It was a very formal, intricate meal and the ambiance was EXTREMELY quiet just appreciating the food and watching them create each dish.

I mentioned to them we were celebrating a birthday when booking, so it was sweet when they brought out a treat with a candle to John at the end!

Beatle Momo Music Bar

10:30-Midnight: All I have to say is you MUST end your two days in Kyoto here! We were debating a few different bars, and ultimately decided to check out this spot. The vibes were immaculate, and the husband & wife were ADORABLE with such a passion for music and the bar.

The owner Momo, is so passionate about his record collection, and can play almost any song you want. Him and his wife were dancing along with everyone and he was so diligent in displaying each record of the song playing, and allowing song requests.

You can check out their Instagram here! Reservations are possible in advance. Note, we just walked in and had no issue getting a spot, but could be less the case in peak seasons.

Some additional bars you could check out that were on our list:

We left the next morning to take the train back to Tokyo, then fly home!

I hope this two days in Kyoto, Japan guide helps you for your next adventure, and I’m always a DM or email away if you have any other questions!

Also Be Sure to Explore These Additional Recaps for Your Next Travel Adventure!

xx,

Katya Ann Signature

hi, I'm Katya -- former D1 tennis player, certified CorePower Yoga Sculpt teacher, & soon to be IIN Certified Health Coach. Welcome to my page where I share all things wellness, real food recipes, and fitness. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to explore all things recipes, travel, yoga sculpt, wellness hacks, & shop all of my faves!

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