Kyoto is a stunning, charming city, quite unlike Tokyo. It is possibly one of our favourite cities to see on our trip to Japan. This 2 day Kyoto itinerary will help you plan your trip there, no matter which time of the year you’re visiting!

2 Day Kyoto itinerary

How to get there from Tokyo using the JR Pass

About the JR Pass

One of the things I strongly recommend while you’re planning to travel throughout Japan is to invest in a Japan Rail Pass. The main reason is that this pass enables you to be more economical during your trip and you can use it for a minimum of 7 days up to 21 days across all Japan Rail (JR) lines. Taking a shinkansen (or bullet train) one way often amounts to the price of a 7-day JR pass, which means, you’re already saving money. That being said, transportation in Japan is still not cheap. Here are the current price points:

7 Days – US$ 261

14 days – US$ 414

21 days – US$ 529

How to get your JR Pass

You purchase your JR pass before you enter Japan. You will get a voucher delivered within 1-2 business days to your given address. On arriving in Japan, you can activate it for the dates you like and get the pass at any major station or even the airport. You also have the option of getting it delivered to your hotel in Japan, but the JR Pass has to be purchased outside Japan. In recent times, you are now able to buy it as well, but at a premium.

JR train from Tokyo to Kyoto

A trip from Tokyo to Kyoto will take an approximate 2 hours 40 minutes. Take the Hikari/Kodama train from either Shinagawa or Tokyo station to Kyoto station. You can grab a delicious bento box meal or sandwich in the train or get something to munch on to eat on the train as well. The Hikari train is the fastest train to get to Kyoto. If you have a lot of luggage, then I suggest you use the ‘hands free travel’ service so you can have the luggage delivered directly to your hotel (it takes a day to arrive, so carry a small overnight bag instead). You can avail this service at the station or your hotel. It helps a lot if you just want to reach Kyoto and go sightseeing straightaway.

Day 1

Fushimi Inari

Kyoto 2 day itinerary | Fushimi Inari
The first thing you should do when you get to Kyoto is visit Fushimi Inari

On the first day of your 2 day Kyoto itinerary, head to Fushimi Inari, a stunning shrine with multiple Torii gates. It’s quite the uphill walk and could take up to 3-4 hours, so do conserve your energy for this. You will find several resting areas in between. This place is accessible via metro (Keihan line), for which you will need to purchase separate tickets. Your JR rail pass is no good for travelling within Kyoto. Fushimi Inari is a very important Shinto shrine in Japan. Its a shrine dedicated to goddess Inari. You will also notice several foxes which act as guardians to the shrine. Enjoy the walk, choose to stop for some delicious matcha or milk flavoured ice cream or even some matcha tea. Kyoto is big on matcha, so you’re bound to see lots of it here. Perhaps you can even purchase some on your way back. Fushimi Inari is best seen earlier in the day, it tends to get more crowded the later it gets.

Gion cultural show

After you’re done with your hike, head to Gion, a famous area to spot geishas. Head over to Gion Corner, the cultural centre. This activity is best for first-time visitors to Kyoto & Japan as it gives you an insight into Japanese cultural arts in little snippets. The 50-minute show covers everything from Bunraku (puppet theatre), comedy shows, matcha ceremonies and even a traditional Maiko dance. There are two timings for the show – 6pm & 7pm, and ticket counters open half an hour before the show.

Have dinner by the river

Head for a short walk by the river Kamo and appreciate the lovely scenery around you and Kyoto’s charming homes. You will see many traditional style restaurants too. We decided on Aisani, a contemporary bar with several vegetarian options a short walk away.

Day 2

Breakfast at Nishiki market

2 day Kyoto itinerary |TAKOYAKI
Make sure you try the takoyaki!

I know I said food in Tokyo was pretty spectacular, but Nishiki market truly has some of the best street food I’ve ever had in my life. It starts at around 9am and should be the no.1 thing you should do on the 2nd day of your 2 day Kyoto itinerary. Go right at breakfast or lunch and try the delicious food on offer, from fresh sushi, unique Japanese snacks, soy milk donuts (F.C. loved these!), takoyaki (a Kyoto must-have), tempura, and matcha everything. You can also pick up souvenirs from here, from Japanese matcha sets to chopsticks. Just walking in this market is an experience of its own.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest & Kinkaku-ji Temple

Next on your list should be Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. This area is absolutely stunning and full of lovely little shrines. It will take some time to walk around, so enjoy taking some lovely pictures and enjoy the little walk. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, then the one shrine I highly recommend visiting is the Kinkaku ji temple.

Kinkaku ji temple
Stunning Kinkaku ji temple

There is a separate entrance charge, but spend time walking around the gardens. This temple is actually home to Shigetsu, a Michelin starred restaurant that serves pure vegetarian Zen Buddhist food. Just make sure you weren’t as late as us and get there before 2pm.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine in Gion

Once you’re done viewing Arashiyama, head to Yasaka Shrine in Gion and walk the streets to Yasaka Shrine, another impressive shrine. In the temple courtyard, they have some local snacks such as okonomiyaki (Japanese omelette) served, which are nothing short of delicious. Nearby, there is an amazing restaurant right next to the Yasaka shrine in the basement where the food is very reasonable. They also have A5 quality wagyu beef.

Post- dinner walk to Kawaramachi

After your dinner, enjoy walking back to your hotel all the way to Kawarmachi, where you can still do any last minute shopping. Enjoy the sights and sounds!

Optional day trip to Nara

We had a third day to spare in Kyoto, so we took a short half day trip to Nara using the JR Rail pass. Nara is a beautiful little town, one of the oldest in Japan, and they’ve managed to keep the sanctity of the place, with lovely deer around. You can read my post on Nara here.

Where to stay

The stunning lobby

I highly recommend staying at Hotel Resol in Kawaramanchi Sanjo as it is in amazing proximity to the main areas (including Nishiki market) and a short walk to the metro stations. It’s also a stunning, contemporary hotel with traditional architecture.

Where to go next

The next natural step is to head to Osaka, a short 1 hour distance from Kyoto by train.

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