Kyoto is a place like no other on the planet. Once the capital of Japan, it’s rich in history with a countless number of temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, traditional wooden houses and Geishas! Do note, Japan is one of the most expensive countries in Asia, so budget accordingly! You can see all the major sights in 4 days, but I’d suggest 5 full days here, just so you don’t have to rush and can maybe catch a day trip to Hiroshima or one of the other nearby cities!

Looking for info on other cities in Japan? Check out my Blog Posts on Osaka, Tokyo, Niseko and Sapporo.

When To Go To Japan:

Kyoto is best visited in the fall (October, November) and spring (March, April, May). We visited in February and it was cooooolllldddd, but there were very few tourist so we had many places all to ourselves. We did manage to see a few Cherry Blossom trees beginning to bloom, which was awesome!

How To Get Around Japan:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
The trains in Japan are incredible!

 Japan Rail (JR) Pass: This is a MUST purchase if you’re planning to travel all over Japan. It MUST be purchased prior to arriving in Japan and expires in 7, 14 or 21 (your choice) days from the date of activation upon arrival in the country. The JR Pass can be activated at any JR office, located at all major train stations throughout the large cities. There are different regions of passes, but I suggest to get the N-Pass (Nationwide), which worked well for the 14 days and multiple cities we explored. The cost ranges from $200USD-$500. Be SURE to reserve your seats on long journeys on the bullet trains (Kyoto to Tokyo, Tokyo to Sapporo) ahead of time at the JR stations at no additional cost. There is no need to do this for short distances.

Local Modes Of Transport

Subway: DO NOT be misled, just because you have a JR pass, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to purchase local subway transport in cities. There are special JR lines that go around the cities, but if sometimes you’ll need to purchase a subway card or individual ticket to get around. When you book your accommodation, I’d suggest ensuring it’s walkable to a JR line for more convenience. Each subway ride costs about $1.85USD/one way (ouch).

Walking: Bring GOOD walking shoes, as you’ll be walking more here than you ever had in your life! Our average distance per day was 8 miles, with some days reaching 12 miles. If you’re going in the cold months, be SURE to wear warm shoes. I wore Converses in February and my feet were numb after 1 hour of being outside.

Taxis: Taxis in Japan are SUPER expensive. Each taxi driver wears a suit and tie, if that tells you anything! They all use meters, so it’s very safe and legit, but costly: for a 3.5 mile ride, we paid $20USD. Needless to say, we only took a taxi one time.

Bicycle: Kyoto is a bike-friendly city and you can rent bicycles all over the city.

Where To Stay In Kyoto:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun- For $34 off your first Airbnb Booking, check out my link!
Photo Credit: www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/5991224

Airbnb is the cheapest option in Japan, although the rooms are small. I HIGHLY recommend our Airbnb in Kyoto, as it was centrally located between all attractions and it included a kitchenette for cooking meals some days, which saved a lot of money. $52USD/night

!For $36 off your first Airbnb booking, click HERE!

What To Do In Kyoto:

I was TOTALLY overwhelmed with Kyoto an all the things to do, places to eat and things to see! I’ve outlined a great itinerary below that’ll make it easy for you to see all the top sights in

Kyoto Central (Day 1)

Nijo Castle:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

A UNESCO World Heritage Sight, Nijo Castle was built in 1603 for the first shogun Tokugawa Leyasu ruler, but, sadly, he died before the structure was fully completed. This is a must see, although was one of our least favorite. Cost of entry is $600 Yen ($5.40USD). It is located just a short walk from Nijojo-mae Station (Tozai Subway Line).

Nishiki Market:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Nishiki Market is a really cool, outdoor, covered, five-block long shopping street with over one hundred shops and restaurants. Here you can purchase street food, sake, fresh seafood, souvenirs, sushi and much much more! It’s located just a few steps from Shijo Station (Karasuma Subway Line).

Where To Eat Nearby:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

If you only go to one restaurant that I recommend, you MUST eat at Ramen Sen No Kaze! This is one of the BEST ramen’s we’ve ever eaten (besides in Niseko). It’s a small restaurant that is family owned and run and it is VERY popular, so go early/between meal times, otherwise you’ll have to wait for 45+ minutes.

Sento Palace:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: japan-guide.com

Sento Palace was constructed in 1630 as a retirement palace for Emperor Gomizuno and later housed subsequent retired emperors. It’s closed to the public, but tours are held 4 times daily. You’ll need to apply for a tour in advance with your passport at the Imperial Imperial Household Agency’s office in Kyoto Imperial Park. The Sento Palace is located just next to the Imperial Palace.

Kyoto Imperial Palace:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: japan-guide.com

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan, which has now been moved to Tokyo. Entry is free. The Imperial Palace is located just a 10-minute walk from Imadegawa Station on the (Karasuma Subway Line).

Pontoncho:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Pontoncho is a super fun street filled with shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a great spot to bar hop! It’s a 5-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Line) or a 15-minute walk from Shijo Station (Keihan Line).

Where To Eat & Drink Nearby: 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/

OC Osteria Colon is such a hidden gem in Pontocho. It’s quaint and small, with perfect lighting and ambiance. The chef/owner, who also dubs as the waiter and bartender is SUPER kind and friendly and was trained in Florence, Italy prior to opening this restaurant, which explains why the food is DELICIOUS! Try the steak and bolognese, it’s mouthwatering!

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://hellodolly.hannnari.com/index.html

After having a delicious meal, head just a few doors down to Hello Dolly,  a dimly lit jazz bar with a great vibe. You’ll love the atmosphere in here, it’s super cozy.

Southern Kyoto (Day 2)

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Fushimi Inari is one of the top sites to see in Kyoto. Fun fact, Inari is the God of rice.  This is a Shinto Shrine that sits at the base of Inari mountain and is filled with thousands of tori (shrine gates), all donated by Japanese businesses. Go early to this one, as it gets super crowded because of it’s narrow passages. It’s located just steps off the JR Inari Station (JR Nara Line).

Where To Eat & Drink Nearby:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Hiwa Mata Noboru Ramen is a good, quick ramen spot (but not our favorite) near Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Vermillion Espresso Bar is a GREAT coffee shop nearby Fushimi Inari. Their staff is especially helpful and the coffee and atmosphere are excellent!

Gion (central):

Fushimi Inari

Gion is the famous entertainment district of Kyot. It’s a cobblestone street filled with geishas and is a must see. I loved watching all the beautiful geishas in their gowns prancing around the street. Many tourists dress up as geishas and can be seen roaming around as well.

Where To Eat Nearby: 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://kyoto.shabuzen.jp

Shabuzen Restaurant is totally unique, with waitress’ dressed in Kimonos, and an all you can eat menu of meat and vegetables served in Shabu Shabu form (hotpot). It’s definitely an experience worth doing!

Eastern Kyoto (Day 3)

Kiyomizudera Temple:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Kiyomizudera is one of our top favorite sites in all of Kyoto and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, constructed in 780. The temples name translates to Pure Water Temple. Be sure to see the Ottowa Waterfall at the base, where visitors can use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. TIP: Go first thing in the morning when they open, it gets crowded in the afternoon! It’s located a beautiful 20-minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station (Keihan Railway Line). Cost of entry is $400 Yen ($3.60USD).

Higashiyama District: 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Upon leaving Kiyomizudera Temple, you’ll wind along the beautifully preserved historic district of Higashiyama, with its narrow cobblestone streets, wooden shops and endless merchants selling authentic Japanese items and souvenirs for purchase. I absolutely adored this street, although it was crowded!

Chion-in Temple:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

One of the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan, Chion-in Temple houses the largest wooden gate (Sanmon Gate) in all of Japan. The gate measures 78 feet tall and 164 feet wide and was constructed back in the early 1600’s. Cost of entry is free (yay!) and it’s located a 10-minute walk from Location: 10 minute walk from Higashiyama Station (Tozai Line).

Nazenji Temple: 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Nanzen-Ji Temple is one of the most important zen temples in all of Japan. I must admit, by the time we got to this temple, I was getting ‘templed-out,’ so we didn’t enter. Cost of entry is $500 Yen ($4.50USD). It’s located a 10-minute walk from Keage Station (Tozai Line).

Where To Eat Nearby:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://www.kyoto-ra.jp/english/restaurant/menu_4.html

Junsei Restaurant is a vegan lovers paradise. Imagine eating traditional tofu while overlooking a giant Japanese garden.

Philosopher’s Path:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

The Philosopher’s Path is a walking path that follows along a canal lined with cherry trees.  It’s absolutely calm, quaint and picture perfect. During the cherry blossom season, it is truly a sight to see and I’m so bummed we missed it by just a few weeks! Entry is free and it Runs between Ginkakuji and Zanzenji neighborhoods. It’s a 10-minute walk north of Nazenji’s main temple. There are signs marked everywhere, making it easy to find.

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavillion)

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Although there is no actual silver on this temple, Ginkaku Ji is a zen temple with absolutely beautiful grounds to stroll around and take photos. Cost of entry is $500 Yen ($4.50USD) and it’s located 30-minutes walking from Philosopher’s Path from Nazenji

Where To Eat Nearby:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: https://livingnomads.com/2016/07/kyoto-itinerary-2-days/udon-noodles-at-omen-kyoto/

Omen Restaurant literally translates to ‘noodles’ and that is exactly what you’ll get here. Their signature dish is a bowl of delicious, thick udon noodles, served with either hot or cold broth.

Northern/Western Kyoto (Day 4)

Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Arguably the most popular tourist attraction in all of Kyoto, the Bamboo Forest is entirely surround with tall bamboo stalks. It is like being in an indescribable dream. Initially, upon entering the forest, I was disappointed because we hadn’t followed along the pathway to get to end, where to true giant bamboo stalks are! Be sure you find that area! Entry is free and it’s located 10-minutes walking from Saga Arashiyama Station (JR Sagano Line) and 15 minutes walking from Arashiyama Station (Henkyu Railway).

Where To Eat Nearby:

http://www.steak-otsuka.com/

After roaming around the bamboo forest, grab lunch or dinner at Otsuka Restaurant,which has arguably the best steak around.

Kinkaju-Ji (Golden Temple):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Kinkaku-Ji Temple is an absolutely beautiful zen temple, built over a large pond, that is entirely covered in gold leaf. This temple is located off the beaten path and we had to take several different trains to get there and then walk super far (I suggest taking the taxi after you get off the train). Cost of entry is $400 Yen ($3.60USD). It’s located 2 miles (3km) walking from Kitaoji Station (Karasuma Subway Line). We walked but you can take a 10-minute taxi ride for approx 1000 Yen ($9USD).

Where To Eat Nearby:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://okonomiyakikatsu.wixsite.com/katsu

For friendly staff and delicious okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) cooked right in front of you, Okonomiyaki Katsu is the best spot! Do note that they close from 2pm-5pm.

Where To Eat In Kyoto:

Ramen Sen No Kaze (Nashiki Market):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

If you only go to one restaurant that I recommend, you MUST eat at Ramen Sen No Kaze! This is one of the BEST ramen’s we’ve ever eaten (besides in Niseko). It’s a small restaurant that is family owned and run and it is VERY popular, so go early/between meal times, otherwise you’ll have to wait for 45+ minutes.

Pontoncho:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Considered to be the most beautiful street in the city, Pontoncho is a GREAT street for eating and spotting geishas. There are countless restaurants on this street, but I’d 100% recommend OC Osteria Colon for dinner and drinks at Hello Dolly.

OC Osteria Colon (Pontoncho): 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/

OC Osteria Colon is such a hidden gem in Pontocho. It’s quaint and small, with perfect lighting and ambiance. The chef/owner, who also dubs as the waiter and bartender is SUPER kind and friendly and was trained in Florence, Italy prior to opening this restaurant, which explains why the food is DELICIOUS! Try the steak and bolognese, it’s mouthwatering!

Hello Dolly (Pontoncho):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://hellodolly.hannnari.com/index.html

Hello Dolly is a dimly lit jazz bar with a great vibe. You’ll love the atmosphere in here, it’s super cozy.

Steak and Wine Nikuya Ginjiro:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

For affordable, delicious Japanese steak, Steak & Wine Nikuya Ginjiro is THE place to go. There’s a steak for every budget here. Did I mention that they have overflowing wine glasses as well? The Kobe beef is on point, as well as the service.

Vermillion Espresso Bar:

Vermillion Espresso Bar is a GREAT coffee shop nearby Fushimi Inari. Their staff is especially helpful and the coffee and atmosphere are excellent!

Ramen Hiwa Mata Noboru (Fushimi Inari):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Hiwa Mata Noboru Ramen is a good, quick ramen spot (but not our favorite) near Fushimi Inari Shrine.

ShabuZen (Gion): 

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://kyoto.shabuzen.jp

Shabuzen Restaurant is totally unique, with waitress’ dressed in Kimonos, and an all you can eat menu of meat and vegetables served in Shabu Shabu form (hotpot). It’s definitely an experience worth doing!

Junsei Restaurant (Nazenji):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://www.kyoto-ra.jp/english/restaurant/menu_4.html

Junsei Restaurant is a vegan lovers paradise. Imagine eating traditional tofu while overlooking a giant Japanese garden.

Omen (Ginkaku-ji Temple- Silver Pavillion):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: https://livingnomads.com/2016/07/kyoto-itinerary-2-days/udon-noodles-at-omen-kyoto/

Omen Restaurant literally translates to ‘noodles’ and that is exactly what you’ll get here. Their signature dish is a bowl of delicious, thick udon noodles, served with either hot or cold broth.

Okonomiyaki Katsu (Kinkaju-Ji-Golden Temple):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
Photo Credit: http://okonomiyakikatsu.wixsite.com/katsu

For friendly staff and delicious okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) cooked right in front of you, Okonomiyaki Katsu is the best spot! Do note that they close from 2pm-5pm.

Otsuka (Bamboo Forest):

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun
http://www.steak-otsuka.com/

Arguably the best steak around, Otsuka Restaurant is a great restaurant to visit after roaming around the Bamboo Forest and working up an appetite.

Gyms:

Kyoto, Japan: 4 Days Full Of Endless Fun

Gold’s Gym is located all over Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. With convenient hours, this is your best bet for getting in a good workout. A one day pass will cost you $3000 Yen ($27USD). Luckily they had a New Years Special and we purchased 2 weeks for $30USD. Note that the rules in these gyms are VERY VERY strict. Large tattoos are NOT allowed and shoes must be removed prior to entering the locker rooms. Be sure to bring your passport.

Things To Note:

Small Bills are a MUST! Be sure to always have notes of $1,000 Yen or less.

Wifi isn’t easy to get around the city, so be sure to reserve an accommodation that provides pocket wifi.

Map out where you’re going to eat prior to arriving at your sites for the day. Sometimes we’d get stuck searching for a while and ending up with only Japanese menus in restaurants, which was a bit challenging, but all part of the fun.

Many of the train stations don’t have lifts (elevators), so if you have heavy luggage, it’s a LONG journey up/down multiple flights of stairs. Pack light!

Many restaurants add a cover charge of 300-500 Yen ($3-5USD) per person while dining in and there’s no way around it.

When making payment anywhere in Japan, never hand your money directly to the cashier, as there are trays provided for handling these items so hands are not touched between cashier and payee.

Great Day Trips from Kyoto are Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima or Nara.

Fun Facts:

In train terminals, you will often hear a bird song, which is used to guide blind passengers towards exits.

There are over 1,000 Buddhist temples in Kyoto.

There are 17 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.

Other Related Posts:

Itinerary: Kyoto Japan in 4 Days

Tokyo, Japan: A First Time Guide

Itinerary: Tokyo Japan in 3 Days

Niseko, Japan: The Best Powder In The World

One Quick Day in Osaka, Japan 

24 Hours in Sapporo, Japan 

Itinerary: Japan in 14 Days

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