This is the third part of my trip to Japan, which led me to Kyoto. Just know that I also wrote travel guides of Hiroshima and Osaka, so if you haven’t read both of those articles yet, go for it and come back here! If you’ve read them already, good job and I love you!
I’ve spent two weeks in August 2019 in Japan, and it was awesome! Because I loved this country so much (also because I am a kind person), I decided to share the itinerary I followed and the activities I’ve done. I left Osaka on an early Friday morning. Then, I took the train for approximately 30 – 45 minutes to Kyoto, as these cities are super close to each other.
This itinerary is intentionally starting on a Friday, so make sure to check if monuments are open or not before your visit, as some monuments can be closed on certain days. Opening and closing hours can also vary from summertime to wintertime.
All the opening hours you will see throughout the article will be during summertime (June through August).
Because I want to save you some time, here are some currency exchanges just for you to have a little guidance on the worth of the Japanese Yen (¥ / JPY):
$10 = ¥1,038
€10 = ¥1,254
£10 = ¥1,411
I hope you guys will enjoy this article! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if something isn’t clear for you as always.
Kyoto in 2 days
I think I booked my train really early in the morning that Friday. When I arrived in Kyoto, I went directly to my accommodation (which was located near Kyoto Station), had breakfast… I then took the taxi to go to…
Ginkaku-ji, also called Jishō-ji, is a Zen temple and one of the most emblematic monuments in Kyoto! It’s a cool place to start your visit, as it really sets the tone on what Kyoto is all about: peace and serenity (things we all lack).
Address: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8402
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 8:30AM until 5PM.
Primary and Middle School Students: ¥300
When you see hordes of tourists invading the temple, it will be time to leave! You can either walk 20 min, or take the bus (5, 32, or 100) to go to…
Eikan-do Zenrin-ji (永観堂禅林寺)
Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan’s Buddhism. It was founded by someone called Shinshō (a Buddhist monk that lived in the 9th century). He was the pupil of someone called Kūkai (just your everyday Buddhist monk who literally shaped Japanese culture and civilization). The temple is famous for its Fall foliage and its prominence in the past as an education centre.
Address: 48 Eikandocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8445
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 9AM to 4PM.
Now, walk 15 minutes to go to…
Heian Shrine (平安神宮)
You might think “Oh my gawd, the shrine looks so old, must be super authentic” and stuff. Authenticity is accurate, old… not so much (compared to other temples)! It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto (because yes, Kyoto was once the capital of Japan). It is also dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned in the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Also, I would really encourage you to stroll around the Shrine’s Garden, as it is magnificent!
Fun fact: Heian is actually the former name of Kyoto!
Address: Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8341
Opening Hours: The shrine is open every day from 6AM to 5:30PM. The shrine’s garden is open from 8:30AM to 5PM.
Price: Entrance to the shrine is free. Entrance to the garden is ¥600.
You might be hungry by now! So, let’s leave the shrine and walk around 5 min to go have lunch at…
Kyoudon Kisoba Okakita
This restaurant is EVERYTHING. They prepare home-made soba or udon, and they have delicious curry and tempura dishes. Also, for all my hungry people out there… yes, they serve pretty big portions. And all for a very fair price! What else could we ask for? Oh, also, it is a Michelin Guide recommended noodle spot! So give it a try, goddamnit!
Address: 34 Okazaki Minamigoshocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8334
Opening Hours: It is open every day, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11AM to 6PM.
Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple was founded in 778 (early Heian period) by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (ancient general and shōgun), and its actual buildings were constructed in 1633. It’s a very popular temple for visitors who want to know more about Kiyomizu history and take beautiful pictures of the city.
Address: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 6AM to 6:30PM.
The view from the temple is magnificent! But now, if you want to learn more about Kyoto and Japan’s art, walk around 20 min to go to…
Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館)
The Kyoto National Museum is one of the major art museums in Japan, period. It focuses mainly on pre-modern Japanese and Asian art (for those interested in it). The permanent collection is cool, but you should have a look at the special exhibitions, as they’re most of the time really worth it!
Address: 527 Chayacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0931
Opening Hours: It is open every day, except on Mondays, from 9:30AM to 6PM (and until 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays). Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.
Price (not sure if it’s still the case though):
Permanent exhibition: ¥700
Special exhibitions: around ¥1500
Now, the next temple is optional if you’re running out of time, or you simply don’t want to visit temples anymore. If you do have time, you can head literally just in front of the museum to go to…
Sanjūsangen-dō (which literally means “thirty-three ken hall”) is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai sect. It was founded in 1164 by Taira no Kiyomori (military leader of the late Heian period) for the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa (77th emperor of Japan). The temple is famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of compassion in her thousand-armed incarnation!
Address: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0941
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 8AM to 5PM.
Now, head to the most emblematic monument in Kyoto, which is…
Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社)
Fushimi Inari-taisha is the mother of all shrines (the Daenerys Targaryen of Japanese Shinto temples)! It is one of the most photographed monuments in Japan because of its particular vermilion colour! You really should go there early in the morning to avoid tourists and visit the shrine at dawn. Or, if you’re a lazy-ass like me, you should visit this monument at the end of the day. Try to be there by sunset, as the colours become absolutely magical.
Fun fact about Kyoto: there are apparently over 1,000 Buddhist temples in the city!!
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882
Opening Hours: It is open 24/7!
Let’s take a well-deserved break in one of the finest restaurants in Kyoto, which is…
Premium Pound Gion
A Japanese steakhouse to absolutely try! The Kobe beef is excellent, and is one of the best pieces of meat you will EVER eat in your wee life! It’s a small restaurant, so make sure to make a reservation at least a few days prior to your visit there. The chef and sommelier are super friendly and experienced, and the premium menu is worth ¥15,000 with nine dishes, including Kobe beef and sushi, among many other things.
Address: 570-15 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074
Opening Hours: It is open every day, except on Mondays, from 11:30AM to 2:30PM for lunch, and from 5PM to 11PM for dinner.
Now, if you’re not too tired, you can pursue your nighttime visit at…
Gion (祇園) & Pontocho (先斗町)
You’re already in Gion, so that’s cool! Gion is a district built in the Middle Ages next to the Yasaka shrine. It served as a stopover for travellers and visitors to the sanctuary. It then evolved into a popular area known for its geisha. Pontocho is super close to Gion and is too a neighbourhood that is known to shelter geisha. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see one!
Fun fact: Neighborhoods where geisha live and work are called hanamachi or kagai (which literally means « flower town »). These include okiya (« geisha houses »), ochaya (« tea houses » where geisha entertain) as well as all shops related to their activities and needs.
I hope you enjoyed this first day in Kyoto. Be ready for the next day, as we still have lots to do in this magical city!
Formally known as Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺), Kinkaku-ji (which literally means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”), is a Buddhist temple known for its brilliant gold leaf appearance. The original building was built in 1397 and was a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It’s such a beautiful and particular place that it is listed in the Unesco World Heritage! Stroll around the temple and discover every facet of it; you’ll see that its colours change a bit depending on the lighting.
Wee tip: It’s best to go early in the day or just before closing, ideally on a weekday as the temple can be packed during busy hours!
Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 9AM until 5PM.
Primary and Middle School Students: ¥300
Now, you should walk around 20 min to go to…
Ryōan-ji, which means “The Temple of the Dragon at Peace” (just your average temple), is also a Buddhist temple. This one is famous for its stone garden, dating from the second half of the 15th century. You’ll probably think to yourself “Why the hell would I go see a fricking stone garden…”, well, think again you dumb-dumb! The garden is listed in the Unesco World Heritage Sites mostly because of its super complex design. The temple and its surroundings are also super pretty, so don’t hesitate to stroll around!
Address: 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 8AM to 5PM.
Children under 15: ¥300
To eat the best okonomiyaki ever, you should walk around 8 min to go to…
Fight me if you disagree, but Okonomiyaki is THE best dish EVER invented on this wee Earth! The staff of this restaurant is super friendly and attentive! Few dishes are available there, but they’re so tasty you’ll DIE as soon as you try them! It’s also pretty affordable, so if you’re in the area, don’t hesitate for a second to go there!
Address: 1-4 Ryoanji Saigucho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8011
Opening Hours: It is open every day, except on Thursdays, from 11:30AM to 2PM for lunch, and from 5:30PM to 8PM for dinner.
Now, you’ll have to take the metro! First, take the Local Katabiranotsuji line from Ryōanji to Katabiranotsuji Station. Then, take the Local Arashiyama line from Katabiranotsuji Station to Arashiyama Station and walk over Togetsu Bridge to go to…
Arashiyama, which means “Storm Mountains”, is one of the most beautiful sightseeing districts in Kyoto, if not Japan! There are many temples and shrines there, but the main attraction is the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. I would also recommend going to the Monkey Park Iwatayama (〒616-0004 Kyoto, Nishikyo Ward, Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho)! You’ll find there an open area with over a hundred monkeys walking freely. There are also nice views down onto the city. Oh, also, don’t stare into the monkeys’ eyes.
Wee tip: Depending on which time of the year you’re going to Kyoto, there might be huge crowds of tourists storming Arashiyama. To avoid the worst of the crowds, you should follow this well-explained GUIDE from Inside Kyoto, which will give you great tips!
Address: Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0007
Opening Hours: It’s a district, so it’s open 24/7. However, the Monkey Park Iwatayama is open every day from 9 AM to 5 PM.
When you’re strolling around, you should take the Randen line from Arashiyama Station to Randen-Tenjingawa Station, then the Tozai line from Uzumasa Tenjingawa Sta. to Karasuma Oike Stn. to go to…
Kyōto-gosho is the imperial palace of Kyoto that served as the official residence of the Emperor until 1868 at the beginning of the Meiji era. As of today, it’s a super-duper important palace in Japan and serves as a secondary residence for the imperial family! There are guided tours of the place that you can book, or you can just stroll around and take your time to admire every shape and colours of the imperial palace.
Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0881
Opening Hours: The palace is open every day, except on Mondays, from 9AM to 5PM (with last admission 40 minutes before closing time).
Nijō Castle (二条城)
Nijō Castle was built in 1603 and is one of Kyoto’s most popular and impressive sights. Its founder was Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867). He was the one who unified Japan after a long period of civil war, and ushered in a period of over 260 years of peace and prosperity! After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, the castle was used as an imperial palace for a while. It has after been donated to the city and is now open to the public as a historic site.
Wee tip: You should enter the Ninomaru Palace, famous for its “nightingale floors” (squeaky floors that would alert occupants to the presence of intruders).
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301
Opening Hours: It is open every day from 8AM to 6PM (with last admissions at 5PM).
Price (Nijō Castle + Ninomaru Palace):
Junior High / High School students: ¥350
Primary School students: ¥200
Admission is free for children younger than elementary school age.
To finish this beautiful trip, I’d love for you to add depth to your journey in Kyoto and join a super cool experience!
Lanes & Lanterns of Kyoto (夜の歩き旅)
If you’ve followed my articles, I think you’ll notice that I try to add a “human” experience in every city I visit! From Gion to Higashiyama and Kamo River, the guides will walk you around for 3h30 to discover Kyoto at night. You’ll also experience tachinomiya, which literally means “stand and drink shop” (it is common for locals to meet there after a workday, savouring easy and affordable foods while enjoying fresh drinks).
For more info about this experience, click HERE. And no, I’m not sponsored by anyone lol. I’m just trying to make you have the best time possible visiting the city!
Address: Gion Corner, by Hanamikoji Dori, Gionmachi Minamigawa area, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Hours: 6:30PM to 10PM.
Sadly, this is the end of this incredible trip to Kyoto! I had a blast there and I would put this city in my top 10 cities I’d see myself living in! I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it and don’t hesitate to comment and share it with your friends, family, lovers, pets…
My next article will be about Nara, a Japanese city super close to Kyoto and famous for its deers! If you enjoy the content of my blog, don’t forget to follow A Gourmet Vagabond on WordPress and my social media channels, to be updated about new upcoming articles and other fun stuff!
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