3 Days in Kyoto

3 Days in Kyoto: What To See & Do | Complete Guide

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Dive into Kyoto, one of Japan’s most fascinating cities! Packed with epic temples, lush gardens, and geishas bringing the vibe, Kyoto is the place to soak in Japan’s historical awesomeness. Wind through old-school wooden houses, hit up vibrant shrines, and discover ancient traditions. Ready to explore? This guide covers all of Kyoto’s must-visit spots during your 3 days in Kyoto trip, so buckle up for a fun ride through Japan’s culture and history!

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

Why visit Kyoto?

Kyoto has a rich history dating back to the 8th century, when it became the capital of Japan under Emperor Kanmu. It remained the capital for more than 1,000 years, until it was was moved to Tokyo in 1868.

Kyoto’s conveniently located in the Kansai region of Japan close to Kansai International Airport. This makes the city accessible from all major cities around the world. You can take a one-hour flight to cities in the north such as Sapporo or Sendai, or travel down south to cities like Hiroshima or Fukuoka. Tokyo and Osaka are also easily accessible from Kyoto by train.

Kyoto is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese culture, history, and architecture. The city offers a unique glimpse into the country’s past and present, with its countless temples, shrines, and traditional neighborhoods.

From the iconic Kinkaku-ji Temple to the peaceful Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto is a feast for the senses. It is also home to some of the best food in Japan, with a wide range of local specialties and international cuisine. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, Kyoto has something to offer for everyone.

Getting into Kyoto / To Your Hotel

Most people visiting Kyoto either come into the city via Kansai airport, or from Osaka or Tokyo via train. 

Coming from Kansai Airport, you want to buy a ticket for the JR Haruka Express, a dedicated train service connecting the airport to Kyoto. 

The Haruka Express is known for its convenience and speed. Board the train, and relax as you embark on a scenic journey through the Osaka region’s lush countryside. 

The Haruka Express offers both standard and green (first-class) cars, ensuring a comfortable trip. The journey typically takes around 75 minutes, and during peak cherry blossom or autumn foliage seasons, it’s advisable to reserve tickets in advance.

From Tokyo, the Shinkansen is the most popular and efficient choice for most travelers, as it gets you from Tokyo to Kyoto quickly and comfortably. The Shinkansen, specifically the Tokaido Shinkansen, is the fastest and most convenient way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto, taking around 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Traveling from Osaka to Kyoto is super easy with efficient train options. You can hop on the JR Kyoto Line from Osaka Station and reach Kyoto in approximately 30-45 minutes. 

For a faster journey, the Shinkansen (bullet train) connects Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station in just 15-20 minutes on the Nozomi or Hikari trains. 

Alternatively, the Hankyu Railway offers a direct route between Umeda Station in Osaka and Kawaramachi Station in Kyoto, taking about 45 minutes. Likewise, the Keihan Railway connects Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka to Sanjo Station in Kyoto, making the trip in roughly 50 minutes. 

Once you’re at your hotel and you’re checking in, you’re ready to explore! 

Day 1: Explore the Historic Higashiyama District

Nestled along the slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, the Higashiyama District (東山) is a time capsule of the city’s rich history. This remarkably preserved historic quarter offers a portal to traditional, old-world Kyoto, especially as you walk between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine.

Narrow cobblestone lanes, wooden structures, and ancient merchant shops create a captivating atmosphere, with recent efforts to remove telephone poles enhancing the district’s authenticity.

The district is a treasure trove of small shops, charming cafes, and restaurants, each catering to pilgrims and travelers for centuries. Local specialties such as pottery, sweets, pickles, and crafts await you within these traditional establishments.

Higashiyama comes to life early in the morning, with most places opening around nine or ten, and closes relatively early, around five or six in the evening. As you explore, you’ll be drawn into a world of temples, shrines, shops, and cafes, making it easy to spend half a day or more in this enchanting area.

This is also the perfect place to rent a kimono and get fantastic travel shots in the historic center of Kyoto.

Must-see attractions in Higashiyama District:

Kiyomizudera Temple

  • Hours: 6:00 to 18:00 (until 18:30 in July and August)
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Admission: 400 yen

Kiyomizudera Temple is a cherished gem nestled in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto. This iconic temple boasts a renowned wooden terrace that provides breathtaking city views. As you approach the temple, you’ll be greeted by a bustling street lined with quaint shops and eateries that have served pilgrims and travelers for centuries.

Kodaiji Temple

  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (entry until 17:00)
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: 600 yen

Constructed in 1605 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Kodaiji Temple showcases temple halls, serene gravel gardens, teahouses, and a charming bamboo grove.

Yasaka Pagoda

  • **Open irregularly from 10:00 to 16:00
  • Fee: 500 yen

Yasaka Pagoda, a remnant of Hokanji Temple, stands as a prominent landmark in the Higashiyama District. On rare occasions, you can explore its interior, a unique opportunity as most pagodas are viewable only from the outside.

Yasaka Shrine

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Yasaka Shrine, famous for hosting the Gion Matsuri, is one of Kyoto’s most beloved shrines, situated at the eastern end of Shijo-dori next to Maruyama Park. The shrine’s enchanting lanterns illuminate every evening.

Ninenzaka Street

Ninenzaka Street, a charming cobblestone path in the Higashiyama District of Kyoto, is a living testament to the city’s historical heritage. Lined with traditional machiya houses, teahouses, and boutique shops, this picturesque street is a step back in time, evoking the ambiance of old Kyoto. Meander along Ninenzaka to discover well-preserved architecture and enjoy a nostalgic stroll that offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural past.

Sannenzaka Street

Sannenzaka Street, situated in the same enchanting district, is a captivating companion to Ninenzaka. As you wander along Sannenzaka, you’ll be greeted by a similar tapestry of traditional buildings and establishments. The well-maintained cobblestone street beckons you to explore at a leisurely pace, providing a serene backdrop for discovering the arts, crafts, and flavors of Kyoto. Both Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets offer visitors an authentic experience of the city’s historic charm.

Maruyama Park

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Day 2: Western Kyoto Exploration

Nestled on the western edge of Kyoto, this part of the city unfolds like a living tapestry of Japan’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Visiting Western Kyoto is a journey into a world of serene landscapes and timeless charm. Here, you’ll encounter the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a serene forest of towering bamboo.

Stroll along the Hozugawa River, cross the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, and discover the historic Arashiyama district.

This part of Kyoto beckons with its unique blend of nature and culture, making it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a deeper connection with Japan’s rich traditions and picturesque landscapes.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Tenryu-ji Temple

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Arashiyama District

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Togetsukyo Bridge

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Monkey Park Iwatayama

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Day 3: Exploring Cultural Kyoto

On the third day of your Kyoto adventure, we delve into the essence of this ancient city. The journey begins at the mesmerizing Fushimi Inari Shrine, renowned for its iconic torii gates that lead you through a mystical forest.

Then, explore Tofuku-ji Temple, celebrated for its Zen gardens and seasonal foliage displays. In the afternoon, unravel the secrets of Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and dive into the world of sake with a visit to the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum.

As the day concludes, a walk through the Gion district at dusk will offer a glimpse into Kyoto’s traditional elegance.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Tofuku-ji Temple

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Kyoto Station Area

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Nijo Castle

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Gion at Dusk

  • Hours: Always open
  • Closed: No closing days
  • Fee: Free

Maruyama Park, adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, transforms into a cherry blossom wonderland during the first half of April. It becomes Kyoto’s go-to spot for hanami, offering stunning views of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

WOW, 3 Days in Kyoto goes by so fast!

With this itinerary, you will get a good scope of Kyoto and its different areas and places to see.

If you are an efficient traveler and get through this itinerary quicker than my suggested itinerary, or you have a bit more time, check out the experiences below for more things to do in Kyoto.

Top Travel Experiences in Kyoto

Recommended Hotels in Kyoto

Where to Stay in Kyoto

When it comes to finding the perfect stay in Kyoto, it’s all about location, and three areas stand out for an unforgettable experience. Downtown Kyoto, pulsating with energy, is ideal for those who want to be at the heart of the action, surrounded by shops, restaurants, and lively streets.

For a serene escape, Higashiyama offers traditional charm with its historic streets, tea houses, and proximity to iconic temples.

If modern luxury is on your agenda, Kyoto Station area boasts high-end hotels, excellent transport links, and a vibrant atmosphere. Whether you’re into the buzz of the city, the tranquility of historical streets, or contemporary comforts, Kyoto has the perfect spot for you to call home during your stay.

In Downtown Kyoto: Hotel Pagong with M’s

Hotel Pagong with M’s is a great choice to stay in Kyoto. Located in the Nakagyo Ward district, this 3-star hotel is just 1.5 km from the Kyoto International Manga Museum and within walking distance to the city center.

The air-conditioned rooms offer modern amenities, including free WiFi, flat-screen TVs, and safety deposit boxes. The multilingual staff provides helpful tips at the reception, and Kyoto Station is only 2.6 km away.

Couples love the prime location, rating it 8.4 for a two-person trip. 

Book your room now on Booking.com.

Near Kyoto Station:Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

If you want to stay close to Kyoto station to go on different day trips from Kyoto, Hotel Anteroom Kyoto is an excellent choice. This hotel seamlessly blends minimalist design with convenience, providing a unique and artistic atmosphere.

The compact rooms, adorned in neutral tones, feature LCD TVs, design sofas, and tables, creating a cozy retreat. Sleepwear and toiletries are provided, and all rooms are non-smoking.

With its strategic location, the hotel offers easy access to Tofuku-ji Temple, just a 10-minute bus ride away, and Fushimi Inari Shrine, reachable in a 10-minute taxi ride. 

Book your room now on Booking.com.

In Higashiyama: Kyo no Yado Sangen Ninenzaka

Discover the charm of Kyoto by staying at Kyo no Yado Sangen Ninenzaka, ideally situated just a 5-minute stroll from the historic Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

This traditional ryokan immerses guests in Japanese culture, offering tatami-floored rooms with futon bedding and shared bathrooms that enhance the authentic experience.

The 4th-floor terrace provides a serene space to appreciate city views, while the shared areas feature low tables and seating cushions for relaxation. With free WiFi access and a beautiful Japanese garden, this ryokan embodies the essence of Kyoto’s rich heritage.

The bustling Shijo area and the renowned geisha district of Gion are within easy walking distance, making it a perfect retreat for couples who rated the location 9.9 for a two-person trip.

Check rates on Booking.com.

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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