After the hustle and vibrant city of Tokyo, it was lovely to travel south to my favourite part of Japan, Kyoto! Holding the title of capital for over 1000 years, Kyoto is home to the famous Geishas and interesting world heritage sites. Basically a cultural lovers dream!
The juxtaposition of the modern concepts mixed with the rich traditional temples is fascinating. We could have spent weeks exploring Kyoto and its nearby suburbs! Unfortunately, we had less than a week and it rained the majority of the time so we fit in as much as we could! Here is our Kyoto itinerary for 2-4 days.
Things you should know about Kyoto
Getting there: We flew into Tokyo with Qantas then took a Shinkansen (bullet train) south to Kyoto which takes around 3 and half hours. Most international flights to Japan land in Narita in Tokyo. Though Jetstar has some flights straight to Kyoto and Osaka. Getting around is a breeze thanks to their super-efficient subway line.
Getting around: You will most likely get around using the subway in Kyoto. If you are planning on visiting Tokyo and other areas I would recommend looking into getting a Japan Rail Pass. You can use Hyperdia.com to plan and research all your train trips.
Exchange Rate: As of 11/2018 it was 82.85 Japanese Yen to $1.00 AUD
Religion: Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions.
When to visit: Best time to travel to Kyoto is probably during Autumn (Oct/Nov) or Spring (March-May), we went in August and it rained a fair bit. Read more-“What is the best time to travel to Japan”
Good to know:
+ Tipping is unnecessary in Japan, in fact, it’s slightly frowned upon.
+ It’s considered impolite to eat while walking in Japanese culture, aha! I wonder if coffee counts?.
+ Use Japanese when you can, a simple Arigato (Thank You) or Sumimasen (Excuse me) are really appreciated by the locals.
+Japan can be expensive. Invest in a JR pass for ease and cheaper travel. Get an Air BnB and save money on eating out every meal. Take advantage of free sites and explore the cities by walking.
+Do your shopping in Tokyo (if it’s your first stop) I made the mistake of waiting until Kyoto and there weren’t nearly as many shops!
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Where to stay in Kyoto
In my opinion, staying near downtown is your best bet. Kyoto is not huge, but it always makes things easier when you are central.
Only a few steps from the Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Subway Station, Hotel Gran Ms Kyoto offers Western and Japanese room. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Gion district and a 5-minute walk from both Keihan Sanjo Train Station and Hankyu Kawaramachi Train Station. We found this to be the perfect location, as it was walking distance to restaurants and convenience shops as well.
Our room (standard twin) was a spacious, new and clean space with great service. The laundry was another plus however, there is no restaurant or room service which was a bit of an unexpected letdown but something we should have noticed. Also had excellent Wifi for us digital nomads!
Hotel Gran Ms Kyoto
The Millennials Kyoto
Hotel Keihan Kyoto Grande
Kyotoya Tsuki no Yu Bettei
Where to eat in Kyoto
Known in Japan as a chain fast food place. Sutadonya has a large visual menu. We pointed to gyoza and a rice and pork dish topped with an egg, also known as Niku Yasai, then paid via a vending machine type concept. Great, quick and authentic experience!
Boulangerie De La Liberte
Okay, this place gets a mention as it became our breakfast favourite. Filled to the brim with delicious sweet and savoury pastries, we found out self there every morning before heading to Starbucks for morning coffees. Noted stock up a little and save for snacks throughout the day.
We read the trip advisor reviews before going here and was very happy we decided to go! The layout is intimate but very authentic (Indonesian) with a small bar seating area than three handcrafted wooden tables surrounded by big comfy cushions. We ordered the Mie Goreng which was delicious- just like when in Bali. And the chicken yellow curry, it had good spice but was a bit small and lacked veggies or enough chicken. Still a wonderful meal – just needed a snack later on in the evening:). Lovely atmosphere, good authentic food, and great service made this restaurant! Definitely, give it a go if you’re in Kyoto!
Great restaurant with English menu. On arrival, we removed our shoes and were shown our seat that overlooked the bar which sat 2 other parties. It was cosy and out of the way. I think around the other side there might have been booths. We ordered the gyoza, yakisoba, a huge salad and salmon carpaccio. Everything was amazing!! The gyoza was delicious and a decent serving with 10 pieces. The salad was fresh with amazing crunchy lotus root pieces. The yaki soba was tasty but could have done with some more veggie and meat and maybe an egg on top. The stand out was the salmon at only 590 yen it was a generous size and beautifully topped with a yummy dressing and fresh rocket! Could easily eat here again and again! This is my favourite in Kyoto!
Pizza Lunch Buffet
After walking past and seeing the pizzas were 2000+ yen (not including tax) we decided to give this place a miss. However, we were walking past and saw the Lunch Buffer sign out the front which was 1000 yen. The restaurant is nice and overlooks the river. The staff and service were great. The lunch buffet was great especially if you are after something that isn’t Japanese.
We walked past this place numerous times before noticing the entrance and the fact it had an English menu to view out the front! On arrival, we were greeted enthusiastically and guided to our booth with a hot plate in the centre.The English menu was well set out with photos to the corresponding dishes- which was good because our waiter couldn’t speak English. We ordered the Negiyaki with pork and spicy kimchee ( thin Japanese pancake with local spring onions), Betayaki with soba and pork – both topped with an egg, and of course a serving of gyoza. The gyoza was delicious. The mains were filling and yum but not the best we have ever had. The overall fun dining experience, well priced and great atmosphere. Oh they also had a drink plan where you pay 2400 yen for 2 hours and can get unlimited drinks ( they had a pretty good range of cocktails 🙂 )
Day 1- Kyoto Itinerary for 2 Days
Start your Kyoto Itinerary by exploring downtown. We stayed at Ms Gran which is in the centre of downtown. After arriving from Tokyo by the Shinkansen in the afternoon we spent the night and next morning getting acquainted with our new neighbourhood.
Our hotel was just a few steps from Shiyakusho-mae Subway Station which was great to get around!
Here are the best things to do in downtown:
- Nishiki Market-Known to locals as “Kyoto’s pantry”, Nishiki Market is easily the best traditional food market in the city
- Eat! Try Daimaru Department Store’s basement food floor or Takashimaya Basement Food Floor is arguably the best food market in the entire city
- The Kyoto International Manga Museum-The Kyoto International Manga Museum is the best manga museum in the entire country! Here you will find more than 300 000 Manga comic books from all over the world. If you’re a fan of Japanese comics, don’t miss it!
- Shop – The Shijo district is Kyoto’s most modern shopping district with shopping malls such as Takashimaya, Daimaru, Teramachi and Shinkyogoku.
Go to Gion
Your Kyoto itinerary is not complete without exploring Gion. Most well- known as the Geisha District, take a walk from downtown and admire the traditional teahouses (Ochaya), restaurants, shops and traditional wooden Machiya merchant houses. If you’re lucky you might even spot a Geisha!
A wander through the Shirakawa area, this historic street runs parallel to Shijo Dori, along with the Shirakawa Canal. Tall willow trees are dotted through the street whilst upmarket traditional dining establishments set the old Kyoto charm.
Day 2- Kyoto Itinerary 2-4 days
Fushimi Inari Taisha
A very important Shinto shrine of Kyoto, this maze of torii gates forms a magical tunnel. The trail leads into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. This dizzying sequence of bright orange gates is fascinating, immerse yourself in an impressive, shrine, we spent a full day exploring ie getting lost.
Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)
If you only have one day in Kyoto this iconic spot should definetly be on the list! Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built ontop of a large pond and surrounded by a stunning garden. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
The Pavilion is laced with gold leaf and shimmers magnificently! Despite the crowds, it’s one of the easier places to snap a brilliant photo with no people in it!
Day 3- Kyoto Itinerary for 2-4 Days
Day Trip to Nara
One of the best day trips from Kyoto is to visit the wonderful Nara. Nara once the capital of Japan from 710 until 784 before it was moved to Kyoto, it represents the roots of Japanese culture. It is rich with history and houses some of the oldest temples, collectively named Nanto Shichi Daiji. Nara can be reached by Miyakoji rapid trains that operate every 30 minutes between Kyoto Station and JR Nara Station. The one-way trip takes 45 minutes, costs 710 yen and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. I don’t want to give too much away about Nara as I am writing a full guide on it, but let’s just say it was my favourite day in Japan! Stay tuned 😉
Day 4- Kyoto Itinerary for 2-4 Days
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The bamboo forest is located in Arashiyama– the western part of Kyoto that houses some of its prettiest gardens. The bamboo forest can be entered through Tenryuji Temple’s north exit. Now as I mentioned before it rained a fair bit, we didn’t actually make it to this enchanted wonderland! Look it just means we need to return to Kyoto so we can experience the magic. If you want more info, this post & this post should help!
Kiyomizu-dera literally translates to Pure Water. It is famous for three streams of water that bring health, luck, and love. Despite the dense crowds, there is a calming energy. The site is surrounded by trees and greenery and cute little stalls nearby add to the Kyoto charm. As a listed UNESCO world heritage site it is worth the visit!
So that was our Kyoto itinerary for 2 days or more! Have you been to Kyoto before? What was your favourite thing to do? Let us know in the comments below!
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