Japan kyoto Travel

Three Days in Kyoto – Itinerary for First Timers

Kyoto is divided into five regions. Many of the attractions are quite far apart from each other – so I definitely recommend choosing one or two regions and centering your itinerary around those areas.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

The best way to get around Kyoto if you don’t have a car is by bus or subway. Most of Kyoto’s tourist attractions are not located closely to subway stations, so your best friend will definitely be the extensive bus and subway network. My recommendation is to use the subway to get as close to the attraction as possible and then travelling shorter distances from the subway station to your intended destination.

In Kyoto, you enter the bus through the back door and leave through the front, paying your fare as you leave. You can pay either with cash or with the Icoca and Pitapa card (similar to the Compass), but there are no savings for using that. I recommend purchasing the Kyoto Sightseeing Card (900 yen for one day, 1,700 yen for two days). This card gives you unlimited use of Kyoto’s two subway lines and the Kyoto City Buses and Kyoto Buses in central Kyoto and its surrounding areas.

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Nijo Castle

Central Kyoto

Things to Do:

  • Visit Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō) a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Experience Kyoto’s Kitchen at Nishiki Market (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba) – a great place to try seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties.
  • Skip the Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyōto Gosho) – visitors can see the palace building and gardens, but cannot enter any buildings.
  • If you’re a fan of architecture, it’s worth swinging by to see Kyoto Station (京都駅, Kyōto-eki) designed by Japanese architect Hara Hiroshi.
  • Indulge in traditional Japanese tonkatsu at Katsukura.
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Matcha Mochi from Nishiki Market

How much to Budget:

  • 600 yen for Nijo Castle entrance fee and an additional fee of 400 yen to enter the Ninomaru Palace
  • 3,000 yen for snacking and shopping through Nishiki Market
  • 2,000 yen for lunch at Katsukura

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Yasaka Shrine

Eastern Kyoto

Things to Do:

  • Discover the historic Higashiyama District on the route to Kiyomizudera.
  • If you’re short on time, skip Kiyomizudera as the main hall is under construction until March 2020.
  • Skip Ginkakuji if you plan to visit Kinkakuji as they are similar, and Kinkakuji is more visually stunning
  • Visit Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja) at night to see the lanterns in all their glory.
  • Glimpse a geiko or maiko on their way to an engagement in Gion (祇園)
  • Take a leisurely stroll down Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi) surrounded by cherry blossoms in the spring.
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Yasaka Shrine

How much to Budget:

  • 2,000 – 3,000 yen for a meal and souvenir shopping at Higashiyama District.
  • 1,500 – 2,000 yen for matcha shaved ice and traditional sweets at Kasagiya.
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Fushimi Inari Shrine

Southern Kyoto

  • Wake up early and see Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) before it’s overrun with tourists.
  • Skip Daigoji Temple (醍醐寺) unless you are going during the Spring or Fall season
  • Witness the beauty of autumn at Tofukuji (東福寺, Tōfukuji) walking down Tsutenkyo Bridge.
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French Inspired Japanese Pastry from Boulangerie Avance

How much to Budget:

  • 400 yen to access Tsutenkyo Bridge.
  • 250 yen for a quick breakfast pastry at Boulangerie Avance.
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Kinkakuji

Northern Kyoto

  • Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion) is a Kyoto must see. It’s a glittering Zen temple covered in gold leaf.
  • Skip Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮, Shugakuin Rikyū) if you’re short on time, as access is only granted through guided tours and are conducted in Japanese (although audio guides in English are available)
  • Breeze through Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji) and visit their famous rock garden.

How much to Budget:

  • 400 yen to access Kinkakuji.
  • 500 yen to access Ryoanji Temple.
  • 1,500 yen for a no frills cozy lunch at Okonomiyaki Katsu.
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Arashiyama at night
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Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park

Western Kyoto

  • Rent a bicycle and enjoy the serene bamboo groves at Arashiyama (嵐山).
  • Walk across Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋) on your way to enjoy a refreshing matcha treat at Arashiyama Obuu (嵐山カフェ おぶう).
  • Check out Iwatayama Monkey Park (嵐山モンキーパーク, Arashiyama Monkī Pāku) for outstanding views of Kyoto and feed some fluffy (and vicious) monkeys.
  • Enjoy an all you can eat lunch featuring Kyoto-style home cooking and sweets at Gyatei (ぎゃあてい).
  • Skip the rickshaw experience – overrated and not worth it. Walking and biking is the best way to get around.
  • Treat yourself to a quality kaiten sushi dinner at Kaiten Sushi CHOJIRO.
  • If you’re a fan of whisky, the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery is a must visit. Advanced booking is required.
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Matcha parfait at Arashiyama Obuu

How much to Budget:

  • 2,000 yen for lunch at Gyatei.
  • 1,500 yen for desserts at Arashiyama Obuu.
  • 550 yen for entry fee to Iwatayama Monkey Park
  • 2,500 yen for a filling and quality dinner at Kaiten Sushi CHOJIRO.
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Uni Nigiri at Kaiten Sushi CHOJIRO

This is by no means the most comprehensive guide on the internet, but this is what has worked best for me. I always make it a priority to visit Kyoto every time I go to Japan. I love the culture and the calmness of the city, and I’m always discovering new things whenever I visit.

Drop a comment for a link to my full Japan itinerary and Google maps!

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