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2 Day Kyoto Itinerary

Updated: Jun 29

Kyoto is a city where ancient tradition meets modern culture in a blend with natural beauty. Whether you're a budget-conscious traveler or simply looking to stretch your yen, Kyoto offers a plethora of affordable activities and experiences that promise to leave you enchanted without emptying your wallet. Here's your ultimate itinerary for exploring Kyoto, Japan in 2 days:

the bamboo forest in kyoto with title overlay of "travel guide 2 days in kyoto japan"

Day 1

Visit Nijo-Jo Castle

Both the Tokugawa family and vast Japanese history are found in this castle. The former imperial villa, this World Heritage site was the residence of the first shogun of the Edo period. It’s divided into three areas, with the place, the keep and the gardens. English audio guides are available at the entrance for rent. Wander through the palace rooms (there are lockers to deposit your shoes at the entrance). The gardens are beautiful and there is a higher viewpoint in rear. We went toward the end of the day and crowds were lighter. Entrance is near Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai subway line. The last entrance to the palace is at 4 pm, so be sure to give yourself enough time to explore if you go in the late afternoon. Entrance is 1300 yen (including the palace). Open 9 to 5 pm.

 

Enjoy a Traditional Tea Ceremony

One of our favorite activities in Japan was the traditional tea ceremony. Maikoya offers a Kimono wearing experience in Nishiki or a private class with sweets in Gion.  You can pick out your own kimono and hairpieces. Arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment to have someone help you into the kimono and fix your hair. You are even able to wear the kimono for the rest of the day to sightsee! Maikoya also offers this experience in Tokyo. During the experience, you learn about traditional tea ceremonies and the customs for matcha making. We really enjoyed this!  

 

Wander Nishiki Market

Indulge your senses at Nishiki Market, Kyoto's bustling food market known as "Kyoto's Kitchen." Sample an array of local delicacies and street food, from freshly prepared sushi to grilled skewers, all at affordable prices. Some of the shops give out samples, even free sake. Refrain from eating while walking as it’s considered bad manners in Japan. Most of the stalls have standing areas or a few benches to perch while you consume their food. Nishiki Market is near Shijo Station and generally open from 10 am to 6 pm, though many shops may be closed on Sundays or Wednesdays.

 

Admire Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Marvel at the breathtaking sight of Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf, set amidst a tranquil pond. While there's a small entrance fee (500 yen as of May 2024), the stunning views make it well worth the cost.

 

Stroll Through Gion

Experience the charm of Kyoto's historic geisha district, Gion. Take a leisurely walk along Hanami-koji Street, lined with traditional wooden machiya houses, and keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of a geiko (geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha) going about their day. Tourists have recently harassed the geishas in Gion and local authorities are changing how tourist visit the area to guard these women. If you want more information on the geishas and a guided tour through the narrow alleyways, I would take this Gion Night Tour.  

 


Day 2

Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine

Start your morning with a visit to this iconic Shinto shrine, famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates winding through the forested hills. Inari, the god of harvests, was extremely important to Japan’s agricultural society. As you walk under the torii, soak in the history. There are several still active temples where locals come to burn incense and offer prayers. Right outside the JR Nara Line Inari Station, the entrance is easy to find (usually follow the crowd); it's also a short walk from the Fushimi-Inari Station on the Keihan Electric line. Entry is free, making it a great budget-friendly activity in Kyoto.

Practical Tips: If you plan to climb the full loop, I would plan on 3-4 hours. There are a couple of small shops selling snacks and drinks but come prepared with water on a hot day!

 

Become a Samurai

Visit the Samurai and Ninja Museum to learn about the vast history of the Japanese samurai and ninjas. Learn to throw stars like a ninja and dress like a samurai. I know this is a super touristy thing to do, but honestly, we had the best time doing it! We learned so much about the honorable customs and traditional way of life. If you have kids, this is definitely a “must-do” activity, but I’d still argue any age will love this! Book your visit here.

 

Explore Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest)

Lose yourself in the serene beauty of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, where towering bamboo stalks create a mesmerizing atmosphere. Entry is free, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature without spending a single yen. There are several temples nearby and even a teahouse for additional fees if you want to explore further. The forest is about 400m long and there is a little cluster of restaurants and shops nearby if you want to have a snack or lunch.

 

What to Do in Kyoto When it Rains

If you experience rain during your visit and want to duck inside, check out these additional activities.

 
Sip and Learn at the Sake Museum

Visit the world’s leading producer of sake at their Meiji-era sakagura (sake brewery) in Fushimi. The Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is a nice way to learn about the local customs around making sake. During your tour, you can learn about the 350-year history of the sake-brewing process, view a collection of artifacts and memorabilia and watch some of the artisans at work. Of course, no tour is complete with a few tastings of product, right? You will receive tokens for 3 tastings, which you can personally select. The museum is not too far from the Fushimi Inari Shrine as well. Admission is 600 yen and includes the tastings. Open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

 

Explore the Kyoto Railway Museum

Covering three floors with outside exhibits of steam locomotives and shinkansen trains, this museum displays railway uniforms, historic trains, simulators and dioramas. There are English display signs. Entry is 1500 yen, closed on Wednesdays. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Kyoto Station.

 

There are so many activities in Kyoto, with its rich culture and ancient sights. Kyoto is truly a captivating city and one of my favorite stops in Japan! Be sure to read my top tips to know before visiting Japan to understand the culture and customs.


Also, if you plan to include some time in Tokyo, I also have a post on 2 days in Tokyo!


 

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