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2-Day Kyoto Itinerary: Explore Japan’s Cultural Capital

2 Day Kyoto Itinerary including all major tourist attractions and the best things to do in Kyoto, Japan.

Hey there! Are you planning a trip to Kyoto, Japan? Well, you are in for a real treat! Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is a gem you wouldn’t want to miss. This city is like a time capsule, with ancient temples, serene gardens, and traditional neighborhoods that will surely blow your mind! It offers a unique chance to experience the authentic side of Japan. While two days might not be enough to see all the sights, we’re going to make the most of our time here! So, let’s dive into your ultimate 2-day Kyoto itinerary and uncover some of the best things to do in Kyoto:

Day 1

MORNING:

Start your day by visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of the most iconic Kyoto attractions. Walking through the towering bamboo stalks feels like stepping into another world! Take a stroll through the forest and immerse yourself in its tranquil atmosphere.

One of the best things to do in Kyoto, Japan - visit the magical Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

While in the area, check out Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a short walk from the bamboo grove. This historic Zen temple is renowned for its stunning landscaped gardens, designed to harmonize with the surrounding mountains. Spend some time exploring them, soaking in the peaceful ambiance and appreciating the meticulous design that reflects the essence of quintessential Japanese aesthetics.

Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto's Arashiyama district.

Lunch:

There are plenty of adorable cafes and restaurants in Arashiyama where you can refuel. For a delightful treat, try something “cute” at the Arashiyama Rilakkuma Tea House! The ambiance inside is whimsical, and decorated with plush toys. The menu features a variety of dishes, all designed with the signature charm of Rilakkuma or Korilakkuma.

Cute food served at the Arashiyama Rilakkuma Tea House in Kyoto, Japan. One of the most cool stuff to do in Kyoto is to dine in at a cute cafe!

Afternoon:

Your Kyoto itinerary should include dressing up in an elegant kimono and attending a traditional tea ceremonyThis is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto, Japan! Engage in the detailed art of preparing and enjoying matcha tea, guided by a host who will explain the significance of each movement and gesture. The serene atmosphere of the tea room, adorned with tatami mats and classic utensils, enhances the authenticity of the experience. Donning a kimono adds to the charm, allowing you to be fully immersed in the traditions of Japan!

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony with kimono - a unique experience to be added to your 2 day Kyoto itinerary.

Evening:

Later, go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, a supreme symbol of Japan’s spiritual heritage. Nestled amidst lush forests, this sprawling complex boasts thousands of vibrant vermilion torii gates, each gracefully arching toward the heavens. Step through the grand entrance gate and embark on a mystical journey through a seemingly endless tunnel of torii. As you explore the winding paths up the sacred Mount Inari, take in the panoramic views of Kyoto below!

The vibrant torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Wrap up your day by spending some time in Kyoto Station. This might sound odd, but the station itself is a marvel of modern architecture. The grand staircase is beautifully illuminated in the evening, offering a mesmerizing display. There are also plenty of food options here for dinner. Note that most of them close early, so do check their timings!

Interiors of the Kyoto Station

Day 2

Morning:

Kick off your second day by touring the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a must-see spot on your Kyoto itinerary! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its wooden stage that dramatically juts out from the hillside. The main hall, constructed without nails, is a wonder of ancient Japanese engineering. Appreciate the notable wooden stage, known as the “stage of Kiyomizu,” which is supported by massive pillars and offers sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. From this vantage point, you can admire the vibrant colors of the changing seasons.

The wooden stage of the Kiyomizu-dera temple dramatically jutting out - an architectural marvel that's a must see on your Kyoto trip.
Tourists exploring the Kiyomizu-dera temple on a rainy day.

LUNCH:

After exploring Kiyomizu-dera, head to the charming Higashiyama district for a conventional Kyoto-style lunch at one of the local restaurants! Indulge in dishes like kaiseki or tempura. After lunch, wander through the narrow streets with souvenir shops and cafes. Pick up some artisanal crafts or souvenirs to remember your Kyoto trip.

Tourists exploring the charming Higashiyama district in Kyoto.
Traditional Kyoto-style lunch & souvenir shopping in Higashiyama district, Kyoto, Japan.

Afternoon:

Discover Ryōzen Kannon Temple, a place of profound spirituality in Kyoto’s eastern hills. It’s home to a towering statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, known as Kannon, which stands as a symbol of compassion and mercy. The temple grounds also house a memorial hall dedicated to peace and reconciliation, honoring those who lost their lives during World War II.

Tranquil landscapes and the towering statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Ryōzen Kannon Temple, Kyoto.

Continue your journey to Kōdaiji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple celebrated for its exquisite gardens and historic architecture. Wander through immaculately landscaped Zen gardens featuring moss, rocks, and tranquil ponds, designed to evoke a sense of harmony with nature. Explore the surroundings, including the main hall, the tea house, and the lovely bamboo grove.

The beautiful Kōdaiji Temple in Kyoto's Higashiyama District.

Next, stop by the nearby French café CHASEN, to enjoy some delectable desserts and a refreshing cup of matcha tea!

Matcha tea, matcha ice cream, matcha tiramisu, and matcha cookies!

Evening:

Later, head to Yasaka Jinja, an ancient Shinto shrine in Kyoto’s lively Gion district. Stroll around the premises, visit the smaller shrines, and soak up the aesthetically pleasing architecture. Yasaka Jinja is also a great spot to experience the local culture, especially if you happen upon a festival or event!

One of the gates of the Yasaka Jinja Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Add this popular shrine to your Kyoto itinerary!

Spend the rest of your evening exploring Hanamikoji Street. The quaint street, lined with attractive wooden townhouses, exudes a timeless charm that gets enhanced as the lanterns begin to glow. If you’re lucky, you might spot geisha and maiko hurrying to their appointments!

To conclude, navigating Kyoto in just two days presents a whirlwind of cultural immersion and sensory delight. From the idyllic groves of Arashiyama Bamboo Forest to the iconic torii gates of Fushimi Inari, Kyoto’s aura is unmatched. This 2-day Kyoto itinerary provides just a glimpse into the essence of this extraordinary city. Leave with a heart full of memories and a promise to return for more!

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