If you travel to Japan, your visit will most likely have a tight schedule. There is just so much to see and do and explore! I hear a lot of people who are going to Japan for a few weeks and they usually don’t have enough time to see all the many wonders of this beautiful country. There is one city, however, that you should not skip: the previous capital of Japan, Kyoto! If your time is limited, here is my take on seeing all the major sightseeing spots of Kyoto in 2 days!
One of the most famous temples and landmarks in Kyoto is this huge wooden temple that was built on a hill east of Kyoto. It was named after a waterfall close to the temple, hence the meaning “Pure Water Temple”. It is most famous for the wooden terrace that leads from the main hall to the side of the temple. You can enjoy a breathtaking view from here!
It’s especially popular in spring and fall to see the either the cherry blossoms or the maple leaves of the woods surrounding this temple.
The temple complex also features other temples as the Jishu shrine, which is famous for its god of love and matchmaking. There are two large stones on the shrine complex that are just a few meters apart. If you can walk blindfolded or with closed eyes (!) from one stone to the other, it is said that you will find your fated one. You can also have a friend help you guide to the other stone, but this would mean that you also need help in your love life.
Don’t forget to visit the surrounding shrines and temples, there are lovely walks around here leading to them. If you feel peckish stop by the teahouse for a small snack or refreshment.
This is one of my favorite palaces to visit in Kyoto. The palace complex is divided into three areas: in the center, you will find the Ninomaru palace which is surrounded by a circle of defense walls, surrounding the Ninomaru area there is the Honmaru area, another defense circle, with a palace complex of its own, and finally the Honmaru area itself is surrounded by gardens, defense walls, and moats.
The main attraction here is the Ninomaru palace and the beautiful Japanese gardens. The palace itself features something very interesting: the nightingale floors connecting several buildings together. Walking over the floor boards in these floors, they will squeak and thus prevent sudden attacks or burglary. I have been told that the nightingale floors were a reason for the ninja claws as they helped get over the squeaking floors by climbing the walls. I don’t know if it’s true, though.
To get a break from all the temples and palace visit, why not take a stroll through a park? The Maruyama-koen is famous for its cherry trees and will get insanely crowded during spring for the spring blossom festival. Its main feature is a huge weeping cherry tree, that is almost 100 years old.
Leading from the Maruyama-koen, you can make your way to the head temple of Japan’s most popular Buddhist sects in Japan: the Chion-in. The temple complex is quite big, with huge wooden gates at the entrances and some smaller halls hidden in the back. At the time of writing this post, the main hall is under construction and will be reopened in 2019.
While the main hall is still being renovated, the other halls can still be visited. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Amidado Hall with the big statue of Amida Buddha and the Japanese gardens on the temple grounds.
In the north of Kyoto, there are several temples quite close to each other. One of the most famous there is the Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple. It is built over a big pond on the temple grounds and is one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto.
Although the tourist masses here can get quite irritating, a visit here should be on your list if you’re planning your itinerary for Kyoto in 2 days. The temple is simply beautiful!
If you are exploring Kyoto in 2 days, don’t forget to add the Philosopher’s Walk to your itinerary! This romantic path is especially popular during the cherry blossom season as it is lined with hundreds of cherry trees along the path. It leads from the Ginkaku-ji temple to another temple, the Nanzen-ji and is about two kilometers long.
There are quite a few smaller shops and cafés around and it isn’t very touristy outside the cherry blossom season, so why not enjoy a short walk along the canal?
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The Arashiyama area is admittedly a very touristy area, you will find huge souvenir shops and restaurants here as well as the huge tourist crowds as well, of course. We didn’t spend much time here, as I don’t deal with tourist masses that well, but left our bikes in the designated parking area and made our way to the bamboo forest.
The forest is quite a lovely place, despite the crowds! It’s shaded and cool and the sound of the bamboos in the wind is very relaxing. Take a walk through the bamboo grove and make your way into the park. From here you and find a lovely spot for a breathtaking view over the Ôi river. There are a few boats ferrying guests to teahouses located at the side of the river further north. We actually had a little adventure here, that quite highlighted our day!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
My last tip for visiting Kyoto in 2 days is to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in the south of Kyoto. This temple area is famous for its thousands of red gates. If you think of Kyoto, most likely an image of a tunnel of red gates will pop up in your head. There is actually quite a network of trails with these red torii gates in the back of the main temple hall. The trails lead up to the top of the Mount Inari and is quite popular with visitors, especially for the red gates, of course. The hike up and back down will take approximately 2-3 hours.
The shrine is dedicated to the god of rice (Inari) and you will find many fox statues around as they are thought to be the messengers of the god. There are lots of smaller shrines around the entire area, some just built next to each other. It’s a lovely place to visit and should not be skipped if you’re in Kyoto!
Getting around in Kyoto
My favorite method of getting to know a foreign city is usually by walking as much as I can. However, if you want to see most of Kyoto in 2 days, renting a bike is probably the cheapest and most fun option for you. You can find some tips on renting a bike in Kyoto here.
Day trips from Kyoto
If you’re based in Kyoto for a longer while, you might be interested to do a few day trips outside of Kyoto? Why not go Himeji and visit its beautiful white castle. It’s one of the many world heritage sites in Japan, very well worth a one-day visit. If you’re there already, why not also check out the Omotenashi Dining Fukutei and get an affordable Kaiseki lunch here? A trip to Himeji takes just about 45 minutes!
Or you could go and visit the many deers residing in Nara and check out the world’s biggest wooden building, housing a huge bronze Buddha statue inside. The trip is just about an hour from Kyoto Central Station.
Planning your trip
There are a lot of good hotels or hostels around in Kyoto. The first time I came to Kyoto I stayed in a hostel, which was quite central as well. This time, however, we decided to rent an airbnb apartment. In my experience, it has often proven to be much more affordable and comfortable as well. If you haven’t signed up for airbnb yet, you can use this link and get 18 € (or 20 $) off of your first booking!
If you are planning a longer trip through Japan, consider getting the Japan Rail Pass! Read here to find out more about the pass!
To help me plan all my trips and itineraries in Japan, I mostly used the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*. I’ve used it a lot when I was living in Japan and found it a great help this time as well!