Look for inspiration on things to do in Kyoto? This is the ultimate Kyoto 3-day Itinerary guide on what to do, what to see, and also what to eat!
Kyoto 3-day Itinerary Outline
- Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Nijō Castle
- Nishiki Market Shopping District
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple Monzen-kai
- Sanneizaka (Sannenzaka)
- Yasaka Shrine
- Hanamikoji Street
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Tenryuji Temple
- Togetsu Bridge
- Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Kimono Forest
- Fushimi Inari Taisha
- Street Food Stands
- Umekoji Park
- Kyoto Tower
- Sky Way
- Heian Shrine
- Konkai-Komyoji Temple
- Tsujiri Tea House, Gion Main Shop
- Five-Storied Pagoda, Tō-ji
Kyoto 3 day Itinerary Day 1
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Visit the grand palace that used to be the home to Japan’s Imperial family. As you can imagine, the grounds are significantly large and a great place to walk around. The Japanese gardens are a must to see here.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo castle. The castle was under construction when we visited, but we were still able to walk around the grounds. The castle is surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens. Definitely a place to visit if you want to embrace Japan’s history.
Nishiki Market Shopping District
Whether it’s raining or sunny, Nishiki Market is a great place to visit, this shopping street is lined with tonnes of different stores to check out. From street food to its beautiful colour ceiling this is a great place to buy any souvenirs. The NIshiki Market closes at about 6pm so do make sure you don’t miss it.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Monzen-kai
Translating to the pure water temple, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple in the eastern area of Kyoto.
The temple sits higher up on a hill so you have the perfect view of Kyoto so it is no surprise that it is a UNESCO heritage site.
On your walk back from Kiyomizu-dera Temple is Sanneizaka, a slope that leads through Gion. This is a lovely pebbled path with loads of shops to explore, a great place to walk around.
The Yasaka shrine sits in the Gion district of Kyoto. If you’re looking for a shrine to visit at night, this is the place to be. You can take a really nice stroll around the grounds. Admiring the architecture and the lanterns surrounding the area.
In the traditional Gion district in Kyoto is the famous Hanamikoji Street. This place is perfect to visit at night where it is lit up and surrounded by paper lanterns. It is also known as the entertainment district, where you will find traditional tea houses or if you’re lucky enough a geisha walking along the streets.
Kyoto 3 day Itinerary Day 2
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Another one of the most popular and instagrammed places in Japan. A path which is surrounded with long bamboo shoots. The photos really don’t do this place justice. You pretty much feel immersed into nature.
We got up bright and early so we could avoid the crowds. However, it was still very crowded so just note this if you’re visiting. We had to be very patient and quick if we wanted a photo with no one in the background. In addition to this , we witnessed a proposal here too!
Also, I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night as there aren’t any lights.
Next to the bamboo forest is Tenryuji Temple, one of the most important temples in Arashiyama. There are 13 different areas here to explore so plenty of things to do and see.
The temple offers 3 options for visitors, either a garden ticket (¥500) , garden and temple ticket (¥800) or a special admission to only the cloud dragon painting in the Hatto Hall (+¥500). The garden is absolutely stunning especially with the forests in the background.
Cross over the Togetsu Bridge, which means moon crossing, to the south bank of Arahiyama. This bridge hoovers above the Katsura river and crosses over to the Arashiyama Park area. This is where you can walk alongside the river and enjoy a mid day treat.
We stopped at a stall which offered sweet potato and taro flavoured ice cream.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
A 3 min walk from Togetsu Bridge is the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. It is quite a steep walk to the top where the park is, so keep that in mind. The Monkey park is home to over 120 Japanese macaque monkeys which you can feed with food you can purchase on site.
There are also a number of different warnings around on what to do and what not to do since the monkeys are wild
On your way back to Randen Arashiyama Station is the Kimono Forest. This is within the station and is quite a lovely place to walk through if you’re waiting for a train. The forest holds a number of brightly colourful cylinder shaped pillars with a variety of different colours and patterns. Similar to ones you would see on a traditional kimono.
This place is stunning during the day and especially during the night when they glow up.
From Arashiyama take the train to the Nishiōji-Sanjō Station. Then take the bus to Kinkakujimichi and here is where the Kinkaku-Ji golden temple is.
Like most of the main attractions in Japan, Kinkaku-ji was crowded. However, it is still worth the visit. For the reasonable price of 400yen, you get this beautiful view of the golden place, followed by a trail around the palace gardens.
I don’t remember there being many places to sit, so we sat on a few rocks. If you’re lucky enough you’ll see the koi fish being fed.
Kyoto 3 day Itinerary Day 3
Fushimi Inari Taisha
This is by far one of the most breathtaking places I’ve visited. There is a set trail you can follow up the mountain (warning, this is not to scale). This will take you through a different set of tori gates. Some big and some small and at some angles will make it look like there are an infinite number of gates. Perfect for that instagram photo.
We rented kimonos when we visited the shrine , great for photos but it was quite a climb. The footwear is quite difficult to walk in so I’d bring trainers alot with you so you can switch out.
Going back towards Kyoto Station is Umekoji Park, a large urban park next to the Kyoto Aquarium. This park holds a beautiful japanese garden, a waterfall and a beautiful trail that is beautiful during the spring or fall seasons.
The observation tower that hovers over Kyoto is the Kyoto Tower. The steel tower is the tallest tower in the city and can be seen from miles away. The tower is also home to a hotel and a few stores if you’re interested in even more shopping.
Sky Way and Observation Deck
If you’re looking for a free view of the Kyoto Tower and the city, visit the skyway and observation deck at Kyoto station.
To get there, which is a bit tricky, go to the east square of the station and grab the escalator up which leads you to the top of the building. There are signs from here which allow you to walk the length of the station in an enclosed tunnel with amazing views from afar of the Kyoto tower.
The Heian Shrine is another stunning shrine in the Sakyo-ku area of Kyoto. As you approach the sharing you’re greeted with a giant torii gate with a couple of museums to explore. This area is free to visit and pay respects.
A couple of minutes walk away is the Konkai-Komyoji Temple, a stunning sacred buddhist temple in the north eastern area of the city. This place is stunning to see when it is surrounded by blossoming cherry blossom trees or covered in red colours for fall.
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The JR Pass Facts
- The JR pass is designed for tourist only so you will need to validate the JR pass purchase with your passport
- There are five Tokyo railway lines that you can use with a JR Pass.
- You can purchase your JR pass online before you travel but you’ll then need to pick this up at a main Station.