Geisha in Kyoto

Kyoto in Just 2 Days

by Robert Schrader on June 6, 2019

You could spend a lifetime in Kyoto, but as I’m about to show you, the essence of Japan’s former capital is easy to capture during short visits—how does 2 days in Kyoto sound? Whether you’re searching for what to do in Kyoto for two days, or are simply in search of a wider-ranging Kyoto itinerary, you’re in the right place.

From classic Kyoto attractions like Kizomizu-dera temple and the Arashiyama bamboo forest, to more avant-garde suggestions for things to do in Kyoto you might not have seen before now, consider me your Kyoto concierge. My Kyoto two day itinerary also tells you how to spot a Geisha (or, at least, how to maximize your chances of seeing one!).

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What to Do in Kyoto in 2 Days

Day One: Kyoto 101

The majority of travelers searching for Kyoto two days itineraries want to visit Kiyomizu Temple, and I have two things to say about that. The first is that Kiyomizu-dera (and the serpentine streets around it) absolutely deserves a visit. The second is that you should wait until just before sunset to go.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan

During the daylight hours of your first of 2 days in Kyoto, ride a city bus (Google Maps will advise which one is best, given your current location) to the “Silver Pavilion” of Ginkaku-ji, a Zen temple that sits at the northern entrance to the Philosopher’s Path. Follow this path down into historical Higashiyama, where temples like Nanzen-ji, Eikando, Chinon-in and Kodai-ji (in that order) away, as well as lush Maruyama Park (whose shiderazakura weeping cherry tree is especially beautiful during sakura season).

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto
Sakura tree in Kyoto street
Ryokan in Kyoto Japan
Road to Kyoto Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kyoto Shinto Heian Shrine

After ticking these places off your Kyoto itinerary 2 days (or longer), walk past (and, if you have time, into) Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. From here, continue seeing Kyoto in two days at your enter Nijo Station (with your Japan Rail Pass, if you have one) and riding the JR Sagano Line to the iconic Kyoto bamboo forest, Sagano Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. (TIP: Dig deeper into Arashiyama with an Arashiyama and Sagano food tour!)

Depending on what time you finish traipsing through here (specifically, whether you stop along the Hozu River or enter via Tenryu-ji temple), you can ride a city bus across town to walk under the Hei-an Shrine or simply travel to Kiyomizu-dera for sunset; you can also optionally walk beneath Yasaka Pagoda once it’s lit up at night. Completing a Kyoto 2 days itinerary will be a piece of cake (or mochi, as it were), given all you saw on day one!

Day Two: Gates and Geishas

The orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha are perhaps the most photogenic location you’ll see in 2 days in Kyoto, a hypnotizing tunnel that seems to go on forever. Even if you don’t plan to hike the trail to the scenic viewpoint (which takes between 1-2 hours going up, and an hour going down), devote the first half of your second day in Kyoto to this one-of-a-kind attraction. (Fun fact: As spiritual as they might appear, the gates of Fushimi Inari are actually advertisements!)

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Spend the second half of the second half of your Kyoto two day itinerary tackling other Kyoto places to visit, either ones you missed on your first day, or less popular choices. For instance, you could conclude your 2 days Kyoto in the Fushimi District with a sake tour or take the elevator to the 10th floor of the surprisingly modern Kyoto Station provides a captivating perspective as does the observation deck of Kyoto Tower.

The “Golden Pavilion” ofKinkaku-ji, on the other hand, is only really worth visiting under a blue sky, which perfectly contrasts with its shiny facade. (Unlike the majority of Kyoto temples, this one was re-built less than 100 years ago after a fire, which makes it somewhat less magical unless weather conditions are near-perfect.

Train station in Kyoto, Japan
Girls taking selfie in Kyoto
Kyoto five story pagoda
Tourists dressed like geishas in Kyoto
Beautiful Kyoto sakura

By night head into the Gion district (which, in spite of its reputation is sprawling, even overwhelming) and traipse through its narrow alleyways to try and find a Geisha. But have realistic expectations: Seeing an actual Geisha is almost impossible, unless of course you book a Geisha tour to wrap up your 2 days in Kyoto.

What About Three Days in Kyoto—or More?

Many a Kyoto tour guide will advise you that two days in Kyoto is not enough, and while I obviously don’t agree with that, I also don’t believe you can spend too many days in Kyoto. Head over to Japan Starts Here’s sister site Leave Your Daily Hell to read my guide to three days in Kyoto or check out my very own article spotlighting the best day trips from Kyoto. How many days in Kyoto are ideal for you? As many as you can spend, in my opinion.

The Best Time to Visit Kyoto

Kyoto is one of the only legitimate 365-day destinations in the world, in my opinion, but all the places to see in Kyoto look exponentially more beautiful in the spring, during Kyoto’s cherry blossom season, and also amid Japan’s stunning fall colors.

Snow in Kyoto, while beautiful, is more rare than elsewhere in Japan in winter; if you don’t find the crowds (not to mention the stress of wondering whether optimal weather conditions will exist) worth the trade-off of once-in-a-lifetime vistas, simply spend your two days in Kyoto in summer.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

If you’re on the hunt for a Kyoto ryokan, opulent Gion Hatanaka is a perfect choice—provided you aren’t pinching pennies (or one-yen coins, as it were). On the other hand, Kyoto cheap hotels such as Kyoto Morris Hostel offer a perfect location for a perfect price, while simple Kyoto guest house Ryokan Kyoraku bridges the space between these two, in terms of price and ambiance. Read my main article about the best places to stay in Kyoto, for a Kyoto 2 day itinerary or otherwise.

The Bottom Line

Although it’s better to have a longer time in Kyoto, 2 days can sometimes be sufficient. My 2 days in Kyoto itinerary, to be sure, is built on a simple premise: It’s the quality of your experience in Japan’s former capital, and not the amount of time you spend there or which area in Kyoto you stay, that determines the impact of your trip, more than how many days in Kyoto you spend. Whether you spend more or less than 2 days in Kyoto, assembling your visit in the way I’ve suggested (or, better yet, hiring me to plan your Kyoto trip) will ensure it’s one for the record books, whether you go during cherry blossom season or another time.

About The Author

is the author of 162 posts on Japan Starts Here. Robert created Japan Starts Here so the web would have a beautiful hub of Japan travel information and inspiration. He also runs the popular website Leave Your Daily Hell.


Japan Starts Here is information—and inspiration—for all your trips to Japan. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!


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