0 In Asia/ Japan

Kyoto 3-Day Itinerary: Must-See Activities And Attractions

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Once the capital city of Japan, Kyoto is a magical destination. It contains beautiful historical sites, Buddhist temples, imperial palaces and delicately manicured gardens.

If you plan on spending a few days in this fascinating city, this guide is for you. Kyoto was one of my favourite parts of my Japan trip, and I hope you’ll love it as much as I did!

I spent 3 days in Kyoto during my 2-week Japan trip, and this 3-day Kyoto itinerary is based on what I got up to in this charming part of Japan.

This Kyoto travel blog will share everything you need to know to have the best adventure, including the best things to do and see, where to stay, where to eat, how to get around and more.

Wandering through the famous red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

Wandering through the famous red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

Getting around Kyoto

Kyoto is extremely easy to navigate under your own steam. With an overwhelming selection of public transport, your options are seemingly endless.

Kyoto’s train system consists of 6 lines, all of which can be used as inner-city travel, and few of them can also be used for intercity travel. This is a speedy way to travel from suburb to suburb and is one of the cheapest ways to travel within the city.

There are two subway lines in the city. One that runs from north to south, and one that runs from east to west. This is also a speedy way to travel and an easy way to get from suburb to suburb.

The Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

The Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

Buses are also a great way to travel around Kyoto and can take you to almost anywhere in the city. Although trains and subways are faster, buses are sometimes more convenient for those not wanting to walk very far or who enjoy watching outside the bus window as the city drives past.

You can also find plenty of taxis around Kyoto and they are usually fairly reasonably priced, especially if you’re travelling with 3 or 4 other people.

Cycling or walking around the city are also great ways to get around. The city is relatively flat leaving you with very few challenges as you make your way around.

Locals are known for driving responsibly in Kyoto, so you’ll feel safe as you cycle or walk around, and you’ll take in the sights a little better.

Sunset at the Hokanji temple pagoda in Kyoto

Sunset at the Hokanji temple pagoda in Kyoto

Where to stay in Kyoto

When you’re looking for the best places to stay in Kyoto for a 3-day trip, you’ll need to keep convenience at the forefront of your mind. Downtown Kyoto is easily the best place to stay in the city if you’re only there for a short while.

It’s within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions, contains a myriad of wonderful restaurants, bars, and shops, as well as being close to the subway and train lines.

Hotel Excellence Enmachi Ekimae is a great little hotel near the downtown Kyoto area. It’s a 2-minute walk from the station with easy access to many of Kyoto’s main attractions.

Close up of the torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Close up of the torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha

If you’re looking for a hostel in downtown Kyoto, then I suggest K’s House Kyoto. It is the perfect place to stay. Enjoy the communal living space and getting to know your fellow travellers.

I stayed at Hotel Elcient Kyoto and while it wasn’t particularly close to any of the main attractions, it was right across the road from Kyoto train station, and easily connected to everywhere in the city. The rooms weren’t super spacious but they were clean and comfortable. Now that you know some of the best places to stay in the city, let’s jump into what to do in Kyoto in 3 days.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability for accommodation in Kyoto

The view from Kiyomizudera temple over its main pagoda with Kyoto in the background

The view from Kiyomizudera temple over its main pagoda with Kyoto in the background

3-day Kyoto itinerary

Here’s what you should be getting up to during the three precious days you have in Kyoto.

Kyoto itinerary day 1:

Your first day in this beautiful city will give you a look into the culture of Kyoto. It’s the most ideal day on your trip to do a little Kyoto sightseeing and take in the wonderful views.

Kiyomizudera Temple

We arrived in Kyoto around lunch after having taken a train from Tokyo. The first place we visited in Kyoto was the Kiyomizudera Temple, which was built in the year 780.

With so much history, this ancient Buddhist Temple represents the Kito Hosso sect which was established in 1965. Before that, it was associated with the Hosso sect, which is one of the oldest in Japanese Buddhism.

The first imposing buildings of Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto

The first imposing buildings of Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto

The view from Kiyomizudera temple over its main pagoda and Kyoto in the background

The view from Kiyomizudera temple over its main pagoda and Kyoto in the background

The temple is known for its wooden stage that rises 13 metres from the hillside. It offers stunning views of the gardens with its beautiful cherry blossom trees. You’ll also be able to see the city of Kyoto in the distance.

If the weather is good on the day you visit, be sure to climb the hillside to take advantage of the wonderful views.

Note: The best time to visit the Kiyomizudera Temple is in March or April as this is when the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom.

The stalls at Kiyomizudera temple where you can purchase blessings and good luck charms

The stalls at Kiyomizudera temple where you can purchase blessings and good luck charms

Paying homage at Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto

Paying homage at Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto

Gion Neighbourhood

Wandering around Kyoto is one of the best things you can do in the city. The Gion neighbourhood has made its name as a geisha district and is situated in and around Shijo Avenue. The area is a pedestrian’s paradise as hundreds of people walk through the streets exploring the many shops and restaurants.

While you’re in the Gion neighbourhood, be sure to visit an ochaya (teahouse), where you can enjoy a special tea ceremony or be entertained by geishas.

Indulge in delicious food as you stroll around the neighbourhood made up of very cute, little streets and sideroads perfect for a day of exploring. This will give you a true sense of what it’s like to live like a local in Gion, Kyoto. You can wander around the neighbourhood alone, or if you prefer to have a local guide you to discover all the best spots you can try doing a Gion night tour.

Click here to book a Gion night tour

Wandering the cute streets of Gion neighbourhood in Kyoto

Wandering the cute streets of Gion neighbourhood in Kyoto

Hokanji Temple Pagoda

The Hokanji Temple Pagoda is locally known as the Yasaka Pagoda and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. This 46-metre tall pagoda stands out along the Kyoto skyline with its traditional Japanese style and sloping tiered roof.

The pagoda was built by an imperial prince in the year 589 and is an incredible part of ancient history. Visitors get the chance to marvel at the beautiful architecture and admire the faded paintings and statues that decorate the pagoda.

Wandering the streets of Kyoto under the distinctive Hokanji temple pagoda

Wandering the streets of Kyoto under the distinctive Hokanji temple pagoda

If you’re looking for what to see in Kyoto, then this is a must-do evening activity. Watching the sunset from the streets around this beautiful building is an absolute treat and the perfect way to end off your first day in Kyoto.

Before travelling to Japan one of the girls in my group sent me a very photoshopped sunset photo of the street just under the Hokanji Temple Pagoda and asked me if we would be visiting that spot.

I told her we could, but to not be disappointed if we didn’t see a sunset that looked like that. We were all amazed and pleasantly surprised with the stunning sunset we saw, which was even better than the photoshopped one she showed us before the trip!

The street leading up to the pagoda of Hokanji temple, also known as Yasaka pagoda, at sunset

The pagoda of Hokanji temple at sunset

Kyoto itinerary day 2:

On your second day in Kyoto, I suggest that you get to know the city in a way many tourists never do. Visiting touristy places can be fun, but going a little further than the average tourist is very rewarding.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a shrine to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. The shrine is also a gateway to the 233-metre high mount Inari that can be explored via a network of paths. These paths are lined with thousands of bright orange Torii gates which have become one of the main attractions in Kyoto over the years.

A quiet spot along the torii path of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

A quiet spot along the torii path of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

Some of the shrines at Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

Some of the shrines at Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

The beginning of the paths are often crowded with many people looking to get the perfect shot to post on their Instagram.

The best thing to do is to walk the entire path, it only gets more beautiful and less crowded as you make your way along the path of Toriis.

As you go up the mountain the path also becomes more varied, with smaller paths stemming away from it and leading to smaller shrines, statues and temples. Towards the top you will also be able to see a very pretty view over Kyoto.

It’s a spot that you can easily see alone, but there are also walking tours available if you prefer to have a guide.

Click here to book a small group cultural walking tour of Kyoto’s most famous sites

Exploring the torii path of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

Exploring the torii path of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto

The view over Kyoto from the top of the hill where Fushimi Inari Taisha is located, away from the bigger crowds

The view over Kyoto from the top of the hill where Fushimi Inari Taisha is located, away from the bigger crowds

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is the perfect place to stop for lunch as you explore the fascinating market. It’s a narrow street that extends for 5 blocks and is home to over 100 stalls, shops and restaurants.

It’s known by the locals as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and specialises in all things food. You’ll find street food, local ingredients, crockery, and cookware.

The first shop moved into the area in 1310 as the retail market began. Amazingly, many of the stalls and shops have been run by the same families for centuries. Be sure to taste a variety of culinary delights during your explorations of the market.

Many stalls give out samples for free, giving you the opportunity to dive deep into the flavours of Kyoto. We spent hours wandering around the stalls, not really knowing which ones were good and just gambling it and trying a bit of everything. In hindsight I would have loved to do a proper market tour and had a local take me to try all the best treats!

Click here to book a Nishiki Market food tour and cooking class

Dango skewers at Nishiki market in Kyoto

Dango skewers at Nishiki market in Kyoto – they soon became my favourite dessert in Japan!

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley is one of the most beautiful streets in the city. It’s lined with shops and restaurants and is a strictly pedestrian-only area. This gives it a vibrant atmosphere, making it particularly fun to visit in the evening.

The area has a very traditional feel with the lack of modern buildings and garish signs. It’s the perfect place to discover Kyoto at its finest.

Japan is a very safe country, and I never felt unsafe walking around the streets of Kyoto or Pontocho Alley at night, but if you prefer there are also night walking & food tours available.

Click here to book a food tour of Pontocho Alley at night

Enjoying ramen dishes in Kyoto

Enjoying ramen dishes in Kyoto

Kyoto itinerary day 3:

On your third and final day in Kyoto, you’ll need to make the most of the time you have left by filling your day with awesome activities and creating precious memories.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is an absolutely stunning sight to see. Standing amongst soaring bamboo stalks gives you a feeling like no other. It’s almost other-worldly.

However it gets very busy, so make sure to visit early in the morning if you want to truly experience the peace and quiet of the bamboo forest, without fighting against other tourists for a free spot for photos.

Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto

Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto

There’s one main path that leads you through the bamboo forest and up the hill, eventually leading to the Okochi-Sanso Villa. The villa is an imperial building worth a visit if you’re interested in architecture.

If you want to visit both in one go, including other temples in the area, you can do a Arashiyama tour. We personally skipped the villa and just spent a bit longer wandering around the bamboo grove. 

Click here to book an Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and temple tour

Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto

Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto

Tenryuji Temple

Right next door to the bamboo grove you’ll find Tenryuji Temple. It was originally built in 1339 but was continuously burnt down in wars and fires. The building that stands there today was built between 1868 – 1912.

It’s one of the most beautiful of the city’s zen temples which makes it well worth the visit. It’s intricately landscaped gardens are a stunning asset to the temple. The central pond is surrounded by pine forests nestled up against the Arashiyama Mountains.

The main garden and temple of Tenryuji temple in Kyoto

The main garden and temple of Tenryuji temple in Kyoto

Arashiyama Monkey Park

The Arashiyama Monkey Park is a sanctuary for wild Japanese Macaque monkeys. It’s a beautiful and lush area making the experience all the more enjoyable.

There’s a pathway that leads you around the sanctuary called the Iwatayama path. It’s a blend of natural pathways and concrete steps that lead you all the way to the top of the hill.

It should take you around half an hour to get there, and the views from the top are absolutely spectacular.

Enjoying the view over Kyoto from the top of Arashiyama Monkey Park

Enjoying the view over Kyoto from the top of Arashiyama Monkey Park

It goes without saying that comfortable walking shoes are a must for this activity. Because the monkeys are wild, there are precautions you need to take while visiting.

Such as – don’t stare at the monkeys in the eye, stay a safe 2 metres away from them, and don’t crouch down when taking photos of them.

We really enjoyed the fact that to feed the monkeys you had to go inside a little hut with bars on the windows, and you could pass the food to the monkeys from the inside out. Basically the opposite of a zoo, with the monkeys being free outside and humans locked inside.

A monkey in the Arashiyama Monkey Park in Kyoto

A monkey in the Arashiyama Monkey Park in Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple

This zen temple in northern Kyoto is a pretty impressive golden temple with beautiful gardens. The top two floors of this pavilion are covered in gold leaf, giving it the incredible colour.

Each floor of the temple is built in a different style, which makes it particularly interesting from the inside. The temple looks over a gorgeous pond that is said to never dry up. After viewing the temple, head down a pathway that leads you through the gardens.

You’ll pass the pond and a few statues that tourists often throw money at for good luck. At the end of the path, you’ll find a teahouse, which is a great spot to sit and relax before continuing on your day’s explorations.

Admiring the Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

Admiring the Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

The Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

The Kinkaku-ji golden temple in Kyoto

Zen Garden

Lastly, you should visit the zen garden. While it won’t be a highlight of the day, it’s near the temple making it a good place to visit before heading home. It’s 25 metres in length and features 15 rocks sitting in white sand.

If you’re interested in history, this activity should be added to your list. Otherwise pop-in for a quick look before heading on your way. It’s not a place you’ll spend loads of time at as there’s not much to do but view the zen garden.

The famous zen garden in Kyoto

The famous zen garden in Kyoto

Final thoughts on 3 days in Kyoto

With all the wonderful things to do in Kyoto, you could easily fill an entire week with extraordinary activities. If you have enough time from Kyoto you could also go on a day trip to Nara or on a day trip to Himeji Castle.

However, I felt that 3 days in Kyoto was more than enough time to see the main attractions and take in the beautiful essence of this city.

Now that you’ve got the full scoop on what to expect inside Kyoto, you can start planning your very own itinerary. Be sure to add some of my favourites to your list.

Whether you’re searching for the next Instagram worthy destination or a relaxing getaway, Kyoto is truly a dream and should be savoured during the precious time you have there.

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Blonde girl walking through the red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, with text overlay saying "How to spend 3 days in Kyoto"

Collage of the red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, the Arashiyama bamboo grove, the golden temple and sunset at Hokkanji temple pagoda in Kyoto with text overlay saying "3 days in Kyoto"

Collage of the red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, the golden temple and sunset at Hokkanji temple pagoda in Kyoto with text overlay saying "Kyoto 3-day itinerary: How to spend 3 days in Kyoto, Japan"

The street leading up to the Hokkanji temple pagoda at sunset, with a beautiful red sky and text overlay saying "Kyoto 3-day itinerary"

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