From 794 to 1868, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. Known for its impressive imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, peaceful gardens, traditional kaiseki restaurants, and beautiful geiko, Kyoto is a must-visit destination for your Japan itinerary.
During my month in Japan, I decided to spend two days in Kyoto, exploring the best of what the city has to offer. In just a small amount of time, I managed to pack in all of Kyoto’s top spots, as well as a few of my own discoveries.
If you’re spending two days in Kyoto, this post will help you decide what to do! Included are a few can’t-miss tourist attractions, things you should eat, and where you should stay.
Two Days in Kyoto, Japan
Where to Stay in Kyoto
For my two days in Kyoto, I decided to experience Japan’s capsule hotel trend. I stayed at The Millennials in the heart of Kyoto, and surprisingly, this was one of my favorite accommodation experiences ever. (!!!) If this hotel brand became a global chain, I would be their most loyal customer.
Yes, the “rooms” are small. But they have everything you need: a comfy bed, storage under the bed, shelving, hangers, charging stations, air conditioning, and even projectors and screens to watch movies. You also get a little amenities pack, complete with towels, slippers, earplugs, a toothbrush, and more. Your room is also equipped with an iPod to control your lights, air conditioner, wake-up alarm, and to change your bed from “flat” to “sofa.”
The entire premise — from the chic lounge area and kitchen to the showers and bathrooms — was spotless. The location was 10/10. The wifi couldn’t be faster. Plus, they have free beer happy hour every night, and coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all day long.
I’m in LOVE with The Millennials and can’t recommend it enough. Especially for the price. I paid about $27 USD per night.
You can book your stay The Millennials Kyoto here. Oh, and they also have a location in Shibuya, Tokyo! Click here to book your stay at The Millennials in Tokyo.
The Gion District is Kyoto’s traditional district where you’ll find old wooden buildings, a charming canal, and best of all, beautiful meiko and geiko, dressed in opulent kimono and touting oil-paper umbrellas, walking to their evening engagements.
It’s a good idea to explore the Gion district during the day, as well as around dusk. Visiting in the daytime will allow you to take in all of the areas little details, while dusk offers meiko and geiko spottings, as well as beautiful lighting on the houses and canals.
The Gion District is also home to some of Kyoto’s best restaurants, many of which you will need to book in advance — but more on that later!
Fushimi Inari Taisha
One of the most-visited attractions in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine dedicated to Inari, the fox god of rice and prosperity.
Entry to this famous shrine is free and it couldn’t be easier to access. Just hop on the subway and get off at Fushimi-Inari station. From there, the shrine is just steps away — just follow the crowd!
From the main shrine at the bottom, the Fushimi Inari Trail features more than 10,000 torii gates, which lead to the 233-meter-high summit of Mt. Inari and many smaller shrines along the way. If you decide to do the entire circuit, it will take somewhere between 2 and 3 hours.
To avoid intense crowds, it’s best to visit outside of peak hours. If possible, arrive at 9 am. However, if you do visit later, know that the further up you go, the lesser the crowds will be – so yes, you will still be able to get a photo of the gates without other people in the background.
Whether you visit this traditional and historic market for some serious eating and souvenir shopping or just want to browse, Nishiki Market has enough to keep you entertained for an hour or two.
As you meander, you will encounter all kinds of interesting foods, ingredients, and items that you’ve never seen before.
From takoyaki stalls and sushi vendors to knife shops, ice cream kiosks, and fermented veggie stores, there’s something for everyone.
And above all else, visiting Nishiki Market is an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture!
This market was probably my favorite part about visiting Kyoto.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Another can’t-miss attraction in Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking through this serene bamboo forest is exactly what you need to slow down and relax, amidst all of the hustle and bustle of the city.
Just like Fushimi Inari Taisha, it’s best to visit first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Arriving just after sunrise will ensure you’ll have the place to yourself for a little while, so plan ahead to decide which morning you will spend here!
Kaiseki is the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine — a traditional and very elegant multi-course dinner, focusing heavily on the chef’s precise technique and skill. When done properly, kaiseki presents the ultimate dining experience: the food is exquisite and plated beautifully, the service is outstanding, and the entire experience — yeah, you guessed it! — is quite expensive.
Typically, kaiseki will include an appetizer with sake, a simmered dish, a sashimi dish, a dish that expresses the season, a grilled dish, and a rich dish. Of course, each menu and course will vary from chef to chef.
If you want to experience Kaiseki, some of Kyoto’s best include:
Make sure to reserve a table in advance, as these restaurants are usually booked up!
Visit a tea house
Another must-do activity during two days in Kyoto is visiting a tea house! When you need a break from walking, head to one of Kyoto’s tea houses to experience a thousand-year-old Kyoto tradition: a Japanese tea ceremony. Formal and elegant, complete with a teacher, a tatami mat, and delicious tea, a tea ceremony is a great experience, but also quite pricey.
If you’re not willing to shell out, let’s say, $70, then that’s okay. You can still just head to a tea shop and enjoy a hot cup of matcha, and maybe some treats on the side!
Photo by Isriya Paireepairit, via Flickr
Go to onsen
If you haven’t experienced a traditional Japanese onsen yet, then Kyoto is a great place to do it!
Not familiar with onsen? Essentially, onsen are public baths of natural, mineral-rich hot spring waters, which often possess healing properties. As long as you’re comfortable in the nude, onsen is a very relaxing and rejuvenating experience. Onsen can be indoors or outdoors surrounded by nature.
Essentially, how it works is this: head over to the onsen in kimono, strip everything off and enter the onsen, scrub your entire body clean with soap, and then join your new besties in a large, hot bath. Sit there, meditate, relax deeply, and let the waters heal your mind and body.
This article lists some of Kyoto’s best onsen.
Where to Eat & Drink
There are so many fantastic Japanese restaurants around Kyoto, from the downtown to Gion. When I arrived in Kyoto, I had already been in Japan for three weeks. Needless to say, I was craving some other kinds of food! Below is a list of places I ate in Kyoto and enjoyed. Some are Japanese, and others aren’t. But one thing I can say is, they’re all delicious!
- Kaiseki dinner: See section above
- Mughal: Amazing Indian food with lots of vegetarian options too!
- Pizzeria Napoletana Da Yuki: Traditional Neapolitan style pizzas and other Italian dishes — so good!
- Ippudo Nishikikouji: A yummy ramen restaurant chain with rich broths and all of kinds of yummy toppings.
- Kyoto Beer Lab: An awesome craft beer spot serving creative brews like Wasabi Salt Gose and Kabuse White Tea Ale.
- Drip & Drop Coffee Supply: A great place for barista coffee in Japan — one of the few I saw outside of Tokyo.
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Two Days in Kyoto
Well, there you have it! That’s my guide for where to stay, and the best things to do, see, and eat during two days in Kyoto!
No doubt, you will love this bustling city, brimming with tradition, culture, and beautiful sights, and kimono-clad meiko and gieko!