4 Days in Kyoto Itinerary: A Complete Guide for First-Timers

kyoto japan travel

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~ Gustave Flaubert.

Why Should You Create a 4 Days in Kyoto Itinerary?

While many people have a Kyoto itinerary, they often rush through the city and only visit a few sights in a short amount of time. However, spending 4 days in Kyoto allows you to experience so much more and truly appreciate the city’s hidden gems without feeling rushed.

Having visited Kyoto multiple times in different seasons, I can confidently say that 4 days is the perfect amount of time to explore the city’s attractions in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. With its lush bamboo groves, stunning Buddhist temples, graceful geishas, and rich history, Kyoto should be at the top of your itinerary when traveling in Japan.

During your visit, you’ll be amazed by Kyoto’s magnificent history and the beautifully preserved attractions. From 794 to 1868, Kyoto served as Japan’s capital city, and it’s humbling to realize the significant events that took place here before and after your visit.

To make the most of your 4 days in Kyoto, I have created an itinerary that includes the main attractions, tips to beat the crowds, and hidden alternatives to popular spots. So, keep reading to discover how you can efficiently explore the wonders of Kyoto!

4 Days in Kyoto Itinerary: Complete Guide for First Timers | The Invisible Tourist

Day 1: Exploring Downtown Kyoto

Start your Kyoto adventure by getting a feel for the city’s downtown area. This will help you familiarize yourself with the surroundings and set the tone for the rest of your trip.

Begin your day by taking a stroll in downtown Kyoto. Look up at the impressive Kyoto Tower, which stands tall near Kyoto Station. This red and white tower, built in the 1930s, adds a touch of charm to the city’s skyline. You can even buy tickets to its observation deck for a panoramic view of Kyoto.

If you prefer to head directly to Gion, take a leisurely walk along the Sanjo Ohashi Bridge at dusk. This historic bridge spans the Kamo River and dates back to 1590. It was once part of an eastern highway between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto, making it a significant landmark in the city’s history.

While exploring downtown Kyoto, be sure to visit the Sanjo-kai Shotengai shopping arcade. This bustling arcade offers a wide range of shops and extends for an impressive 7 kilometers. You’ll also find the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping arcades, which connect to the famous Nishiki Market and the lantern-adorned Nishiki Tenman-gū Shrine. It’s fascinating to discover a shrine nestled within an undercover arcade.

One of the highlights of downtown Kyoto is Shijo-dori, one of the city’s main streets. Take a leisurely walk along this bustling street, which is lined with shops and restaurants. The grand red and white entry gate to Yasaka Shrine looks magical when illuminated in the evening.

Don’t miss the chance to spot a maiko, or apprentice geisha, running errands in the Gion area. This district is known for its geisha culture and offers a glimpse into the traditional world of Kyoto’s entertainment district.

Make sure to save some time in the evening to visit Pontocho, a narrow alleyway that is famous for its traditional buildings and lantern-lit streets. Pontocho is an excellent place to experience the old-world charm of Kyoto and enjoy a memorable culinary experience in one of the restaurants or teahouses.

Day 2: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Hidden Gems

On the second day of your Kyoto itinerary, head to Arashiyama, a popular district known for its stunning bamboo grove and hidden gems.

Start your day by visiting the mesmerizing Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, also known as Sagano Bamboo Forest. This iconic attraction offers postcard-worthy photo opportunities with its endless rows of lush green bamboo. However, be mindful not to damage the bamboo by etching names or symbols on the stems, as it can cause significant harm to this natural wonder.

After exploring the bamboo grove, consider visiting the Iwatayama Monkey Park, located nearby. Here, you can observe Japanese macaque monkeys in their natural habitat. These monkeys are the same species as the famous hot-spring bathing snow monkeys in Nagano.

Another hidden gem in the Arashiyama area is Gio-ji Temple and Moss Gardens. This tranquil temple is often overlooked by tourists, making it a peaceful and serene spot to escape the crowds. The temple itself may be small, but the magnificent moss gardens are truly breathtaking and offer a sense of tranquility.

Continuing your exploration, visit Adashino-Nembutsu-ji, a lovely shrine that deserves attention due to its unique concept. The shrine commemorates individuals who died without a next-of-kin, and each stone represents a person. The annual small ceremony held here is a poignant reminder of the importance of remembrance.

Finish your day at Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Kyoto’s most famous attractions due to its stunning golden facade. The temple is a visual masterpiece, and the surrounding gardens are equally impressive. Take your time to explore the temple grounds and appreciate the intricate details of this architectural marvel.

Day 3: Historical Temples and Hidden Gems

On the third day of your Kyoto itinerary, delve into the historical temples and hidden gems of the city.

Start your day by exploring the quiet slopes of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. These pedestrian-only streets feature beautifully restored traditional buildings and are considered two of Kyoto’s best-preserved areas. Take a leisurely stroll and soak in the old-world charm of the city while exploring the shops and grabbing some souvenirs.

Follow the path uphill to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks. This temple, dating back over 1200 years, offers breathtaking views of the city from its wooden stage perched 13 meters above the ground. The temple is particularly enchanting during the cherry blossom season in spring and the red Japanese maple season in autumn.

Don’t miss the nearby Jishu-jinja Shrine, a hidden gem located within the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera. This shrine is dedicated to the god of love and relationships and is known for its “Fortune Stones of Love.” Legend has it that walking with your eyes closed between two stones brings true love. Don’t forget to explore the shrine’s beautiful surroundings and take advantage of the unique photo opportunities.

Afterward, make your way to Yasaka Koshindo Temple, hidden in the quiet streets behind Kiyomizu-dera. This temple is often overlooked by tourists, making it a delightful and serene spot to visit. Admire the colorful balls decorating the temple, which actually represent monkeys and are related to its guardian warrior, Kōshin-san.

Continue your journey to Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. This temple dates back to the 13th century and offers a unique blend of historical significance and exquisite artwork. Marvel at the traditional sliding doors painted with intricate dragon and landscape imagery, as well as the temple’s main hall with its remarkable monochrome ceiling painting of two intertwined dragons.

Conclude your day at Kodai-ji Temple, a hidden gem that offers an uncrowded alternative to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Explore the temple’s Zen gardens and enjoy the peacefulness of Nene’s Path, a bamboo grove that leads you through the backstreets of the Higashiyama neighborhood. Capture photos of the lush green bamboo without the hassle of crowds and enjoy the tranquility of this off-the-beaten-path destination.

Day 4: Fushimi Inari Shrine and Day Trips from Kyoto

On your final day in Kyoto, embark on a journey to Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of the city’s most famous attractions. This shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and is known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Take your time to explore the shrine’s expansive grounds, visit the smaller temples along the trail, and enjoy the serene atmosphere.

If you have extra time, consider taking a day trip from Kyoto to nearby cities such as Osaka, Nara, Uji, Lake Biwa, Kobe, Himeji, Kurashiki, or Mt. Koya (Koyasan). Each destination offers its unique attractions and cultural experiences, allowing you to expand your exploration beyond Kyoto.

Things to Keep in Mind

When visiting Kyoto, remember that you do not necessarily need to purchase a Japan Rail Pass unless it aligns with your budget and travel plans. Kyoto has excellent public transportation options, including buses, trains, and subway systems, which can efficiently take you to your desired destinations.

Taxis are also available in Kyoto, but it’s essential to keep in mind that they can be expensive. Consider using a Taxi Fare Calculator to estimate costs and decide if this mode of transportation aligns with your budget.

In conclusion, spending 4 days in Kyoto allows you to fully immerse yourself in the city’s unique culture, history, and hidden treasures. By following this detailed itinerary, you’ll be able to explore Kyoto’s main attractions, beat the crowds, and discover off-the-beaten-path destinations. Take your time, savor the beauty of each location, and create unforgettable memories in the enchanting city of Kyoto.

Related Posts

© 2024 themedipia - WordPress Theme by WPEnjoy