2 Days In Kyoto- Best Things to Do In 48 hours

By Till Schweppe, who switched the sights of his homeland Germany for peaceful temples and the natural magic of Kyoto.
Edited by Holly Stark

Kyoto has a lot to offer. It’s a laid-back, peaceful city with the most beautiful and scenic temples and grounds, spots of natural beauty, bamboo forests, historic attractions and a quirky food scene with lots of charming little places to eat. For me, Kyoto is magic. It’s a mix of so many things and I notice that when biking around. The main river (Kamo) runs through the city and is a surreal pause of calm. In the midst of Kyoto city life you can see peaceful mountains, turtles and cranes. When I’m biking around the city, I can discover the true sense of Kyoto; all the while taking in the history, gardens, impressive temples and the beautiful Japanese way of life. There are lots of great places to explore and many things to do in Kyoto in 2 days.

2 days in Kyoto may not seem like long, but your Kyoto 2 day itinerary can be packed with the best things to do in Kyoto; including non touristy things to do in Kyoto and cheerful yet cheap things to do in Kyoto. Kyoto is enchanting thanks to its welcoming people, outstanding food, quiet and sublime spaces, colourful shrines and geishas. Discover the neighbourhoods where there is a seamless balance between the urban and the rural and immerse yourself in Kyoto’s sense of peace and connection with nature. Embedded within the culture of the city lies a zest and respect for life; a harmonious balance of work and love for nature. Here’s your guide to the best things to do in Kyoto in 2 days in order to get the best out of your trip.

See our personalized tours & experiences in Kyoto

Day 1 Morning


Kickstart your trip exploring the Gion area; where you can feel the true spirit of the city’s charm; traditionally dressed geishas, temples, the old city, wooden Tastsumi bridge and upscale restaurants and boutiques on Hanamikoji Street. Known as the traditional entertainment district with its theatres, bars, restaurants and traditional teahouses, Gion comes alive after dark when you can still see geisha and maiko scurrying to their next appointment, and is one of the top local things to do in Kyoto. Nightlife ranges from quiet sake bars to buzzing, izakaya pubs. But it’s also great during the day. 

See our personalized tours & experiences in Kyoto

Gion Corner hosts traditional Kyomai dances, while Kennin-ji Temple is known for its Zen garden and Yasaka Shrine has seasonal festivals in a lantern-lit courtyard. Yasaka Shrine is located next to Maruyama public park and during the first half of April when the sakura trees are in full bloom, Maruyama Park is a well-frequented hanami spot for cherry blossom viewing. The shrine’s main building is home to an inner sanctuary (honden) and an offering hall (haiden.) In front of this is a dance stage with hundreds of hanging lanterns that are lit every night after dark. Enjoy the river. Don’t rush. Peacefully soak up all the area has to offer.

Lunch and afternoon

Spend lunch time exploring the city centre. There are so many things to do in Kyoto central that a Kyoto 2 days itinerary simply can’t fit them all in. Nevertheless, head to the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyōto Gosho), which used to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Located in the spacious and beautiful grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyōto Gyoen), Imperial Palace is a must-see with broad paths, green gardens, tree groves and a pretty group of weeping cherry trees beside Konoe Pond. Head to Sanjō Station where you can find lots of shops and restaurants unique to Japan. Since you’re already in the hotspot of restaurants, support  traditional, local Japanese restaurants with a safe bet lunch of fried eggs, dumplings, noodles or veggies.

Evening

On a clear day, check out the sunset from the Kyoto Tower observation deck and soak up the stunning panoramic city views. Alternatively, take a one-hour round trip hike from Ginkaku-ji Temple up to the viewpoint on Mt. Daimonji-yama. First, enjoy Ginkaku-ji Temple (the Silver Pavilion), a lesser known elegant temple which belongs to the Buddhist Shokoku School of the Rinzai Zen sect. Set at the base of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, the grounds have scenic views which are some of the best to be seen among Kyoto’s shrines. Full of charming details, the Ginkaku-ji Temple was modeled on its sister temple Kinkaku-ji Temple (the Golden Pavilion). Then start the best short hike in Kyoto, not many people go there and it’s pretty under the radar. The view of the city from the top is incredible! Watch the sun set over Kyoto and enjoy the blissful surroundings and unique, grounding experience.

Night

Perhaps spend the night walking around the Centre or Gion. Enjoy the feel of old world Japan and soak up the quiet magic of the city. With live music on the streets, glowing temples, ornate bridges and a micro centre, there are plenty of things to do in Kyoto at night. Plus lots of great food to try. Try ramen, tasty gyoza dumplings, yummy side dishes, Japanese curry, pork cutlet, rice, sushi, udon broth, a soba noodle dish with tofu or head to a tea shop for green tea, cakes, smoothies and sweets.

Day 2 - Morning

The magical Arashiyama and Sagano district is not to be missed when in Kyoto exploring the temples and landscapes. Head there early before 10am, which sees the arrival of the big tourist buses. Relish in the beauty and tranquility of the Arashiyama district while strolling beneath the soaring stalks of bamboo at the Bamboo Grove and the quieter winding woodland paths beyond. Arashiyama is located west of Kyoto, tucked along the base of the Arashiyama Mountains, which means Storm Mountains. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get there from the centre of Kyoto. The site is home to the blissful Zen Tenryu-ji Temple, as well as smaller temples away from the crowds that can often be overlooked by tourists, such as the Jojakko-ji Temple. Tenryu-ji Temple has stunning mountain views. Arashiyama is also home to the Iwatayama Monkey Park and Kameyama-koen Park where you can escape the crowds and mingle with the monkeys on the hilltops. Arashiyama is especially popular (and beautiful) during the spring cherry blossom and autumn seasons with their  stunning colourful foliage. It’s super beautiful, your 2 day Kyoto itinerary wouldn’t be complete without it.

Afternoon

Many will want to check out the impressive Golden Temple, especially if you only have 1 day in Kyoto. The beautiful Golden Temple Kyoto is undoubtedly one of the most iconic, and so it is popular and often crowded. Kinkaku-ji Zen Buddhist temple is located in northern Kyoto and the top two floors are coated in gold leaf. It’s not possible to enter the pavilion, but the impressive structure overlooking a peaceful pond can be viewed from across the water, and if you look closely, you may notice that the front windows of the first floor are open. The gardens are a haven abundant in greenery and the Anmintaku Pond is said to never dry up.

 

However, instead I’d recommend heading to Inari. If you’re searching for a scenic view of the city, Kyoto’s must see temples, a non-too strenuous hike in the surrounding hills, and a glimpse at beautiful trees, one of the best things to do in Kyoto is to visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine. Pass through the hypnotic orange Shinto torii gates and enjoy walking through a network of woodland forest trails. It is believed that Fushimi, located at the base of Mt. Inari, 233 metres (764 ft) above sea level, is the most significant of the many shrines dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, harvest, commerce and business: Inari. The site predates the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794 but the main shrine structure was built in 1499. The site has exceptional views of Southern Kyoto. It is just a short walk from Fushimi-Inari Station on the Main Line of the Keihan Electric Railway. It’s open 24 hours and is most spectacular during sunrise or sunset when it is illuminated.

Evening and Night


Head back to the city centre, and you might catch a few final glimpses of the geisha on their way to evening appointments if you’re lucky. Hang out with a beer and soak up the best of Kyoto by night. eat at ramen Hakata-Nagahama-Ramen Miyosh and enjoy the best of Kyoto food. The place is small, but they serve the most delicious ramen. If you like drinking, head to a bar, most are standing bars; very cool, unique and relatively cheap. These uniquely Japanese bars are called tachinomiya, and you’ll find them everywhere, but especially near stations.  Or, spend your last evening of your 2 days in Kyoto sitting along the Kamo riverbank with a book and a beer - this is one of my favourite things to do in this serene city.

Subscribe now and thank us later

Get travel tips from our hosts across the
world plus exclusive offers and discounts

Any questions?

If you’re unsure about anything you can
reach us on any of these channels.

Back to top