For many of us, visiting Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime event and so it pays to have the perfect itinerary.
If you’re planning on visiting Kyoto on your travels, you might be wondering how many days of your trip you should dedicate to visiting this city.
The short answer is… it depends on what you’re in Japan to see!
However, to get the most out of visiting Kyoto, you’re looking at two days minimum but ideally three. If you’ve got longer than that, you can really explore the city and other sites of interest close by too.
Ultimately, knowing what you want to get out of your trip will help you to decide how long to stay in Kyoto.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the things you could do when visiting Kyoto, depending on the length of your stay.
Deciding how long to spend visiting Kyoto
Even though Kyoto isn’t huge as cities go, you’ll still find a plethora of wonderful attractions.
From amazing bamboo forests to various UNESCO World Heritage Sites, your decision on how many days you need to visit Kyoto will really come down to how much of it you wish to see.
For an absolute, thorough understanding of this city, you could easily spend three weeks exploring Kyoto’s treasures.
For most visitors, though, visiting Kyoto is part of a wider exploration of Japan and three weeks isn’t an option.
For General Travelers – Two days minimum is enough to get a good feel of the city. Ideally, three days will give you a great in-depth visit.
Let’s take a look at the things you can do when visiting Kyoto for one, two, three or more days.
1 day visiting Kyoto
Firstly, visiting Kyoto for just one day isn’t really enough but if you’ve only got one day, here are some things you could do.
Many people say Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. It’s filled to the brim with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, well-preserved palaces, and amazing temples.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see them all in one day, but you’ll definitely have time to visit a few.
Some attractions you shouldn’t miss are:
- Fushimi Inari Taisha
- the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- and Gion District
The Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine that sits at the foot of Inari Mountain.
There are also trails to smaller shrines that take around two hours to see (2.5 miles). This shrine is one of the most famous in Japan and even appeared in the motion picture Memoirs or a Geisha in 2005.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (also called Arashiyama Bamboo Grove) is found in the north of the city, at the foot of the Storm Mountains.
It is a world-famous forest with free admission and is open round the clock.
Finally, the Gion District will give you a flavor of the inner city of Kyoto.
Originally, the district was created to accommodate travelers to the Yasaka Shrine but then evolved into the most well-known and exclusive geisha districts in the whole of Japan.
However, you won’t hear the term geisha here. Rather, Kyoto uses the term geiko, which means ‘a woman of art.’
Two days visiting Kyoto
As we said previously, two days is the minimum time you should really dedicate to visiting Kyoto.
With two days, you can almost see all of the best sites in Kyoto Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, and the Gion District as well as:
- Nishiki Market
- and Ginkakuji
If you do want to visit all of these places, be prepared to be busy from morning until night!
You’ll find the Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto at the eastern end of Nishikkoji Street.
This market is full of tradition and history and is well-known as the place to go for the most famous goods and foods in Kyoto.
Kinkakuji is a Buddhist temple whose name means ‘Temple of the Golden Pavillion’ and it is one of Kyoto’s most popular temples.
Kiyomizu-dera is another Buddhist temple that was found in 788. Its name means pure water or clear water.
Finally – Ginkakuji is a Zen temple whose name means ‘Temple of the Silver Pavilion.’ It is in the Sakyo ward of the city.
Three days visiting Kyoto
Three days is ideal for visiting Kyoto.
You’ll get to see the most important sites without feeling rushed.
With three days, you’ll be able to see all of the sites listed above and even spend casual evenings sitting in an Onsen – Japan’s hot springs and bathing facilities.
With three days, you’ll get to see more of the locals and how they live – there’s a huge cultural difference and it’s a great opportunity to see it.
Four days + visiting Kyoto
With four or more days based in this city, you can do all of the above and see a couple of sites a little further out.
It’s a great way of seeing some of Kyoto’s more rural attractions.
Here are some great day trips you can do from Kyoto.
Day trips when staying in Kyoto
Kyoto is strategically located for day trips to other great cities like Nara, Kobe, Osaka, and even Hiroshima and Tokyo.
Though Hiroshima and Tokyo are a little further away, you can easily take a shinkansen (bullet train), though this will add to the expense.
If you love food, love nightlife and love your shops, Osaka is the ideal place for a day trip from Kyoto. Visiting Osaka is easily doable as it takes around an hour.
However, you’ll probably want to stay longer in Osaka too because you really can’t see it all in one day trip!
In Osaka – You can visit Osaka Castle, which is a staple in films like James Bond: You Only Live Twice and Godzilla Raids Again.
Another attraction is the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, which is very beautiful. Osaka also has a beautiful aquarium.
Nara is Japan’s former capital city and is full to the brim of UNESCO World Heritage Sites like shrines and temples.
One of the most popular parts of Nara is Nara Park. This is a huge park that is home to wild deer.
Like Osaka, Nara takes around one hour to get to from Kyoto.
However, unlike Osaka, you can easily explore Nara in a single day so if you’re visiting Kyoto for four days or more, Nara should certainly be added to your itinerary.
Kobe is slightly further away than Nara and Osaka at 1.5 hours from Kyoto.
Famous for its Kobe beef, people come here from all over the globe to try the delicacy.
Kobe also has the best of Japan’s onsen experiences in Arima Onsen, which is a perfect spot to wind down.
Other things to see in Kobe include the Nunobiki Herb Garden, Kitano, Kobe Port, Ikutu shrine, and Chinatown.
In fact, it’s probably better to spend a few days in Kobe on its own!
Further afield but possible to visit from Kyoto is Hiroshima.
If you take the bullet train, you can get there in around two and a half hours.
Hiroshima is famous for being the center of the world’s first atomic bomb dropping in World War II.
As a result, visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum are a must. Aside from these, the city boasts excellent cuisine, a bustling nightlife, and neon-lit streets.
There is the Peace Memorial Park, Orizu tower (with its amazing views over the city), and the beautiful Shukkei-en Garden.
Did we mention Hiroshima Castle?!
This is also a must-see attraction!
However, Hiroshima is a beautiful city in its own right so if you have time to plan a couple of days in the city, you should.
As Japan’s capital, you’ll probably want to spend more than one day in Tokyo.
However, you can visit Tokyo on a day trip from Kyoto using the bullet train.
You’d need to plan your day carefully as there is just so much to see!
If you only have one day in Tokyo, you could do the following:
- Visit the Tsukiji Market for breakfast
- Visit Ginza Kyubey and have sushi for lunch
- Go to the Depachika food hall for dinner
In terms of things to see, you could:
- Wander around the backstreets of Omotesandu in West Tokyo
- Visit Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu
- Take a walk along the Naka-Meguro Canal
- Spend the whole day at the Tokyo Dome.
Final thoughts on how many days to spend visiting Kyoto
If you’re traveling around Japan and planning your itinerary, we would certainly recommend around three days in Kyoto.
Two days will just about cover the major sites, but you will have a jam-packed itinerary with very little down time.
In order to enjoy all that Kyoto has to offer, you would ideally spend three days here.
If you decide to stay longer, there will be plenty to entertain you too – especially if you’re wanting to see things outside of the city on day trips!
While Hiroshima and Tokyo are possible day trips on the bullet train, they really need a few days each too!