Kyoto is by far my favourite city in Japan even though I have just been to Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. You will be amazed how Kyoto able to master the perfect mixture of modern trends, traditional Japanese culture, and numerous iconic sites. Kyoto is literally the best place to see Japanese traditions and culture comes to live in everyday life. If it’s your first time in Kyoto and you only have 72 hours to spend, here is a great itinerary that will allow you to see many of the highlights. P.S is more than enough to delight your eyes and stimulate the mind.
P.S I decided to write this travel guide after 2 and a half years. #someseriousthrowbackgame lol
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha (FREE)
Since I traveled from Nara to Kyoto, my first stop is the most iconic, Fushimi Inari Taisha which it’s on the way from Nara to Kyoto vice versa via JR line. I’ve got to say this is one of the best destinations to visit when you are in Kyoto or Japan in general! Try avoid the crowd by going there earlier since the shrine area is open 24/7. You don’t have to get your shot on the very first set of orange gates you see, there are PLENTY to go around.
2. Kamogawa River (FREE)
If you happen to arrive Kyoto in late afternoon, I would suggest you to stroll along Kamogawa Riverbank aka Duck River and catch the sun sets. During the spring and summer, restaurants open their balconies looking out onto the river. This is called “Noryo Yuka” where people enjoy outdoor dining to enjoy the cool breeze of the evening with their food. Sometimes, you can also chance upon a Geisha or two, walking on the riverbank.
3. Gion District (FREE)
After catching the sunset, Gion is a great place to end your day in Kyoto. This historic district is from the Middle Ages when it was developed as a “Geisha” district to showcase the arts to travelers. I’ve been to SO many areas in Kyoto, but none had as many women dressed in kimanos. The area is also alive with many restaurants, bars, and shops. Of course if you are lucky enough, you may even catch a peek at a local Geisha and Maiko.
4. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (FREE)
I would highly recommend you to visit Arashiyama and its legendary bamboo forest in the early morning to have it (mostly) to yourself. Take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful bamboo that sways gently in the wind. If you’re a fan of matcha, make sure you grab yourself a matcha ice-cream right before you enter the bamboo forest.
5. Katsura River (FREE)
Arashiyama has a lot to offer, including the scenic Katsura River. Spend some time meandering along the Katsura River. You can also visit the well-known Arabica cafe for a cup of coffee (if the lines aren’t too long)!
6. Ryoanji Temple (500 yen)
Relax your mind and soul by visiting Ryoan-ji Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its iconic Zen rock garden, which is one of the symbols of Kyoto. It may take you a while to appreciate and understand it, but it is certainly worth the time to study them carefully.
7. Nishiki Market (FREE)
Regardless you’re a shopaholic or just a window shopper, Nishiki Market is an interesting place to spend a day. From delicious treats to handmade traditional crafts, you can find them here. This is also a great stop for extra hot or rainy days, as the entire market is shaded.
8. Higashiyama District (FREE)
Higashiyama District is an absolute delight to walk through. Not only is the area full of buildings of another time, but it is also full of people dressed up in kimonos making for that quintessential Japan postcard picture. The best part of the district is located between Kiyomizudera and Hokan-ji Temple.
9. Hokan-ji Temple (FREE)
The Hokan-ji Temple aka Yakasa Pagoda is a 150 foot pagoda rising above Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama district. The pagoda was said to have been built in 589 based on a supposed dream that a prince had. Dreamy and fairytale like are certainly descriptors for this part of Kyoto.
10. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (300 yen)
Atop a beautiful hill is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by beautiful nature backdrop that changes over the seasons, including the cherry blossoms and new green leaves of spring, and the colours of the foliage in autumn. The temple is also known for hosting an array of magical features. Not to mention, it is also the perfect observation deck to check out Kyoto skyline.
11. Arabica Kyoto Higashiyama
When I was planning Kyoto, I kept reading about a coffee shop called Arabica. I couldn’t get through a suggested itinerary without hearing that you had to stop for a coffee at Arabica. So obviously, it was on my list of things to do.
If you are in Kyoto or Japan in general, make sure you try out Omakase. Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting a chef choose your order. The word means “I will leave it to you.” It’s a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience.
Last but not least, make sure you eat as many bowls of ramen as possible!