You can easily spend many days in Kyoto and not get bored. Even though our 3 days in Kyoto last month was super short, we were able to visit most of Kyoto’s highlights leisurely. Now that I got a taste of what Kyoto was about, I know what I would do the next trip back!
My 6 favorites from 3 days in Kyoto
Kyoto was much more spread out than I imagined. Yes you can reach most tourist sites by Kyoto Bus, City Bus, JR, subway and local trains. But to maximize the little time we have, we ended up taking taxi everywhere. Below are my six personal favorites of Kyoto:
- Nishiki market – A leisure stroll through the market over a few hours was just perfect to enjoy this famous Kyoto kitchen.
- Higashiyama district – I would definitely spent more time here on my next trip instead of just one hour. Besides Kiyomizudera Temple, there are a couple more temples and shrines I wouldn’t mind seeing. I would try to plan my trip in late March so that I can see the illumination in the evening.
- Arashiyama – I can easily spend a day or more here.in this picturesque forested area in western Kyoto, but half a day will do too.
- Kinkakuji Temple – it is so gold and so stunning when the sun shines right on it!
- A lunch in Otzuka steakhouse is a must in Kyoto.
- Traditional Kaiseki Kyoto meal – Meat or no meat, Michelin-star or not, it is something you must experience in Kyoto.
I will definitely repeat my favorites on my next trip back to Kyoto. I would also like to spend sometime walking through Gion district, even though the taxi driver told us there weren’t much to see there. I would like to see a Maiko performance, since it is impossible to get invited to a Geisha performance and the cost is the ridiculous high (I was told it could cost as much as $1,500 a person, a price I am not willing to pay.)
Trip Planning & Review of hotel and flights
- Our first trip to Kyoto is here and 4 lessons I learned from planning this trip.
- Best routes and cheapest miles to Japan from the U.S.
- Best hotels on points in Kyoto and Osaka from 4 major hotel chains.
- 3 ways to get from Osaka airport to Kyoto
- JAL First Class SFO to HND review
- Hyatt Regency Kyoto Review
- JAL Business Class HND to SFO review, and row 9 window seat is the best!
Itinerary for 3 days in Kyoto
I would probably have done the trip a little different if we weren’t traveling with two ten-year old kids. Some of the activities, such as the Monkey Park and Toei Kyoto Studio Park, were very much tailored to them. Below are recaps of what we did over our short trip. The itinerary was planned given the time we had, and the weather forecast (it rained 2 out of 3 days!).
- Do a lazy stroll through Nishiki Market. Be sure to take your time, and don’t forget to taste the local specialities and do a little shopping too!
- Walk through Nijo Castle, only if you have time to spare.
- Book a dinner experience Japanese Yakoniku BBQ
- Walk through the thousand gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in the morning, spend two hours or even half a day.
- 6 things to do over a half day in Arashiyama, but you can easily spend a whole day here.
- Visit stunning Kinkakuji temple while the sun is still up.
- Plan an unforgettable evening of traditional Kaiseki Kyoto meal.
- Experiencing old Kyoto in charming Higashiyama District.
- A simple delicious lunch at Otsuka steakhouse, you must include it in your plans. They are only open for lunch.
- Unexpected fun at Toei kyoto Studio Park, a nice break from temples and shrines, for kids and adults.
More than 3 days in Kyoto
I am sure there are more temples and shrines in Kyoto that are worth visiting. But honestly, after a while, they all began to look the same. 🙂 If you have more days and you want to spend outside of Kyoto, you should plan a day trip to nearby Nara to feed deers. Perhaps combine it with a tea ceremony in Uji in the morning.
It is worthwhile spending a day in Osaka if you have never been there before. You can visit Osaka Castle and its beautiful plum garden, eat and shop your way through the famous Dotonburi and Shinsaibashi area. We had an awesome inexpensive dinner at the top rated ramen house Ichiran Dotonburi, which according to my daughter, is her favorite from the entire trip! We also have one of the best wagyu beef at Yakiniku M. Dotonburi,
I love Japan and everything about it. I now understand why so many people love Kyoto more than Osaka and Tokyo. Besides its beautiful natural scenery, rich history and exquisite culinary, I think the people in Kyoto also make a big difference. They are friendly, warm, and simply elegant! I can’t wait to plan another trip back, and hopefully spending more than just 3 days in Kyoto!
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Thanks Sharon for the detailed well planned itinerary. I think I will just follow your itinerary. I have been to Tokyo but have always wanted to go to Kyoto. Just reading about the food is reason enough to go and of course the temples.
Yes food is really good there and try to make reservations ahead! I think what we did worked out perfectly for just 3 days, and in no rush at all. But we did take taxi everywhere (there were 5 of us squeezing into a taxi), that definitely added to cost but saved us lots of time. While you are in Arashiyama district, you need to decide whether to have lunch at the temple restaurant or the casual steakhouse Otsuka, as they are both in that area. This way, on day 3 you can spend more time in Higashiyama. Also, if you are pressed for time, skip Nijo Castle, not the most exciting place. 😉 If you have more than 3 days, do a day trip to Uji and Nara, and another day trip to Osaka.
Can you pl let us know of how expensive the food were (sushi, beef etc.) for breakfast/lunch/dinner meals/drinks?
I didn’t find the food to be particularly expensive in Kyoto.
1) We didn’t pay for breakfast as it was free with my Hyatt diamond status. But coffee plus a bakery item can’t be that expensive? Just find a coffee shop, or 7-11!
2) For sushi, Ganko is an affordable sushi restaurant chain. We went to a popular wall-in-the-hole sushi place in Osaka and while it was cheap and fresh, I was not too impressed (Cramp seats and wet floor). Between the two, I prefer Ganko.
3) Waygu beef was surprisingly cheap compared to here in California. The first Yakiniku BBQ place we spent about $100 for dinner (3 adults 2 kids), food at Otsuka is combo plate and price is shown on the menu (from 1300 Yen and up, we picked 3700 Yen), Yakiniku M. Dotonburi in Osaka was the most expensive beef dinner we had but even that, it was about $180 for lots of different cut of Waygu beef, it was awesome!!
4) Tradition Kaiseki Kyoto meal, we did the cheapest lunch 3000 Yen at Shigetsu the vegetarian place inside Temryuji Temple, and we did the 9000 yen course at Ganko Takasegawe Niljoen but we got a discounted price of 5000 yen because my friend Lisa knows the owner. It was too much food so I imagine the 5000 yen course would have the right portion for us. 😉
5) There is always cheap ramen and udon shops, about $10-$20 per person.
6) Not sure about drink prices. We drank water most of the time with our meals. Coffee price is a bit more expensive than here in the States.
I’m a Kyoto native, and though I am probably very biased, I agree that food in Kyoto is very good in general. I tell people that you have to try very hard to find bad food in Kyoto, and in most other parts of Japan.
I have to disagree about Nijo Castle. I think it is really worth a visit. However, the problem with Kyoto is that there’s way too many things to do there, and one must make a painful decision of what NOT to do there.
I was a bit surprised that Sharon and her group did not make a visit to Sanjusangendo, which is a truly spectacular Buddhist temple located adjacent to Hyatt Regency Kyoto.
I heard about the temple by Hyatt. I did want to go but we really didn’t have time. It just didn’t work out for this trip. But there will be next Kyoto trip. We got driven to Imperial Palace on the last day and it was closed.