Hey travellers to Japan, check out this in-depth guide to the cultural Japanese city and begin planning your Kyoto Itinerary for your visit to the expansive region.
Four Days in Kyoto, it hardly seems enough. Therefore, I can only cringe when I see travellers’ itineraries of Japan that only include a day in Kyoto.
Can you imagine trying to fill in the Fushimi Irani Shrine, Kinkaku-Ji Temple, Nijo Castle, Kiyomizudera, Arashiyami and other must-see attractions in about 12-hours? It’s not possible because these fantastic places need valuable time and energy to appreciate the beauty of each attraction.
A Kyoto 4 day Itinerary requires careful planning. In this article, I hope to assist you in managing your time in one of Japan’s most popular cities with an abundance of unique places to see.
My own time in Kyoto required long days travelling by the magnificent public transportation system or wandering through the region by foot and taking everything in as slowly as possible.
I enjoyed visiting eye-catching temples, historic landmarks and exploring the great outdoors with splendid scenery against the mountains in the background.
For now, let’s prepare the itinerary and get your trip to Kyoto off to a positive start with a rough plan of what to do and where to go when visiting Kyoto.
You’ll soon realise that Kyoto in 4 days is the absolute minimum amount of time you’ll need to spend in the expansive region of Japan.
Kyoto 4 Day Itinerary – What to do in the Traditional Japanese City
Getting to Kyoto From Osaka or Kansai International Airport
Because transportation in Japan is right, you can get into Kyoto from anywhere, with a train or bus the ideal transportation, or arriving by car on the fantastic roads that are in excellent condition.
Generally, people travel from Osaka to Kyoto or even Kansai International Airport, which is about half an hour out of Osaka. However, there are several ways into the city, including getting there from Tokyo.
Many train lines run to Kyoto from Osaka, whether it’s direct or through the metro lines that require changing trains on alternate routes.
If you are travelling from Kansai Airport, the quickest way to Kyoto is to catch the JR Haruka 20 line, which is almost direct and includes a stop at Osaka Station. The trip takes approximately one hour and twenty minutes and cost around 3400-yen.
Taking other routes to Kyoto from the airport usually takes around 40-minutes longer, but it can save you 1000-yen in price if money is an issue.
If your Kyoto trip does begin from Osaka, the metro lines will do the trick with many avenues getting you to Kyoto city, and it can take approximately one hour to get there with the cost ranging from 400-yen to 1300-yen.
The best way to travel the metro lines in the Osaka and Kyoto regions, including other nearby cities, is to purchase an ICOCA card from train stations ticketing machines or Japan Rail Office. There is one located at the Kansai Airport.
Related Article – check out this essential 2-week Itinerary for your next trip to Japan!
Where to stay in Kyoto
There is plenty of options in Kyoto for places to visit with accommodation available for all budgets.
Although you will be hard-pressed to find many hotels available for under $80 a night unless you are willing to stay in a guest house or backpackers, the prices can skyrocket if travelling with a family.
I highly recommend the Mitsui Garden Hotel, which I stayed in during my time in Kyoto as a solo traveller that cost around $110 per night. However, prices can vary depending on the season you travel.
The Mitsui Garden Hotel is conveniently located, clean, comfortable and will do the job for a low to a mid-priced hotel in Kyoto.
Day 1 – Settling in Kyoto
I am sure long before you arrive in the city; you have been planning your own Kyoto Itinerary, no matter how many days you are staying in the city.
At least with four days available to you, there is time to settle into your trip, instead of trying to visit Kyoto in a day and get to as many attractions as possible.
On day one, I suggest you get to know the area where you are staying, visit a temple, go to a nearby market/street thoroughfare or take in a city walk to get to know the local area around you.
Before enjoying a comfortable night relaxing in your hotel and heading off an epic adventure on day two in Kyoto.
Now let’s check out these suggestions below for your first day in Kyoto, which is hopefully an excellent start to your trip:
City Walks in Kyoto
Start your journey off with a personal Kyoto City Tour. I am not telling you to go everywhere, but take a glimpse of the city by walking the streets and getting to know your surroundings and familiarising yourself a little.
Please have a look at the stunning Kyoto Station, which alone can take hours of your time with fancy restaurants, an underground shopping mall chaotic scenes inside the station itself (there are many platforms).
The backstreets are unique and quiet. I suggest you walk down a quiet alleyway and look at the different housing, restaurants, and businesses set up on Kyoto’s backstreets. It is fascinating.
Nishiki Market is a lively place with many tourists and locals with a real positive and loud atmosphere.
In areas of the markets, it’s populated with tourists and locals, and it can make moving about quite tricky, but that happens in most tourist zones in Japan.
For sale, there is a range of Japanese foods of either grilled meats, sushi, crepes, ramen and plenty of other tasty eats with lots of green tea ice-cream situated in several locations throughout the markets.
Tasty foods are not the only thing to get excited about inside Nishiki Markets; many Japanese style souvenirs stalls sell stylish chopsticks, unique arts, men’s/women’s clothing and other goods you may get tempted to buy for a souvenir of your holiday in Kyoto.
You can take a picturesque Kamo Riverwalk whenever you have spare time in Kyoto Itinerary.
For myself, it happened to be on day one (and day two, for that matter) where I had a little free time, and I wanted to take a stroll in the fresh air in a city that offers modern facilities and stunning nature in the outdoors.
Kamo River is a favourite spot for those who want a casual stroll, go exercising with a long run, or sit on the banks of the river and take it easy for a while by gazing at the picturesque surroundings in front of your admiring eyes.
It’s a majestic river that runs through the whole city and further on again, but you only need to see a small part to get your slice of the Kamo River.
Day 2 – The Eastern part of Kyoto City
On the second day, things really begin to heat up as the feet get moving to many different places inside Kyoto.
During the second day of my Kyoto tour, I headed to the Eastern part of Kyoto, only a little distance from the city centre, where many historical attractions awaited to be seen and it was magnificent.
The key to most attractions in Kyoto is to get in early and attempt to beat the crowds, which is clearly hard to do if have a Kyoto day trip is planned and visiting many attractions. You can try your best to beat the crowds, but eventually, it proves to be fruitless because the crowds will come.
Heian Shrine is a decorated Japanese structure that has a splendid appeal in both texture and colour. The Shrine was built a relatively short time ago, regarding history, in 1895 and was dedicated to the emperors who reigned supreme in Kyoto, Japan.
Inside the main grounds are four main buildings which are separated and sit horizontal to one another, and the white limestone flooring creates a great shuffling noise while taking a stroll across the grounds of Heian Shrine.
A must when visiting Heian Shrine is to visit the gardens around the back. While the Shrine is free of charge, the gardens do require a small entrance fee of 600-yen. It’s certainly worth the price to wander the stunning gardens and gaze through beautifully landscaped gardens, lakes and well-designed Japanese structures located throughout the gardens.
The ideal time to spend at Heian Shrine: 1-2 hours.
Free entry, Yasaka shrine is another stunning Japanese building that is worth your attention when visiting Kyoto. it’s a shrine full of colour, amazing structures and Japanese culture on display, especially with many locals and foreigners wandering around in their Kimono dresses.
The excitement levels go up another level at Yasaka Shrine, with the atmosphere getting louder as a guest to the shrine scramble to ring the sacred bells and partake in the special water, which is commonly seen during your Kyoto travel experience.
Inside is also a few market stalls and street foods readily available for purchase to get a much-needed energy boost. The day has just begun, so why not stock up.
The ideal time to spend at Yasaka Shrine: 1-hour.
More tradition, more history and this time, it’s Kodai-Ji Temple that gets worthy attention as the beauty goes up another level with this breathtaking temple.
The Kodai-Ji is mesmerising with many Japanese buildings, each with unique structures and is blended in beautifully with the mountains in the backdrop and the landscaped gardens that add to the pristine setting.
Established in 1606, in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, there is a lot of history inside Kodai-Ji, and it’s a privilege to be on the grounds of something so wonderful and ancient, with the old Sony Mirrorless camera getting a solid workout while taking many pictures of the temples, gardens and its very own bamboo grove.
A side-note, Kodai-Ji was undoubtedly my favourite temple to visit in Kyoto.
The Ideal Time to spend at Kodai-Ji Temple: 1-hour.
Another busy tourist attraction in the form of a street thoroughfare, Ninenzaka adds incredible culture and tradition that fits into the scene perfectly. The streets are buzzing with tourists, geishas and other locals that make moving along the busy strip near on impossible. The popular thoroughfare is made up of many shops, tea houses and food outlets that are decorated with amazing Japanese style housing and at the end of the road is the next tourist attraction, Kiyomizu-Dera.
Kiyomizu-Dera temple means “pure water” and is said to be the most attended temple in Kyoto. Judging by the crowds that gathered during my trip to the temple, there is no disputing that call.
The most popular thing to do at Kiyomizu-Dera is to go to one of the three waterfalls and touch the special water; by doing that, it’s believed it can give you magical powers, no wonder there is quite a queue.
It’s easy to see why the much-celebrated Kiyomizu-Dera temple is a popular choice for all visitors to Kyoto, not only for the wonderfully designed temple structures that are situated on the ground of Kiyomizu-Dera but the stunning backdrop of the mountains in the background helps create a picturesque setting making for terrific photos.
The temple was first founded in 778, with its present buildings being constructed in 1633, and it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1994.
The Ideal time to spend at Kiyomizue-Dera: 1-2 hours.
Kennin-Ji Temple has a lot of history associated with it being founded in 1202. This fine temple is one of the oldest in Kyoto and is located in the Gion Geisha District, which means more women dressed in the traditional kimono dress.
Like most temples, it comes with a mixture of fine traditional Japanese structured buildings and is mixed in with a short garden walk that is quite popular in most attractions in the region.
The Ideal time to spend at Kennin-Ji temple: 30-mins to 1-hour.
Gion is known as the motherland of Geishas and is a Ninenzaka type street thoroughfare set-up, with plenty of souvenir shopping, tea houses and Japanese food outlets for a traditional Japanese experience through your travels.
Time to spend in Gion: 1-hour, perhaps longer if you want to chill for a while.
Day 3 – Visit the biggest tourist hotspots in Kyoto
Without question, on day three of the Kyoto trip, I saw two of the biggest tourist attractions that there is to do in the region – Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari Shrine. Because 4 days in Kyoto is a hectic schedule, I recommend that you do the same thing.
Arashiyama is a little out of Kyoto and will take approximately 30-minutes to get there from the city centre, while Inari Shrine is situated closer to the city. It’s situated on the opposite side to Arashiyama and will take a good 40-minutes to get there by rail, depending on wait times for the train and changeover at Kyoto Station.
Let’s get into it, day three of your Kyoto trip Itinerary.
Arashiyama is simply breathtaking. From the moment you get off the light train at Arashiyama, the natural beauty is there for all to see. In fact, you could easily spend a few days in the popular region rather than a few hours and create an Arashiyama Itinerary on top of your own Kyoto travel guide.
For the Arashiyama segment, as there are so many places to see, let’s go over a few of the noted highlights for your time in the picturesque area. As a side note, I only mention one temple below, but there are many others to see.
The Bamboo Forest Walk: The Bamboo Forest Walk is the first to mind when visiting Arashiyama. It’s a beautiful yet sometimes crowded walk depending on the time of day that you get there.
Many Bamboo trees are lined up on either side of the path as an entrance into the forest and create a beautiful sight that needs to be seen for yourself.
The Bamboo Forest Walk is free entry, one of the few attractions in Arashiyama, that is. No matter how large the crowds are during the day, a stroll through the Bamboo forest is unforgettable.
Tenryu-Ji Temple: The Tenryu-Ji Temple is one of the most popular temples in Arashiyama (naturally, there are many). It starts with a beautiful garden walk before arriving at the major temple building, which has unbelievable scenery surrounding it.
The temple was built in the year 1339 by the ruling leader Ashikaga Takauji. The main building itself overlooks a gorgeous lake with the gardens surrounding the main water feature. The mountains blend in perfectly in the background, and as I mentioned, it’s stunning.
Okochi Sanso Garden: It cost a 1000-yen to enter the picturesque Okochi Sanso garden, but you won’t have any regrets once you hand the money over. The gardens were designed by a Japanese actor who created them specifically to be a film set in the picturesque settings on his own estate.
Not only is it a garden walk with plenty of nice Japanese buildings, but you also get a complimentary Green-tea cake and tea that is appreciated inside a boutique tea house surrounded by large bamboo trees.
It’s a relaxing atmosphere and one of my favourite attractions in Arashiyama; I could only imagine being so much better during the cherry blossom season when everything looks much prettier.
Katsura River: The attractive Katsura River is full of activity, with many tourist boats flowing through the water and showing the tourists the surrounding areas of Arashiyama.
It’s a great time to get your camera out to click away while taking a gentle stroll along the banks of the river.
The Katsura River is the ideal location to have a bite to eat for lunch at a riverside restaurant and enjoy a bowl of ramen or other selections of Japanese food.
It’s even better unwinding with a glass of cold beer and enjoying the sounds of the Katsura River, which is in full view from where you are dining.
Arashiyama Monkey Park: Who knew entering a monkey park would require some form of fitness, and that is exactly what you get when you enter the gates of the Iwatayama Monkey Park.
Before you even see a monkey for the first time, you need to hike up a hill for 20-minutes, and it will test your fitness out in the process.
The Monkey Park is a tad overrated; while there are a few large and tamed monkeys at the peak of the hill once you have completed the hike, I find that you get more distracted by the nice views of Kyoto City out in the distance.
Arashiyama back streets and town-centre walk: Wandering through Arashiyama is not only about the pleasant attractions or breathtaking temples, but a quiet walk along the backroads is also compulsory to view the unique township.
During your walk away from the crowds, you can witness many Japanese style housing with a few selling unique souvenirs of fine art or jewellery and stop in for a tea, coffee or a bite to eat at a selection of cafés along the streets.
The town centre of Arashiyama is packed with tourists, and plenty is going on in terms of retail shopping and restaurants. It’s the perfect time to treat yourself to the ever-popular green tea ice cream sold in many locations throughout Arashiyama.
Time to spend in Arashiyama: Depending on your schedule, anything from a few hours to a couple of days.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Getting off the train at Inari station, the festival begins on the street with a range of expensive markets and food outlets available where ever you look. It won’t stop the tourists from getting their coins out for a bite of the expensive Japanese street food.
The main Shrine is a stunning feature with beautiful looking Japanese-style buildings with tourists gathering for the best possible photo shoot.
Good luck capturing a photo without a random stranger getting in the way of the picture, especially during the middle part of the day when people are everywhere.
After the main buildings, you ascend further into the shrine and into the area that makes Fushimi Inari Shrine popular for what it is.
I speak of the orange torii gates, the unique orange figures that are rowed in many numbers. You may have seen the famous gates in the hit movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” during the scene when the young girl is running through gates before the movie moves into her adult years.
The orange Torii gates represent the staple of all holy Shinto sites. The Fushimi Inari Shrine has thousands of them on its grounds and eventually will turn into a large hike.
The hike through the gates takes around 2.4km kilometre in total, bypassing many gravesites and ringing bells, before walking ascending the hill to find more stunning views of Kyoto.
It’s an exhausting hike, and I encourage you to carry plenty of water throughout your hike. If you don’t, there are vending machines available throughout, but it does come at an excessive price for a 600ml bottle of water.
The admittance price for the shrine is complimentary.
Time to spend at the Fushimi Inari Shrine: 1-3 hours.
Day 4 – Historical attractions with a large presence
After a crazy amount of time exploring the region on days two and three, a laid-back approach is required on the fourth day of your Kyoto day trip out and about in the city, which is about avoiding the trains and using the bus services to get to Kyoto attractions, again using the same ICOCA Card you used for trains.
Kyoto sightseeing goes up another level on this occasion with the famous Kinkaku-Ji temple, Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace the centre of the attention for day four.
A day in Kyoto is once again started with a temple visit, but you haven’t been to Kyoto unless you have seen Kinkaku-Ji.
The Kinkaku-Ji Temple is the number-one-rated temple in Kyoto, according to TripAdvisor, and when it comes to appearance, the Golden structure of the Temple is tucked away behind the picturesque lake and pleasant viewing of the mountains in the background, is certainly nothing short than spectacular.
You don’t need to be a world-class photographer to take a good photo of the Kinkaku-Ji, because this temple originally built in 1397 will take care of the rest for you.
In terms of other attractions to do around Kinkaku-Ji, there isn’t a great deal more to do there than to gaze your eyes at a delightful golden temple that is a must-see and worth the admittance price alone.
Soon enough, you’ll be back on the number-bus, which takes you directly to the next attraction in Nijo Castle.
The ideal time to spend at Kinkaku-Ji temple: 1-hour.
Castles in Japan!!! There are a few, and Nijo Castle situated in Central Kyoto is a must-see attraction for all tourists.
There is plenty to see inside and outside the castle, whether it’s the stunning design of the buildings, the moat surrounding the castle, the lookout towers on each corner of the castle, the beautifully landscaped gardens and the amazing artwork inside of the main building.
It’s an educated day out visiting the centuries-old Nijo Castle, which has an entrance fee of 600-yen.
It’s another reason to fall in love with Kyoto, as there is lots of history to gain knowledge of inside the castle, with various types of artwork throughout different rooms.
For example, the fine paintings of tigers used in the waiting room, which in the 1600s were used to intimidate the guests of usually Korean or Chinese origins, found those animals most fearsome. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed to be taken inside the main halls.
The ideal time to spend in Nijo Castle: 2-3 hours.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Last but not least, because there are many things to explore, is the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Another attraction that contains more tradition, more history and more splendid buildings that were reconstructed at these grounds of Imperial Park in 1865.
The Palace, which is free to enter and comes with complimentary guided tours in both Japanese or English, is situated on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Park, which contains views of well-landscaped gardens and the buildings of the Imperial Palace.
There is plenty of places to see inside a four-day trip to Kyoto, and even on this list of places, it would be ideally covered over five days because there is not a lot of time for rest.
Often in travels, time is not always on our side unless you’re staying at a luxury resort that is made for relaxing. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this detailed itinerary of Kyoto and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.