How many days should I spend in Kyoto? Where are the best places to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto?
In this guide, we will answers these questions and give our advice on how to best experience this wonderful city during the spring time.
Kyoto was originally founded during the Heian period in 794 and the name Kyoto means capital city. For over a thousand years, it was the official capital of Japan until the Meiji Restoration when the home of Imperial family was moved to Edo (Tokyo). Kyoto has over 1600 temples and is home to many historical sites. The city has such a rich history and many cultural landmarks that it is also known as the heart of Japan.
Kyoto is one of Japan’s most romantic destinations and it boasts some of the most spectacular hanami (cherry blossom viewing spots). There are number of factors that you need to consider when planning a trip. Some spots are best viewed in the autumn while others are best seen during the cherry blossom season. The most famous “Instagram” places get really crowded during the peak times of the year. So, if you’re hoping to get some modeling shots at Fushimi Inari or the Bamboo Forrest, you’ll need to get to those places just before the sunrise. Even then, expect to see some early birds there.
There is so much to see in Kyoto that we think you’ll need at least 3 full days to truly experience everything the city has to offer. In fact, we created our suggested 4 Day Kyoto Itinerary with a map that includes many cherry blossom spots and a few of the most popular year-round spots too!
Summary of 4 Day Kyoto Itinerary:
• Day 1: Philosophers Path and Higashiyama Area
• Day 2: Arashiyama, Heian Jingu and Okazaki Canal
• Day 3: Fushimi Inari and Day Trip Options
• Day 4: Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Ryoanji, and Ninnaji
Most of the time we recommend using the buses to get around Kyoto. Many areas are not easily accessible by train or subway. We have found that Rechargeable IC cards are the easiest way to ride the buses. Though bus passes may save you money, some the bus routes may not accept your bus pass. So, if you decide to purchase a bus pass, we advise bringing a Rechargeable IC card (one per person) with you. It will help you have more smooth travels.
In Kyoto, buses are boarded from the rear and exited from the front. Within the city, there is a flat fare zone, where adults only have to pay 230 yen and children under 12 years old pay 120 yen. Outside the flat fare zone, you should touch your card to an IC card reader when you enter the bus and again on your way out.
There are many ways to get around Kyoto including using a taxi. The transportation information in this guide is for planning purposes. Our transport suggestions are meant to be used as a reference for how to get around Kyoto. On the days that you are traveling, there may be unexpected delays or changes due to weather, traffic or other events. So, please plan accordingly.
Kyoto Tourist Information Center
The Tourist Information Center is located on the second floor of Kyoto Station. If it’s your first time to Kyoto, we recommend stopping by there to pickup a map and a Kyoto Guide. During the cherry blossom season and in the autumn, this office has daily updates on which places are the most beautiful during the season when you are visiting Kyoto. We found this information to be rather helpful. The office also offers tips on where the late blooming cherry blossom spots are. The Tourist Information Center hours are: 8:30 AM to 7 PM.
Whether you are looking for spots to take the best photos or places to have the most fun, our guide has you covered. We hope you get inspired by our 4 Day Kyoto Itinerary for the cherry blossom season. If you can, we recommend checking into the hotel the night before you start this itinerary. It will make the trip more enjoyable if you start the first day after a good night of sleep.
Spring is a very popular time of year. If you can’t find a reasonably priced hotel in Kyoto during the time when you plan to visit, we recommend booking a hotel in Shiga prefecture. There are good hotels at Moriyama Station or Ishiyama Station in Shiga prefecture. It takes around 30-40 minutes to get to Kyoto Station from those stations.
We created this itinerary with photos that we took during our trips to Kyoto last year. We hope that you find it helpful. Well, let’s begin!
Kyoto Itinerary: Day 1
8:30 - Arrive at Kyoto Station
Go to the north side of the station (Karasuma side) You will see Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Bus Terminal. Take bus 5, 17, or 100 to the Ginkakuji-mae stop. It will take around 40 minutes and cost 230 yen for adults (120 yen for children under 12 years old).
9:30 - From the bus stop, go east in the opposite direction of Ginkakuji and you will come to the Philosophers Path. It takes about 5 minutes to get there. The Philosophers Path is approximately 2 kilometers long and it takes about 30 minutes to walk it. Along the way, there are craft shops and stylish cafés along the path. If you’d like to take a coffee break, there are two cafés that we recommend, Pomme and Kuroganeya. Pomme is located on the right side of the river walking south along the path. Kuroganeya is nearby Pomme on the opposite side of the river and a little further down the path.
10:30 - Walk through Nanzenji Temple to Keage Station. Take the Tozai Subway line to Higashiyama Station. Exit the station and walk over to Chion-in Temple. It takes about 8 minutes.
The Sanmon Gate at Chion-in Temple is the largest wooden gate in Japan. It’s breathtaking to see with the cherry blossoms. This temple is undergoing major renovation so after you see the Sanmon Gate and taken some photos, move on to the next spot. Head west and walk through Maruyama Park. After you go through the park, you will come to Yasaka Jinja Shrine. Entry is free to the shrine. It has a garden which is a popular spot for Hanami, cherry blossom viewing parties.
11:30 - Next head over to Kodaiji. It’s about a 3 minute walk up the hill going south-east. If you’d like to take a break, on the way there is a cool cafe with a koi (carp) pond called Rakusho Cafe.
12:00 - After you get to the entrance of Kodaiji Temple. Walk up the steps and turn left and pay the entrance fee of 600 yen. Then you will enter the Hojo (main building). The temple in well-known for its elaborate gardens and a beautiful shidare-zakura (weeping cherry blossom tree).
12:45 - Next walk over to Ryozen Kannon. It’s right next to Kodaiji Temple. Ryozen Kannon is a Buddhist monument dedicated to people who died in World War II. General admission for Ryozen Kannon is 300 yen.
13:15 - Have lunch. There are several restaurants in the area. If it’s a nice sunny day, it’s fun to eat outside under the cherry blossoms. Maruyama Park is our recommended place to do that. You can pick up a bento (Japanese lunch box), or get some food from the food stands in the park.
15:00 - Go back to the hotel and get some rest.
16:30 - Leave you hotel and go to Kiyomizudera Temple. From Kyoto Station, get on the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station. It takes 3 minutes. Then, take to the Keihan Main Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. It's about a 20 minute walk up the hill to the temple.
Kiyomizudera Temple is a great place to see the sunset (around 18:15 this time of year). General admission is 300 yen. If you wait until the sun goes down, you can also see the light-up with the cherry blossoms.
Kiyomizudera’s main hall is covered up due to renovation but you can still enter the main hall and see the rest of the temple.
19:00 - Have dinner in Gion. There are many restaurants along the street. Then go back to the hotel early so that you can be well-rested for getting up early. Next day is Arashiyama!
Please refer to the chart for our Kyoto Itinerary Day 1:
Kyoto Itinerary: Day 2
We recommend getting to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest before 7 AM to avoid the crowds. So, you’ll need to get up really early if you’re hoping to take some pictures without many people there. If you don’t mind the crowds then get to Kyoto Station by 8:30 and follow this itinerary from there.
5:50 - Arrive at Kyoto Station. Take the JR Sagano Line (also known as JR Sanin Line) to Saga-Arashiyama Station. It takes 15 minutes. There are 20 minute intervals between the 6:04 and 6:24 trains. So, it’s best to get to Kyoto Station with enough time to find track number 32.
6:20 - Leave the station and walk towards central Arashiyama. It takes about 10 minutes from the station. Go to the main streets of Arashiyama and look for the entrance to Tenryuji Temple. From there the Bamboo forest is on the left. This bamboo grove has a road that runs through it from Nonomiya Shrine to Okochi Sanso Villa. The path goes for about 100 meters.The best spots to take photos are at the entrance of the Bamboo Forrest and on the opposite side near the end of the path.
7:15 - There next spot will be Tenryuji Temple but it won’t be open yet. So, we recommend going to a cafe until the temple opens. One coffee shop that we like is Arabica Kyoto Arashiyama. It is 5 minutes from Sago Arashiyama station. The coffee shop’s hours are 8 am - 6 PM. It’s a good place to take a break while you are waiting for Tenryuji Temple to open. The temple hours are 8.30 am - 5.30 PM (March 21-October 20). These next two pictures were taken in the autumn which is one of the best times to go to Arashiyama.
8:30 - Enter Tenryuji Temple. General admission is 500 yen for the gardens and an additional 300 yen to enter the buildings. There are some weeping cherry blossom trees at this temple. After that, go to see the Okochi Sanso Villa.
9:30 - Walk on over to the Katsura River and see the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. The bridge has been a famous landmark in Arashiyama for hundreds of years. There is some beautiful scenery further down the river where you can see traditional Japanese boats going by along the river.
If you’re curious to know where you can get on a boat cruise, the Hozugawa River Cruise starts at Tanba-Kameoka and is a 2-hour boat ride to Arashiyama.
11:30 - Go back to Saga-Arashiyama Station. Next spots are Heian Jingu Shrine and Okazaki Canal.
12:30 - Take the JR Sagano Line (also known as JR Sanin Line) towards Kyoto to Enmachi Station. It takes about 10 minutes. Then, walk 2 minutes to Nishinokyo (JR Enmachi Eki Bus) Stop. Take bus 204 to Okazaki-michi Bus Stop. It’s a 7-minute walk from there to Heian Jingu Shrine.
Entry is free to Heian Jingu. General admission to the garden is 600 yen.
If you like Japanese curry, we recommend Heian Curry for lunch. The restaurant is nearby the shrine in a building on the left with souvenir shops.
14:00 - Next pick up some drinks and snacks and then walk over to walk over to the Okazaki Canal. The canal goes under the vermillion bridge for Heian Jingu Shrine and it is right by the huge Torii gate.
It is a great place to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto! You’ll probably see the Okazaki Jikkokubune Boat Ride go by along the canal. The boat ride departs every 15 minutes from Nanzenji boat pier. Hours are: 9:30 - 16:30. Okazaki Park by the canal is the perfect hanami spot!
16:00 - Go back to the hotel and rest. If you’re going back to Kyoto Station, use Dobutsukoen-mae Bus Stop and take bus 5 to Karasuma Nanjo Bus Stop. It takes around 25 minutes to get to the bus stop. Then walk 4 minutes to Kyoto Station.
18:00 - After a long day, you’ll probably be tired so eat somewhere near your hotel or if you’d like to go out, restaurants along Kamogawa River are a fun place to have dinner. Get to bed early because the next day is the amazing Fushimi Inari!
Please refer to the chart for our Kyoto Itinerary Day 2:
Kyoto Itinerary: Day 3
6:00 - Arrive at Kyoto Station. Go to the bus terminal and take bus 5 to Inari Taisha-mae Bus Stop. It usually takes about 15 minutes to get to the bus stop. Fushimi Inari is a 7 minute walk from there.
We recommend getting to Fushimi Inari before 7 AM to avoid the crowds. So, you’ll need to get up really early if you’re hoping to get some pictures without many people there. If you'd rather sleep in and deal with the crowds then get to Kyoto Station by 8:30 and follow this itinerary from there. Worth mentioning is that once you get further up the mountain, there tend to be fewer people along the pathway.
9:30 - Before you go back if you’re looking for a place to have some coffee, check out Vermillion Espresso Bar. It is located just 2 minutes from Inari Train Station. After that, take the bus back to Kyoto Station and connect to the next train for your day trip destination.
Day Trip Options
1) Uji and Byodoin
Uji is a small city outside of the center of Kyoto. It is famous for its traditional green tea shops and temples. The most popular spots to see are Byodoin Temple, Ujigami-jinja Shrine, and the Tale of Genji Museum. Uji is a cute town and it’s a nice place to relax! Try the green tea ice cream.
From Kyoto Station, take the take the JR Nara Line. Look for platform 8, 9, or 10. All trains stop at JR Uji Station. The local train takes 30 minutes and the rapid train takes 19 minutes.
2) Osaka Castle Park
Osaka castle was originally completed in 1586 as a display of power and grandeur by the samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It has been rebuilt several times over the years after being destroyed in battles and a fire caused by lightning. It is a top spot to see the cherry blossoms in Japan. There are food stalls nearby the moat. So, it’s a perfect place to do hanami!
From Kyoto Station, take the Kyoto Line to Osaka Station towards Himeji. The platform number is usually track 5 and it takes 28 minutes. Get off at Osaka station and change to the Osaka Loop Line towards Kyobashi. It is usually track 2 and it takes 9 minutes. Get off at Osakajo-koen.
Follow the signs for Osaka Castle and exit the station. It takes about 18 minutes on foot but is a very pleasant walk through the grounds.
Nara was the ancient capital of Japan during the Nara Period form AD 710 to 794. The most beautiful spots to see the cherry blossoms Nara are Nara Park, Koriyama Castle Ruins and Heijo Palace. Admission is free to all of these spots. If you go to Nara, you should also see the Big Buddha (Daibutsu) at Todaiji Temple. For best access to the attractions, we recommend taking the train to Kintetsu Nara Station.
From Kyoto Station, take the Kintetsu-Limited Express to Kintetsu Nara Station. It takes 35 minutes. It’s not covered by the JR Rail Pass but it is the best access for our recommended spots. Alternatively, you can take the train to JR Nara Station but it will be a longer walk to the main spots.
Please refer to the chart for our Kyoto Itinerary Day 3:
Kyoto Itinerary: Day 4
8:30 - Arrive at Kyoto Station
We recommend getting to Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) at the opening time (9 AM) to avoid tourist groups. Take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station. It will take 13 minutes. Go to the Kitaoji Bus Terminal which is attached to Kitaoji Station. Then take bus number 101, 102, 204 or 205 to Kinkakuji-michi bus stop. It should take about 10 minutes.
Be careful not to get on the “Rapid 205” bus. It does not go to Kinkakuji Temple.
9:00 - From the bus stop it’s a 6-minute walk to Kinkakuji. General admission for Kinkakuji is 400 yen. After seeing the Golden Pavillion and the pond, you should walk around the garden and see the shrine that is near the gift shop. Inside the temple is Fudogama Teahouse where you can order a set with green matcha tea and cake. If you prefer ice cream, Kinkaku Soft Ice Cream is located just outside the temple. The next stop will be Ryoanji.
9:45 - Go to the Kinkakuji-mae bus stop and take bus No. 59 (for Utano/Yamagoe) It takes about 4 minutes. Get off at the Ryoanji-mae stop.
10:00 - Ryoanji is right in front of the bus stop. General admission for Ryoanji is 500 yen. See the famous zen rock garden from the Hojo Building. It can get crowded but it’s worth waiting for a chance to sit down on the steps and appreciate the beauty of the rock garden. There are some late blooming Yae-zakura (cherry blossoms) on the grounds of the temple along with other kinds of flowers.
10:45 - From the Ryoanji-mae stop, take No. 59 bus (for Utano/Yamagoe) It takes about 3 minutes by bus. Get off at the Omura-Ninnaji stop. If you prefer to walk, it takes about 11 minutes on foot to Ninnaji Temple.
11:00 - Enter the Ninnaji Temple. General admission for Ninnaji is 600 yen during the cherry blossom season. This temple is famous for it’s grove of late blooming white Omuro-zakura (cherry blossoms). Be sure to see the Goten with its beautiful rock garden and pond. It was the former residence of the head priest.
12:00 - Walk over to Omuro-Ninnaji Train Station. It’s a 7-minute walk. Take the Kitano Line to Satsueisho-mae Station. It takes 5 minutes. Walk over to Uzumasa Station (San’in Main Line). Take JR Sagano Line to Kyoto. From Uzumasa Station to Kyoto it will take 13 minutes.
12:30 - Spend the rest of the day at Kyoto Station. It’s probably a good time to do some gift shopping. Porta Dining has a good range of reasonably priced restaurants which range from Japanese food to cafes and fast food. If you like sushi, then we recommend Kanazawa Maimon. There tends to be a long wait before being seated. So, get there with enough time to wait for your number to be called and also enjoy your meal there. Ask the restaurant host for more information.
Please refer to the chart for our Kyoto Itinerary Day 4:
Where to go out at night in Kyoto?
Kyoto is a romantic city to experience at night. The Higashiyama area is the most historically preserved part of the city so it’s very fun to walk around during the evening. Kiyomizudera has a light up until 9 PM during the cherry blossom season.
One of the most popular spots in Kyoto is Yasaka Pagoda. It’s different from Yasaka Shrine. Also, it can be tricky to find the exact spot. So you should look it up online with:
Hōkanji Temple (Yasaka-no-Tou), or use the address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 清水八坂上町388
This place has become a very popular Instagram spot. You’ll know that you found Yasaka Pagoda when you see many photographers with tripods in the street taking pictures during the sunset. As was mentioned before, Kiyomizudera is a great spot to catch the sunset and the second to add to the list will be Yasaka Pagoda. The pagoda used to be part of Hokaiji temple but only the pagoda now remains.
Gion and Kamogawa River
Gion is the most famous Geisha District in Kyoto and it is located between Yasaka Shrine and Kamogawa River. There are many Japanese traditional shops, cool restaurants and Ochaya (teahouses where Maiko-san entertain).
The most well-known street in Gion is Hanami-koji Street which you can access from Shijodori Street. There are many preserved machiya houses so it does feel like going back in time! It’s worth mention that the restaurants along this street do tend to be expensive so if you are on a budget it would be better to eat elsewhere.
There are good restaurants along Shijodori Street and nearby Kamogawa River. One restaurant that we can recommend is Efish. It is located near Shimizu Gojo station by Kamogawa River. It’s a good place for coffee, sandwiches, and curry with rice. For those of you who like grilled beef, there is a Gyukaku Yakiniku restaurant nearby Kamogawa River.
If you see a Maiko-san going by on the streets, please be considerate and respectful. They are working and in a hurry so they simply don’t have time to stop for photos. That said, it is exciting to see a Maiko-san in person and if you visit Gion in the early evening you’ll have a better chance of seeing one.
We hope you enjoyed reading our Kyoto guide and that you have a great time when you visit this beautiful city!
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