Soak up Kyoto’s traditional atmosphere, see its most famous attractions (including UNESCO-listed sites), delve into its cultural heritage, and head out of town to explore a neighboring city. Here’s how to make the most of three days in Japan’s former imperial capital.
Day 1: Explore the City’s Top Attractions
A full-day coach tour whisks you around Kyoto to landmarks such as Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), and Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, with its vibrant torii gates. Prefer more independence? Private tours allow you to customize the itinerary. Or consider a hop-on hop-off bus tour to spend as long as you like at each place.
Later, get off the tourist track, and unwind with food and drinks on a guided nightlife tour of locals’ favorite bars and restaurants.
Day 2: Dive Into the Culture
Immerse yourself in Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage. For more insight into Japanese culture and tradition, opt for a private walking tour led by a scholar of a subject that interests you, such as Shintoism and Buddhism or Japanese gardens and landscapes. Other options include taking calligraphy or origami classes, participating in a tea ceremony, or learning taiko drumming. Foodie travelers can join a guided tour of sprawling Nishiki Market or a cooking class to learn how to make sushi and other Japanese dishes.
Round out your day with a visit to Gion, the entertainment district. Watch a performance by maiko (apprentice geisha) accompanied by traditional Japanese music, followed by a multicourse dinner. Or book a private meal with a geisha who entertains you with song and dance as you dine.
Day 3: Take a Side Excursion
A visit to the city of Nara is a popular day trip from Kyoto. With a guided tour, get to Nara and back within a day and still have time to see more of Kyoto. Tours typically visit Todaiji Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan and home to the country’s largest Buddha statue. You’ll also likely stop by Kasuga Grand Shrine, featuring thousands of stone and bronze lanterns, and Nara Park, home to free-roaming deer.
Spend your final evening strolling the atmospheric streets of Old Kyoto on a nighttime walking tour, exploring areas such as Pontocho, Kiyamachi, Kawaramachi Street, and Gion. Many tours include samples of regional food and drink.