4 Days in Kyoto: What to See and Where To Go

Only having four days in Kyoto might initially feel as though you’re just not going to have time to do much at all, but the truth is, with some careful planning and a sense of adventure, you can definitely get a lot done. We’ve come up with an itinerary you can follow to make the most of your time in this gorgeous city. 

Day 1

If you’re truly going to make the most of your time in Kyoto on your Japan Rail trip, the key thing to remember is to set your alarm clock for an early start. On day one, head to Fushimi Inari Shrine first thing in the morning. This is one of the best-known shrines in the area, and what’s truly wonderful about it is that you will walk through literally thousands of torii gates to get there; you’ll get a true sense of Kyoto’s heritage in this way. 

Your next stop should be the Buddhist temple, Kiyomizu-dera (as pictured above). From here, you’ll get the best views of the city, so soak it all in. If you’re ready for lunch, the best place to go is Higashiyama District, where you’ll find lots of street food vendors among the stunning buildings. 

Lunch done, and it’s off to Arashiyama. This district is where you can walk through bamboo groves before hopping on a boat to travel along the Hozu River or visit the Tenryu-ji temple. To finish the day, go to the geisha district, Gion. 

Day 2

On day two of your Kyoto trip, you can start by visiting Nijo Castle. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gardens are lovely here. 

You can’t skip visiting Kyoto’s Imperial Palace while you’re in the area. You can join a guided tour to get as much information as possible about this impressive building. 

For lunch, Kyoto has plenty of choice for you. If you’ve been to the imperial palace, your lunch can quickly be foundry nearby by Nishiki Market, where you can find pretty much anything you want, including plenty of traditional Japanese food. 

When you’re ready to move on, your next stop should be Kinjaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion. At this Zen temple covered in gold, you can take a lovely walk through the gardens. 

To end the day, you can find a fantastic restaurant on Pontocho Alley and then find a bar to while away the night. 

Day 3

If you love peace and quiet, start day three in Kyoto by visiting the Ryoan-ji temple, where you’ll find a highly regarded rock garden. And then, completely at peace, you can go to the Ninnaji temple where the gardens are really something to behold. You can get lunch near here as well at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine where there are plenty of street food vendors. 

For some fun, your afternoon can be spent at Toei Kyoto Studio Park, a theme park that is all about Japanese entertainment. You can even try on traditional costumes and watch live shows. 

For dinner, you can book a table at Kyoto Tower. This is a true landmark of the city, and the views of Kyoto from the top are unparalleled. 

Ryoan-ji Temple – Photo by Gor on Unsplash

Day 4

Kyoto is full of wonderful gardens and Tofuku-ji temple is a serene and peaceful place to relax for a while before moving to your next stop, which could be Fushimi Sake District. As the name suggests, this is the place to learn how sake is made and try some samples for yourself. 

You might need lunch after all that sake, so head to the Kyoto Station Building. This place is full of cafes and restaurants, but there are many shops too, so once you’ve eaten, you can go shopping as well. 

Finally, a fun trip to Kyoto’s aquarium will be in order before you find a great spot for dinner and think about the fun you’ve had over the last four days in Kyoto.