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A detailed analysis of how much time you need for visiting Kyoto and see all the important landmarks.

Kyoto is an amazing city. For many, it’s the cultural heart of Japan. But it’s food and temples are just as famous. This leads most tourist to one important question: Just how many days in Kyoto should I work into my itinerary? As there are so many things to do in the city of 1.45 million inhabitants (do read my guide to the top 20 landmarks!), this question is far from easy. Here’s an attempt to help you with the decision process:

The minimum time to spend in Kyoto: 2 days

The golden Temple called Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto is a postcard motiv and one of the many things to do in Kyoto. Certainly the main tourist attraction

Kyoto is a city with many highlights, but it’s also quite a large city. This actually means if you want to see the only the basic highlights, you will still need at least 2 full days. The reason? The famous Fushimi Inari Shrine (read my guide) is located in the south, while the golden temple (Kingaku-ji) and the famous Ryōan-ji are up in the north. And well, there’s quite something to see in the immediate city center as well.

Kyoto does have a good public transport system, but transfers will take quite a while. Also, thinks like attending a tea ceremony or eating a traditional Kaiseki dinner will take time and can’t be rushed. Also know, that you have a staggering 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. You might not need to see them all, but I’d say that seeing some of them is not a bad idea, eh?

The perfect Kyoto itinerary: 4 days

geisha (meiko) passing around a corner in gion, kyoto

Now, personally speaking, I’d say that even a month might not be enough to see all of Kyoto. But obviously, most tourists don’t have that abundance of time available for their visit. That’s why 4 days in Kyoto is enough and a good compromise. It will allow you to see all the major highlights.

You will also be able to accommodate a day trip to nearby Nara (check my guide), and you can also go Geisha hunting in the evening.

Here’s a little-condensed sample itinerary:

Day1:

  • Kingaku-ji (Golden Temple)
  • Gingaku-ji (Silver Temple)
  • Ryōan-ji
  • Shimogamo Shrine
  • Nijō Castle
  • Explore Gion in the evening

Day2:

  • Fushimi Inari
  • Sanjūsangen-dō
  • Kyomizu-dera (here’s my guide)
  • Byōdō-in
  • Philosopher’s Walk
  • Yasaka Shrine
  • Go shopping at Nishiki Market

Day 3: Day trip to Nara (read: 10 amazing things to see in Nara)

Day 4: 

  • Arashiyama
  • Katsura Imperial Villa (my personal favorite sight in Kyoto; need to pre-buy ticket at the imperial household agency!)

How long to see it everything in Kyoto: 7 days

Kiyomizu-dera in kyoto - the Giantic buddhist temple should be on every list of things to do in Kyoto

So, just how many days in Kyoto are enough to see it all – or rather most of it? Well, that is indeed a tough question, but having been there multiple times I’d say that week is what you would need to tour all the grand temples, castles and shrines. Have enough time for a day trip to Nara, go to the Kabuki theater, see the geisha and eat your share of Kyoto’s famous cuisine.

Kyoto is a lovely place to go shopping, and you really shouldn’t neglect the modern side of it. There are a Manga and a railway museum, there’s the Kyoto Tower and even a monkey park near Arashiyama.

Most importantly, if you truly want to get intimate with Kyoto you really have to take your time. I love walking through the row of antique shops in inner Gion, or attend one of the many festivals that are held throughout the year. You might even consider arranging one of the fabled Geisha parties for you or alternatively dress up as one (there are many agencies offering this unique experience, full make-up and wig included).

You could also opt to incorporate a day trip to Osaka.

What can I see in 24 hours in Kyoto?

The red torii gates of the Fushimi Inarai Taisha Shrine in Kyoto

For those with little to no time in Japan, I got one good news: Even with only one day in Kyoto, you will get an amazing taste of Japan’s most beautiful city.

Here’s what you I would want to see in one (rather long) day:

  1. Start at Kingaku-ji
  2. Ryōan-ji
  3. Nijō Castle
  4. Have lunch in the city center (Nishiki Market)
  5. Fushimi Inari
  6. Kyomizu-dera
  7. Explore Gion in the evening

Now, this is certainly far from the only way to spend 24 hours in Kyoto. There are probably myriad different ways to enjoy the capital of the Kansai region. But this is actually a good thing: No matter how much time you got, there will always be beauty, history, culture and even some adventure to be explored.

So, here is one last question for you: How many days in Kyoto are you going to spend? Tell me in the comments below!

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