Four Day Kyoto Itinerary
Outdoor saunas in the rainy mountains. Quickly glimpsed painted faces. Temple, temple, temple, shrine…Four day Kyoto itinerary
I enjoyed Kyoto quite a bit. But I think if you’re going to attempt Kyoto it needs to be done at far more leisurely pace than I did it. I really only had about 2 and a half days in Kyoto-proper. And I got a little too caught up in collecting Temple Stamps. I never felt like I had the chance to get to know the city. I love traveling somewhere, and by the second or third day I can at least find my way to things within a few minutes walking without a map. That definitely didn’t happen. Anyways! I still enjoyed myself immensely, here is my itinerary!
Day 1: Arriving from Nara
Turned out I loved Nara so much I almost missed my Tea Ceremony class in Kyoto (I literally had 10 minutes to spare). I went to the 5PM Matcha tea ceremony in Gion’s Camillia Flower location. This was a a good level of intro for those who are slightly more advanced in tea knowledge, and for beginners. If you know a ton about tea and still have never seen one in person, this is a nice, much quicker option than the full 4 hour thing.
The location is also pretty great as it’s one of the most photogenic areas of Kyoto, Sanneizaka street. It’s also close to some of the main tourist attractions. I didn’t do anything besides shop a little for some sour plums (they’re delicious and if you want to make plain white rice more palatable, this is the best option I’ve found).
I headed out for dinner for more ramen (I ate basically non-stop ramen in Japan). This one was Kyoto Gion Ramen Muraji, a rather unusual ramen restaurant for featuring chicken ramen, rather than pork. It was pretty good, but that pork ramen from Ichiran is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. But Muraji has some very creative options and excellent sake recommendations.
I stayed in a Ryokan (Tanaka-ya) for two nights in the Gion district which is absolutely one of my favorite highlights of Kyoto. Those tatami floors, the thick futon bedding…it was an absolutely lovely experience and I highly recommend saving up for it. I want more than ever for my future home to be a fusion of Japanese/Korean/Roman (whew what a place that will be….).
Day 2: To the Countryside! Wazuka
This morning I got up bright and early to try to see some temples before my main activity for the day. Because of my determination (or stubborness, or stupidity) I had made the decision to walk everywhere in Kyoto. I do not recommend. Just by spending a little money I could have saved a ton of time.
I headed to Kiyomizu-Dera and arrived at around 8AM. This was one of the top temples I wanted to visit. Despite other bloggers not ranking it very high, I couldn’t get over the pictures. Well, I’m guessing the bloggers were right. It’s….alright? A ton of it seems to be under construction which really does impact your enjoyment of it. Additionally, while it claims to be open from very early on, they only mean they’ll take your money and let you onto the grounds. Everything else will be closed until 9AM. Because I was determined to get my stamp I wound up walking around everything twice to wait until 9. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this temple, it just doesn’t feel special in any way (especially when they’re vacuuming and moving cords and leaf blowing while you’re trying to find some spiritual peace).
I also spent a little bit of time at Otani Hombyo. I wish I’d gone back to this one. There seems to be a lot more to explore, it’s very relaxed, and free. I only had about 15 minutes on the way to the train station. For more central Kyoto, I’d recommend a visit to this temple over the others I saw. However, I did not get a stamp which I’m still a little bitter about (it is immensely addictive).
At last, I was on my way to Wakuza for a tea tour. I’ll have a separate post describing everything about this, but just know it was amazing, one of my highlights of visiting Japan. I was so tempted to cancel it to give myself another full day in Kyoto and I’m glad I didn’t. I saw so much of the quieter side of Japanese life, all while drinking around 15 cups of delicious, delicious tea. More than any other part of Japan, this is what I want to see more of next time.
Day 3: Temples Galore and Making Postcards
Arashiyama. I really wanted to focus time in each area of Kyoto but it was quickly apparent that Kyoto is huge and even if I had a week I might not have managed it. A four day Kyoto itinerary isn’t enough! So, I had to choose. I wanted to see temples so I headed to Arashiyama. My first stop was the Okochi Sanso Garden annnnnnd….you can give this a skip. It’s expensive at 1000Y (around $10) the included matcha drink is, ummm…pretty terrible, and there’s just not much there? I saw the amazing, amazing gardens of Insui-en in Nara and they probably got me used to a certain level of gorgeousness. There’s nothing wrong with these gardens, there’s just many better, cheaper, options. If you’re on a time crunch like I was, it will really cut into your ability to appreciate the temples on the route.
It is located on a nice pathway to see many temples and along the Bamboo Forest. However, I wouldn’t recommend visiting the popular bamboo forest, wait around for the end of this Arashiyama itinerary for a much better option. Jajakko-ji Temple is not far, and my favorite temple in Kyoto.
A little lack of preparation >.<
Although I made a mistake here and ran out of cash (make sure you remember lots of cash for temple hopping! Most temples are 500Yen and 300Y for a stamp if you want one). I missed Giouji Temple because of this. It’s mainly known for its amazing variety of moss and I love the moss in Japan 😀 So instead I headed for Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple. This is a small, but highly interesting temple that doesn’t see many tourists. There is a large collection of unknown grave markers, all in varying stages of decay. It makes for quite the view. Well worth taking a little time to wander here.
Additionally, this is where I would recommend coming for a nice bamboo forest. There’s no one there so you can appreciate it without babbling tourists and crowds.
If you don’t have to head back to Kyoto-proper just yet, I would head up to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple. This temple also features many small Buddha statues. Tons of history, with the statues having many different expressions due to the Temple being a “carving practice” location, one might say. It looks so cool and I regret not being able to go.
As you head back down, check out Nison-In Temple. After Jajakko-ji, this is my next favorite. It’s small, but has a certain peacefulness that seemed special. I didn’t have much time here, but it feels like the best option for just sitting an appreciating your place in the world.
I headed back into Kyoto proper for my Postcard Making Class. This wound up being one of my highlights of visiting Japan. I learned so much about how to make traditional paper. One of my favorite ways to remember trips is to buy and write myself postcards, so this was perfect. It’s great for artists, you have a lot of input in what your finished work will be. Also, even if you don’t want to make something, just perusing the shop is worth it. So many beautiful designs!
Day 4: Rainy Onsens and Traditional Desserts
My plans for the day were pretty much cancelled and I was tired. I had planned to go to Kurama and hike around to the various temples. The main temples I wanted to see were Zen temples and as it was raining there wasn’t really a point. So, I never got to see the raked sand 🙁
I still attended a tour at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. Again, it was ok. But the tour is entirely in Japanese, and they just give you an audio guide for English. It’s very pretty, don’t get me wrong, but it felt more like a giant expanse of land rather than an organized series of gardens or buildings. I think, unlike most of the places I’d been to in Japan, that the grounds are much more suited to a Spring or Autumn seasonal viewing. I think it being a rainy winter day ruined much of the appeal. It is a free activity but you have to book ahead.
Being now very wet and tired I decided to head straight to the Onsen. Kurama Onsen is completely worth the trip. Even the bus/train rides there are majestic. Just follow the Google Maps instructions and you’ll get there easily. Be aware that the indoor Onsen is very nice but not that different from a Korean spa, so you might not want to pay extra.
And then I headed back to Kyoto to sample some traditional desserts and buy some tea! I found myself falling in love with wagashi (Japanese traditional candies). Ugh, I’m already wishing I could go and buy some right now. First stop was Kagizen Yoshifusa Honten for some ice noodles you dip into a brown sugar/molasses sauce. Yum! A couple Dango (rice cake coated in a slighty sweet syrup) from a street vendor. Then I bought some traditional sweets from Zen Kashion. I rounded out this shopping trip with a stop at Marukyu-Koyamaen to buy some good quality matcha.
And that was the end of my time in Kyoto! Next time I’m going to base my trip in Kyoto.
I hope this four day Kyoto itinerary has helped you get some ideas for your own trip!
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