Japan 12-Day Itinerary (Kyoto)



There is really a lot to see and do in Kyoto. Culture, food, and breathtaking sights await you here. I recommend for you to stay longer in Kyoto than in Osaka.

We used our 3-Day Kansai Thru Pass to easily travel from Osaka to Kyoto, as well as tour around Kyoto. The Kansai Thru Pass was also very time and cost-efficient. Click here to learn more.

To see the first part of our itinerary (Osaka for 2 days), click on this link. To see the second part of our trip (Himeji, Kobe, Nara for 2 days), click here. To see our introduction which states our general tips, click here. To learn more on the third part of our travels, read below! Highly recommended sites/activities are highlighted in yellow.


DAY 6, Thursday: Goodbye Osaka, Hello Kyoto (Kansai Thru Pass)
  • Go to Kyoto from Osaka. The train ride from Osaka took about an hour, or an hour and a half. (We weren't able to maximize our time in the morning because we had to reroute our cancelled flight from Osaka back to Manila, and book an additional night at Nagoya since we'll be flying out from there instead.)
  • Left our luggages in a locker at one of the nearby train stations so we can tour Nijo Castle with ease before checking in to our Airbnb. The luggage space we rented cost 600 JPY for a certain number of hours. We stored our luggage there for around 2-3 hours. All of the train stations we encountered in Kyoto has paid lockers for travelers.
  • Nijo Castle and quick lunch
  • Checked in to our Airbnb
  • Central or Downtown Kyoto for dinner and drinks. Alighted at the Gion-Shijo Station of the Keihan Main Line. The lovely Kamo River lined with green trees and lively restaurants greeted us.
  • Dinner at this restaurant selling Japanese beef on rice. Good stuff for a good price. (Sorry I forgot to take down the name of the place.)
  • Our friend who's been living in Kyoto for around 2 years now toured us around the area. He said that this is like their "Greenhills." It's where they mainly shop and eat out. He then led us to a small street named Kiya-machi Dori which has a small stream in the center, and said that it's a very good location to see cherry blossoms in the months of April.
  • Beer at Asahi. Yes, an Asahi restaurant-bar!
Lockers for travelers!

Nijo Castle

Loving Japanese food so much

Kiyamachi Dori, our favorite place

Asahi Bar

Asahi Bar


DAY 7, Friday: Kyoto (Kansai Thru Pass)
  • Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. Definitely a must-try!!! Learn more about the story and manufacturing process of the best and finest whiskey in the world, and experience a very interesting tasting session at the end of the tour. Book immediately as soon as Suntory opens up their calendars for reservations (the most basic tour only costs 1,000 JPY per pax). In case you are not able to book, feel free to visit and tour their museum for free. You can also purchase drinks for tasting (eg: Yamazaki, Hibiki, etc.) at their in-house bar. Click here to learn more about Suntory. (Note: you can also easily visit Suntory Yamazaki from Osaka!)
  • Quick food trip at Central or Downtown Kyoto. Tried beef gyudon at a vendo fastfood called Matsuya. It was okay.
  • Went back to our Airbnb to freshen up and drop off the stuff we bought at Suntory.
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine. We arrived late in the afternoon and stayed until the sun was out. It was a unique and peaceful experience to be in this shrine with their lanterns turned on. If I will be given the chance to visit a place twice while in Kyoto, it will definitely be Fushimi Inari Shrine (and Suntory, of course).
  • Gion Geisha District to tour the area and spot some geishas. We mainly toured Hanami-koji Street and the nearby alleys. We were there around 7 or 7:30 PM and we were able to see 1 geisha! Per our friend in Kyoto, it's best to visit by around 9 PM as most geishas walk the streets of Gion by this time. Click here for more information.
  • Dinner and drinks at Central or Downtown Kyoto at this izakaya chain called Yamachan serving specialty pepper wings! My partner said Frankie's is better, but I still think they did pretty well. :) Our friend from Kyoto recommended this to us, and shared that this chain is actually more popular in Nagoya.
The best warehouse I've been too yet :)

The best part of the tour -- the tasting session!

Whiskey galore

 Buy tasting portions from their bar instead if you're not able to reserve a tour


Buy tasting portions from their bar instead if you're not able to reserve a tour

Fushimi Inari 

 Fushimi Inari

Gion

DAY 9, Saturday: Kyoto (Kansai Thru Pass)

(Phone photos at this point as my camera's lens retired on me somehow)
  • Tenryu-ji Zen Temple. Relax in this peaceful abode and find some time to meditate in one of their meditation mats while taking in the astoundingly beautiful scenery. One of my favorites.
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It's right beside Tenryu-ji. Visit as early as you can to avoid the crowd. This is definitely a must-see.
  • Arabica Coffee by the Katsura River. Way too overpriced and overrated though, if you ask me.
  • Lunch
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion). Personally, this really didn't amaze me the way Tenryu-ji and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove did. There were a lot of people and the noise literally disturbed the beauty of the place.
  • Ryoan-ji Temple. A Zen temple that centers in on 15 rocks placed carefully on a carpet of fine gravel. It's a 20-minute walk from Kinkaku-ji, but I suggest you take the local bus instead to conserve your energy.
  • Dinner at Kamomachi Ramen, a local ramen house near our Airbnb in Demachiyanagi. We only had gyoza and rice as we were still too full, but we came back after 3 days because we really enjoyed the fun and friendly disposition of the owner/ramen master.
Tenriyu-ji Zen Temple

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Katsura River




Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)

Ryoan-ji

Kamomachi Ramen



DAY 10, Sunday: Kyoto
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace. Located in the vast and quiet Kyoto Imperial Park, this palace used to be the home of Japan's imperial family until the time when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It's a good place to see when you have extra time. Entrance is free.
  • Nishiki Market. Lined with a lot of local food vendors and restaurants, it's the ideal place for your sushi and beer escapades (and a lot more!!!). It closes at 6 PM, so make sure to be there early!
  • Chao Chao Gyoza. They say that this is best gyoza in Kyoto, and it's very, very popular with tourists. They have a lot of variations with their gyoza - shrimp, pork, mozarella, and even chocolate! Pair it with beer for a complete chao chao gyoza experience! Visit during their non-peak hours (2pm or 3pm, their opening hours) to avoid waiting in line.
  • Lived like a local by relaxing by the Kamo River. We sat by the river and allowed ourselves to be hypnotized by the relaxing sound of running water. A lot of Japanese locals do this every Sunday. Try this as well to complete your Kyoto experience.
  • Rested in our Airbnb
  • Obanzai dinner experience. Per Wikipedia, "Obanzai is a traditional style of Japanese cuisine native to Kyoto. For food to be considered obanzai, at least half of its ingredients must be produced or processed in Kyoto." Obanzai cooking is usually composed of seafood and vegetables, cooked with minimal ingredients for you to be able to taste the natural goodness and flavor of the food. This is a must when in Kyoto. I never thought vegetables could be so filling and so good. We had it in an eat-all-you-can obanzai restaurant called Bansai Hasegawa.
  • Pontocho Alley for drinks. This brightly-lit alley is packed with local restaurants and izakayas where Japanese locals and tourists unwind. We found a hole-in-the-wall izakaya named Coentro, and found the atmosphere really welcoming - thanks to the owner (who's also the bartender) and his friendly guests! If you want to connect and bond with locals over highballs, sake and beer, visit Coentro! They just started out about a month or two ago. (Unfortunately, I can't find their location and their Instagram account anymore.)
Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden

Nishiki Market


 Chao Chao Gyoza


Kamo River

Eat all you can obanzai experience


Pontocho Alley

Coentro Izakaya


DAY 11, Monday: Kyoto
  • Kyumizudera Temple overlooking Kyoto. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto. Walk through traditional Japanese streets and marvel at the temple located at the top of the hill.
  • Tea Ceremony by Camellia. Learn about the culture of tea in Japan by signing up (in advance) to a tea ceremony session. Our session ran for about an hour. Camellia Flower is located near the Kyumizudera Temple.
  • We got a good view of Hokan-Ji Temple while walking through small alleys (in the same area) resembling old Kyoto. While at it, we grabbed a cone of Japanese soft-served ice cream to freshen up our mood!
  • Food trip and coffee around Central Kyoto. We tried Akagami Ramen and a coffee house called Ukeian.
  • We didn't have anything else to do, so we just walked around the shopping area. We caught a live jazz performance and shopped for "pasalubongs" and matcha green tea.
  • Japanese Yakitori experience. We stumbled upon a restaurant/izakaya that serves yakitori and beer (and practically everything else in their menu) for only about 322 JPY per order. It was such a fun experience!
  • Coentro at Pontocho Alley (again!) for drinks with the locals. We really wanted to connect and bond with the Japanese despite the language barrier... We were lucky as we met a wacky, happy Japanese cook and his friends and they really livened up our night!
 Kiyumizudera Temple



Hozenji Temple

Tea Ceremony

Coentro Izakaya at Pontocho  (unfortunately I can't find its location online...)



Day 12, Tuesday: The Last of Kyoto, Hello Nagoya
  • Checked out from our Airbnb.
  • Brunch in Kamomachi Ramen, our favorite local/neighborhood ramen house. We also tried the homemade onigiri made by our neighborhood grocery!
  • Kurama Onsen for a legit Japanese indoor and outdoor onsen experience. This is a must, especially for those who haven't tried onsen yet! Imagine soaking yourself in a hot outdoor tub with the view of the vast, lush forest... It was a really rejuvenating experience, and it instantly washed away all of our worries and pains. Kurama Onsen is about an hour and a half from Central Kyoto via train and bus, and you'd want to allot 2-3 hours enjoying the place, so consider this in your timelines! Click here or here to learn more.
  • Got our bags from our Airbnb and then we headed to the Kyoto Station to buy JR bus tickets for Nagoya.
  • Boarded the bus at 7 PM, and bid farewell to Kyoto. The trip took 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Checked in to hostel in Nagoya
Kamomachi Ramen 

Scenes en route to Kurama Onsen

Kurama Onsen


The last leg of our Japan trip took place in Nagoya. Click here for the guide!


Note:
For more detailed directions on train or bus rides, search via Google Maps instead. It changes from time to time, and it will depend on where you are staying.

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