5 Days in Kyoto - Travel Tips on What to Eat, See & Do

Updated: Jun 7, 2019


Kyoto attracts millions of visitors and travelers alike each year and once you’ve been it’s easy to see why. Kyoto is the cultural and historical heart of Japan offering its guests expansive zen gardens, bamboo groves, mystifying Buddhist temples, kimono-clad geisha’s and colorful shinto shrines. Kyoto was the imperial capital for over 1,000 years, rightfully becoming a mecca for Japanese heritage. Only a short bullet train ride from Tokyo (less than 2.5 hours), Kyoto is easily accessible for those wanting to explore its beauty.

Boasting refined culture, lavish dining, centuries-old craftsmanship, and Japanese rural charm; Kyoto should be at the top of any Japan travel itinerary, and we’re here to help with a 5 day tell all guide on what to eat, see and do while visiting this extraordinary place.

KYOTO - DAY 1


  1. Visit Kennin-ji Buddhist Temple Standing as the oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto (founded over 2,500 years ago), this place has become world famous for its beautiful zen gardens and artistic design. Make sure to admire the iconic twin dragons painted on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall, it’s visually striking in every way.

  2. Visit Yasaka Shrine Once called Gion Shrine, Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto and a patron of the arts with a 1350 year historical record.

  3. Visit Gion District Gion is Kyoto’s geisha district, sprinkled with colorful kimonos, quiet sake bars and izakayas.

  4. Eat at Tsujiri Tea House One of the most famous matcha green tea shops in all of Kyoto. *Travel Tip: Order a Matcha Parfait. This comes with matcha whipped cream, matcha jelly, matcha ice cream, rice dumplings and vanilla ice cream. They are pricey - around 1200 yen, but entirely worth it. You can easily share one, we did!

  5. Eat at Kyoto Gogyo Ramen If you are looking for the best ramen in Kyoto, look no further than Kyoto Gogyo. *Travel Tip: Order the Burned Miso Ramen - it’s their signature dish, filled with rich, flavorful, smoky aromas for only 890 yen.

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KYOTO - DAY 2

  1. Visit Katsura Imperial Villa Known for being one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture and garden design, this villa is a cultural treasure. The Katsura Imperial Villa strolling gardens were the most elegant display of craftsmanship we’d ever seen: with stone lanterns, bridges, water features, hand planted moss and manicured trees, our eyes were delighted at every turn. It was truly stunning. *Travel Tip: Get here early - we suggest arriving when they first open. To see this villa requires joining a guided tour. The tour follows the garden's circular walking trail around the central pond, but tends to book fast, so you can easily avoid the overwhelming crowds and guarantee your position by getting there early.

  2. Visit Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama Located in the Arashiyama mountains, the entrance to the monkey park resides south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. Hike up a brief hill to find an open area with over 170 Japanese macaque “snow” monkeys. The animals are wild and roam freely, but can be fed with food purchased on site.

  3. Visit Togetsukyo Bridge Togetsukyo Bridge (also known as “Moon Crossing Bridge”) is Arashiyama’s most iconic landmark and proves to be a photogenic spot for taking in the mountainous terrain and river below. Pleasure boats are also available for rent on the river if a cruise suits your fancy.

  4. Visit Tenryu-ji Temple & Sogenchi Garden Tenryu-ji is a Rinzai Zen temple complex located in the scenic Saga Arashiyama area of Kyoto. The Sogenchi Pond Garden borders the Tenryu-ji Temple and was designed to be a strolling garden, allowing its guests to appreciate the scenery of the centralized pond from a variety of perspectives.

  5. Eat at Sushi Naritaya Best sushi option in Arashiyama. *Travel Tip: Order the fatty tuna and salmon sashimi. Incredibly flavorful and melts in your mouth.

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KYOTO - DAY 3

  1. Visit the Fushimi Sake District - Start at Kizakura Kappa Country This longtime brewery offers exclusive sake and craft beer tastings to its guests. *Travel Tip: Order a Sake and Beer flight. The sake flight consists of Aragoshi Junkome Nigorizake, freshly squeezed Ginjo pure sake, and Jun Rice liquor. The beer flight consists of Kelushu, Alto and Kagori Kurori malt hops.

  2. Visit Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum This brewery was founded in 1909. The museum within discloses the history of sake and sake production in an easy-to-understand manner presenting its viewers with a modernized display. *Travel Tip: The entry fee costs 400 yen (cash only) but includes the museum tour fee, 3 Gekkeikan sake tastings and a complimentary take home mini-bottle of sake for you to enjoy at your leisure which we found to be quite tasty.

  3. Eat at Torisei This is the best sake and yakitori restaurant in town. Here you can try refined sake or freshly squeezed sakes, to pair with your delectable yakitori that’s been grilled with a Torisei secret sake sauce. *Travel Tip: Order the “Japanese Lunch Set” for lunch. This includes Yakitori, 2 small bowl items, pickles, duck loin, rice and miso soup. You can also order additional Yakitori a la carte. They open at 11:30 AM so get there at 11:15 to avoid a long wait.

  4. Visit Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine This Shinto Shrine is famous for its orange painted vermilion torii gates. Here you will find thousands of gates perfectly lining a network of trails that wind and weave their way through the wooded forests of Mount Inari. This is one of the most photogenic locations in all of Kyoto and well worth a visit. *Travel Tip: There is no entry fee, so you can arrive as you please. Many get here at first light to avoid the crowds and capture the Instagramable torii gates shot, but we went during peak hours and found that the majority of visitors huddle for photos in the first few hundred yards. We suggest you not stop, keep walking and follow the gated trails for 20 - 30 minutes straight. Crowds begin to diminish after the 20 minute mark, so you will have plenty of opportunities to capture those must have shots without having to sacrifice your sleep with an early morning wake up.

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KYOTO - DAY 4

  1. Visit Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of the most photographed places in all of Kyoto. This mystical bamboo grove transports it’s guests to another world as the soft light from the sun breaks through the trees, illuminating the path below. It’s serenity swallows you whole and is definitely worth the visit. *Travel Tip: Get here EARLY! Hundreds of people flock to this place each day, so if you want that iconic shot of just you amidst the bamboo trees arrive before 7 AM. Crowds begin to arrive at 8 AM and only worsen as the day progresses.

  2. Drink at Arabica Kyoto Arashiyama Arabica is all about the love for coffee, design, and seeing the world. Their mission is to grow Arabica across unique lands and cultures of the world, so their customers can “See the World Through Coffee”. We only live once, so let’s explore the world we live in, and enjoy our time together over an amazing cup of coffee. *Travel Tip: Order a single origin latte. Easily the best coffee we’ve had while in Japan.

  3. Eat at Steak Otsuka If you want to try Japan's world famous Wagyu - this is the spot. The Wagyu selection is phenomenal, moderately priced, and absolutely delicious. This will be a dining experience to remember. *Travel Tip: There’s always a line, seating is first come first serve, and once stock is finished the restaurant will close (which usually happens within the first 2-3 hours from opening). We suggest you get here by 10 AM to place your name and the number of your party on the waiting list out front. You can then leave and explore the nearby shops for an hour as you stroll the charming streets. Return at 11 AM sharp when they first open to ensure your seat; you’ll be first seated since your name is at the top of the list (helping you avoid the line and crowds entirely). We did just that and were seated immediately. Order the A4 or A5 Wagyu. Both were absolutely exquisite, but extremely rich, so we suggest sharing.

  4. Visit Nijo-jo Castle Nijo-jo Castle is one of Kyoto’s most impressive sights. It perfectly displays the power Shoguns once wielded over the emperors throughout the Edo Period. The exterior is made of huge stone walls, sky high wooden gates and deep moats, whereas the interior boasts of floor to ceiling panels hand painted in a meticulous, intricate manner. The Japanese artwork here was unparalleled to anything we had ever seen and one of the highlights to our Kyoto experience.

  5. Visit Kinkaku-ji Golden Palace Kinkaku-ji Golden Palace is one of Kyoto’s most famous sights. Bordering a large pond, covered in glittering gold leaf, this zen temple dazzles its guests each year.

  6. Eat at Kinkaku Soft Serve Ice Cream After looking at the gold leaf covered Kinkaku-ji Temple, you can now eat it too. This soft serve ice cream shop (right outside the temple gates) serves a Gold Leaf Ice Cream composed of matcha green tea and vanilla ice cream, rice balls, and an edible gold leaf garnish making for a beautiful yet tasty post-temple treat.

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KYOTO - DAY 5

  1. Visit Matsui Sake Brewery Established over 280 years ago, this stands as the oldest traditional sake brewery in central Kyoto. They pride themselves on protecting the tradition of sake brewing, preserving traditional techniques to create some of the best Japanese aromatic brands of sake. *Travel Tip: You can try four complimentary tastings, but if you want to do a tour of the brewery you have to book in advance.

  2. Visit Ginkaku-ji Temple Ginkaku-ji (also known as the “The Silver Temple”) is on everyone’s checklist of sights to see while in Kyoto. This temple consists of a wooden pavilion overlooking a serene pond that is carefully bordered with hand crafted sand and zen gardens woven into a bamboo grove on a mountainous backdrop.

  3. Drink at Koujitsukyo Tea House For an authentic Japanese tea house experience, this is your spot. Nestled in the heart of Kyoto, this tea shop consists of a small tea room, where guests sit on the floor to enjoy a pot of tea lining a beautiful zen garden. *Travel Tip: There is no English menu but after chatting with the host for 20 minutes we concluded that the first item on the menu (a Chinese tea priced at 1,500 yen) was the best most flavorful option. Although expensive, this was still on the cheaper side compared to other competing Kyoto tea houses ... so for us it was entirely worth it for a once in a lifetime tea house experience.

  4. Visit Nishiki Market The Nishiki Market is a food lovers paradise and a photographer's dream. This narrow, five block long shopping street is lined with more than one hundred shops and restaurants. *Travel Tip: We suggest you take yourself on a self guided food tour. We’ve tried 10+ restaurants here and would love to give you our list of favorites to ensure you have the culinary experience of a lifetime.

  5. Sengyo Kimura - For Sushi & Sashimi: Known for their fresh fish and seafood, even Michelin Star restaurants buy their seafood here because it’s just that good. We suggest trying the fresh sashimi sticks - our personal favorites were the fatty salmon and tuna along with a sushi tray.

  6. Nishiki Warai - For Okonomiyaki & Yakisoba: This is a great spot for Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes) and Yakisoba (a Japanese noodle stir-fry). Everything on the menu under these categories is delicious so order to your heart's content.

  7. Daiyasu - For Oysters: Known for their fresh oysters and sake; here visitors can order raw, fried or grilled oysters. They tend to sell out quickly though, so make sure to arrive earlier in the day.

  8. Konnamonja - For Tofu Donuts & Green Tea Soy Milk Ice Cream: This place always has a line, but for good reason! Walk to the second entrance in the alley to order … the donuts are served fresh here, and come out warm and crispy. We suggest trying the soy flour and brown sugar donuts with a green tea soy milk soft serve ice cream. So so tasty, and melts in your mouth … literally.​

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