Outdoor saunas in the rainy mountains. Quickly glimpsed painted faces. Temple, temple, temple, shrine…A 4 day Kyoto itinerary is just enough time to appreciate it all.
The first thing to know about visiting Kyoto is that it is far larger than whatever you are imagining. Think about how people will spend weeks exploring Paris – Kyoto used to be the capital city of Japan! So take your time and don’t rush yourself.
Kyoto is so famous for wearing people out it has a special term, “temple fatigue.” So, limit yourself, check where everything will be on the map, and just go for the best 4 day Kyoto Itinerary you can!
Day 1: Arrival & Tea on your 4 Day Kyoto Itinerary
Kyoto is home to everything traditional. To learn about and experience the Japanese tea ceremony all you really have to do is walk down the street. However, some places are more authentic or more knowledgeable than others.
Turned out I loved Nara so much I almost missed my Tea Ceremony class in Kyoto (I literally had 10 minutes to spare). But, Gion’s Camillia Flower location was worth the rush.
Camilla Flower provides 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 tea ceremony that’s occasionally available.
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. Shop for traditional food like sour plums, called Umeboshi. They’re delicious and if you want to make plain white rice super delicious – they are an acquired salty taste though.
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. They also give excellent sake recommendations if you’re in the mood.
If you’re wanting a true sake tasting session, however, that’s best left to the bars of Osaka.
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.
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. Even with the construction, it’s still completely gorgeous.
Although, 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.
Spend a little bit of time at Otani Hombyo. There is a lot 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).
Finally, head to Wakuza for a tea tour. You can learn more about the Wazuka Tea Tour here. 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. This place makes it clear, a 4 day Kyoto itinerary isn’t enough! If you want more temples head to Arashiyama. First stop is 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?
Unless you are skipping Nara with its amazing, and the amazing gardens of Insui-en, there’s no reason to come here.
However, this garden is conveniently 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.
Next, Jajakko-ji Temple is not far, and it’s my favorite temple in Kyoto.
Don’t Forget Cash – 4 Day Kyoto Itinerary Advice
As someone used to the modern conveniences of a credit card…Buddhist Temples are going to bankrupt your cash reserves. Make sure you remember lots of cash for temple hopping! Most temples are 500Yen for entry and 300Y for a stamp if you want one.
I adored Giouji Temple but had to skip the stamp because of this. It’s mainly known for its amazing variety of moss and it’s a sight to behold.
Next up is 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.
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 and appreciating your place in the world.
Now that you’re thoroughly templed-out, head back into Kyoto proper. It’s time for a Postcard Making Class! Here, you can learn so much about how to make traditional paper.
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: Onsens and Traditional Desserts
First, attend a tour at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. While the tour is entirely in Japanese, and they do give you an audio guide for English. It’s very pretty, no matter the season or the weather.
It is unexpected for what you might be picturing as a royal estate. There are giant expanses of beautiful land rather than an organized series of gardens or buildings. In fact, there were hardly any buildings at all!
It’s a fascinating insight into how different cultures value different things. Also, it is a free activity! But you do have to book ahead. The website is a little confusing but just check the “apply” box and it should guide you through.
Next up, Kurama Onsen is completely worth the trip. Even the bus/train rides to get 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 if you’ve already had that experience.
Once you’re done soaking your worries away in the fresh mountain air, you have some choices. Kurama and Kibune are areas that are known for their temples and shrines. Kurama temple, with it’s beautiful Tori-gate hike, is a fantastic option.
Kifune Shrine is another great option, and will lead you to some of the best lunch choices. Kibune is known for its Kawadoko restaurants that are settled next to rivers and waterfalls (and sometimes directly on top of the water!). These restaurants are frequently only available in the warmer months but they’re totally worth a visit for the ambiance alone!
And then head back to Kyoto to sample some traditional desserts and buy some tea! By now you should have fallen in love with wagashi (Japanese traditional candies). So shop to your hearts content at places like Zen Fashion – you’ll only find these treats in Japan!
First stop is Kagizen Yoshifusa Honten for some ice noodles you dip into a brown sugar/molasses sauce. Yum!
Linger among the street vendors and buy a couple Dango (rice cake coated in a slighty sweet syrup). Round out this shopping trip with a stop at Marukyu-Koyamaen to buy some good quality matcha.
And that’s the end of your 4 day Kyoto itinerary! If you can, I recommend basing your trip in Kyoto if you plan to visit places like Osaka, Nara, or the countryside areas of Wazuka and Uji. It’s very easy to travel there and means you have a nice home base.
I hope this four day Kyoto itinerary has helped you get some ideas for your own trip!
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