48 Hours in Kyoto for Wanderers

48 Hours in Kyoto for Wanderers

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Kyoto, Japan is a unique gem amongst commonly travelled destinations. Despite its immense popularity, this culturally rich city still maintains a singular beauty, unique charm, and thoroughly enchanting atmosphere. With a heady mix of modern trends, traditional Japanese culture, and a multitude of iconic sites, Kyoto has mastered a difficult to achieve, and rather unlikely harmony between tourism and tradition.

There is a vast plethora of places to go and sights to see, and one could easily spend a week in Kyoto and still not have conquered the city in its entirety. Don’t worry though, 48 hours in Kyoto is more than enough time to delight the eye, stimulate the mind, enchant the sense, and leave a wanderer wanting so much more.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan

Day 1: Temple Wanderer

In order to cover the most ground, start your day early. Gotta make these 48 hours in Kyoto count!  Most temples keep hours between 8am-4pm, so rise with the sun in order to maximize your experience. If you are not a heavy morning eater, head to the nearest convenience store for a light, cheap breakfast of milk tea and freshly delivered, stuffed rice triangles. Convenience stores in Asia are a whole different animal than those in America, the food is always fresh and the drink selection is fantastic: coffee, milk tea, green tea, and a wide variety of juices. Ducking into one for breakfast is a great alternative to the much pricier name brand coffee shops.

Day 1 focuses on the East side of Kyoto and is designed to maximize the temple hopping experience. The path proceeds in a North to South fashion: Ginkaku-ji is the Northernmost point, and Fushimi Inari Taisha is the Southernmost. By moving linearly you will be able to cover a lot of ground without wasting time and money by running back and forth across the entire city.  Very important in order to maximize time with only 48 hours in Kyoto.

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) – Start off wanderings at the famed Silver Pavilion. Though the building itself is not as illustrious as it’s cousin the Golden Pavilion, the gardens and grounds are what make this site stand out. With perfectly manicured trees, a dainty raked-sand garden, and a serene feel despite its city location, the Silver Pavilion is a lovely and laid-back way to start off your wanders through Kyoto.

Philosophers Path – Following a quaint canal and lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, this famous stone path is the perfect way to get from Ginkaku-ji to your next destination Nanzen-ji. Get some light exercise as you enjoy a serene stroll beneath the trees. If you get hungry, you can even stop for a quick snack at one of the restaurants dotted along the path. For the full visual effect, walk this path in mid-April when the cherry blossoms are in lustrous bloom.

Nanzen-ji – Located at the base of a forested mountain, this temple is considered to be one of the most significant Zen temples in all of Japan. The grounds are massive and provide a vast myriad of buildings to explore and scenery gaze upon. With a multitude of small temples, a somber mausoleum, a massive and ancient aqueduct, and even forest path that ends in small waterfall – this site is sure to sate even the fiercest wanderlust, momentarily at least.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

On the way to your next stop, Kiyomizudera, you might want to stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants lining the main street up to the temple. My suggestion would be Udon Sanshiki for chicken tempura and plain udon: simple, filling, and so delicious.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

Kiyomizudera – As this temple is widely popular even amongst locals, it can be significantly more crowded than many of the other temples in Kyoto. However, this is in many ways, part of its charm. To get to the temple you must first pass through the bustling Higashiyama District, which is full of unique stores, local food, and Japanese green tea soft serve. One of the most appealing aspects of this temple is the abundance of dynamic views. Head to the massive wooden deck, which juts from the side of the main temple, for an expansive view of the lush cherry and maple trees growing riotously below. Or, for an unparalleled view of Kyoto’s stately sprawl perch yourself at the top of the stairs immediately in front of the main temple building.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

Fushimi Inari-Taisha – Unlike most all of the other shrines and temples in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is open 24 hours a day, so there is more flexibility in terms of when to go there. This site actually encompasses thousands of the iconic orange gates, hundreds of various small shrines, and a moderate walking path that winds sedately up the mountain. Traverse the entire path, or pass through the first few waves – either way you will be treated to experience that is serene, singular, and utterly sublime.

Day 2: Castles, Zen Gardens, and the Bamboo Forest

The Day 2 itinerary covers central and Western Kyoto, and goes in a counter clockwise circle. Again, all the sites here are relatively close together, so as to most efficiently use the limited time.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

Nijo Castle – The architecture in this castle is bold, the garden is delicate and lovely, and as it’s very close to the city center, Nijo castle is perfect place to start your day. Wander the tranquil, well-manicured grounds, consider all the lovely structures, and revel in the fact that despite its central location this castle is quiet, peaceful, and brimming with rich culture.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) – The main attraction of the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) is its lush grounds; however, at Kinkaku-ji the main attraction is most certainly the temple itself. Covered entirely in gold, this temple is magnificent to behold as it glows and glimmers in the afternoon sun. Amplifying this lovely effect is the fact that the entire structure is located right on the edge of a small lake, which creates a surreal, almost magical effect.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

For lunch heads towards the Arashiyama Bamboo grove, but before you enter the serene tree-lined path, stop at the quaint and super affordable streetfood stands right next to the entrance. Enjoy everything from udon, croquettes, green tea soft serve or soba with wild vegetables.

48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan | A Passion and A Passport

Arayshima – Though this site is a little ways away from the city center, it is very much worth the trip. Traverse the meandering path through groves of elegant bamboo trees, which enclose you in a living canopy that sighs and sways with the breeze. Like many sites in Kyoto, the bamboo grove is exquisitely lovely and wholly unique. Once you have wandered the bamboo path, visit the various small temples dotted around the surrounding area, or if you have time head to the Okochi Sanso Villa, which is an immaculate example of sublime Japanese gardening and Kyoto Imperial architecture. Though the villa does come with a somewhat hefty 1,000 Yen price tag, it is still highly recommended by many.

Gion – Wind down for the day with a trip to Gion, the last remaining authentic geisha district in all of Japan. Treat yourself to a delicious an unique take on Okonomiyaki at Issen Yosuko, take in the distinctive all-wood architecture, and if you’re very lucky you might even spot a real geisha. Many tourists haunt the corners of Gion waiting to spot a geisha and will even follow them through the streets attempting to get a picture. Though this might sound tempting try to be respectful of their privacy and count yourself lucky if you even get a glimpse of one. Gion is one of the last remaining bastions of truly authentic, historical Japanese culture, and it is a perfect spot to conclude your 48 hour of wandering.

As evidenced above, it’s easy to see, do, and eat so much with only 48 hours in Kyoto!

Recommended Kyoto Activities:

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Morgan is a Colorado native with suburban sensibilities and penthouse dreams. She writes about life as a millennial wander, self-improvement through travel, and the realities of teaching English in Korea on her website A Beautiful View. Currently in the throes of a desperate battle between dreamland and adulthood, she invites you to come along as she explores this crazy beautiful world of ours. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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