Only have a weekend in Kyoto, Japan? Then check out this guide to get the most out your visit to the former imperial capital. From meditative strolls through shrines and bamboo forests, to chowing down on cutting-edge kaiseki cuisine and dancing the night away in rock clubs, your epic weekend in Kyoto begins here.
Start your 72 hours in Kyoto by finding a hotel. Seikoro is a classic, warmly decorated ryokan that will give you a taste of traditional Japan, as well as put you within a stone’s throw of the 12th-century Sanjusangendo Temple and cosmopolitan Kawaramachi street.
After checking in, grab a bite at Michelin-starred Kikunoi, an intimate, tucked-away restaurant serving some of the best kaiseki dishes in the country. Savor your intricate, multi-course meal in a private dining room, and then head out to explore the neighborhood.
Gion is Kyoto’s most famous district, and it’s especially beautiful at night, when lanterns illuminate the streets and colorful geishas click-clack down the ancient cobblestones. You can catch a kabuki show at the ornate Kyōto Minami-za, stop into the old teahouses on Hanamikoji Street, walk beneath the willows on gorgeous Shirakawa Dori, and explore the grounds of Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Japan.
Start your Saturday morning in Kyoto with a visit to Inoda Coffee Honten, an old-school institution that still has a smoky exterior, a bow-tie-clad staff, and a mid-century Western vibe. Enjoy an artisanal coffee and an asparagus omelette, and then head off to Maruyama Park, a tranquil oasis in Gion.
The park is the perfect spot to take in the stunning cherry blossom (mid March to early April), as well as snap some photos of the Yasaka Shrine, and the mammoth shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree).
Then pack the camera away and take a tranquil journey back in time on Ishibei Koji Lane, a narrow pedestrianized street lined with traditional wooden houses, cafes, and ryokans. The lane has been perfectly preserved and no modern technology is allowed.
For lunch, grab some Okinawan-style noodles at Goya, a hip restaurant in Northern Higashiyama.
After fueling up, head west to Arashiyama, one of Kyoto’s most photogenic and inspiring spots. Visitors will discover a range of attractions: pop by the azalea-filled garden at Okochi-Sanso Villa, wander amongst the 8,000 Buddhist statues at Adashino-Nembutsu-ji Temple, and say kon’nichiwa to the monkeys at Kameyama-koen Park. Make sure not to miss Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the area’s main attraction, where you can take a serene sojourn through the otherworldly bamboo forest.
Then it’s off to sample some more kaiseki cuisine at Giro Giro Hitoshina, a lively restaurant in a converted warehouse off the Takase-gawa canal. The restaurant’s drawn raves – and ravers – from around the world, and it’s punkish take on classic seasonal menus will leave you stunned that it’s so budget-friendly. Book ahead, though, as Giro Giro is one of the country’s buzziest restaurants.
Round off Saturday night in Kyoto with a look at its modern side. Metro is a trendy club hosting local and international musicians, as well as DJs and art exhibits.
Sunday morning means that you only have 24 hours in Kyoto left, so shake off the early morning fog with a hearty Ramen breakfast at Honke Daiichi-Asahi, a laid-back noodle bar near Kyoto Station. From there, it’s a 9-minute train ride to bustling Nakagyo-ku, a commercial district where you can catch up on comic history at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, indulge in some retail therapy on Shijo-Dori, and peer into the life of an Edo-Period Shogun at Nijo Castle.
Grab lunch – and a one-of-a-kind souvenir – at Nishiki Market, a vibrant shotengai (shopping street) colloquially known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. The market stretches over 5 city blocks, and offers everything from octopus head stuffed with quail eggs, to fried eel bones and yomogi yakimochi (rice cakes with mugwort). Dig into a lunch of miso pickles, sashimi, and yuzu honey ice cream, and then pick up an engraved knife at Aritsugu, a 450-year-old establishment that once forged swords for royalty and samurai.
As Sunday night draws in, your weekend adventure nears its final chapter. But no story about Kyoto would be complete without a journey to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, perhaps the city’s most recognizable and visited landmark. The shrine is a fascinating piece of history from the Heian period, but they say the journey is the destination, and that’s certainly true here, where the mountainside hike through a never-ending tunnel of red torii gates truly does feel like a voyage to another world, especially in the early evening, when the crowds are gone and there’s a sense of stillness in the air.
After your intrepid trek, celebrate your last night in Kyoto with a meal of puffer fish at Uryu Pontocho Hana in Pontocho, a famously narrow alley running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori. Pontocho is possibly the most romantic area of Kyoto – a lantern-lit lane of teahouses, soba joints, and traditional structures – and a great spot to say goodbye to charming Kyoto.
Offering a stunning mix of jaw-dropping landscapes, old-world alleys, and mouth-watering meals, Kyoto is a city like no other. Book your weekend in Kyoto today!