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Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Exploring Kyoto in 3 Days

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Kyoto is a splendid city. I think travellers need a full year to really absorb all that Kyoto has to offer. But…some of us do not have a full year and instead we have 3 days. Hence this guide to help you go about exploring Kyoto in 3 days.

Check out my guide Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Exploring Kyoto in 1 Day if you’re really tight on time! 

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking on one of the affiliate links. I only recommend products I’ve personally used and liked. All opinions are my own. 

Essentials 

Language: Spoken language is Japanese but most businesses understand some English. It’s highly recommended that you have the destination addresses available in Japanese (Google Maps usually shows this) to show to taxi drivers. We found asking our hotel concierge to help us book taxis and restaurants was an effective way to make sure we got the reservations we wanted. 

Currency: the Japanese Yen 

Voltage: 120V. See my post Essential Items to Pack in your Carry-on for sturdy international adapters to get for your next trip to Japan. 

Major Train Station: Kyoto Station

Major Airport: Best options are to fly into Osaka at Osaka Airport or Kansai International Airport then take the high-speed railway from the airport to Kyoto Station. 

Getting There: Flying into Kyoto 

Depending on your city of departure, you can fly into Kansai International Airport or into Osaka Airport. Osaka Airport serves mostly domestic flights which might be a good option if you’re flying in from other parts of Japan. Kansai International Airport is probably the main option if you’re flying in from overseas. Simply take the dedicated airport express trains from either airport directly to Kyoto Station. 

Check out discounted ticket packages
if you’re taking the airport express trains to Kyoto Station. The ticket packages might be a tad much if you only need a train ticket to Kyoto Station. However, the ticket package is usually cheaper than buying 1 single direct train ticket. The package I was sold cost a total of 2800 YEN (about $18 to $20 USD)

A package of tickets.
Train ticket package from Osaka to Kyoto.

Head to the tourist offices and ask about train ticket packages to Kyoto and they might sell you a package with 1) a single direct train ticket to Kyoto (one-way usually) and 2) multiple day passes to use on several of the Kyoto subway or train lines. The day passes for the subway or train lines could come in handy once you’re in Kyoto. The package I bought does not contain return train tickets from Kyoto. When leaving Kyoto, I simply bought a single direct ticket from Kyoto to Kansai Airport, which cost about 4500 YEN (about $28 to $30 USD). 

Taking the Train into Kyoto

See above if you’re taking the train directly from either one of the major airports in Osaka. If you’re taking the Shinkansen, then check out their website for routes and costs for passes. The final destination should simply be Kyoto Station. Keep in mind that buying a JR Rail pass (Japan’s high-speed rail pass for tourists) online is just a reservation and you need to exchange it for a physical JR pass once you’re in Japan. Head to a train station and the customer service will help you out with exchanging your JR rail online reservation for a physical pass. 

Where to Stay

Unwind at the Richmond Hotel Premier 

Full Name: Richmond Hotel premier KYOTO SHIJO
Address: Japan, 〒600-8494 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Kasabokocho, 50番
Check rates: Agoda.com

Clean, functional, and modern. The location is near major historical sights such as Nijo Castle (about a 15 minute walk) and Gion District (about a 20 minute walk). There’s also a grocery store located right under the building that’s really convenient when you want to buy some fresh fruits (highly recommended to do while you’re in Japan!). Overall, the hotel is stylish and comfortable and the price is reasonable as long as you book early! Book way ahead of cherry blossom season (around April-ish if you’re planning to go) to avoid paying astronomical rates. 

What to See and Do 

Kyoto is filled with temples galore. Think of it as the equivalent of European cities being graced with a stunning cathedral on every block. Kyoto is similar in that there are beautiful temples on every street corner. Some are private, some public, and some are private but open to the public a couple of times a year during special occasions. 

Finding Zen at Shoden-Eigenin 

Entrance to temple with tickets.
Entrance to Shoden-Eigenin. A temple only open a few times year. Kyoto, Japan.

This temple is only open twice a year! We were super fortunate to have stumbled into it. Located in the historic Gion district, this unassuming temple is surrounded by a high wall and has a charming, perfectly manicured garden. I know, all temples in Kyoto have perfect gardens, but this one is smaller in scale and just so lovely. Notice too all the painted sliding doors of cranes, herons, and cherry blossoms. I believe this temple is open during sakura season so definitely hedge your luck and try to visit it. 

The landscaping at Shoden-Eigenin.

Bathe in Tranquility at the Komyo-in Temple (a sub temple of Tofukuji) 

Now another tranquil, serene temple with an intricate rock garden. Come here during sunset and the light shines perfectly between the leaves, on the rocks, and on the sand. Sit quietly here and simply appreciate the zen-ness of it all. Walk through the temple (on tip toes too because some people really do sit and meditate around the rock garden) and admire the minimal design and the windows centered perfectly on the scenes of the garden. 

The rock garden at the Komyo-in Temple.

Admire the famous rock gardens of Ryoan-ji 

One of the small temples inside Ryoan-ji.
The beautiful Buddha at Ryoan-ji that most people just pass by.

The great rock garden of Ryoan-ji where the rocks are placed just right so that you must turn your head to see them. However, once you’ve reached enlightenment you’ll be able to see all the rocks in one go without having to turn your head or your eyes. By then, you’ll have developed the all-seeing eye. Don’t miss out on the little statue of the Buddha (most people just pass him by) and notice the super straight trees in the woods. And make sure to stroll by the  pond reflecting the cherry blossoms. 

A pond reflecting the bridge and blossoms at Ryoan-ji.

Brave the crowds at Kiyomizu-dera (the water temple) 

Yes, a super touristy spot in the Higashiyama district, but absolutely worth the visit. Admire the stunning, tango red colour of the temple of Pure Water. Notice the dragon sculptures and statues guarding the gates to the temples as you hike your way up the stairs. Catch people in gorgeous kimono outfits worn especially for the cherry blossom season. Stroll around to see the enormous temple bells and you’ll also get a great view of the city if you hike all the way to the top of the temple. 

Nishiki Market 

A looooong covered market with fish and trinkets galore. There are lots of very cool Snooppy themed snacks, fresh seafood, and deep fried dishes. There’s also a great coffee shop near the beginning of the covered market if you’re craving some good coffee and pastries for breakfast. It’s pretty incredible seeing all the packed stalls in a narrow space. This market is more of a thrill than for actual shopping or dining, in my opinion. 

Sanjo-Dori Covered Market 

I find this market much more interesting than Nishiki as it’s a main market where locals get their groceries. So there are lots of great home cooked food, crepes, freshly fried tempura, and fresh onigiris (rice with toppings stuffed into seaweed and shaped into a triangle). You could spend a whole day here just eating and shopping. 

Where to Eat 

Enjoy handmade crepes by Gomaya Crepedo

Location: Japan, 〒604-8327 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Aneomiyacho Nishigawa, 72-5

The owner of this crêperie makes the lightest, fluffiest, and tastiest crepe ever! Her menu is diverse, but I recommend trying her original crepe recipe. It’s a light crepe filled with  black sesame creme, golden almond slices, roasted sesame, and chocolate flakes. It is heaven packaged nicely in a roll of pancake.

Front view of the crepe shop.

Indulge in coffee at Cafe Akkun and Cake 

Just a few shops down from the delightful crêperie above is a coffee shop where it seems like you’ve time travelled the moment you walk in. Customers can get a perfect cup of coffee while enjoying a smoke and reading the newspapers. It’s quite romantic. Admire the shop owners extensive coffee and water filtration systems. He has huge contraptions with glass globes that take up to 8 hours to purify the water, so you know you’re getting the cleanest coffee possible. The shop owners are very sweet and will hand you some books about the temples in Kyoto for you to enjoy while you sip your coffee. Coffee and books. Paradise. 

Delight in delectable fresh onigiris 

So another few doors down from the coffee shop and crêperie is a store that makes fresh onigiri every day. They’re scrumptious little things with perfectly cooked rice and toppings. Onigiris are a simple concept but, like all things simple, it’s not easy to execute. I highly encourage you to munch on some fresh onigiris for lunch as they’re proof that taking something so simple, so seriously, can achieve highly palatable results. 

Delight in an elegant Kaiseki Meal 

Restaurant name: Minokichi Hotel New Hankyu Kyoto Restaurant
Location: Japan, 〒600-8216 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 京都新阪急ホテル地下1F

For dinner, you must try a kaiseki meal at Minokichi hotel. This place is right by the Kyoto train station so it’s easy to spot. Kaiseki is a prix fixe tasting menu showcasing local, seasonal ingredients at their freshest. Each dish is elegantly prepared and served; flavours are bursting with brightness. Our tasting menu showed-off the beauty of bamboo shoots and it’s amazing to see how creative chefs can get with one single ingredient. Ingredients change, of course, depending on the season you’re visiting. 

Random Ramen Dinner 

Ramen is a classic Japanese dish and, when done right, it is divine. Small ramen joints usually have a ticket vending machine where you pre-purchase your order and then it’s served to you at your table. We were by Pontocho Alley and, as cool as the alley was, it was mainly serving Wagyu beef. We stumbled into a ramen joint on the main road instead and it was so comforting to have a steaming, hot bowl of noodles when it was freezing cold outside. So if you’re feeling you need a quick bite on your Kyoto adventure, try going into a random ramen joint and giving a bowl of hot noodles a try. 

Be entertained at a teppanyaki dinner 

Restaurant: Chef’s Table Momiji inside Dusit Thani Kyoto
Address: Japan, 〒600-8327 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Nishinotoincho, 466

A teppanyaki dinner is where the chef cooks your food right in front of you on a large stainless-steel grill. They usually do lots of tricks with their cooking utensils, so it’s like you’re getting dinner and a show. The teppanyaki at Dusit Thani Kyoto is fine-dining and has a few really nice prix fixe menus to choose from. Indulge in classic, local Japanese dishes and have them prepared right in front of you. The ambiance is modern and chic and the dinner is a nice treat in a designer hotel setting. 

So it’s been said many times, but it’s absolutely worth repeating: Kyoto has so much to offer, so much to see, so much to do, and so much to eat. There isn’t enough time to make a dent in your itinerary even if you stayed for the whole month! Don’t push yourself too hard if you only have 3 days in Kyoto. Pick a few temples you’d like to see and a few low-end and a few higher-end restaurants to try. Then just soak it all in by strolling down the streets of Kyoto and dreaming when you might return for a longer visit. 

Planning to visit a few more cities in Japan? Check out my other posts on Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Exploring Kobe in 1 Day or Chloe’s Guide to Planning a Day Trip to Nara.

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