Ok, full disclaimer. There is too much to do in Kyoto. Especially if you are into art and history and UNESCO world heritage sites. You really, really need several days if you want to properly explore Kyoto. We only had a couple days (which was cut short by a bit of illness), so we only had just under 2 days to explore the city. Because of this, we had to be very selective in what we decided to explore. So, this is in no way a definitive guide to Kyoto. But this is a guide to how we spent our two days in Kyoto. I think this itinerary gave us a really good overview of the city, and allowed to us to explore it from several different angles.
Morning – Nijo Castle
Nijo castle was built in 1603 and served as the residence for the first Shogun of the Edo period. After the fall of the shogunate, the castle was used as an imperial palace for some time, before being officially opened to the public. The castle is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site due to its well preserved feudal architecture.
The entire castle is surrounded by walls and moats, and the grounds are full of beautiful gardens. The main castle building, the Ninomaru palace, is the prime highlight. The palace consists of many rooms, connected by corridors with what are called “nightingale floors” because they squeak when walked upon. This was apparently so that no intruders would be able to sneak around the palace. Each room is beautifully decorated with floor to ceiling murals, all of which are unique in each room.
Afternoon – Gion
Gion is Kyoto’s famous geisha district and home to a tangle of beautiful cherry blossom lined streets and historic houses. The area is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west, with the most popular street being Hanami-koji. The area is now filled with shops, restaurants and tea houses. It is possible to see geisha still operating in this area, but please be respectful of their privacy.
Evening – Pontocho
Just across the river from Gion, is the atmospheric restaurant and dining street of Pontocho. This narrow alley, one block in from the river, and crammed with all sorts of dining options. No matter what your budget, you will find something here. We recommend this as the best place to get dinner after your first full day exploring the city of Kyoto.
Morning – Philosophers path
This gentle, 2 kilometer path meanders along a cherry blossom lined canal. The walks two end points are at the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) and the neighborhood of Nanzenji which is near the metro station Kaege. We recommend starting in Nanzenji and ending your walk at the Silver Pavilion. This way you are completing the walk at the main attraction, and also it means that as you near your destination you also walk through a high concentration of shops, tea houses, restaurants, and transport options. This way, if you are feeling a bit weary after your walk and your visit to the temple, it is much easier to grab some refreshments and a taxi.
Afternoon – Ginkakuji
Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavilion, started it’s life in 1482, as the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s retirement villa. It wasn’t converted into a Zen temple until after his death. The main attraction of Ginkakuji is not the temple buildings, but the beautiful gardens which surround them. A circular walking path takes you past dry sand gardens, serene water features, and through mossy forests. We love Japanese gardens, and this temple garden was our favourite from our time in Japan.