How Many Days Should You Spend in Kyoto?

2 Days Really Isn't Enough...

Kyoto morning garden

If you’re coming to Japan for the first time, I can almost guarantee you’ve put Kyoto somewhere on your itinerary. Now you need to figure out how long to spend in Kyoto, so you’re confident that you’re making the most of your vacation to Japan.

In a perfect world, you’d do well to spend at least 4 days in Kyoto. That should give you enough time to explore the surrounding area, immerse yourself in the city’s culture, and visit as many attractions as you want to.

However, these questions are never as straightforward as they seem. Budget, schedule, time of year, and personal preferences all come into play which means if you end up spending a longer or shorter time in Kyoto than I recommend, that’s absolutely fine!

My Experience

Higashiyama Temple
Higashiyama Temple

2 days in Kyoto

Like you, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time discussing how many days to spend in Kyoto when I knew we were planning on coming up to this part of the country. In the end, we spent a total of 2 days in the city, and it was not enough time.

That’s not to say it won’t be enough time for you, but if you really enjoy getting stuck into an area and enjoy understanding what makes it ‘tick’, you’ll need longer.

For Hiroshima, 2 days is perfect for a quick trip, but Kyoto was too much of a rush. To be honest, I loved I loved Hiroshima as well, so 2 days still felt too short!

I’ll wait until later in the article to talk to you about this more, but if you can’t be bothered to read it, just know that from my perspective, 2 days isn’t long enough to spend in Kyoto.

Granted, we were only working with about 2 hours of sleep the first night because of our… Interesting night bus from Tokyo. Anyway, that’s a story for another time!

6 days in Kyoto

Fast forward a few months and we headed back to Kyoto with family for a total of 6 days. Spending that long in Kyoto was part of a 21-day holiday and it felt as though it was enough.

However, living in Japan has changed me so I now feel like I could spend at least a year in each city and STILL not feel like I’d explored it enough… If you’re just coming here for a holiday though, it’ll be more than enough to get a feel for the area and understand why so many people like it.

How Long Should You Spend in Kyoto? (Mini Itineraries)

Okay, let’s get down to why you’re here and answer the question “How long should you spend in Kyoto?”. Bear in mind that my answer does, to quite a high degree, depend on what it is you want to explore in the city.

While I think everyone should spend a longer rather than a short time in Kyoto, time restraints and budgets do of course come into play. The general consensus according to all of the forums I’ve been on, people I’ve spoken to, and content creators I’ve asked how many days to spend in Kyoto is usually 3-4, and that takes time constraints into consideration

To get a better idea of how long you should spend in Kyoto, I think it’s best if we go through a few different time frames and a selection of the things you could do during your stay.

2 Days

Arashiyama countryside
Backstreets of Arashiyama – Japan is super photogenic!

As I’ve said, this really isn’t the ideal amount of time to spend in Japan, but I completely understand that there are people on very tight schedules who still want to see the area. I would suggest going somewhere like Arashiyama (not to see the bamboo forest) and going for a walk around the small country roads.

If you’re not interested in that side of Japan, spend one day walking around the main streets of Kyoto, Nishi Market (and the food/drink shops dotted on either side), and then spend the other day walking around the Higashiyama Gion area.

Make sure you avoid the crowds in Higashiyama because it will get busy. I’d still recommend it though, because it shows the best of ancient Japan with Temples, a giant Buddha, a beautiful park, and incredibly famous Geisha streets.

I don’t think much of the souvenir shops, but go wild if that’s your thing!

3 Days

red bridge in Kyoto
A red bridge in the mountains of Kyoto

If you’ve decided that 3 is the answer to how many days in Kyoto you should spend, you’ll have enough time to take it easy and fit more in. You could hit up any number of popular attractions like Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kinkakuji Temple, Nijō Castle, and Kyoto Imperial Palace, the list is practically endless.

If you’d prefer something a little more natural, take a walk along the philosopher’s path and spend the entire day wondering what you’d have to do in life to live there. Failing that take a look at these Kyoto hikes and explore some of Kyoto’s backcountry.

4 Days

Kyoto Kamo River
Kamo River at Sunset – Kyoto

If you’ve decided to stay in Kyoto for 4 days, now’s the time to spread your wings a little and visit some of the surrounding areas. I would recommend doing something you wouldn’t normally do or making sure you’ve got a good balance between attractions, inner-city exploration, and off-the-beaten-track adventures.

If you’re intent on spending another day in Kyoto (no reason why you shouldn’t), one of the most frequent things I suggest to people is that they should hit up a cafe on the Kamo River and read one of these books.

If you aren’t a reader, then just sit back and relax. Japan can be a tiring country to travel around with a LOT of walking, so it’s never a bad idea to stop and take it all in. If the weather is nice, Kyoto is a fantastic place to do this.

If Kyoto is the only place you’re staying at in this part of Japan, take a day and explore the other areas nearby like Nara, Osaka, or maybe even Hiroshima (some people do this as a day trip, though I think it’s a little too far away)

1 week +

For a lot of you, 1 week will be too much time when answering the question ‘how many days to spend in Kyoto’. On a general first-time holiday to Japan where your goal is to see a large part of the country, this probably won’t be worth it for you.

Of course, there are those amongst you who would prefer to pick one place and bunker down for the duration. In this case, spending a week in Kyoto is easily doable and a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Where to stay in Kyoto

So, you’ve figured out how long to spend in Kyoto, now you just need to work out where you should stay.

A lot of this will be based on the time of year you decide to go, how many people you’re traveling with, and the type of trip you’re looking to have.

The main part of Kyoto (the area I assume you want to visit) is extremely well connected by public transport. That means if you’re getting an Airbnb or hotel in Japan or a hotel in Japan, as long as they’re only 10 minutes walk or so away from the nearest station or bus stop, you won’t run into any trouble.

In terms of suggesting an actual area to stay in, if you’re looking for something a bit closer to the action, I’d suggest somewhere around Gion. It’s a big area and is within walking distance of some of Kyoto’s most historic neighborhoods as well as Downtown Kyoto (basically the ‘main’ city area with more shops and restaurants than you could visit in a lifetime).

Type of Accommodation

Kyoto Airbnb
Traditional Machiya Airbnb in Kyoto

If you’re only staying for a couple of days, you may prefer the convenience of a hotel. You don’t have to worry about contacting the host, you’ll almost always have access to a 24-hour check-in desk, and it might end up being less hassle than other options.

Take it from someone who’s had their Airbnb in Japan canceled 12 hours before check-in…

However, if you’re staying for closer to a week then picking out a good Airbnb might be the best choice. In fact, if there’s any time during your trip to Japan that you choose to stay in an Airbnb, it should be Kyoto.

Kyoto is full of Machiya, traditional old wooden townhouses with unique interiors and the feeling like you’re stepping back in time when you stay there. Yes, you might be sleeping on the floor on a futon (which is worth taking into consideration), but for the fairly short amount of time you’re here, it’s an experience that’ll make your time in Japan far more memorable.

However, there are a couple of ‘problems’ with these Kyoto traditional Airbnb’s:

  1. Further out of town – As I mentioned above, this isn’t too much of a problem because of how well connected Kyoto is, but if you’d prefer to be closer to the action and relative buzz of Kyoto city then it’s worth thinking about
  2. Noise restrictions – If you’re going with a group of friends who are prone to make a bit of noise, this might not be an option. Traditional Machiya are often on streets with strict noise restrictions. On our last trip to the old city, a man would clap two pieces of wood together every day at 9 PM to make sure people realized it was ‘quiet time’. Great!…

FAQs about how long to stay in Kyoto

Is it worth going to Kyoto for a day?

If you’ve only got time to visit Kyoto for a day, I’m guessing you’ll be staying outside the city, likely in Osaka. That’s something I’ve done before, and it’s a great way to get cheaper accommodation!

Are you going to experience the best that Kyoto has to offer in one day? Likely not.

Is it worth going to Kyoto for just a day? Absolutely.

You’ll still be able to appreciate the vibe of the place, visit one or two attractions/areas, and have dinner there. It’ll be a fleeting visit, but absolutely worthwhile.

Are 2 days in Kyoto enough?

If you’re traveling from Osaka to Kyoto mid-morning and getting the train back around dinner time, 2 days in Kyoto is not enough for you to truly appreciate what it has to offer. To really get your teeth into the bones of what Kyoto is all about, it’s just too short.

If you’re staying in Kyoto and can fully commit to two days, then it might be, depending on what you want to do and see. That said, if you only want to see the main city, then two full days is probably enough for you.

If you want to take a deep dive and explore the ancient cities’ beating heart and soul, 3-5 days is going to be ideal. If your itinerary includes seeing Kyoto’s main area, Arashiyama bamboo forest, Fushimi inari Taisha, Higashiyama District, Gion, and the Iwatayama monkeys, then you’re going to need closer to 5 days.

I would suggest staying in Kyoto if you can, which should let you see a lot more while wasting less time traveling. Of course, I love train journeys (this one in particular) more than just about anyone, but if you’re pushed for time then staying directly in Kyoto is your best bet.

If you’ve booked your trip and only scheduled a single day here, don’t worry! I’d highly recommend Higashiyama or Arashiyama which can both take an entire day. Sure, they’ll be busier because they’re so well known, but you’ll definitely have a great time there and you’ll come home with fantastic memories even though you haven’t seen too much.

Plus, what a great excuse to come and visit again 😉

Not sure about Kyoto? I’ve compared Hakone vs Kyoto to help you decide which one you should spend your time at during your trip to Japan. Both are pretty spectacular places, but when you don’t have space in your plan to go to both, some tough decisions need to be made!

Jonny Gleason

Jonny is the founder of A Day of Zen and has an unhealthy obsession with Japan. In 2022 he moved to Japan on a mission to give his audience the best possible information. He's helped over 300,000 plan their trip so far, and is eager to make that number much bigger!

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