48 Hours in Kyoto, Japan: 10 Cool Things To Absolutely Do

1. Explore the Historic District of Gion

Step into the world of tradition and elegance by visiting the historic district of Gion in Kyoto. Famous for its beautiful wooden machiya houses and geisha culture, Gion offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich history. Take a leisurely stroll along Hanamikoji Street, lined with traditional tea houses and listen for the gentle shuffle of geisha in their elegant attire. Don’t miss the opportunity to spot a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) on their way to an appointment. Gion is truly a photographer’s paradise, with picturesque streets and historical architecture at every turn.

For a truly immersive experience, consider booking an enchanting evening at a traditional tea house in Gion. Sip on authentic matcha tea while enjoying a traditional Japanese performance, such as a tea ceremony or a captivating dance by a geisha. The combination of aesthetic beauty and cultural significance makes Gion a must-visit destination in Kyoto.

Useful Link: Gion – Kyoto Travel Guide

2. Marvel at the Golden Pavilion – Kinkaku-ji Temple

Prepare to be mesmerized by the radiant beauty of Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Covered in gold leaf and reflecting gracefully in the tranquil pond, this iconic Zen Buddhist temple is an absolute must-visit in Kyoto. Explore the exquisite Japanese gardens surrounding the temple, carefully designed to create a sense of harmony and tranquility. Be sure to capture the picture-perfect moment when the sun’s rays illuminate the temple, creating a breathtaking spectacle.

Take your time to absorb the serene atmosphere and contemplate the temple’s historical and cultural significance. Originally built as a retirement villa for a shogun, it was later converted into a temple upon his death. Today, Kinkaku-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage site and stands as a symbol of Kyoto’s beauty and spirituality.

Useful Link: Kinkaku-ji Temple – Kyoto Station

3. Wander through the Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama

Escape the bustling city streets and find peace within the enchanting Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama. As you enter this otherworldly sanctuary, towering bamboo stalks envelop you, casting soft, filtered light that dances across the forest floor. The gentle rustling of leaves creates a soothing melody, transporting you to a state of tranquility.

Explore the forest by taking a leisurely stroll along the well-maintained walking paths, which lead to other attractions in the area, such as the stunning Tenryu-ji Temple and the enchanting Sagano Romantic Train. Capture the perfect Instagram-worthy photo beneath the majestic bamboo, creating a memory that will last a lifetime. The spiritual and serene ambiance of the Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama is a unique experience you shouldn’t miss during your stay in Kyoto.

Useful Links: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Inside Kyoto

4. Visit the Stunning Fushimi Inari Shrine

Immerse yourself in the vivid world of traditional Japanese architecture and spirituality by visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This awe-inspiring Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the deity of rice and prosperity. As you ascend the vibrant red torii gates that wind through the forested Mount Inari, you will feel a sense of serenity and reverence.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is renowned for its network of trails that lead visitors to smaller shrines and breathtaking viewpoints. Embark on a hike up the mountain to witness panoramic views of Kyoto and embrace the peaceful ambiance of the surroundings. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the many prayer areas and admire the countless fox statues, believed to be Inari’s messengers.

Useful Links: Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto Travel Guide

5. Indulge in Kyoto’s Culinary Delights

No visit to Kyoto is complete without indulging in its culinary delights. Renowned for its traditional Japanese cuisine, Kyoto offers a wide array of culinary options that will tantalize your taste buds. Begin your gastronomic adventure by savoring a traditional kaiseki meal, a multi-course feast that showcases Kyoto’s seasonal ingredients and culinary artistry. These meticulously prepared dishes are not only delicious but also a visual delight.

When in Kyoto, don’t forget to try yudofu, a specialty tofu dish simmered in a hot broth, or kyo-kaiseki, a style of kaiseki meal featuring Kyoto’s local delicacies. Venture into the atmospheric streets of Pontocho or Gion, where you’ll find charming restaurants and izakayas serving traditional Kyoto cuisine.

Useful Link: Kyoto Food and Drink – Inside Kyoto

6. Admire Cherry Blossoms in Maruyama Park

If visiting Kyoto during spring, make sure to witness the ethereal beauty of cherry blossoms in bloom. Head to Maruyama Park, one of the city’s most popular hanami (flower viewing) spots, and witness the enchanting transformation of the park into a sea of delicate pink and white blossoms.

Stroll along the park’s pathways, joining locals and fellow visitors in picnicking beneath the flowering trees. Take a moment to appreciate the fleeting nature of sakura (cherry blossoms) and immerse yourself in the joyful atmosphere created by the celebration of this annual natural spectacle. Maruyama Park also offers a delightful view of the iconic Yasaka Pagoda, adding an extra touch of charm to the experience.

Useful Link: Maruyama Park – Kyoto Travel Guide

7. Unwind in an Onsen – Japanese Hot Spring

For a truly relaxing experience, treat yourself to an onsen, a traditional Japanese hot spring bath. Kyoto and its surrounding areas offer a variety of onsen resorts, where you can soak in the therapeutic mineral-rich waters and rejuvenate both mind and body. After a long day of exploring, immerse yourself in the hot waters and let the stresses of the world melt away.

While there are several public bathhouses available, consider staying at a ryokan (traditional inn) with its own private onsen for a more intimate and tranquil experience. Many ryokans also offer traditional Japanese meals and the opportunity to sleep on futon, providing an authentic Japanese retreat.

Useful Link: Onsen – Japan Guide

8. Discover the Magnificent Nijo Castle

Step back in time and explore the grandeur of Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a testament to Kyoto’s feudal past. Built in the 17th century as the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns, Nijo Castle represents an architectural marvel with its intricate details and beautiful gardens.

As you wander through the castle’s opulent halls, take note of the “nightingale floors” that produce chirping sounds when walked upon, designed to alert the residents of potential intruders. Admire the intricate wood carvings, detailed paintings, and stunning screen doors throughout the complex.

Visit the surrounding gardens, adorned with cherry trees and water features, offering a serene and picturesque backdrop. Nijo Castle is a must-visit destination, providing insight into Japan’s rich history and the power dynamics of its feudal era.

Useful Link: Nijo Castle – Kyoto Travel Guide

9. Experience Zen at the Daitoku-ji Temple Complex

Tranquilize your soul by exploring the serene Daitoku-ji Temple Complex, a significant Zen Buddhist temple located in northern Kyoto. Comprising 22 sub-temples, this hidden gem offers visitors a peaceful retreat from the bustling city life.

Stroll through the meticulously manicured Zen gardens and admire the elegant architectures of each temple. The quietness and simplicity of the complex will provide a moment of reflection and a chance to discover the essence of Zen Buddhism.

For a more immersive experience, consider participating in a meditation session or a traditional tea ceremony held within the temple grounds. It is the ideal place to find inner peace and gain a deeper understanding of Japanese spirituality.

Useful Link: Daitoku-ji Temple Complex – Inside Kyoto

10. Shop for Traditional Souvenirs in the Higashiyama District

No trip to Kyoto would be complete without shopping for traditional souvenirs to take home. Head to the Higashiyama District, a charming neighborhood filled with narrow streets and traditional shops offering a variety of Kyoto’s unique crafts.

Browse through shops selling handmade ceramics, lacquerware, traditional tea sets, and intricately woven textiles. Don’t forget to pick up a beautiful folding fan, a symbol of Kyoto’s craftsmanship and elegance. Immerse yourself in the traditional ambiance of the neighborhood and take a break at one of the cozy teahouses to savor a cup of matcha tea and traditional sweets.

Useful Link: Higashiyama District – Inside Kyoto

In conclusion, Kyoto is a city where ancient traditions and contemporary culture seamlessly blend. With its rich history, stunning temples, serene gardens, and vibrant culinary scene, it offers an abundance of cool things to do in just 48 hours. Whether immersing yourself in the timeless beauty of Gion, marveling at the Golden Pavilion, or wandering through the enchanting Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama, each experience will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. So, make the most of your time in Kyoto and embark on this unforgettable journey into the heart of Japan.