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How to Plan a Trip to Kyoto (Couples, Families, First Timers…)

How to Plan a Trip to Kyoto (Couples, Families, First Timers…)

By RitaUpdated Dec. 1, 2023

Kyoto is rich in atmospheric temples, food, and cultural experiences. You're suggested to spend at least 2 days there to discover this cultural capital of Japan.

Read on to check out our planning tips on top things to do, a sample itinerary, costs, and more.

The Top 6 Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto is a window into ancient Japan, so historical sites, like its best temples, are not to be missed. Cultural interactions will light up your trip as well, such as a tea ceremony, kimono experience, and/or a samurai class.

If you're looking for natural scenery, travel to Kyoto in spring or autumn. With the pleasant weather and appealing views, Arashiyama is a wonderful place to go.

For foodies, kaiseki (refined multi-course Japanese cuisine) and sake (rice wine) are the highlights.

1. Taste Kaiseki in a Ryokan (Japanese Inn)

If you're a foodie, nothing could beat kaiseki (fine dining with traditional and seasonal food). Having a kaiseki dinner is a luxury experience, but it is well worth the price.

The best place to experience a kaiseki feast is in a traditional ryokan setting. You could surprise your beloved or family with a luxurious ryokan stay.

Sample a traditional kaiseki meal, relax in a private hot spring, or just have some free hours for intimacy or family bonding — a Kyoto ryokan would be the ideal place!

2. Explore the Ancient Temples and Shrines

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

As home to 1,600+ temples and shrines, it is worthwhile to spend a day stepping back in time into ancient Kyoto. With their ingenious designs, you would easily get great photo opportunities and an immersion into their Zen-feel atmosphere.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most recognizable temples. It features thousands of red torii (gates). Wearing kimonos as you stroll inside would offer an in-theme and memorable addition to the experience!

3. Meet Geishas Hosting a Tea Ceremony

Ecounter Geisha in Kyoto Ecounter Geisha in Kyoto

Geishas (female hostesses skilled in the traditional arts of entertainment) are another icon of old Kyoto. Most travelers enjoy watching the geishas while exploring Gion District.

You could have more interaction with them, though, by attending a tea ceremony. In a Zen-styled garden, you could put on a kimono, appreciate a Japanese tea ceremony, and chat with them.

4. Take a Samurai or Ninja Class: Kid-Friendly!

Practise with Sumarai Master in Kyoto Practise with Sumarai Master in Kyoto

While the Samurai and Ninja Museum offers but a glimpse of samurai culture in days gone by, joining a local class would make samurai and ninja skills come to life!

Wear traditional clothes, experience authentic samurai/ninja training, and practice with local masters.

Learn more about family-friendly activities from How to Plan an Incredible Family Trip to Japan in 2024/2025 or 13-Day Japan Private Family Vacation>>>

5. Feed Deer in Nara Park

Feeding deer at Nara Deer Park Feeding deer at Nara Deer Park

A Kyoto trip is not complete without a side trip to Nara, where feeding deer is the top highlight (especially if you have young children).

Buy some crackers to feed them and interact with the cute deer in a temple atmosphere!

6. Seek Out Natural Beauty in Arashiyama

Bamboo forest of Arashiyama Bamboo forest of Arashiyama

Its bamboo groves make Arashiyama one of the iconic landmarks of Kyoto.

In the early morning, stroll through the bamboo forest with your beloved/family, feel the cool breeze and listen to the rustling of the leaves...

To appreciate cherry blossoms or autumn leaves, don't miss its scenic train ride in spring or fall. For a romantic experience, you could have lunch on a private traditional boat cruise with stunning scenery along the Hozu River. Get more inspiration from our cherry blossom tour>>>

Want more exclusive experiences? Feel free to contact us. Your 1:1 travel expert will customize an itinerary for you within 24 hours!

How Long to Spend in Kyoto

Most travelers prefer to stay in Kyoto for 2 days. As an ancient capital, it is worth reserving a full day for its temples, shrines, and castles.

For the other day, feeding deer in Nara would make your kids feel more involved. If you like tea, you could take a day trip to Uji (home to Matcha tea). Arashiyama offers various options for appreciating the awesome scenery (hiking, cycling, boating…).

A Classic Itinerary for a Trip to Kyoto: 2 Days

Day 1: Discover the Famous Temples, a Castle, and a Local Market

You could have an overall view of Kyoto's history from visiting Golden Pavilion, Pure Water Temple, and Nijo Castle.

Then head to bustling Nishiki Market to shop for freshly-cooked snacks and see bustling local life.

Day 2: Explore Iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine and Feed Deer at Nara Park

Around a 50-minute drive from Kyoto, a private transfer would be the most flexible and time-saving choice for this Kyoto day trip.

Take photos with impressive red-painted toriis (memorial arches), see the interesting stone foxes, and feed the lovely deer...

Read more about sample itineraries from our popular Japan tours>>>

Popular Excursions from Kyoto

Learn to make Matcha Learn to make Matcha

For a longer stay in Kyoto, Arashiyama and Uji are popular choices. You could spend half a day to a full day in each area. To reach these two destinations, private transfers are the most hassle-free way of navigating these rural locations.

  • Arashiyama: You could have a peaceful stroll through its bamboo groves, take in the panorama of the city from Okochi Mountain Villa, and meet cute monkeys in their natural habitat...
  • Uji: You could learn how to make tea, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, or stroll through a picturesque Japanese village.

Do you have any other must-dos? Contact us to have your requirements, including the length of holiday you want, designed into a fulfilling tour uniquely planned for you.

China Highlights, Asia Highlights, and Global Highlights collaborate to provide families and couples with personalized and stress-free experiences in diverse destinations.

How Much Does It Cost for a Trip to Kyoto?

Japan has a similar pricing level to other developed countries. But you can expect lower travel costs in Kyoto, compared with other popular cities in Japan.

For a group of 2–5 people, you might need US$350–400 per person per day for a private tour with 4-star hotels and a private car and guide. For higher-end hotels, you might need to pay an extra US$150+ per person per day.

You could also find out more information from How to Plan Your Trip to Japan 2024/2025>>>

How to Select a Hotel in Kyoto

The popular areas to stay are around Kyoto Station, in Gion District, and in the Kawaramachi area.

Gion District is best for experiencing traditional Kyoto. Stroll the atmospheric streets, take in the culture in sips in its tea houses, and browse local markets with their elaborate handicrafts...

To celebrate your big moments, a luxury ryokan stay is a must. Sit back in your private room, sample the sake (Japanese rice wine), and dine on an elaborate kaiseki feast.

A ryokan is also friendly to families with kids, as your whole family could stay in one room. How memorable it would be to spend an exotic and quintessentially Japanese night with your family!

With just a few rooms, booking around a year before is the regular routine. With us, you enjoy 100% refund of any payments made to Asia Highlights prior to 3 weeks before departure (see more on our booking policy⇒).

Contact our experienced experts, who will recommend the most romantic or family-friendly ryokans/hotels for you!

Best Times to Visit Kyoto

Appreciate the cherry blossom in Kyoto Appreciate the cherry blossom in Kyoto

With its distinct and uniquely-attractive seasons, you can enjoy an awesome Kyoto trip whenever you go.

For a romantic anniversary celebration, spring (March to May) is the best choice, followed by autumn (September to November). During these periods, the iconic cherry blossom (mainly in April) or autumn foliage (mainly in November) and pleasant weather are a charming backdrop for creating a memorable trip!

Inevitably, the favorable weather is aligned with crowds and high costs. Thus, you're suggested to contact us at least half a year before to gain some early-bird reductions and enjoy our free cancellation policy. To beat the crowds, you could also visit Kyoto early or late in the high seasons.

If you're willing to bear the humid and hot summer (June to August), you'll have chances to enjoy the majestic firework shows, experience colorful parades and appreciate the vibrant Zen-style gardens.

Winter (December to February) offers a perfect escape from the crowds and high travel costs. At this quiet time, Kyoto doesn't lose its appeal for everyone: snow scenery and hot springs are its winter highlights.

Further reading: Best (& Worst) Times to Visit Japan>>>

How to Get Around Kyoto

There's no airport in Kyoto, so most travelers reach Kyoto by fast train or a private transfer from Osaka.

Upon arrival in Kyoto, private transfers are more advisable for worry-free travel around the area with their more-comfortable pace, especially when going to Nara and Arashiyama. For retired couples or families with little kids especially, this would allow you to save your energy for the highlights, instead of walking long distances from/to transfer hubs.

Contact us for a private tour with a private vehicle for an unbeatably hassle-free experience that maximizes your enjoyment!

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