I’ve always dreamed of going to Kyoto. Especially during autumn. I finally got the chance to go this year and it was as beautiful and stunning as I had imagined. Ke and I allocated 3 days to spend time in Kyoto during our week in the Kansai area. I squeezed in as much as I could but would recommend 4-5 days to really see as much as possible. However, if you only have 2-3 days in Kyoto, I hope you enjoy my itinerary below!
On day 1 we made our way from Osaka and the Yamazaki distillery to Ohara, a small town in the hills north of Kyoto. We decided to use this day to relax in between sightseeing in Osaka and Kyoto at a beautiful ryokan we found called Seryo.
To get to Ohara, we took the Hankyu-Kyoto Line from Kyoto Station to Karasuma Station, transferred to Shijo Station, and then took the Karasuma Line to Kokusai Kaikan station. At Kokusai Kaikan, we took a taxi for about $30 to our ryokan. Once we got there we left our bags at the ryokan, grabbed some udon, and started to explore the nearby area.
Ohara was absolutely gorgeous. It’s a really small town with dozens of temples and gardens all covered in fall foliage. The most popular place to visit in Ohara is Sanzenin temple. You’re allowed to walk through the different buildings once you remove your shoes and that leads to the huge garden. We had a field day taking in the gorgeous fall foliage in the hills above the temple.
After exploring Sanzennin temple, some other gardens in Ohara and the main shops, we made our way back to Seryo Ryokan to relax before dinner. Staying in a traditional ryokan is a must in Japan. I like to stay at one for one or two nights. Traditional ryokans always offer a very intimate experience, lovely kaiseki dinners, and traditional Japanese breakfasts. Seryo Ryokan had a beautiful garden connected to our room and an outdoor onsen bathhouse as well.
We soaked in the baths first and then made our way to the restaurant for the kaiseki dinner. It was at least 10 courses and soo delicious! Overall, the stay was excellent! I’d love to come back here and stay longer.
The next day we had breakfast at Seryo and then headed to downtown Kyoto. From Kokusai Kaikan station, we went to Kitaoji station to store our luggage and then took a taxi to Kinkaku-ji for about $10. I was sooo excited to see this temple! I had always wanted to see the Golden Pavilion and my days working at Tatcha definitely added fuel to the fire!
The pavilion grounds were of course incredibly crowded but Kinkaku-ji is such a beautiful sight to behold. It’s definitely worth braving the crowds to get a glimpse of it.
From Kinkaku-ji, we made our way to Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji. Zenrin-ji is a super popular place to view Kyoto’s fall foliage. It’s open late in the fall for visitors to see the night illuminations of the trees. We got here around noon so it was packed! But it was still worth a visit. If I had enough days in Kyoto, I would have gone to all of these temples right when they opened.
For lunch we headed to Nishiki market. This was a great spot for small bites. It’s very packed but I really enjoyed it, we came back twice! My favorite things here were the ebi onigiri, tofu donuts (I came back the next day for more) and the fish cakes (pictured below).
We made a quick stop to Heian shrine afterwards. Heian shrine is very large with beautiful, spacious grounds. There is very little foliage here but still nice to stroll through if you’re nearby.
Dinner and Drinks in Gion
That night we grabbed amazing tonkatsu at Katsukura. It’s a chain in Japan but probably the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had. They give you a mortar and pestle to grind sesame seeds that you can then mix with their different sauces.
Afterwards we grabbed drinks at a gin bar in Gion called Nokishita711. This was recommended by a friend and I absolutely loved it! It’s a very small bar that fits maybe 10 people. We got there early enough and were easily seated. The bartender also spoke great English and was really fun to chat with.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
On our last day in Kyoto, I forced Ke to wake up super early with me visit the #1 shrine on my list: Fushimi Inari! We went on a Friday morning at 6:45am to avoid the crowds and were rewarded with such a peaceful stroll. There were only a few locals and photographers when arrived. We spent about an hour and a half hiking up and enjoying the quiet walk.
Fushimi Inari shrine is a must see and I highly recommend forcing yourself out of bed early to experience it =D
Afterwards we made our way north to Honen-in. From Fushimi Inari station, we took the train to Demachiyanagi station and then hopped in a taxi. We grabbed breakfast first on the philosopher’s path and then walked over to Honen-in.
It’s a very small temple but it was one of my favorites during the entire trip. It was so peaceful and almost entirely empty when we arrived. As I strolled towards the Buddha statue I was greeted by a super nice salaryman doing his morning prayers. He wished me a good morning before heading to work and it definitely brightened my day =D.
After Honen-in, we went to Ginkaku-ji which was a quick walk away. Ginkaku-ji was much larger than Honen-in but we beat the crowds by going so early in the morning. Ginkaku-ji consists of the beautiful “silver pavilion”, a rock garden, and gorgeous gardens and autumn foliage in the hills. I had so much fun taking pictures here and people watching =D
Tofukuji was probably the most crowded temple we visited in Kyoto. But it was also one of the most beautiful. There was a sea of people here because the foliage is just stunning. If I had another day in Kyoto I would have come here right when it opened. Crowds or not, I had such a blast taking maybe hundreds of photos of the leaves.
Gion at Night
For our last night in Kyoto, we headed back to Gion to explore more of the area. I never got a glimpse of a Geisha but we had a great time strolling through the small streets and checking out local bars.
Kyoto in Autumn
Kyoto is a sight to behold, even more so in the fall. I waited years to get the chance to visit Kyoto and I am so thrilled I got to see it in all of it’s glory. This trip was another dream come true and another item scratched off of my bucket list. I can’t wait to come back one day (maybe during hanami :D) to visit all of the places I didn’t get a chance to see 🙂