If you have two days during cherry blossom season in Kyoto, Japan, our step-by-step itinerary walks you through the best sakura spots in Arashiyama, Higashiyama, and more. This efficient plan avoids crowds, sees the most stunning temples & shrines, and maximizes your time in the world’s most beautiful city for cherry blossoms.
Our 2-day Kyoto, Japan cherry blossom itinerary is mostly a walking tour, but in order to cover more ground and save some energy, public transportation is necessary a few times. Kyoto’s stunning sakura is not confined to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other renowned points of interest. To the contrary, spots like Golden Pavilion, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Silver Pavilion have no noteworthy cherry blossoms.
Instead, this 2-day Kyoto sakura itinerary will walk you through traditional Japanese neighborhoods, hidden gem temples, public parks, and evening hanami hotspots where cherry trees are abundant, and the celebration of spring continues well into the evening. This is a great way to see Kyoto’s cherry blossom highlights and beat most of the crowds in the process.
One thing to note is that doing all of Kyoto in two days simply is not possible. While this cherry blossom touring plan hits the majority of the highlights, there are literally books full of Kyoto sakura season locales, and visiting the myriad locations with stunning cherry trees is simply not possible.
Moreover, its cherry blossom-centric focus means that you’ll pass over some particularly noteworthy temples & shrines that are not known for their sakura season beauty, most notably the aforementioned Silver and Golden Pavilions. If you have more than two days in Kyoto, we’d recommend pairing this itinerary with one of our normal 1-Day to 1-Week Kyoto, Japan Itineraries. Which one depends upon your priorities. We’d also recommend making time for other nighttime illuminations each evening.
With that said, here’s our recommended 2-day Kyoto, Japan sakura season walking tour…
This day and its suggested route is spelled out in detail in our 1-Day Kyoto, Japan Cherry Blossom Itinerary, but here are the main stops:
- Philosopher’s Path
- Yoshida Hill
- Heian Shrine
- Nanzenji Temple
- Keage Incline
- Maruyama Park
- Kodaiji Temple (Nighttime Illumination)
- Kiyomizudera Temple (Nighttime Illumination)
Note that this skips a bunch of optional stops that are included in the full itinerary. That’s the slightly “better” day of the two, so if you’re only spending one day in Kyoto, do that itinerary rather than the stops below. (Hence it being “Day 2.”)
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park (Optional) – This sprawling public park has a scattering of cherry trees throughout the park. The highlight here is the cluster of weeping cherry trees on the north side of the park, and those are the ones to seek out.
If you pull Kyoto Imperial Palace Park up on Google Maps, you’ll notice it’s really far from Arashiyama, the next stop, in terms of raw distance. However, from Imadegawa Station on the north side of the park, it’s only ~35 minutes to Arashiyama via the Karasuma subway line and Hankyu Arashiyama Line.
Whether going directly to Arashiyama or doing this first really depends upon where you’re staying, but the trees in Kyoto Imperial Palace Park are truly stunning. You can also start your morning with a sunrise walk along the banks of the Kamo River before arriving at the park, and the trees lining Kamogawa are likewise beautiful.
Horinji Temple & Dendengu Shrine – Upon arriving to Arashiyama Station, you’ll be right across from the nondescript entrance to this pair of hilltop spots overlooking Arashiyama and a veritable sea of sakura.
This spot is not the least bit popular, and that’s because the temple and shrine themselves are not at all noteworthy. However, they’re worth a quick visit for the view alone. When you map the location, enter Dendengu Shrine into Google Maps, or else you might get the wrong location.
Arashiyama – For us, the highlight of Arashiyama during sakura season is simply being there. Most of the best cherry blossom spots are along the Hozu River and in Kameyama Park, so wander along the banks of the river and through the park.
Consider grabbing snacks from Lawson or sakura soft serve (it’s fantastic) and having a makeshift picnic in Kameyama Park. After that, head through the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which obviously doesn’t have any blossoms but will still be packed.
Alternatives in Arashiyama – One very popular way to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Arashiyama is via the Sagano Romantic Train, which passes through a veritable tunnel of sakura. Sagano Scenic Railway: Our Ride Aboard Kyoto’s Romantic Railway details our thoughts on this experience, and from that you should be able to determine whether it’s worth your time.
Another option, but one that will be packed is Tenryuji Temple; it has some nice blossoms but not enough to make it a sakura destination. That’s the area headliner, but we are bigger fans of Okochi Sanso Villa (a variety of resplendent gardens, including cherry trees), Jojakkoji Temple (an underrated gem year-round) and Nisonin Temple (at its best during cherry blossom season), which will be among the less-crowded spots in Arashiyama. Plan to meander this area until mid-afternoon.
Ninnaji Temple – Getting to this area of Northwest Kyoto from Arashiyama/Sagano is no easy task, but then again, few commutes from Arashiyama are simple. You’re looking at about an hour on buses, potentially with a transfer, so be mindful of that when planning. If you’re tight on time, you can skip the next two stops and go directly from Arashiyama (we recommend the Sagashogakkomae Bus Stop) to Myoshinji Temple.
If you do have the time, the next two stops are exceptional. Ninnaji Temple is famous for its literal grove of late blooming cherry trees called Omuro Cherries. This is one of the largest concentration of cherry blossoms in Kyoto, and this scene with the the five storied pagoda rising above the sakura-line is special. From here, it’s a short walk to Ryoanji Temple.
Ryoanji Temple – Renowned for its enigmatic rock garden, Ryoanji Temple’s iconic scenery is punctuated by a lone weeping cherry blossom tree during sakura season. Last year, we visited on a breezy day and gusts of wind made it appear as if cherry blossom ‘snowflakes’ were falling into the garden. It was something special.
Beyond that, there are other cherry trees on the expansive grounds here, and you’ll find far less crowds around them. From here, you can either take the bus or walk to the next destination. Either option takes about the same amount of time (~15 minutes), so it’s really your call. We favor walking, but this walk is nothing special–it’s mostly a bland residential area.
Myoshinji Temple/Taizoin Sub-temple – The sprawling Myoshinji Temple complex is home to several intimate subtemples, the most notable of which is Taizoin, which contains several gardens. During the spring, this is framed by a weeping cherry tree, and looks unlike and other garden in Kyoto.
We are huge fans of Taizoin Temple, and recommend seeing more of its beauty in our full post about this stunning subtemple. It’s fairly under the radar, but makes our Best Gardens in Kyoto, Japan list.
Hirano Shrine – From here, you’ll backtrack north, passing Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (take a stroll through the free area if you’re so inclined–it’s pretty) before arriving at the evening’s destination: Hirano Shrine.
This is a small shrine you probably won’t even see mentioned outside of sakura season because the shrine itself isn’t particularly noteworthy (if it’s not in your Japan guidebook, that’s why). However, Hirano Shrine is renowned in the spring for the sakura festival it has hosted since 985, making it the longest-running annual event in Kyoto.
Hirano Shrine is an incredibly popular hanami spot thanks to illuminated sakura path and a variety of food vendors all set up under a veritable canopy of cherry trees. This shrine is sufficiently far away from normal Kyoto tourist districts and the nighttime festivities take place after “tour bus times”, so you’re more likely to see locals than tourists.
After a long day, it should feel pretty great to eat and drink the night away here! That wraps up our 2-day Kyoto, Japan cherry blossom itinerary. If you have a third day, there’s still plenty of cherry blossom goodness to see, and we’d recommend consulting our Kyoto, Japan Cherry Blossom Guide & Sakura Season Tips for other locations, and viewing suggestions.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Any other temples or shrines you’re considering for a two-day Kyoto, Japan cherry blossom itinerary? Have you visited Japan during sakura season? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting Japan during spring interest you? Any questions about the stops on this itinerary, or adding more to it? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!