Japan Itineraries for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Beyond

Our Japan itineraries provide 1-day plans for every area of Kyoto, plus 2-day ‘best of’ Tokyo step-by-step itinerary, and strategy for walking tours of Nara & Miyajima Island. These touring plans offer guides and tips for which temples to visit, where to eat, transportation, and the most efficient order of seeing the highlights of each area.

None of our Japan itineraries require use of a car or taxi. While public transportation via trains and subway (and very rarely buses) is sometimes necessary, we strive to make these walking tours of each city to the greatest extent possible. We believe a big part of visiting Japan is exploring and getting a feel for the real, lived-in places–not just quickly bouncing from shrine to museum to other touristy points of interest.

To that end, our touring plans for Japan balance efficiency with leisurely exploration and “stopping to smell the roses.” Those concepts might seem at odds with one another, but what we mean here is that we order each stop in a way so that you’ll avoid crowds by visiting popular temples before the tour groups arrive, and continue along a route that minimizes commute times, backtracking, and takes you through the most interesting neighborhoods.

2-Day ‘Best of’ Tokyo Itinerary – Discovering the essence of Tokyo is about visiting its eclectic neighborhoods in addition to particular iconic points of interest, and this itinerary offers both. You’ll explore Harajuku, Shinjuku, Asakusa, and more. You’ll visit Tsukiji Fish Market, Sensoji Temple, Robot Restaurant, Tokyo SkyTree, and more. All in a whirlwind two day trip to Tokyo!

2-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary – This is our flagship Kyoto touring plan, which we created upon learning that most people only allocate two days to the city. It’s an aggressive ‘best of’ itinerary that enables you to see most of Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines. As we note in this itinerary, we recommend at least 3 days in Kyoto, and those with more than 2 days should follow our itineraries below, rather than this one.

3-Day ‘Best of’ Kyoto Itinerary – This builds upon our highlights itinerary above, spreading out some of the iconic temples and shrines to give them each more room to breathe, while also adding more variety and new locations into the mix. If you’ve three days in Kyoto–the perfect amount of time for many travelers–this is the perfect touring plan for you!

1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary – This itinerary is essentially a straight-line path along the Higashiyama Mountains, spanning from Silver Pavilion to Philosopher’s Path to Nanzenji Temple down to Kiyomizudera Temple, also including Fushimi Inari Shrine for sunrise (or potentially nighttime). We think this is the quintessential Kyoto experience, and if we only had a single day in the city, this is the itinerary we’d do.

1-Day Western Kyoto Itinerary – The counterpart to our Eastern Kyoto Itinerary, which is mostly in the Higashiyama Mountains, this itinerary is mostly in the Arashiyama Mountains that flank the other side of the city. The highlight of this day along is visiting Japanese macaque monkeys in their mountain habitat. There are also some cool temples, traditional gardens, and more in this walk-through of Arashiyama and Sagano, including everything from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to under-the-radar gems.

1-Day Central Kyoto Itinerary – While our other Kyoto itineraries are heavy on temples and shrines, this one contains museums, primarily because it takes you to the city’s museum district. The highlight of these is Kyoto Railway Museum, which is one of the best museums in Japan. It also includes a stop at Nijo Castle, which we think is overrated, but is one of Kyoto’s most popular points of interest, nonetheless.

1-Day “Cool Kyoto” (Northern Kyoto) Itinerary – We’ve dubbed this our “Cool Kyoto” itinerary because its really neat and also offers cooler mountain weather (dual meanings!). This 1-day Northern Kyoto Itinerary features an exceptional mountain temple, an imperial villa, hiking, the best onsen in Kyoto, a scenic railway journey, and more.

1-Day Southwestern Kyoto Itinerary – This is more of an off-the-beaten path itinerary for the Southwestern outskirts of Kyoto, but it includes some exceptional hidden gems and highlights. Most notably, there are stops at Yoshiminedera Temple, Katsura Imperial Villa, and Saiho-ji, or the “Moss Temple.”

1-Day Nara Highlights Itinerary – This step-by-step Nara itinerary takes you to the top temples, the Great Buddha, and builds in plenty of time for the devious deer as a day-trip to Nara from Kyoto, Japan. Many Japan planning resources advise spending the night in Nara, but we do not. While we love Nara, changing hotels constantly is exhausting, so we encourage maximizing day trips and minimizing hotel-hopping.

1-Day Kobe Itinerary – We went to Kobe, Japan for the same reason most people do: the world’s finest beef. We quickly realized there was far more to this stunning port city than that, and we’ve been back several times. This itinerary will expose you to the variety and diverse offerings of Kobe that make it a top pick for a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

1-Day Miyajima Island Itinerary – This island near Hiroshima is famed for its giant torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, which is an icon of Japan when it appears to float at high tide. Our Miyajima Island touring plan offers a course for seeing the giant torii at both low and high tide, the ropeway to Mount Misen, temples, and the island’s best food.

That covers it for our Japan itineraries thus far. We’ll soon be adding several more 1-day Tokyo touring plans, along with our 1-day Hiroshima itinerary, 1-day Nagoya itinerary, 1-day Osaka itinerary, and 4-day Kyoto itinerary. We hope these itineraries are a helpful resource for you while planning your visit to Japan, and enable you to have a more efficient experience, allowing you to see and do as much as possible!

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan, check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other things to do! We also recommend consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Guide to Tokyo to plan.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Japan? Which cities did you visit, and how much time did you spend in each place? What would you recommend to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? If you’re planning your trip to Japan, what do you think about these itineraries? Any questions? 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!

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13 replies
  1. SweetCaoline74
    SweetCaoline74 says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been enjoying binge-reading Travel Caffeine! Have you released your 1-day itineraries for Hiroshima and Osaka? Having trouble finding them so perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little 🙂

    Reply
    • SweetCaroline74
      SweetCaroline74 says:

      Firstly, clearly I’m so excited about planning my trip that I misspelled my own name (sigh…). Neil Diamond would be ashamed. LOL!

      Secondly, I found the 1-day Osaka itinerary, I’m just missing Hiroshima 🙂
      Thanks Tom!

      Reply
  2. Andrew Potterton
    Andrew Potterton says:

    Amazing guides to the city, thanks Tom. I can’t wait to use the Kyoto guides in October!

    On a side note, anyone living in London, England should go to Japan House. It has free exhibitions, shop, cafe and a tourism office for Japan. You can pick up walking tour idea pamphlets along with maps for the Kyoto and Tokyo areas. In addition, there is a Japanese employee on hand to answer any questions.

    Reply
  3. Zach
    Zach says:

    I have really been enjoying exploring Travel Caffiene lately. Of course, I found your work through Disney, but as I am getting older, I have seen a significant transformation of myself from a Disney fan to a travel fan. I still love Disney Parks and Resorts, but I find myself constantly making plans for other destinations, or at the very least, destinations that compliment my Disney travels. This blog is helping me in those endeavors so much!

    Reply
  4. Sam McShane
    Sam McShane says:

    Love the guides Tom, really want to go to Tokyo and Kyoto ASAP

    Please enter me to win all your gelatoni stuff too

    Thanks

    Reply

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