So you’ve got a full weekend to spend exploring Japan’s former capital city, Kyoto, and want to know where to go? Let us help! Kyoto is divided into 8 districts: Downtown, Central, Southern Higashiyama, Northern Higashiyama, Nishijin, Northwest, Arashiyama, and Kyoto Station. Depending on what you’re looking to see and do, many of the districts can be visited within one weekend. Get ready for your adventure to Kyoto with this helpful weekend guide!
Here's What To Do On A Weekend Trip To Kyoto
Districts to Visit
For the serious sightseer, both Northern and Southern Higashiyama should be your first stop while in Kyoto. These are the two most important sightseeing districts and are home to the most visited attractions in the city. The Sanjusangen-do Temple is among the most memorable places in Kyoto. Inside, you’ll discover over 1,000 images of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of Mercy. Skip across the street and enter the Kyoto National Museum where artwork done by the greatest Japanese artists is housed. Their special exhibits are usually pretty spectacular, as well.
Check out Ishibei-koji Lane, Kyoto’s beautiful pedestrian-only walkway. You’ll get a chance to see some traditional Japanese architecture, bars, and restaurants all tucked away in this hidden walkway.
Finally, the beautiful Heian Shrine in Southern Higashiyama features a classic orange torii gate that welcomes visitors. The shrine features a lush, sprawling garden, which also happens to be one of the best places in Kyoto to view cherry blossoms in the Spring.
If you love temples and peaceful gardens, you’ll want to head to Northwest Kyoto to begin your weekend. Here, you’ll find Kyoto’s most iconic attraction, the Kinkaku-ji Temple, Japan’s most famous Zen garden, the Ryoan-joi Temple, and the Kitano-Tenman-gu Shrine, one of the most beautiful shrines in the city.
There are also places like Tea Ceremony KOTO where you can experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Although the area is somewhat out of the way from the center of Kyoto, it can be reached by train or bus.
Arashiyama is another lovely district to visit. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in among Kyoto’s top sights, and when you visit you’ll see why. The Tenryu-ji Temple features an incredible garden and beautiful mountain views, while the Hozu-gawa River provides ample space for rowing a boat and taking in the sight of blooming cherry blossoms.
The Kyoto Station district is the main entry point in the city and claims the title of being the transportation and shopping hub of Kyoto. The Nishijin district is a good place to view some classic, old Kyoto townhouses and Central Kyoto District contains a few tourist sites including the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle which are definitely worth a visit. Finally, Downtown Kyoto is packed with shops, restaurants, hotels, and many bars and clubs.
Places to Eat
Kyoto has some great places to chow on traditional Japanese foods. Start at Den Shichi in Central Kyoto. There, you’ll enjoy some truly great sushi in a classic sushi bar atmosphere, long counter and sushi chefs included!
Ippudo Ramen in Downtown Kyoto is a local favorite for ramen. The soup and noodles are reason enough to stop in for a meal and their crispy dumplings make it that much more appealing. Try Yoshikawa Tempura in Downtown Kyoto where you can enjoy Kyoto’s best tempura inside a beautiful old building surrounded by a Japanese garden. It’s hard to go wrong while eating in Kyoto, so start with these places and explore a few on your own!
Where to Stay
Deciding which district to stay in can be a hard choice. If you want to be in the center of the action, the best place to stay is in Downtown Kyoto. The district is vast and there are many places to shop, eat, and spend the evening out at local bars and nightclubs. It is well connected to the bus and subway lines, and you’ll be within walking distance of all the sites in both Southern and Northern Higashiyama.
Or, if you’re more interested in staying somewhere more quiet on the outskirts of the city, staying in Arashiyama is recommended. You’ll be far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city and close to nature, but will have easy access to trains or buses if you want to head out and explore for the day.
This article was written by Julianne Aiello.