questions & answers: itinerary check

3 days in kyoto

3 days in Kyoto

We are going to Kyoto for 3 days and Tokyo for 4 days and will be getting a 7-day rail pass (also going to Osaka and possibly to Hiroshima).

For Kyoto:
Q1: Can I do these itineraries or what's best way to see these sites in 3 days:
Day 1: Inari Shrine & hike, Nijo Castle, Nara Park, Todaiji Temple & Nara Nagomikan
Day 2: Sagano Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama Walking Tour & Monkey Park (self-guided tour) & eat Arashiyama tofu
Day 3: Not yet planned

Q2: Whatever itinerary you suggest, please provide best route to travel incl. using JR Rail Pass if possible

Q3: What else do you suggest to do in Kyoto? If I travel to Osaka at night, can I use the JR Rail Pass? I'm staying close to Kyoto Station (Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae).

Q4: I can also do a guided tour via JTB Sunrise or DOITaxi Service - if recommend to do guided tour for one of the above days vs. self-guided, please advise. Have never traveled Japan or used rail service and intimidated by it!
Thank you
S. Freitas


Yes your itinerary is doable, and generally I discourage having to go through some tour company - it is easy to navigate and get around, the Japanese are generally quite ready to help when needed, and nothing beats the ultimate freedom of going where you want, when you want, and for how long you want. There is no real need for you to waste your money.

One of the first things you should do upon arriving at Kyoto Station is go to the tourist info office on the 2nd floor. They have lots of free maps and info that can help you out. Of course you can make it easier on yourself as well by studying some maps online of the cities you are visiting before your trip - get familiar with the layout as much as you can ahead of time.

For your Day 1: First, if you are extra ambitious or energetic - this part is optional. Get up really early and go visit the Nishi-Honganji and Higashi-Honganji temples - they are very close to Kyoto Station, and free. They open at 5:30 AM & 5:50 AM, respectively, if you're an early riser. Most tourists just ignore them which is a terrible shame - they are some of the biggest wooden structures in the world and have a fantastic appearance.
After that, you can take the subway from Kyoto Stn to Nijo castle, changing trains at Karasuma/Oike Stn and getting off at Nijo Stn. Nijo Castle is right by the station. The JR Pass does not cover the subway, however. When finished, return to Kyoto Stn. and take a JR train with the Pass down the Nara Line to Inari Station. The Fushimi Inari shrine is right across the street, and you can see a good preview of it here. When done, continue down the same line to the JR Nara Stn., and walk 20 minutes to Nara Park. The Todaiji Great Buddha is a must-see, but also be sure to feed the deer, see Kofukuji and Kasuga Shrine, plus two often overlooked gardens, Isuien and Yoshikien.

Day 2 - You can use your pass to go from Kyoto Stn. to Sagano-Arashino Stn. Actually Nijo Castle is along the way, but seeing Arashiyama can take up a full day to get most of it in. First is the historical Togetsukyo bridge which is over 1000 years old, but today is just another concrete bridge with cars and trucks running over it. So pass on over and go see Tenryuji Temple (especially the garden which is exquisite), from there the bamboo grove is next door, and from there it's easy to find the entrance to the Iwatayama monkey reserve (but takes about a 20 minute stiff hill climb). Afterwards, walk northwards and see the various temples. Don't miss the one at the end, the Otagi Nenbutsuji which is one of the most humorous and whimsical places in Japan you will ever visit.

For Day 3, I recommend Kyoto's eastern side, which is really the most interesting part of the city. You could start very early again if you can, and see Toji, which has Japan's tallest pagoda, and is again very close to Kyoto Stn. It's actually a bit SW of the station. Afterwards, there are many of Japan's best places on the east side - Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizudera, Nanzenji, Heian Shrine, the Philospher's Walk, Ginkakuji, and if you can, way up north is the Shugakuin Imperial Villa which is a gorgeous garden and place of royalty. Prior reservations are required though but it is free.

And if you can squeeze it in somewhere, the Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion is an icon of Kyoto and Japan, and well worth seeing. You can easily get through it in 30-45 minutes, tops.

Yes, you can also go to Osaka by the Pass. After the temples of Kyoto close down around 5PM, you can zip over to Osaka for the evening. At night the city comes alive and has some great places to see, such as Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg, and Abeno Harukas Bldg are wonderful.

If you had another day, going to see Himeji Castle would be well worth it - it's Japanese finest and you can take the bullet train there, adding more value to your pass. North of Tokyo also is Nikko, which makes a great day trip.

Best of luck!


Dear Toraneko

Once again, you provide such great info! Thank you so much! And more ?s:

Q1: For Kyoto, won’t arrive until 11am. After getting brochures from tourist info, is it possible to see Nijo Castle or Kiyomizu-dera Temple (check-in isn’t until 3pm). If not, any suggestions?

Q2: Will be in Tokyo 4 days and booked rooms at Royal Rihga Hotel Tokyo and Prince Shinagawa. Of the two, which is better located in terms of convenience to trains (transportation) and things to do (we have 2 18-year old girls with us who’ll want to go out at night)?

Q3: You mentioned not being a fan of tours but 2 JTB tours are interesting: 1) Mt Fuji/Lake Ashi Cruise/Mount Kamagatake Ropeway (10 hours) and 2) Tsukiji Fishmarket & Sushi-making workshop. Any recommendations?

Q4: Any recommendations for our time (3 nites/4 days) in Tokyo (leave Japan via Narita at 10pm)?

Q5: Based on our trip of Osaka to Kyoto (3days) and Tokyo – should we get 7-day JR Rail Pass or just buy ala carte transportation?

So many more ?s I have. Is it okay to send or do you free-lance w/consultant rate so I can take up more time???


S. Freitas


Well first, regarding Kyoto, many hotels will let you leave their bags with them even if it is before the time of check in for your room. You should confirm this with the hotel, but most places will do it, and if not there are always lockers at stations. You can see both Nijo and Kiyomizudera, although it will take a bit of time to get from one to the other. It is easy to take the subway though from Nijo Stn to Higashiyama Stn. and walk 20 minutes south to Kiyomizudera. You could even stop at Yasaka Shrine along the way, or one stop past Higashiyama is Keage Stn which is close to Nanzenji, Heian Shrine, and the tragically often overlooked garden between them, Murin-an.

For the hotels, both are right by the Yamanote Line, and easy to go to Shibuya where there is a lot of nightlife. If you are in Tokyo on a Sunday, don't miss Harajuku to see the youth with their wild fashions. Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park are next to it and well worth seeing also. And be sure not to miss the Shibuya Hachiko intersection especially on a weekend when it looks like half the city is crossing the street at once.

The thing about tours is that they can rarely do anything that you can't do yourself, and without the tour you can do it on your own time and schedule. For Mt Fuji there is typically going to Hakone or the Fuji 5 Lakes.
area. For Hakone at the moment the ropeway is closed and you can't see one of the better places there, Owakudani. You might like the Fuji 5 Lakes area more and you can see it cheaply on a regional pass...of course you have the freedom to do both. For seeing Tsukiji, you pretty much have to get up and be there between 4 to 4:30 AM - they start early. It is really something to see the world's biggest fish market. You can see a good preview of it here. But there are no trains or buses at that hour, so you'd need to get a taxi. Given a choice, seeing Mt Fuji will give you a lot more lasting memories.

4) Tokyo has something for everyone, so it is all up to your interests. There is the site that every last tourist goes to see, the Sensoji Temple. And for good views over the city, there is the Sky Tree, though it's pricey and crowded. You could instead try Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Tower, or for free, in Shinjuku there is the Metro Gov't Bldg. Tokyo also has many famous gardens - Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Hamarikyu Gardens, Rikugien Garden, Kiyosumi, Koishikawa Korakuen and others. Akihabara is famous for electronics, and Odaiba is quite a trendy and unusual place to see as well. I suggest you go through the tourist guides and decide what you want. The government makes one, there is another based on area, and there are some from residents
residents and even for those on a budget. Please note though that the trains/subways stop running close to midnight. You also don't say when you are going, but if in summer please note that it will be extremely muggy and humid. Bring enough sunblock and deodorant, which are both pricey in Japan. Aside from Tokyo itself, a day trip to Nikko is well worth it as I mentioned, there is the Mt Fuji area, and there is also Kamamura/Enoshima which has some fantastic sights to see.

5) If you go to Hiroshima/Miyajima as well as go to the Kansai area and Tokyo by bullet train, then a 7 day Pass would pay off. Likewise if you take a day trip to Himeji near Osaka, as well as go see Nikko, which is north of Tokyo. If you do neither, then regular tickets make more sense.

I don't mind the questions - it's true I am not getting paid (at least not in this life). But if you can see some great places you'd ordinarily miss out on, then it is all worth it.

Good luck!


You are so awesome - thanks! We are actually traveling in less than a week. We leave June 7 from Honolulu and arrive in Osaka on June 8. Am still trying to figure out how to see so many sights (the train/bus thing is so intimidating coming from Honolulu where we drive around the island in less than 4 hours)!

Thank you so much for all the advice (maybe you should accompany us - you have certainly saved us much $$ and headache!). Right now, we aren't planning to go to Himeji but possibly Nikko so looks like we won't be getting the 7-day rail pass this time.

For Kyoto, were just advised to add Hozugawa Kudari prior to Arashiyama, rent bikes and do Philosopher's Walk. So, if you don't mind looking one last time at the places we want to visit and if we've arranged it correctly, greatly appreciate it.

Arrive Kyoto at noon on Day 1: See Kiyomizu-Dera & Nijo Castle? Or add to one of days below:
Day 2: Arashiyama, Sagano Bamboo Grove, Hozugawa Kudari (riverboat ride), Iwatayama Monkey Reserve (?)
Day 3: Inari Shrine & Hike, Nara Park & Todaiji Great Buddha, Nara Nagomikan (souvenirs/restaurants/ sweets)
1/2 Day 4: Kinkakuji, Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher's Walk - a relatively quiet place then lunch or coffee/tea at one of the riverside cafes/), Bike ride through Kyoto town (1-hour)



Hi again and seriously, these are some more last minute ?s if you have time (and patience with me):
Reading about Kyoto transportation and it's intimidating! Read 2 different guides about traveling throughout Kyoto:
1) Japan Guide says Kyoto is served by multiple bus systems but they're small and operate infrequently. Recommend to use subways and trains vs. buses.
2) Another guide says buses in Kyoto are good - use them vs. trains.

So given out itinerary, can you advise:
1) Is it better (easier, cheaper & faster) to use buses; trains/subways; or hire a private taxi for a day (as there's 4 of us traveling)? If taxi - any recommendations?
2) If using trains/subways - which pass is recommended? Kyoto Sightseeing Card, Kyoto One Day Bus/Subway Card, Prepaid IC cards (icoca or Pitapa)?

Thanks again


Well in terms of your new plans, Kiyomizudera is on the opposite side of the city from Arashiyama, so you could put Nijo Castle in with Arashiyama. Or if you have the time, do it on day one.
For getting around, taking the subway is the easiest if the destination is not far from a station. Otherwise a bus might make more sense. Traffic in Kyoto especially around the central area can move pretty slowly, so all other things being equal, a subway ride is easier. Riding a bicycle is also dicey unless you are more in the further reaches of the city, such as Arashiyama. I would want to ride in central Kyoto - just no fun and having to stop and ride around people all the time. A taxi would make good sense if there are 4 of you for many places not near a station. For passes, you might look through this and pick the best for you.
You might want to look through this guide and note any places nearby you plan to go in case you find yourself with extra time, or as a backup in case of rain, etc.

Have a great trip.


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