The Ultimate 3-Day Kyoto Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

Kyoto is Japan’s beating historical, cultural and spiritual heart. It is home to more than 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 colourful Shinto shrines, a vast samurai castle, an Imperial palace and no fewer than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Unlike other cities in Japan that have embraced modernity, Kyoto has steadfastly clung to the old traditions. Robed monks glide between temple buildings and prayer chants echo across manicured Zen gardens. Geishas scurry along dimly lit alleyways to their next appointment.  

golden temple with reflection in lake and trees which is included in a 3-day kyoto itinerary

Spending three days in Kyoto will allow you to explore the main sightseeing districts of the city and experience the city’s rich culinary traditions. Based on my experiences as a two-time visitor to this seductive city, I have put together a 3-day Kyoto itinerary to help you make the most of your time there.

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How Many Days Should You Spend in Kyoto?

Avoid the temptation to visit Kyoto as a day trip from Tokyo or Osaka. This is a city that is best savoured at a slower pace.

You could easily spend a week here and not run out of things to do and see. I recommend spending at least three days in Kyoto. This will allow you to get a flavour of the city, enjoy its highlights and perhaps discover a few hidden gems of your own. 

However, if you only have two days in Kyoto, you will be able to cover a lot of ground, albeit at a faster pace.

A Suggested 3-Day Kyoto Itinerary
+ Map

My 3-day itinerary will allow you to see Kyoto’s main attractions in a relatively short space of time. You will be busy and need to reckon on at least six hours a day of sightseeing, excluding evening strolls, and early starts. Bring your most comfortable shoes!

  • DAY 1: Temple Hopping in Northern Higashiyama + Pontocho Alley
  • DAY 2: Temples and Geisha in Southern Higashiyama & Gion
  • DAY 3: Golden Pavilion & Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama Area

Setting out early is essential, not only to make the most of your three days in Kyoto but to give you a fighting chance of avoiding the worst of the crowds at a few of the busier spots.

There’s no need to slavishly stick to this itinerary. You can follow it in any order and if you are short on time, you can combine days 1 and 2 into a longer and faster-paced day.

Northern and Southern Higashiyama blend into one another and you may decide to visit more or fewer sights on a particular day.

If you like to explore a city at a faster pace, you may wish to fit in more of Kyoto’s attractions. If that’s the case, I have included a few suggestions towards the end of this article.

But, most importantly, hundreds of temples and shrines aren’t included in this itinerary and a huge part of the joy of exploring Kyoto is to stumble across these lesser-visited treasures.

Kyoto Map

To help you plan your visit and navigate the city, I’ve included a map of the places included in this Kyoto itinerary.

map of best places to see in kyoto in three days included in 3-day kyoto itinerary
Best Things to See in Kyoto in 3 Days. Map Data @ 2021 Google (click on image for interactive map)

This map is colour-coded to correspond with the days in this itinerary:

  • Day 1 – red star
  • Day 2 – yellow star
  • Day 3 – purple star

Higashiyama area is Kyoto’s main sightseeing area, home to the densest concentration of its temples, shrines, museums, parks and Zen gardens. Much of your 3-day Kyoto itinerary is split between the southern and northern parts of this area.

Your first day in Kyoto is an active one, exploring the temples and shrines along the famous Philosophers Path in Northern Higashiyama before spending the evening in Pontocho Alley.

The first stop on your tour of Northern Higashiyama is Ginkaku-ji, also known as the Silver Pavilion. To reach Ginkaku-ji, catch Raku Bus 100 or 102, or city bus 5 or 17, from Kyoto Station.

Once the home of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 – 1490), Ginkaku-ji is the first of the main temples on the northeastern side of Kyoto. Also known as the Higashiyama Jisho-ji, this graceful temple is most well-known for the silver leaf encasing its roof of overlapping blocks made from native cypress trees held in place with bamboo nails. 

temple building of ginkaku-ji in kyoto with reflection in pond

But, for me, its beauty lies in its gardens. White sand was meticulously raked into cones, designed to reflect the moonlight, surrounded by lush moss gardens.

Sadly, Ginkaku-ji offers little opportunity to sit and contemplate. To see the temple’s buildings, ponds and gardens you have to follow a prescribed circular walking route around its grounds.

Don’t miss the footpath, starting in the northeastern corner of the garden, that leads to a viewpoint over Kyoto.

After exploring Ginkaku-ji Temple, walk about 100 meters to the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi).

The Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku no Michi) is an ancient stone path that runs alongside the Lake Biwa Canal, connecting Ginkaku-ji to Nanzen-ji. It should take you between 30 and 40 minutes to walk its 1.8km length.

Lined with thousands of cherry trees, this walking trail is spectacular during sakura season when the banks of the canal are an explosion of white and pink blossoms. But at any time of year, it is one of the most rewarding and peaceful walks in Kyoto. 

narrow canal lined with foliage and buildings in kyoto known as the philosophers path
cherry blossom framing narrow canal with bridges known as philosophers path in kyoto

The path is punctuated with craft shops and places to stop for a drink or snack and there are plenty of benches on which to sit and … well … philosophise.

Around ten minutes’ walk from the start of the Path of Philosophy is the lovely Honen-in.

Founded in 1680 to honour the priest Honen, this secluded and serene temple, featuring raked sand gardens, is a welcome refuge from the crowds that descend on more well-known temples.

One of the things that I love about Kyoto is that there are seemingly hidden gems around every corner. The Otoyo Shrine, a minor detour from the Philosopher’s Path, is one of these.

cherry blossom tree in front of temple building of otoyo shrine in kyoto

Legend has it that this shrine was built in 887 as a devotion for the recovery of Emperor Uda from an illness. Today, it is the guardian shrine for local people.

Some of its sub-shrines have animal statues, including mice, monkeys and kites, and it is also famous for its symbolic trees.

Another frequently overlooked temple on the Path of Philosophy (apart from autumn when it’s rammed with fall foliage spotters!) is the wonderful Eikan-Do.

stone bridge crossing lake with reflections at eikando in kyoto japan

This is one place in Kyoto that I debated visiting because of its relatively steep entrance fee, but was so glad that I parted with those yen.

Founded in 853, Eikan-Do is special because of its varied architecture, gardens and works of art. Wooden walkways take you on a prescribed route around the temple’s buildings, which feature exquisite gold leaf silk screens from the Edo and Momoyama periods and painted sliding doors.

The star of the show is the famous Amida Statue, with his face turned to look over his shoulder

Nanzen-ji, the final temple of the day, is a few minutes walk south of Eikan-do.

Located at the base of the Higashiyama mountains, Nanzen-ji is one of the most impressive temples in Kyoto.  

This complex of Zen temples and sub-temples has it all.  An imposing two-storey entrance gate (Sanmon Gate), a beautiful zen garden (Hojo Garden), a scenic location, a soaring main hall and serene and secluded sub-temples. It is also home to a red-brick aqueduct, which was built in 1890.

For me, the highlight of Nanzen-ji was Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in, a small shrine concealed in a forested hollow behind the main precinct.

2 women dressed in kimonos walking towards nanzen ji in temple building kyoto

To get there, follow the road that runs parallel to the aqueduct up into the hills, and walk past Kōtoku-an, a small sub-temple on your left. Continue up the steps until you reach a waterfall in an idyllic mountain glen.

To return to central Kyoto, walk 15  minutes to Keage Station where you can pick up the subway (Tozai Line). Alternatively, catch city bus 5 or Raku Bus 100 towards Kyoto Station.

As night falls, Pontocho Alley beckons. This narrow pedestrian-only street is hard to beat when it comes to atmosphere.

illuninated red japanese parasols on ground on pavement of narrow alley in kyoto

Running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of Kamo-gawa (Kamo River), Pontocho Alley barely warrants a second glance during the day. But by night it is transformed into one of Kyoto’s most beautiful streets.  

Lined with a huge selection of restaurants with traditional wooden exteriors illuminated with vibrant lanterns, it’s the perfect end to the first of your three days in Kyoto. 

>>> Click here to book a night-time food and culture tour of Pontocho Alley and Gion

DAY 2: Temples and Geisha in Southern Higashiyama & Gion

Day two of this itinerary continues our exploration of Higashiyama’s temples, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kiyomizu-dera and the iconic Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, ending with a walk around the geisha district of Gion.

To reach Kiyomizu-dera,  take Raku Bus 100 or city bus 206 to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten-minute uphill walk to the temple. To beat the tour groups, aim to arrive at Kiyomizu-dera before 8 am (the main hall opens at 6 am).

Occupying a commanding position overlooking Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera, or ‘Pure water temple’, is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. Founded at the end of the 8th Century, the temple was associated with the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. 

women dressed in kimonos praying at shrine at Kiyomizu-dera in kyoto japan

Kiyomizu-dera is best known for its massive wooden veranda which juts out from the temple’s main hall, 15 meters above the hillside below. At the base of the main hall is the Otowa-no-taki spring, the sacred waters of which are said to bestow long life, success at school and success in love, depending on which of the three streams you drink from. Take your pick.

Kiyomizu-dera is also the location of Tainai-meguri, one of Japan’s most unique experiences.

Said to represent the womb of a female Bodhisattva, you descend into this space in total darkness, guided only by a thick chain of wooden beads. When you reach the bottom, you’re invited to make a wish whilst spinning a sacred stone. Emerging blinking into the sunlight outside is intended to give you a feeling of being reborn.

From Kiyomizu-dera, it’s a 25-minute walk north through Higashiyama and across Maruyama Park to Chion-in.

Founded in 1234, Chion-in, sometimes called ‘the Vatican of Pure Land Buddhism’, is the headquarters of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism.

When I visited in 2020, the temple’s main hall, the Miedo Hall, was in the latter stages of restoration and closed to the public. Lack of access notwithstanding, Chion-in was still a must-see.

main temple building of chion in in kyoto against a blue sky

Standing 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide, the temple’s main entrance gate (Sanmon Gate), is the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates back to the early 1600s. For cinephiles out there, the gate’s staircase was used in the 2003 Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai.

Chion-in is also home to the largest bell in Japan, so immense that 17 monks are needed to ring it at New Year.

The temple’s expansive grounds spread onto the surrounding forested hills and are interlaced with a series of stone paths that connect Chion-in’s main buildings and gardens.

Exiting Chion-in, continue walking south across Maruyama Park and you will reach the Yasaka Shrine in five minutes.

Straddling Higashiyama and the Gion district, Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, was the liveliest and most colourful shrine I visited during my three days in Kyoto. It explodes with character and charm.

2 women dressed in white and saffron outfit entering building at yasaka shrine in kyoto

The shrine’s striking Vermilion Gate, a local landmark, is flanked by imposing statues of Zuishin to guard the grounds. Hundreds of lanterns, each bearing the name of a local business, hang in front of Yaskaka Shrine’s 17th-century main hall.  

Visitors flock to Yasaka’s famous sub-shrines, seeking beauty – inside and out – or love.

Yasaka Shrine sponsors the famous Gion Matsuri festival, which is celebrated every July.

To reach Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, take the private Keihan Line from Gion-Shijo station to Fushimiinari. From here it’s a 5-minute walk to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine.

Gracing many of Japan’s tourist brochures, the iconic Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is Kyoto’s show-stopper. This shrine is tourist nectar; as such, it can get busy. Very busy.

To avoid the worst of the crowds, aim to visit Fushimi Inari later in the day – as in this Kyoto itinerary – or early in the morning. The light is at its best later in the afternoon. The shrine is open 24/7.

Dedicated to the Shinto God of Rice, Inari, the complex comprises five shrines scattered across the thickly wooded slopes of Mount Inari.  Hundreds of vermillion torii (Shinto shrine gates) line the 4km pathway winding its way to the summit of the sacred mountain from the main shrine.

path lined with orange tori at fushimi inari in kyoto

Allow yourself enough time at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine to relax and explore its natural beauty. Despite the shrine’s popularity, finding a quiet spot to sit, reflect and relax was not difficult.

Walk for as long as you wish and then circle back. Depending on your pace, the full pilgrimage route to the top of the mountain and back takes 2-3 hours. Bring water and snacks with you.

To reach Gion, the final stop of your second day in Kyoto, jump back on the Keihan Line and travel four stops to Gion-Shijo Station.

Kyoto‘s Gion district is synonymous with the city itself. 

The origins of this famous geisha district were in teahouses catering to visitors to the Yasaka Shrine. But by the mid-18th Century, Gion was Kyoto’s prime entertainment district and capital of the geisha world. 

With its understated townhouses, wooden-fronted teahouses, temples and shrines, Gion exudes the charm of old-world Japan.

old wooden buildings with bridge and canal in gion district which is part of a 3-day kyoto itinerary

This is a district that is best explored after the sun goes down. Not only do Gion’s streets take on an ethereal, dimly illuminated beauty but it’s also the best time of day to spot a geisha hurrying along its narrow streets to her next engagement.

the flashpacker with two women dressed as gesiha in gion in kyoto
Not the real thing!

Gion is located in and around Shijo Avenue with Yasaka Shrine to the east and the Kamo River to the west. The most scenic sections are Shimbashi district, starting at Tatsumi-bashi Bridge, and Hanami-koji Street.

As Gion is home to some of the finest restaurants in town, this is the perfect end to the second day of your Kyoto itinerary.

>>> Learn more about geisha in Gion on a night-time walking tour. Click here to book.

DAY 3: Golden Pavilion & Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama Area

Day three’s itinerary begins at the sublime Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, before moving on to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, and the delightful Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, before ending up in the Imperial Palace Park.

To reach the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove take the JR San-In Line from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station, from where it is a ten-minute walk. Aim to get there as early as possible to avoid both crowds at the bamboo grove, and the JR San-In Line at its busier times. The bamboo grove is open 24/7.

One of my favourite places in Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. This can be selfie stick hell!

bamboo trees at arashiyama-bamboo-grove-kyoto

However, even the most fervent Instagrammers cannot detract from the beauty and serenity of this place. Walking amidst the soaring bamboo stalks, casting shadows from the morning light, is a magical, almost eerie, experience.

Are you looking for that special someone? If so, don’t miss the Nonomiya Shrine within the bamboo forest. People flock to this small shrine seeking luck in love and marriage.

two statue heads with bamboo trees in background at nonomiya shrine kyoto

Follow the one main path through the grove, which leads slowly uphill to the Okochi-Sanso villa, which was formerly the home of the famed film actor Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962).

I baulked at the ticket price and have yet to see inside the villa. However, this steep admission fee also buys you a Japanese sweet and a cup of hot matcha tea at the end of the tour.

>>> Click here to book a rickshaw ride through Arashiyama & the Bamboo Forest

If you love gardens and landscaping, don’t head away from the bamboo forest before stopping by Tenryu-ji, a temple with an attractive stroll garden set against the backdrop of Arashiyama mountains.

To get to Kinkaku-ji from the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, your easiest option is to take a taxi. If traffic is not too heavy, the journey should take you 10 – 15 minutes.

If you are making the journey on public transport, take the JR Sagano line to Nijo and, from there, bus 101 to Kinkaku Temple. But as Kinkaku-ji is one of the most popular things to see in Kyoto, expect the bus to be crowded.

The shimmering reflection of Kinkaku-ji in a large pond, fringed by pine and cherry blossom trees, with a lush bamboo forest as a backdrop, is an unforgettable sight.

temple building of kinkaju ji with reflection in pond which is one of the best things to see in kyoto in three days

Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, becoming a Zen temple upon his death in 1408. It has been rebuilt on many occasions since then and the present building dates from 1955.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site owes its sheen to the gold leaf covering the top two floors of the building. Each floor of the temple has a distinct architectural style and it is topped with a Golden Phoenix on the roof.

A path takes you around the temple and its grounds. On my last visit, I spent around 30 minutes at Kinkaku-ji, but you can easily spend more time there if you want to relax and take lots of photos.

Near the exit, you can stop for matcha tea and Japanese sweets at  Sekkatei Teahouse, added to Kinkaku-ji during the Edo Period. Outside the exit, Fudo Hall is home to a statue of Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Wisdom Kings and protector of Buddhism.

The lesser-known Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is a 15-minute walk southeast of Kinkaku-ji.

This delightful Shinto shrine, dedicated to the scholar and politician Sugawara Michizane, is popular with students praying for success with their exams. Home to nearly 2,000 plum trees, it is also one of Kyoto’s most popular fall foliage spots.

prayer tablets at kitano tenman ju in kyoto japan

From the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, it’s a 30-minute walk to Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Alternatively, catch Raku Bus 102 to Karasuma Imadegawa.

The last stop on your 3-day Kyoto itinerary is optional most times of the year, but essential if you are visiting during the blossom season.

Interlaced with wide boulevards and narrower pathways, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park is one of the best spots in the city for viewing spring blossoms. Not only cherry blossoms – there’s a spectacular grove of these – but also plum trees.

I have the staff at Kyoto’s super-friendly tourist information office to thank for this top tip. They even marked out the location of the grove of weeping cherry trees – these bloom earlier than most cherry blossom trees – and the plum arbour to help me on my way. 

As it happened, I barely needed a map. The Japanese take their sakura VERY seriously. All I had to do was follow the guys with the hefty DSLRs armed with pro lenses.

 My favourite was the photographer who came prepared with a ten-inch tall doll, complete with a face mask, to add foreground interest to his images. But any other object was fair game; small children, pets, ice cream, teddy bears …

small dog in red coat under cherry blossom tree in park

If You Have More Than 3 Days in Kyoto

If you have more than three days in Kyoto, you could enjoy the attractions included in this itinerary at a more relaxed pace, taking time to discover less popular gems. Alternatively, add other local attractions to your Kyoto itinerary.

Here are a few suggestions.

The Sagano Romantic Train

This is top of my list of things to do in Kyoto when I next visit. The Sagano Romantic Train travels a leisurely, 25-minute route from Saga Torokko station, close to the Arashiyama bamboo forest, to Kameoka Torokko Station, through the stunning scenery of the Hozukyo Ravine.

Nishiki Food Market

This lively, five-block-long shopping street, lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants, specialises in all things food-related. Also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this 400-year-old food market has a dizzying array of produce, from Japanese pickles to weapons-grade knives.

stall in nishiki market in kyoto with people in the background

Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo)

This imposing castle from the Edo period (1603 – 1867) was designed to demonstrate the power and influence of the Shogun Warlords. From 1884, Nijo-jo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was used as an occasional residence by the Imperial Family until 1939, when it was presented to the city of Kyoto.

white nijo castle in kyoto japan against blue sky

Getting Around Kyoto

As these places to visit are clustered in different areas of the city, at some point you will need to tackle the city’s public transport system. Compared with other Japanese cities, navigating Kyoto can be challenging for the first-time visitor.

Whilst there are two subway lines, these are not always useful for accessing the places that you want to see as a visitor. I used a combination of buses, subway, trains and taxis to get around.

There is also a hop-on-hop-off bus serving many of the main tourist destinations. One or two-day passes are available.

Using Kyoto’s buses

Kyoto has an extensive and efficient large bus network. However, queues for buses can be long, especially at Kyoto train station.

people queueing for a bus at kyoto station
Tourist bus stop at Kyoto Station

Kyoto city buses are boarded from the rear and exited from the front. There is often an indicator at the front of the bus displaying the next bus stop. When you are approaching your stop, press the button to let the driver know that you want to disembark.

You pay as you get off the bus with cash, a travel pass or a rechargeable IC card. Kyoto has both flat-fare routes (within the city) and non-flat-fare routes.

Travel passes are a convenient alternative to cash fares. However, do the maths to make sure that a travel card will be good value for you based on the number of journeys that you plan on making. Much of the time it’s quicker to walk between Kyoto’s tourist sights and you may not use public transport as much as you might think.

Rechargeable IC cards such as SUICA, ICOCA and PITAPA can be used on all buses in Kyoto. Outside the flat fare zone, you need to touch your card to an IC card reader when you enter the bus and again on your way out.

In addition to the standard city buses, three Raku sightseeing buses charge the same flat fare.

These brightly coloured buses are very user-friendly for tourists. They stop only at key sightseeing locations, and unlike the city buses, announcements are made in English and other languages as well as in Japanese. 

Using Kyoto’s subway system

The city’s subway lines run from north to south (Karasuma Subway Line), and from east to west (Tozai Subway Line). The fare is based on the distance travelled.

You will need to buy your ticket from a ticket machine. If the machine does not have English instructions, don’t worry! Just take a look at the route map above the machine to determine your fare and then press the button corresponding to that fare.

ticket machine in kyoto subway
Subway ticket machine in Kyoto

The Kyoto Subway & Bus Pass gives you unlimited travel on the subway and city bus routes. There is also a Kyoto City Subway One-Day Pass.

Kyoto’s train system

Kyoto has six train lines, which can be used to get around the city as well as for journeys further afield. Using the train system can be a quick way to travel across the city and as these JR services are free for Japan Rail Pass holders, very economical.

The JR Sagano Line, connecting Nijo, Uzumasa and Saga-Arashiyama with Kyoto Station is particularly useful.

BY taxi

Taking a taxi in Kyoto can often be a speedier way of getting from A to B, and is cost-effective over short distances if there are two or more passengers to share the bill. As taxi drivers in Kyoto are generally honest and will turn the meter on, you shouldn’t worry about being ripped off.

There is no need to tip; simply pay the fare shown on the meter. Tipping the driver will only embarrass or confuse him.

It will help the driver to have a map available or the address of your destination written in Japanese.

Where to Stay

I recommend staying either near Kyoto Station or in the downtown area.

On my first visit to Kyoto, I stayed close to the main train station. As I was using Kyoto as a base for day trips further afield, this made perfect sense. As Kyoto Station is one of the city’s main transport hubs, it made getting around easier.

The downside of staying near the train station is that this area is not overflowing with good restaurants.

Second-time around, I stayed in the downtown area, two blocks from the restaurants of Pontocho Alley, and on many of the main bus routes. Although my preference would be to stay in this area again on a return visit, I wouldn’t baulk at staying near Kyoto Station again.

I can recommend all of these hotels in which I have stayed. They will suit a traveller on a mid to high-end budget (Kyoto is not cheap).

Hotel Granvia Kyoto (Kyoto Station Area)

I stayed in this 5-star hotel on my first trip to Kyoto. Located within the railway station, Hotel Granvia allows you to travel with ease within the city and to take the train on day trips out of town.

It features spacious rooms, great service and an indoor swimming pool.


Cross Hotel Kyoto (Downtown)

I used this superb hotel as my Kyoto base on my second visit.

Its location is perfect. Hankyu Kawaramachi Station, Sanjo Station, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station and Sanjo Keihan Station are all less than six minutes on foot, frequent buses pass nearby and the restaurants of Pontocho Alley and Gion are within easy walking distance.

In terms of luxury, the Cross Hotel Kyoto punches well above its 4-star rating with stylish and comfortable interiors and stellar service.

hotel room with two beds
entrance to cross hotel in kyoto


Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo (Downtown)

As the Cross Hotel wasn’t available for my final night in Kyoto, I moved to this 4-star hotel in the same area.

Whilst not as luxurious as the Cross Hotel, this is a great choice of comfortable accommodation in the same convenient area at a lower price. Free coffee is available in the guest lounge.


Is Kyoto Safe for Solo Travellers?

Japan is one of the best countries for first-time single travellers to visit.

This is one of the safest solo travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is a country that takes pride in its safety, uniformity and order, and has a very low crime rate.

Whilst you shouldn’t be complacent, you don’t have to be concerned about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries. If you use your common sense, watch your belongings, drink alcohol in moderation and share your itinerary with someone back home, your trip to Kyoto should be trouble-free.

Safety as a solo traveller is a particular concern of women travelling alone.

Whilst you are in Japan it is highly unlikely that you will be subjected to the catcalling experienced in other countries. However, women have been the recipients of unwelcome male attention when riding the subways.

Chikan, or public groping, has been a dark cloud hovering over Japan for many years. This has led to railway companies introducing designated women-only cars. In Kyoto, there are cars reserved for women on commuter trains.

Why I love Kyoto (and why you should visit!)

Kyoto is not a city preserved in aspic for the gratification of tourists. Whilst there are frequent reminders that Kyoto is Japan’s spiritual heart – the glimpse of a temple roof, a waft of burning incense, a vibrant vermillion torii –  modern Kyoto goes about its business like any other city.

Kyoto is not a Disneyfied representation of Japan and I like that.

The iconic sights of Fushimi-Inari, Kinkaku-ji and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove are unforgettable. However, it’s likely that it will be hidden gems tucked away on side streets, that you stumble upon when walking between the main attractions, that will capture your heart.

If you have found this article helpful, take a look at some of my other Japan guides:

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at or follow her on social media.