Kyoto, the historical capital and Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan are some of the top cities to visit in the Kansai region. Temples, shopping street and animal cafes, here’s everything we did in the Kansai Region in this Kyoto and Osaka itinerary.
Overview of Kyoto and Osaka Itinerary
Getting to Kyoto
From KIX Airport
The nearest international airport to Kyoto is the Kansai International Airport (KIX). From KIX, the fastest option to get to Kyoto is the JR Haruka Limited Express. It that takes around 1 hour 15 minutes to get from KIX to Kyoto and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Tickets cost ¥2850 for non-reserved seats and ¥3500 for reserved seats if you do not have the JR Pass.
If you don’t have a JR Pass and are looking for cheaper options you can take the Nankai-Limited Express followed by changing to local subway lines but the journey will take over 2 hours. You can find various routes on Google Maps with estimated costs.
If you’re heading to Kyoto from Tokyo, the most efficient way would be to take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, which will take around 2 hours 19 minutes.
Read also: 5D Tokyo itinerary
Day 1: Kyoto
Route: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest – Tenryu-ji Temple – Miffy Sakura Kitchen – Arashiyama Park
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
This peaceful and serene forest is located about an hour from Kyoto. The forest is open 24 hours a day, so you can visit at any time. However I would recommend visiting early around 7 or 8am to avoid the crowds and not late at night as it would not be well lit.
A short walk from the bamboo forest, Tenryu-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was founded in the 14th century and is considered one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. One of the highlights here is the Cloud Dragon painting in its Dharma Hall. You will also spoil many dragon paintings around, a homage to the temple’s name, which directly translates to “heavenly dragon”.
Opening hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm
Entrance fee: ¥500
Miffy Sakura Kitchen
Miffy fans, you have to drop by the Miffy Sakura Kitchen. Just a minute from Tenryu-ji Temple, Miffy Sakura Kitchen is a bakery that features a fusion of traditional Japanese designs Dick Bruna’s bunny character. The Miffy Sakura Kitchen is a takeaway-only bakery.
We got the Miffy Anpan (¥302), Miffy Cube (¥270), Chocolate Miffy Palmier (¥302) and a hot milk tea (¥440). The chocolate palmier was our favourite; the pastry was pretty airy and not too sweet. The milk tea was disappointing as it was from a drink machine and it tasted diluted.
Opening hours: 10am – 6pm
Address: Japan, 〒616-8384 Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatenryuji Tsukurimichicho, 三日月
Arashiyama Park (Nakanoshima Area)
Next, take a 5-minute walk to the picturesque nearby Arashiyama Park. This lovely park is offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and river. You can enjoy your Miffy bread or other snacks you’ve bought along the way at the park.
The park is open 24 hours a day, and admission is free.
Esperanto Kokoro Kyoto Okazaki Studio
If you’ve always wanted rent a kimono or yukata but wanted something a little different, this experience is for you. Studio Kokoro is a photo studio where you can don on beautiful kimono and experience an oiran makeover! An oiran is a highly ranked courtesan.
Studio Kokoro currently has 3 outlets, but we picked the Esperanto outlet, as they had the most elaborate backdrops. We chose the couple without hakama plan (¥31,350). For this plan, we had individual shots and couple shots.
The whole shoot took about 3 hours, including dressing up, make up and dressing down. This was by far my favourite experience out of everything I’ve done in Japan, I’d really recommend it if you have the budget and time to spare.
Besides oiran makeovers, there are also other styles such kokohime, and also limited time ones.
You can make an appointment via the contact form on their website, or drop them an email like I did, as the form wasn’t working when I tried filling it.
Opening hours: 10am – 8pm (last appointment at 5pm)
Address: 53-37 Awadaguchi Toriicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8436, Japan
Day 2: Kyoto
Literally translated to “Pure Water Temple” and a reference to the pure spring water that flows beneath the main hall, Kiyomizudera Temple is one of Japan’s most famous temples.
The temple has been rebuilt several times throughout history due to fires and earthquakes and the temple is considered a masterpiece of Japanese wooden architecture.
Opening hours: 6am – 6pm
Entrance fee: ¥400
Jishu Jinja Shrine
Behind the main hall of Kiyomizudera is Jishu Jinja Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and match making. There are 2 love stones here, placed 18m apart and it is said that if you are able to walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, your wish will be granted.
It was a fun but scary experience since I was terrified of walking into people. But hey, for those seeking out love, this is worth a shot 😉
UPDATE 2023: The Jishu Jinja Shrine is currently closed for renovations, check the website for more updates.
Opening hours: 6am – 6pm
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka are famous shopping streets that are lined with historic Japanese-style buildings that have become synonymous with the image of Kyoto. The streets are on a slope and consist of many steps at certain points.
Tip: Come early, if you want to walk through the streets without having to squeeze through the crowds. The streets get really crowded after 11am.
Ninenzaka is also home to the world’s first tatami-floored Starbucks, so you can grab a coffee as a break from shopping!
Ninenzaka Starbucks opening hours: 8am – 8pm
Ninenzaka Starbucks Address: Japan, 〒605-0826 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Masuyacho, 349
Kodaiji is a Buddhist temple founded in 1605, built in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi by his bereaved wife, Kita no Mandokoro.
Seasonal nighttime illuminations run in the spring, summer, and autumn at the temple. We were lucky enough to have visited during the spring event whereby one of the highlights was the light show in the courtyard, where the majestic lone sakura tree stands.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm. Please take note of the illumination time as it may be different for each season, check out Kodaiji’s website for the updated timing before visiting.
Entrance fee: Adults ¥600, Children 12–18 years ¥250, free for children under 12
Address: 526 Shimogawara-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0825 Japan
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks. This Shinto shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates (also known as senbon torii in Japanese), which form a tunnel-like pathway through the forest.
You can hike all the way up for a beautiful view, 233m above sea level! The hike takes at least an hour each way, which means at least 2 hours for a return trip. What makes the hike difficult is the number of steps. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing for the hike.
Tip for photographing senbon torii
- It’s crowded at the start of the senbon torii trail, walk further in and it will be much quieter.
- There are torii of 2 sizes, if you want your photo to look like it has more torii gates, photograph the shorter ones.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to reach the shrine extremely early to beat the crowd. As mentioned earlier, if you’re unable to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha, you can walk further up the trail. It gets quieter the further you walk as not many do the entire hike up.
Opening hours: The shrine is open 24 hours a day, so you can visit at any time.
Entrance fee: Free
Day 3: Day Trip to Nara
Route: Nara Park – Tōdai-ji – Nakatanidou
Nara is a popular day trip location from Kyoto and Osaka, due to its proximity and ease of traveling there. The journey from Kyoto or Osaka only takes around 45 minutes by train. If you have the JR Pass, this train journey is also free.
Nara Park is well known for its cute park’s inhabitants – the deers. These charming creatures roam freely in the area, and are even known to bow to visitors; in exchange for some food of course.
There are many stands and shops that sell deer crackers for ¥200. A good trick is to break up the crackers so they last longer and you will be able to feed more deers. Also be sure to show the deers your empty hands when you’re out of crackers, or they may continue following you for more!
Note: some deers can get really pushy and may even snatch paper from your hands, so be careful, especially with your maps!
Entrance fee: Free
North of Nara Park is Tōdai-ji, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Japan. This significant landmark houses a 15m tall Buddha, one of the tallest in Japan.
A popular activity in the main hall is trying to squeeze through a hole in the pillar to the back right of the giant Buddha statue. It is said to be the same size as the Buddha statue’s nostril and it is believed that those who can pass through the 37 by 30 cm wide hole will be granted good health and luck.
Opening hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm
Entrance fee: ¥600
Address: 406-1 Zoshicho, Nara, 630-8211, Japan
This small yet legendary mochi shop has gained international acclaim for its mochi pounding performances. Many people crowd around to watch the mochi pounding and it is very entertaining. There are no regular “showtimes”, so you’ll have to try your luck, or ask the staff the time for the next mochi pounding.
A mochi with red bean filling costs ¥180. Don’t expect great service here as it’s really a grab and go concept. As the shop is so busy, the staff are always shouting in order to get heard and to ensure visitors don’t become traffic obstruction. To be honest, although the mochi was fresh, I found it too soft and difficult to eat as it does not stay in shape. The mochi tasted average as well and felt like I’ve had way better elsewhere.
Opening hours: 10am – 7pm
Address: 29 Hashimotocho, Nara, 630-8217, Japan
Day 4: Kyoto
Route: Philosopher’s Path – Omen – Ginkakuji – Cho-in temple
Philosopher’s Path is a picturesque walking trail that runs along a canal. The path is a great temporary escape from the city for you to enjoy some peace and quiet. It takes about 30 minutes to walk along the entire path, but you can also stray off the path to visit the surrounding shops like we did.
This spot is exceptionally spectacular during the cherry blossom season and I would strong recommend for you to check it out if you are in Kyoto during the season!
Just a veer off Philosopher’s path, Omen is a popular udon restaurant that has been in the business for over 300 years.
The menu is small and the main difference between the options are its side dishes. You can choose to have your udon served hot or cold. We chose Omen noodles Regular set (¥1280), in the hot option as it was a cold day. The noodles and soup tasted plain, but was immediately made better once I added the garnish provided.
We got to the restaurant at 12pm, there was a long line with around 20 people in line. We waited for almost an hour before getting into the restaurant. There is no reservation system at this restaurant so I suggest getting here near opening time so you wouldn’t have to queue long.
Opening hours: 11am – 8.30pm
Address: Bowls of udon noodles served with sides, spices & dipping sauces at Japanese & Western-style tables.
Also known as the Silver Pavilion and a short walk from Omen, this temple is famous for its stunning gardens. The gardens is the real star here but if you’re short on time, I honestly think this place is skippable.
Opening hours: 8.30am – 5pm
Entrance fee: ¥500
Chion-in is the headquarters of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, and was one of my favourites amongst the temples I’ve visited during my trip. The grounds of Chion-in are really big, I would suggest having at least 1-2 hours to spend here. We visited during the Spring illumination event and got a chance to go up to the balcony of the Sanmon gate, which is usually closed to visitors.
Tip: if you’re visiting for illumination event, you can get ¥100 discount by following their social media pages.
Entrance fee: Free, but charges apply for the gardens and special illumination events.
Opening hours: 9am – 3.50pm, hours will differ if there are illumination events
Gion is one of the most enchanting districts in Kyoto. This historic neighbourhood is famous for its traditional architecture, teahouses; and geishas. Walking through Gion in the evening is a magical experience, as the paper lanterns and atmospheric lighting transport you back in time to old Japan.
Hanamikoji is one of the most popular streets in Gion and many flock over to catch a glimpse of a Maiko or Geisha. If you do spot one, please be respectful. Do not photograph or touch them without permission, please remember they are real human beings!
Gion is just a short walk from Chio-in, making a great area for dinner and to end of your day.
Day 5: Osaka
Route: Travel from Kyoto to Osaka – Osaka Castle – Dotonbori
Osaka is just a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto, but can also be done in 15-minutes via the Shinkansen and for ¥1450. If you do not have the JR Pass or don’t want to take the Shinkansen, you can also take the Hankyu Kyoto Line from Kyoto-Kawaramachi station to Osaka-Umeda Station in about 40 minutes.
Osaka Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Japan, and it tells the story of the city’s history. Inside the castle is a museum showcasing exhibits from the Edo Period, while the castle’s observation deck offers panoramic views of Osaka city. The entire area spans around two square kilometers and beautiful surrounding park are also well worth a visit.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
Entrance fee: ¥1500, free for youths under 15
Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan
Reptile Cafe Rock Star or Small Animal Cafe Rock Star
As its name suggests, Reptile Cafe Rock Star is an animal cafe where you’ll get to interact with reptiles like geckos and snakes. If reptiles are not up your alley, check out Small Animal Cafe Rock Star, where there are meerkats, ferrets and even chickens. Both cafes are ran by the same company and are located in the vicinity of each other.
Both cafes charge ¥1000 for a 2-hour entry and you’ll also have to minimally order a drink, which costs ¥1100.
Read more about both cafes: 7 Animal Cafes In Japan To Check Out
Opening hours (for both): 11am – 10pm
Address (Reptile Cafe Rock Star): 2-7-7, Naka, Namba, Naniwa District, Osaka City, Osaka Namba FK Building 3F
Address (Small Animal Cafe Rock Star): 6-7, Sennichimae, Namba, Central District, Osaka TSUJI Building 5F
End the day with a visit to Dotonbori, a vibrant area is known for its colourful signboards, particularly the famous Glico Man. Dotonbori has a variety of street food stalls serving takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and other Osakan delicacies.
Head to Dotonbori before peak dinner period as queues can get very long. The queues were mild between 3pm – 4.30pm, but on our second visit, we were there around 8 – 9pm and the queues for popular stalls were insane. But do stay around till after sunset as the Dotonbori looks beautiful lit up!
Round 1 Stadium
If you’re a fan of arcades games, you can also visit the Dontonbori Round 1 Stadium outlet. Probably one of the biggest arcades in Japan, this outlet has a ton of claw machines, game machines, karaoke and even bowling.
Opening hours (Round 1 Stadium): Open 24 hours
Address (Round 1 Stadium): 1-3-1, Namba, Chuo-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka
Day 6: USJ, Osaka
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is the main reason to visit Osaka for many. From thrilling rides like the Hollywood Dream to the enchanting world of Harry Potter, USJ has something to entertain everyone.
There are seasonal events such as anime themed attractions, be sure to check out the website for updates prior to your visit!
Express Passes, should I get them?
As we visited during the peak period, we decided to buy the Express Pass. What really irked me was that the Express Pass does not include entry into USJ and it was something you had to pay on top of the entry. USJ’s Express Pass is priced dynamically, which means visiting during high seasons like spring will cost you more. We ended up paying a total of nearly SGD 400 for our Express Pass and entry per pax.
But would I spend the money again? Absolutely.
The Express Pass saved us so much time and also gave us guaranteed entry into Super Nintendo World. If you don’t want to spend so much on the Express Pass, you can head to the park at least an hour before opening hours and RUN to Super Nintendo World once the gate opens to get a timed entry ticket. The same goes for Harry Potter World.
Once you get the timed entry tickets, RUN to the attractions you really want to play, but you will likely not be able to cover all the attractions.
Another tip would be to visit during winter. On my first visit to USJ, there was no queue for the Harry Potter attractions, mainly due to the weather. It was 5 degrees and drizzling the entire day. If you do not mind riding the coasters in the rain, this is a great opportunity for you to save on the Express Pass.
Opening hours: Typically, 8.30am – 8pm, but can vary depending on the season
Entrance fee: ¥8,600 for adults, ¥5,600 for children aged 4-11, ¥7,700 for seniors 65+
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When is the best time to visit Kyoto and Osaka?
Personally, I feel that autumn (September – November) is the best time as the weather is not too hot or cold. It is also not as crowded as spring. But if you’re looking for the cheapest seasons to go, it’ll definitely be during Summer or Winter. The weather will be bad, but it’ll be less crowded, which is great for popular attractions like USJ.