A Weekend in Kyoto for $200
Kyoto is a city rich in history and steeped in culture. The ancient capital is home to over 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, and some of Japan's most iconic cultural landmarks. With so much to explore, planning a budget-friendly trip that covers all the highlights can be challenging.
We've put together a weekend itinerary of Kyoto that hits all the must-see landmarks and gives you an unforgettable experience of Japan's former capital. The best part? It all costs less than $200 USD, including accommodation!
Day 1 - Temples, Shrines, and traditional nightlife
Morning: Breakfast around Kyoto Station - $8 (¥1,000)
Visiting many of Kyoto’s charming cultural sites requires much walking. So it would do you a world of good to fuel up with a nice, hearty breakfast! There are plenty of affordable breakfast options in and around JR Kyoto Station for you to hit the ground running on your adventure in Kyoto.
One option is Shinshindo Bakery, founded in Kyoto in 1913 by Hitoshi Tsuzuki, known as the first Japanese baker to visit Paris to learn about French bread. With a mouth-watering spread of freshly-baked goods, you’ll be tempted to try a few of their pastries or sandwiches to kickstart your day. Shinshindo Bakery’s Kyoto Station branch is open from 6:30 am - 10:00 pm every day and can be found just 50 meters north of the JR Kyoto Station central exit.
Mid-morning: Kinkakuji Temple - $3 (¥400)
No trip to Kyoto is complete without visiting its most iconic temple. The Kinkaku-ji, which translates to the "Temple of the Golden Pavilion", was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and is one of Kyoto's most iconic sightseeing destinations. The temple was the former villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It was designed to represent paradise on earth, with the top two stories of the pavilion covered in gold leaf. Following Yoshimitsu's death, the pavilion was converted into a Zen temple according to his will.
While it may seem peaceful, Kinkaku-ji has quite the history. The complex was burned to the ground twice during the Onin War in the 15th century and once more by an extremist monk in 1950. The current structure was reconstructed in 1955 and remains one of the best ways to experience Zen Buddhism in Japan.
General admission to the grounds is ¥400, and it's open from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm all year round. The easiest way to get there is to catch a bus to the Kinkakuji-michi Bus Stop and take a three-minute walk to the temple.
Lunch - $11 (¥1,500)
After touring the temple site, head back towards the bus stop, where you will find Hanamakiya, a quaint little restaurant that serves traditional soba noodles. After all, there's no better way to soak in Kyoto's cultural atmosphere than to immerse yourself in its cuisines!
Try out the Kyoto specialty Nishin Soba, which is a bowl of buckwheat noodles topped with dried herring. Alternatively, you can get Kamo Nanban soba, a duck meat soba specially sourced from Kochi prefecture. The restaurant is open from 11:30 am - 4:00 pm and has English menus readily available.
Mid-afternoon: Fushimi Inari Shrine - Free
Now that you've explored Kyoto's northern Buddhist temples, it's time to head to their southern Shinto shrines. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is instantly recognizable for the thousands of torii gates that line its path, making it one of Kyoto's must-visit destinations.
The shrine was established in 711 AD on Mt. Inari to enshrine the kami Inari Okami, the spirit of foxes, fertility, and rice in Shinto. For the past 1300 years, people have flocked to the shrine to pray for an abundant harvest and prosperous business. By the Edo period in the 1600s, it became custom to donate the bright orange torii gates to the shrine as a sign of gratitude. The thousands of donations by Japanese businesses eventually led to the iconic pathway of the Fushimi Inari Shrine!
The shrine is free for all visitors, and it takes about two to three hours to hike to the mountain's summit. Start your journey at the impressive main gate (or "romon" in Japanese), and follow the signs as you explore the different shrines, prayer areas, and rest spots along the trail. Make sure to stock up on water and some snacks before you make the hike!
Dinner: At Gion - $22 (¥3,000)
For dinner, head to the traditional streets of Gion. Gion is best known as Kyoto's geisha district, and you may catch a glimpse of the geishas, or their apprentices, the maikos, on the street with their immaculate make-up and kimono. Gion also features many traditional wooden machiya houses, and the streets are lit up by lanterns creating a whimsical, magical ambiance.
There are a plethora of food options available for you to choose from. Teppan Tavern Tenamonya is a warm and welcoming teppanyaki bar that serves a wide variety of dishes, from okonomiyaki to A5 wagyu steak. You can also check out Tsubomi, a restaurant serving "obanzai", Kyoto's traditional home cooking. It comes with several small side dishes of vegetables, a flavourful stew, and a bowl of steaming hot rice.
Night: Budget-friendly hotels with hot springs - $52 (¥7,000)
After a long day of hiking and hiking, you’d want a good night’s sleep. Luckily, a couple of amazing accommodations in Kyoto are clean, comfortable, convenient, and cheap! As an added bonus, our recommended hotels offer hot springs that are freely available for guests, allowing you to relax and soak away your fatigue.
Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae has twin or double rooms that go for as low as $55 a night and is a seven-minute walk from Kyoto station. Another standout feature is the hotel’s natural hot springs on the 9th floor, which feature indoor, outdoor, and open-air baths.
If you’re looking for an even cheaper alternative, Via Inn Kyoto Shijo Muromachi has twin or double rooms available for just $38 a night and is located four minutes away from Karasuma station in central Kyoto.
On the flip side, Sequence Kyoto Gojo has a techno-futuristic concept and an all-around sleek design that you can get for $75 a night. The hotel is four minutes away from Gojo station and has one of the coolest-looking communal baths found on the B1 floor.
Day 2 - Finding peace with bamboo, poems and monkeys
Morning: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove - Free
Start your second day in Kyoto early by heading out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Stroll along the picturesque pathway as you admire the bamboo swaying gently in the wind. Most of the temples in the area open at 9:00 am, and the path can get quite crowded by then. Getting there before 8:00 am is the best way to enjoy the quiet peace and tranquility that the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove has to offer.
Breakfast: $8 (¥1,000)
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite with an early morning hike, it’s time to treat yourself to a fulfilling breakfast! Coffee Shop Yamamoto is a 10-minute walk from the bamboo grove and serves up a mouth-watering A5 Wagyu Beef sandwich. The quaint little cafe also has a decent selection of coffee and cakes as a pick-me-up before the next adventure.
Mid-morning: Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture - $7 (¥900)
The only thing cooler than one hundred traditional Japanese poems… are one hundred traditional Japanese poems written by one hundred different Japanese poets! At least, that’s what Fujiwara no Teika thought way back in the 12th century when he put together the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, an anthology of one hundred Japanese waka.
The Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture delves into the history and appeal of the Hyakunin Isshu, from its birth in Saga Arashiyama itself to its modern usage in a Japanese competitive card game called karuta. The museum itself is open from 10:00 am to 17:00 pm every day and has an entrance fee of ¥900. You also get a complimentary drink at the restaurant Kumahiko if you display your admission ticket.
Lunch - $11 (¥1,500)
There are tons of restaurants in and around Arashiyama to try. Pricier options include the Michelin-starred grilled eel of Unagi Hirokawa, which will set you back about ¥3,000 for an unagi rice bowl. There are also affordable (but no less delicious!) picks like Shin-Togetsu, an udon store with a 90-year history in Arashiyama serving thick udon noodles in a hearty, meaty broth. A bowl of their signature duck and Kujo green onion udon is about ¥1,320.
2:30 pm Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama - $8 (¥1,000)
Get up close and personal with Japanese macaques at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. Located 15 minutes from the Saga-Arashiyama Station, the park is situated on a hillside overlooking the Katsura river. The park is a fairly straightforward 30 minutes up to the top, although you may be joined by the monkeys hanging out in the area. At the top, there are Instagram-worthy views of the Kyoto landscape for you to enjoy.
Once you’re done snapping pictures, head into the hut, where you can buy peanuts and apples to feed the monkeys! While the monkeys are friendly to tourists— they are still considered wild animals, so take note not to stare them directly in the eye or make aggressive movements as they may feel threatened. The Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is open from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm and has an admission fee of ¥600.
4:00 pm Nishiki Market - $15 (¥2,000)
Rounding off the perfect weekend in Kyoto is a visit to Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto. The marketplace is a narrow street jam-packed with more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, there is an endless supply of preserved treats and traditional snacks for you to sample. If you’re feeling adventurous, try out tako tamago, which is a baby octopus on a stick with a quail egg in its head. Those with a sweet tooth have to try out the assortment of mochi snacks, from sakura mochi to kashiwa mochi.