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Travel itinerary: Three days in Kyoto

We were lucky enough to have three great days in Kyoto on our Go Ahead Tours’ trip: Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto at the end of March.

The weather in Kyoto was a lovely change from the rain and cold we were greeted with in Tokyo, and we were thrilled to see the cherry blossoms opening up as that’s exactly what we had come to Japan to see!

After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Kyoto was a nice change of pace and we both fell in love with the city! We liked the mix of modern comforts and historic buildings and neighborhoods.

It would take absolutely no convincing for us to return to Kyoto in the future.

But until then, we wanted to share we did the first time we were in Kyoto!

Day 1: Arrival in Kyoto

We took the bullet train from Odawara to Kyoto, which worked out perfectly as we got to see Mt. Fuji from the train! We had stayed in the Mt. Fuji region the night before but the weather wasn’t great and there was always cloud cover over the volcano.

We got checked into our hotel and reunited with our big suitcases as our tour company had shipped them ahead while we just had little overnight bags on the train, and then we made the trek over to the Pokemon store – like mature adults do! Not gonna lie, I got a super cute stuffed Pikachu, some candy, and souvenirs for my other nerdy friends.

We then strolled back toward the hotel looking for a place to eat and funnily enough stopped at the last place before our hotel and then later heard our tour director tell us how great and popular this place was – so we picked well!

We enjoyed a delicious ramen dinner and some cold beers. Seriously, this was probably the best umami ramen I’ve ever had! I would fly back to Japan tonight just to eat it again.

We then walked half a block back to our hotel and went to bed as we had a full day of exploring Kyoto ahead of us the next day.

Day 2: Full day in Kyoto

Our first morning in Kyoto started off with a mindful Zen meditation session.

We were led through two sessions and then given a sweet treat and some green tea. Rick said this was his favorite thing he did on the trip and it was a very unique experience, and one we probably wouldn’t have done if we were navigating Kyoto on our own.

We were then supposed to take the Philosopher’s Walk to see the blossoms, but our tour director, Masa, changed our plans as the cherry blossoms weren’t in bloom there yet so we went to the Imperial Palace and were greeted by the sight of stunning cherry blossom trees.

We had plenty of time to take our pictures of the blossoms, relax, and walk the grounds. We loved the variety of cherry blossom trees there as well as we got to see the weeping style tree as well as a more traditional-looking type of cherry blossom tree.

I’m sure I took like 600 pictures alone of just the blossoms as they were so beautiful.

Then it was time to move onto our next activity, so we got back on the bus.

We did make a quick stop at a convenience store to pick up a to-go lunch to eat on the bus as we didn’t really have time in our itinerary for a sit-down lunch.

We then stopped at Kinkakuji AKA the Golden Pavilion. We walked the grounds, got pictures of the gorgeous temple, and had time to get some souvenirs.

Since the weather was finally in our favor it was warm enough to warrant trying some green tea ice cream, which was quite tasty!

Next up was a visit to Nijo Castle! This castle is famous for its nightingale floors due to the sound the floors make as people walk on them. It was pretty neat and unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard before. The castle was beautiful and the different rooms were stunning. The building is a national treasure as it was built in 1603.

We had some free time to explore the buildings on our own or go get some snacks or souvenirs. Rick and I walked the grounds and found a beautiful garden and then happened across a dance festival that was taking place on the grounds. We watched a few performances and then made our way back to the meeting point.

Masa detoured a bit from the itinerary a bit and added on a stop at Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was perfect as I really wanted to see the torii gates here.

We had about 45 minutes there to walk the trail and battle the crowds. It did thin out the further we walked and it was a neat experience.

That night was one of our friend’s birthdays and Masa had helped us book a dinner at a nice sushi restaurant, Sushi Momonoki. We had our own private room and were served a multi-course dinner.

We had about eight courses during our dinner and I don’t think there was anything we didn’t like! Our server kept her eye on us and timed our servings well. We were never rushed and had the privacy of a door to our booth so we could enjoy our food and the company of our friends.

During our dinner, we sampled some:

  • Sashimi
  • Nigiri
  • Roe
  • Tofu
  • Sushi rolls
  • Egg custard
  • Matcha gelee dessert

After dinner it was time to roll ourselves back to the hotel and into bed for a full-day adventure outside of Kyoto the next day.

Day 3: Day trip to Nara

The next morning we had a little day trip to Nara for some sightseeing and of course to feed the deer at Nara Park! Not only are the deer everywhere so you can’t really avoid them, they’re so cute and bow to visitors! How can you not love that?

Our day did start with a visit to the Buddhist Todaiji Temple where we saw the giant Buddhas and spotted some gorgeous cherry blossom trees. The temple dates back to 752 (no, I’m not missing a 1 before that 7!)

Unfortunately, the temple that is there today is a reconstruction (built in 1692) and is only two-thirds of the original size! Which is crazy as this building and the Buddhas inside it are huge! In fact, the bronze Buddha inside sits almost 50 ft. tall. The temple did hold the record for the world’s largest wooden building.

Next up was the main attraction: Feeding the deer in Nara Park!

I think it was like ¥200 for a stack of rice crackers to feed the deer and they know when you have them! One tried taking a bite out of Rick’s shorts, my blazer was nibbled on and you basically have to show your palms to let them know you’re out. But they are so cute when they come up and bow to you to get fed.

We then had an included lunch that day complete with rice, tempura shrimp, salad, tofu, and a dessert. It was a nice light lunch and then we were dropped off at a shopping mall area, though Rick and I went and explored and came across a cool temple before buying some snacks we’d seen on Somebody Feed Phil.

The bus took us back to our hotel in Kyoto for a free night or there was an optional excursion.

We opted not to do the excursion that night, a tea ceremony, which turned out to be a good idea as we heard mixed reviews. Rick and I ended up walking to the Gion neighborhood on our own to visit the temple and see the famous home of the Geishas.

It was about a 45-minute walk from our hotel and it was a beautiful night. We strolled along the river and enjoyed our free time. We then met up with our friends at the Nintendo store for some souvenir shopping before heading out for our steak dinner that night!

Our tour director had recommended we do this while in Kyoto and I’m so glad we did! And I’m so glad he was able to call the restaurant and book a table for us! I got a delicious plate of wagyu beef on a sizzling plate and the steak just melted in my mouth.

Day 4: Full day in Kyoto

Our last day in Kyoto was a designated free day but having missed some of the activities in the Mt. Fuji region, our tour director added on some activities for us this morning so we hopped on the bus and headed outside the city for a surprise.

A mochi making class!

We had an instructor who taught us how the sweet treat is made and then led us through a demonstration of making a mochi in the shape of a cherry blossom and then a maple leaf.

It is much harder than it looks! Or, at least for those of us that are artistically challenged.

Let’s just say I should keep my day job, but Rick and one of our friends could easily get jobs at the factories and create beautiful, edible works of art.

It was really neat and something we probably would not have done without our tour director organizing it. In fact, he said this was the first time he’d done it too! After making our desserts we then got to eat them and enjoyed some matcha.

We then had an included lunch not too far from our mochi making session and it was a fabulous meal, and was set in a super cute restaurant with huge windows that overlooked a garden.

This restaurant was a no-shoes place and you put your shoes in a locker. Just don’t forget your key!

We had rice with little prawns, sashimi, soup, tofu, and a delightful pound cake for dessert. While this sashimi was not as good as our fancy dinner night, it was still amazing. I think this was probably my favorite included meal of the trip.

That afternoon we were booked on the Arashiyama District & Okochi Sanso Garden excursion. We both really enjoyed this!

The bamboo forest was busy but beautiful, but once we made it to the Zen garden it was pretty much just our group exploring the grounds. It was very tranquil and a very nice escape from the crowds.

That night was our farewell dinner in Kyoto and we went to a hot pot restaurant. It was a unique experience – and we got some complimentary sake! – but also bittersweet as it meant our Japan tour was coming to an end.

That night, Masa took anyone interested over to the Gion district, but since Rick and I had gone on our own the night before we went back to the hotel so we could start packing and figuring out just where in the hell we could fit all our souvenirs!

We had a wonderful few days in Kyoto, and like I said, we’d go back in a heartbeat! If you have any recommendations of what we need to add to our Kyoto travel itinerary when we do go back, please let us know in the comments!

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Hey, I'm Stephanie! I'm a copywriter living in beautiful Denver with my husband Rick, and our dog Rocco. I love traveling, writing, reading, and being outside as much as possible - unless I'm on the couch binge watching Stranger Things with a glass of wine! Thanks for reading and being a part of the adventure with Back to the Passport! ❤️

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