Day trip to Nara and Uji

While you’re in Kyoto or Osaka, make sure to leave some time to visit Nara, Horyu-ji and Uji. Nara was founded in 710 CE as Heijo-kyo (Citadel of Peace) to serve as the permanent capital of Japan. This lasted for 74 years until emperor Kammu decided to move the court out of Nara due to ever growing intrigues. These years left Nara with some magnificent history and sites.

You can do this day trip either from Kyoto or Osaka. It’s around an hour by train from both cities. It is slightly faster when you travel with the private rail companies and a little bit longer when you opt to travel the whole way with JR. This last option would save you money if you have a JR rail pass.



Everything in Nara is open from 9 a.m., many sites open even earlier. So, if you want to beat the crowds, leave early. If you want to be extremely time efficient and don’t mind getting up really early. Then start at Horyu-ji when you’re coming from Kyoto or Uji when travelling from Osaka.



The temple complex Kofuku-ji is a 15-minute walk from the station along Sanjo dori. You’ll pass some coffee shops and convenience stores along the way, nice if you need to pick up breakfast or lunch.

The temple complex of Kofuku-ji was established in 669 CE and moved to its current site when Nara became the capital in 710 CE. It remained an important temple complex for centuries until a gradual decline in power beginning in the 15th century. The temple was a victim of the Meiji restoration as many of its buildings were torn down and many of its valuables were lost.

The highlights of the complex are the five-storey pagoda, the Tohon-do with its statues and the modern Kohuihokan. The Kohuihokan houses the saved treasures from the destroyed buildings. The hall will reopen on 1 January 2018 after a yearlong restoration period.

Nara deer
Nara deer


Nara-koen is a large park which houses most of the major sites in Nara. Beside the ancient sites, the deer are another attraction. But beware of them when eating or when with little children since they can be really intrusive.

Nara National Museum

Make your way through the park towards Nara National Museum. This museum has a large collection of statues and national treasures. Check their website to see what’s on display since only a small part of the collection is on display at the same time.


Just north of the museum, behind Nandai-mon, lies Todai-ji, the main attraction of Nara. Emperor Shomu founded this temple complex in 745 CE. Most people come here to see the Daibatsu (Great Buddha) and its hall, the Daibatsuden. The magnificent Daibatsuden was the biggest wooden building in the world until 1998. The current structure is a reconstruction from 1709, only two thirds of the original size. The Daibatsu itself is 15 metres high and was originally casted in 752 CE. Not much is left of that original statue due to fires and earthquakes, but it remains a marvel anyway.


Head eastwards to get a nice view of Nara from Nigatsu-do. There, you can also visit Nara’s oldest remaining building, Sangatsu-do dating from 729.

Kasuga Taisha

From here it’s a nice walk through the park along lantern-lid paths towards Kasuga Taisha. Kusuga Taisha is an important Shinto shrine that was founded in 768. As you continue southwards you’ll pass numerous other Shinto shrines until you exit the park.

It’s a short walk to the 1300-year old temple of Shin-Yakushi-ji. Which houses some interesting statues. From here it’s a 30-min walk back to the train station.


Take either the bus or the train to Horyu-ji. It will take you between 40-60 minutes to get there.

Even according to Japanese standards, Horyu-ji is an ancient site. Prince Shotoku built Horyu-ji in 607 CE as one of the earliest Buddhist sites in Japan. It burnt down in 670 CE but was quickly rebuilt. Today it’s home to the oldest Buddhist building in Japan. Aside from that, Kon-do (Golden Hall) is also the oldest wooden structure in the world. The various temple buildings house some great early Buddhist statues.

Exit through the northeast gate, for a visit of Chuyu-ji. Chuyu-ji is a sixth century nunnery which served as residency for Prince Shotoku’s mother. A highlight of the complex is the Miroku Bosatsu statue from the early seventh century.

Take the bus back to the station and take the train back to Nara and continue towards Uji.



When you arrive in Uji, exit the station and head towards the river. As soon as you’re near the bridge, you’ll see a statue dedicated to Murasuki Shikibu, writer of the Tale of Genji. The last ten chapters of this 11th century novel are set in Uji. You can learn more about this book and the last chapters in the Tale of the Genji museum across the bridge.

We don’t cross the bridge, but go right along the river. Since Uji is the tea capital of Japan, you’ll find plenty of tea shops here. They sell tea in all price classes. Due to the light weight and the sturdy packaging of the tea, it makes for an ideal souvenir or gift.


Tea ceremony

Soon you’ll come upon the entrance to Byodo-in. This temple complex was founded in 1052. The oldest remaining building in the complex is Hoo-do (Phoenix Hall) which dates from 1053. The official name is Amida hall, after the Amida Buddha statue it houses. You can see the building on the 10-yen coin.

After exiting the temple complex, continue along the river until you’ll find the tourist office. The tourist office exploits a traditional Japanese tea house. Here you can enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and finish your day in style.

If you’re looking for tips for Kyoto, read our 2-day itinerary.

Your guide to Nara
Zen garden

Kyoto in two days part II

Welcome at day 2 of our crazy schedule to get most of the highlights in Kyoto. If you missed the first part, you can read it here. Whether you’re a business traveller with a day to spare, on a tight schedule or just wanting to see as much as possible. We will give you as much of a complete overview of Kyoto as possible.


Day 2

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Nothing wakes you up more than an early morning exercise, for this head over to Fushimi Inari. This site is accessible all day so come as early as you like. This should give you the opportunity for some beautiful undisturbed shots of the 10.000 torii along the way to the shrine at the top. As an added bonus, the shrine will come with a beautiful view of Kyoto. Both the site and the views are very photo-friendly.


From the top of the hill head north through the forest path. This way you can walk all the way towards Tōfuku-ji. This temple is famous for its fall foliage, the 600-year-old 22-meter-high entrance gate (Sanmon) and the different gardens.


Take the Keikan main line to Shichijō station, from there it’s a short walk to Sanjūsangen-dō. This temple houses 1.001 Kannon statues, 124 of them date back to before the 1249 fire. The others were made in the 13th Century after the fire. The main Kannon statue and some others were made by the sculptor Tankei. The outside gallery was used for archery competitions.



Take the bus (line 202, 206 or 207) or walk for 25 minutes to Kiyomizu-dera. This temple complex with its wooden platform is an iconic site in Kyoto. The way towards the complex is lined with souvenir shops and all kinds of people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing make their way towards the temple.
The temple provides great views of the city from its viewing platform. If you want a good view of Kiyomizu-dera itself, make your way to the opposite hill via Otowa waterfall.


Within the complex you’ll find various Shinto shrines helping people with their love life. Popular to test the quality of your relationship are the two ‘blind stones’. Walk between these two love stones with your eyes closed, if you can reach the other stone, you don’t have to worry about your relationship.


Head north towards Nanzen-ji by taking bus 206 to Higashiyama station. Take the Tozai line for one stop to Keage station. From here it’s a short walk to the Nanzen-ji temple complex.
Start with the smaller sub temple of Konchi-in. It is famous for its’ dry gardens designed by the 17th century tea master Kobori Enshū. At Nanzen-ji you’ll also be able to get some great shōjin ryōri, Buddhist vegetarian meals.


Silver Pavilion

On your way towards the Philosophers’ path you’ll pass Eikan-dō. This temple is a great place for maple leaf viewing in November.

Philosophers’ path

Continue northwards along the Philosophers’ path. This walk through the wooded hillside along a canal is named after a 20th century philosopher who walked here daily. After some 30 minutes, you will reach Ginkaku-ji.


It’s always important to align your expectations with reality to avoid disappointment. Ginkaku-ji (the silver pavilion) is not silver nor is its roof or anything else. But what it is, is a beautiful pavilion hidden away in a wooded area next to a pond and stylized Japanese dry gardens. So instead of impressing you with its shiny metals, it teases you with long windy hedged paths. Offering just a brief glimpse of the pavilion before you finally come up close.


Now it’s finally time to relax. Head over to the Gion neighbourhood. This is Kyoto’s famous Geisha district. Here you’ll find a lot of traditional wooden houses, many of which now function as restaurants. If you are up to spending a lot of money on food, head over to some of the best kaiseki-ryōri (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants here. Otherwise an inexpensive but still great dining opportunity is always just around the corner wherever you are in this city.

We hoped you have enjoyed this itinerary. Also read our five-day itinerary to Tokyo and its surrounding area.

2 days in Kyoto
Bamboo forest

How to do Kyoto in two days part I

Of course, Kyoto can keep you occupied for a week, or even a lifetime. However, if your time in Japan is limited, and you want to visit more places during your stay, choices have to be made. In this post, you will learn how to maximize your sightseeing in Kyoto and pack the highlights in just two days. To make it work, an early start on both days is essential. It might be a good choice to stay central, with easy access to public transport and breakfast at an early time or on the go.


Day 1


Our first stop of the day is the beautiful zen garden of Ryōan-ji. The garden opens at 8 a.m., making it an ideal first stop as its best experienced with as few people as possible. Although this is true for most sites.

Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji (Rokuon-ji)

From Ryōan-ji, it’s either a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji is where you find the famous golden pavilion and since it opens at 9 a.m., with a bit of planning you can also be one of the first there. Enjoy this last bit of quiet sightseeing since it will be the last of the day. The Golden pavilion date back to 1397. Sadly, the current building is a 1955 reconstruction. The original structure burned down in 1950 when a monk tried to commit suicide by burning himself.


When you are done at the Golden pavilion, take the bus to Kitanokakubaicho station and from here take the Keifuku Dentetia line via Katabinanotsuji station to Arashiyama station. It’s a short walk from the station to Tenryū-ji temple complex. Here you can enjoy some more zen gardens which date back to the 13th century.


Depending on the time and your appetite, you could now get something to eat at Shigetsu. This restaurant serves some of the best vegetarian food in Kyoto. Otherwise continue onwards through Kaneama Koen and maybe eat your bento box of lunch here. Or continue towards the Sagano road of bamboo forest.

Bamboo forest
Arashiyama bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

At the Arashiyama bamboo forest you can join the hundreds of other tourists trying to capture this photogenic piece of road. We personally found it too busy to be able to enjoy it, so don’t expect a leisurely walk through a forest. Follow the road to the end and head towards Saga-Arashiyama station.


Take the train back to central Kyoto and get off at Nijo station. From here it’s just a short walk to Nijō-jō, the opulent castle of Togugawa Ieyasu. The castle was built to show the emperor that a new leader of Japan had emerged. The shoguns castle is filled with beautiful golden gilded screen doors and paintings.

Yasaka shrine

A short bus ride will bring you to Yasaka shrine. In July, this shrine hosts the Gion Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s biggest spectacles. Highlight of this festival is the parade on July 17, when richly decorated lantern-lit floats parade through central Kyoto. Afterwards walk through Marayami Park and make your way towards the Heian shrine.

Torii to Heian

Heian shrine

It’s hard to miss the entry to this shrine since it’s marked by an enormous torii. Heian shrine was built after the move of the capital to Tokyo to underscore Kyoto’s illustrious past as imperial capital. The main attraction is the garden in the back.

It’s almost time to treat yourself so make your way towards Kyoto station.
Depending on the time and your energy levels there is one more site to visit.


Just south west of Kyoto station lies To-ji. The main feature of this temple complex is its five-story pagoda. With a height of almost 55 metres (180 feet), it’s the highest pagoda in Japan. The complex is linked to Kūkai (also known as Kōbō-Daishi) who was put in charge of the complex in 823, earlier he had founded his first monastery at Koyasan. Every 21st of the month the Meido, where Kōbō-Daishi is said to have lived, opens its doors to visitors. On this same day, there also is a famous flea market on the temple grounds.

Kyoto station

We end our day at Kyoto station. Marvel at the modern architecture, watch the crowds and have dinner at the food court. The restaurants with the longest lines are the hip and happening ones, so join the queue and wind down for the day. Read on to see what to do on the second day in Kyoto.

2 Days in Kyoto