(https://www.livingoutlau.com/) Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan, is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Japan. As its cultural capital, it shouldn’t surprise you that there are many attractions in Kyoto, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Fushimi Inari Taisha, and many more.
This 1 day Kyoto itinerary will cover some of the best things to do in Kyoto in 1 day. However, if I must be honest, 24 hours in Kyoto is not sufficient to see all the amazing sights it is known for. It is advised to stay at least 2 days in Kyoto to see all the main attractions.
However, we understand that sometimes you are time-restricted and you might just have one day in Kyoto.
In our Kyoto itinerary, we will cover the things you must do in Kyoto in one day and how to maximize your time!
GUIDE TO 1 DAY IN KYOTO
Kyoto Tourist Map: 1 Day Kyoto Itinerary Attractions
This is the personalized Kyoto tourist map you will use to visit all the things you must see in Kyoto in one day.
Clicking on the map will lead you to a Google Interactive Map where you can see the details of each thing to do in Kyoto. Since this 1 day itinerary in Kyoto, you won’t be able to cover all of the attractions in Kyoto.
The red circles on the map are what I consider the best attractions in Kyoto. Under no circumstances should you switch them out unless you have been there before.
The blue stars on the Kyoto attractions map are the alternatives you could use to replace the main attractions. They are also great places to visit in Kyoto if you plan on staying for two days.
The green question marks are all the “average” attractions in Kyoto. Some of these places are UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Ryoanji temple. They are by no means bad places to see but are not as good as the must-visit attractions.
Kyoto One Day Pass
Many tourists that visit Kyoto in 1 day are tempted to buy the Kyoto one-day pass because they think it will save them money. Let me tell you why that might not be the case.
There are two types of passes that are worth considering, the one-day bus and subway pass, and the one-day bus pass.
Costing only 900 yen for 1 day, most travelers are tempted to buy the Kyoto one-day bus + subway pass to save money. It is true that with that pass, you can visit all the attractions in this Kyoto itinerary.
The problem is, it might not be the most convenient or fastest way. The Kyoto one-day pass doesn’t cover all the transportation in Kyoto, such as the JR lines or even the trams. The buses are also infrequent, inconsistent, crowded, and often stuck in traffic. If you only have 24 hours in Kyoto, this is your worst nightmare.
For those reasons, I recommend you to NOT buy the Kyoto one-day pass.
STEP-BY-STEP ITINERARY OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN KYOTO IN 1 DAY
Morning: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Tenryu-ji, Nishiki Market
Welcome to Kyoto and good luck!! You have a long day ahead of you. This 1 day in Kyoto itinerary covers a lot of the things you must see in Kyoto.
Before you start your first attraction on the Kyoto 1 day itinerary, make sure you have a good breakfast. If your accommodation doesn’t offer breakfast, my favorite place in town for a quick breakfast is either 7-Eleven or Lawson. Unlike the 7-Eleven in the western part of the world, 7-Eleven in Japan offers nutritious and affordable meals. Try some of the onigiris, egg sandwiches, or even pancakes!
Your first stop will be the Arashiyama bamboo grove, also called the Arashiyama bamboo forest. One of the best things to do in Kyoto, the Arashiyama bamboo grove gets crowded quite easily. Sprawling with countless amount of soaring bamboo trees, it is quite an unworldly feeling when you are alone.
For that reason, you will arrive no later than 8:30 AM. In the early morning, there are fewer people and you can feel the real magic of the Arashiyama bamboo forest. It will also guarantee you will photograph the best picture of the bamboo grove! Trust me, it is worth the effort!
The best way to arrive at the Arashiyama bamboo grove is via the JR San-In Line, also known as the JR Sagano Line. Take the JR San-In line to Saga-Arashiyama station and the bamboo forest is a 15-minute walk away. If you have JR Rail Pass, all JR lines are free!
After you are done strolling around the Arashiyama bamboo grove, head over to Tenryu-ji. Within a walking distance from the bamboo forest, it is the best way to hit two birds with one stone. Not only is Tenryu-ji one of the most famous Zen temples in Kyoto, it is also one of the proud UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Come stroll around the historic buildings and the tranquil gardens, it has a sense of serenity unlike anywhere else.
Aim to leave Arashiyama no later than 10:30 AM.
The next stop on your 1 day in Kyoto itinerary is Nishiki Market. There are many options to get there from Arashiyama. My favorite is taking the Randen and switching to the Hankyu-Kyoto Line. The Randen is the last tram line in Kyoto and takes you on a beautiful sightseeing journey.
Once you arrive at Nishiki market, spend some time to wander around. Nishiki market is the biggest food market place in Kyoto, specializing in many of Kyoto’s specialties. Though the Nishiki market only spans 5 blocks, there are over hundreds of stalls, and some have been there for centuries.
One of the best places for Japanese street food, don’t hesitate to try anything that fancies you. My favorite snack was definitely the octopus on the skewer. Though slightly unsettling at first, once you bite into the head, you will be fully intrigued. Trust me!
Don’t walk and eat at the same time! In Japanese culture, it is one of the most disrespectful things you can do!
You are probably tempted to spend your 24 hours in Kyoto here sampling the local seafood, trying the pickled vegetables, shopping for souvenirs, but there are still plenty of amazing things to see.
Grab your lunch in the surrounding area but remember to leave Nishiki Market no later than 1 PM. What is next on the itinerary? The famous Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Afternoon: Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kiyomizu-dera
To get to Fushimi Inari Taisha from Nishiki Market, the quickest one is to take the Keihan Main line at Gion-Shijo station to Fushimi Inari station. The journey is about half an hour.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most important Shinto shrines located in Kyoto. Famous for the thousands of vibrant orange torii gates that reach the top of the sacred Mount Inari, Fushimi Inari Taisha is as beautiful as it is important.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the most important shrine dedicated to the Shinto god Inari, the goddess of rice. And I don’t think I need to tell you how important rice is for the Japanese, it is almost in all of their cuisines. The fox statues you will see as you ascend up Mount Inari are the messengers of Inari.
Many travelers already know Fushimi Inari Taisha as one of the top sights in Kyoto, but many do not do that it is actually a hike! The trail to the top of Mount Inari takes about 2 hours one way. With the frequency of the torii gates decreasing and not much to see at the summit, it is not recommended you hike all the way up.
However, do spend 45 minutes to an hour to hike up to the Yotsu-Tsuji intersection. A great viewpoint with a few houses and shops, it is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenic views of Kyoto. Though there are a lot fewer tourists beyond this point, the torii gates offer no variation.
This is the highest point you will hike up to.
When you are ready, head back down. You want to head down at least 2 hours before sunset because the next attraction is the best place in Kyoto to watch the sunset! This depends on the month you are visiting Kyoto, so make sure you check the sunset time beforehand!
The next thing to see on the 1 day Kyoto itinerary is Kiyomizu-dera, or the “Pure Water Temple”.
To arrive at Kiyomizu-dera from Fushimi Inari Taisha, you will take the Keihan Main line from Fushimi-Inari station to Kiyomizu-Gojo station. Then you will walk about 20 minutes to arrive at Kiyomizu-dera. It might be tempting to take a bus but the buses are infrequent, unreliable, and often crowded. It is better to walk.
On your way to the temple, you will go through the Higashiyama district. Filled with cool shops and beautiful traditional streets, it might be tempting to stop and look around. We will come back to this place after Kiyomizu-dera, don’t worry!
Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan. Founded in 778, this religious relic is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. Featuring many different buildings inside with different significance, it is a great way to learning about traditional Japanese culture.
Check out the Otowa waterfall and its wish-granting water. The waterfall’s water is divided into three streams and they all have different effects. But drink from all three and you are considered greedy and none of your wishes will be granted.
Afterward, head over to the Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the god of love. In front of the shrines are 2 stones places 18 meters apart. Anyone that can navigate from one stone to the other with their eyes closed is promised to have everlasting love!
Visitors can also rent a kimono in Kiyomizu-dera if they want!
Besides being an important historic temple, Kiyomizu-dera is one of the best places in Kyoto to watch the sunset. It is exactly why we saved it for the last thing to do in Kyoto before the night sets in.
Head over to the Butai, or otherwise known as “Kiyomizu’s wooden stage”. This wooden stage is where you will watch the beautiful sunset over the beautiful city of Kyoto. If you are lucky enough to come during autumn or cherry blossom season, the view will even be more spectacular. Either way, you will be stunned by Kyoto’s beauty.
Keep in mind the opening hours of the Kiyomizu-dera temple change with the seasons. It opens at 6 AM daily and can close anytime from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. If there are seasonal illumination events, such as the cherry blossom event, the temple might close as late as 9 PM.
Night: Yasaka Pagoda, Higashiyama District, Gion, Shirakawa Canal
After visiting Kiyomizu-dera, head back down the same way you came. You will do a little bit of exploring in the Higashiyama District, one of the most well-preserved traditional districts in Kyoto. Dainty wooden buildings, old narrow roads, the Higashiyama District is a glimpse of the past when Kyoto was the capital of Japan.
Make sure you stop by Ninenzaka and Yasaka-dori (No.5 and 6 on the map) on the way. These two spots are some of the greatest places to catch a glimpse of Yasaka Pagoda, considered one of the most beautiful places at night in Kyoto! It is also one of the best places for photography in Kyoto!
The rest of this Kyoto one day itinerary will have you explore the Higashiyama District and Gion District. There are no time restrictions, trains to catch, or closing hours you have to make. Take your time and explore at your pace, going down the narrow alleys and checking out the wooden merchant shops.
Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan and you can really see it in the streets of Higashiyama. After visiting Yasaka-dori, make your way to Hanamikoji street.
Located in the Gion district, Hanamikoji street is one of the oldest streets in Kyoto and the one that you are most likely to see a Geisha or Maiko strolling down the street.
Originated from the 18th century, Geishas and Maikos are an important part of traditional Japanese culture. With years of practice in arts, dance, and singing, their main role is solely to entertain the clients in ochayas (traditional tea houses). The difference between Maikos and Geishas are that Maikos are apprentice Geishas, and you can usually tell the difference in their clothing and accessories.
There are only a handful of Geishas and Maiko that live in Kyoto, so it is a rare occurrence that you encounter one while walking in the Gion District. However, if you do see one, please don’t intrude on them and disturb their lives. They are usually on their way to work or home, and none of them would appreciate the aggressiveness.
For more information on Geishas and Maikos culture, check out here.
When you are in Gion district, make sure you stop by Shirakawa Canal. The tranquility of the water along with the timeless wooden houses along the street creates a unique ambience, it is almost as if you just stepped into a time machine.
This is the end of the one day in Kyoto itinerary! At this point you must be tired, go grab some dinner in the area or go to downtown Kyoto. Make sure you try some of the traditional dishes of Japan such as sushi, ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more. The ramen in Kyoto is some of the best in Japan!
Alternative Attractions to the 1 Day Kyoto Itinerary
In this section, we will talk about other attractions that we didn’t make the cut in our Kyoto 1 day itinerary.
1. Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) – One of the most impressive Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto. Its top two floors are completely covered in gold, showing the luxury Kitayama culture during the Yoshimitsu reign.
The 1 day itinerary in Kyoto doesn’t include Kinkakuji simply because it is too far and only accessible with the rather inconvenient buses. Probably the best UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto, you should visit it if you have 2 days in Kyoto. If you must see this on your Kyoto trip, swap it out for one of the other attractions.
2. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) – Ginkakuji is a Zen Buddhist temple built a few decades after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). Unlike the Golden Pavilion that is partially covered with gold, the Silver Pavilion is not covered in silver. However, the Silver Pavilion is not as crowded as the Golden Pavilion and is a perfect place to feel zen and tranquil.
3. Philosopher’s Path – A path right outside of Ginkakuji, you can easily pair this attraction with a visit to Ginkakuji. The Philosopher’s Path is beautiful during cherry blossom season but rather unimpressive during other seasons.
4. Kyoto FREE Walking Tour – The Kyoto free walking tour runs every day in the morning. The schedule can be found on their website here. It is a 2.5-hour walking tour and the guide gives you a lot of information about the city of Kyoto and its history.
5. Kyoto Tower – The viewing tower of Kyoto Tower is one of the best places for a panoramic view of Kyoto. However, you have already been to places like Fushimi Inari Taisha and Kiyomizu-dera. Kyoto Tower will seem repetitive compared to those.