Kyoto should totally be a part of your Japan itinerary, even if you can only spend a day there. That’s why I made this 1 day Kyoto itinerary so you can make the most of it!
If Kyoto isn’t on your radar, I recommend you to rethink it! If there’s any trip you should be planning in Japan, Kyoto should be at the top of your list!
You may think it’s totally touristy, but there’s a reason for that. There are so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this historic city, with a geisha district, temples, and shrines to explore along the way.
If you’ve landed at Kansai International Airport—or used your Japan Rail Pass and rocked up on the shinkansen at Kyoto station—you’re going to want to know what to do for your one-day Kyoto adventure.
So, here are the top things to do in Kyoto to add to your Kyoto one day itinerary!
1 day Kyoto Itinerary
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Kick-off your Kyoto itinerary at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This famous spot is a must-visit for anybody who wants to roam on a path surrounded by thick, tall, green bamboo.
But it gets busy!
So it’s best to go early. It’s 35 minutes northwest of the city center on the San-in Line transport. Before you know it, you’ll be in the sleepy town of Arashiyama, crossing the Katsura River over the Togetsu-Kyo bridge.
Super charming. Don’t forget your camera!
From Arashiyama, hop back on public transport to make your way to Kinkakuji—aka the Golden Pavilion.
A Zen Buddhist temple officially called Rokounji, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 1397 for Yoshimitsu, then Shogun of Japan.
It is pretty incredible, not just because of its history, but because it is covered in gold leaf. The setting, as it is reflected in Kyokochi pond—resembling the balance of nature that is so important in Japanese religions—makes it even more beautiful.
This is the one sight of Kyoto Japan that you should not miss!
Kiyomizu—or Kiyomizu-Dera—is located more or less back into central Kyoto from Kinkakuji. You won’t need to use public transport (so much) after this.
There are over 1,200 years of history at Kiyomizu-Dera, which has been depicted in everything from stories to woodblock prints and paintings. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many different buildings make up the Buddhist temple complex here. There is the three-story pagoda dating back to 1633, the bell tower which was built in 1596, and the Otowa Waterfall with its allegedly life-extending powers.
Also, the view from this Buddhist temple of the town below is pretty spectacular as well.
You can even join in with the other local Japanese ladies as they dress up in kimonos to look the part as they visit!
By now, you must be feeling pretty hungry. Well, as your travel guide in Kyoto, I recommend that you stop your Kyoto walking tour and find something to eat in the five-block long shopping street that is Nishiki Market!
Dubbed “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this Downtown market is where you will find all sorts of shops and restaurants, selling all manner of things, from fresh seafood and wagashi (Japanese candy) to culinary implements and souvenirs. You will basically be able to find anything here.
Many of the eateries and stores here are specialists and will give out free samples for you to taste before you buy.
Open till 6 pm., you have plenty of time on your Kyoto itinerary to decide what to eat here!
Next stop on your itinerary, Kyoto offers you the famous Gion!
Just so you know, that doesn’t mean “red light district”—geisha were (and still are) more like entertainers, who engage customers in sparkling conversation, drinking games, and musical performances.
Simply wandering the wooden house-lined streets and lanes here is enough to take you back a few centuries! It’s pretty cool.
However, if you manage to breeze through Gion while gazing at the traditional geisha district with a lot of time to spare, don’t worry. There’s more to do nearby.
If you have time for walking, you can wander past the many shrines and temples and get a more in-depth look at Kyoto’s past at the Philosopher’s Path, which runs alongside a picturesque stream.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Ok, so now it is time to round out your day at the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. Also known as Inari Taisha, Fushimi, or the Inari shrine, it is a 20-minute ride from Gion on the Keihan Main Line to Fushimi-Inari Station.
From here, it’s an easy walk to the base of the small mountain on which this famous shrine complex sits.
Why is it so famous?
Well, you probably know it from Instagram or you know, just about anywhere. There are thousands of red torii (shrine gates) straddling trails and steps that snake their way around, and up, the mountain.
Established in 711 AD, this place has a massively long history. You can feel it as you ascend especially as you will be there towards sunset as many tourists disappear. The place gets positively eerie at dusk and after dark.
My tip would definitely be to time your trip to Fushimi Inari for sunset when you can watch the sun dip behind the mountains from the viewpoint partway up. Heavenly!
There you have it, my 1 day Kyoto itinerary edition for a trip to the most historic Japanese city ever!
One day does not give you enough time to see everything, but it will give you enough time to learn about what makes this city so great and see its highlights. The amount of temples is incredible, as is the sense of history and the number of beautiful spots you can find just off the main streets of the city.
Take time on your one day Kyoto itinerary to tour around this former capital for yourself, and you will discover just why so many people choose to visit here each year. If you end up wanting to stay longer be sure to check out the Kyoto hotels!
If you do plan on spending a day in Kyoto—tell me about it! Tag me @wtfab in your stories or pics on Insta so I can remind myself that I really, REALLY need to go again one day!!
Planning a trip to Japan? Be sure to check out my other Japan travel guides here.
What to do in Tokyo: Tokyo Travel Guide
Best Tokyo Airbnbs
Best Places to View Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
Best Time to Visit Tokyo
11 Things You Need to Put on Your Tokyo Itinerary
Park Hyatt Tokyo
7 Places to Visit Near Tokyo
Best Places to Stay in Tokyo: In-Depth Look into Tokyo’s Neighborhoods
8 Things to do in Tokyo with Kids
Kyoto is definitely worth visiting with a number of historical sights to see. It can get very touristy, but it worth it with lots of things to keep you busy.
It is recommended to spend at least 2 days in Kyoto to see all the big sights of Kyoto.
The best time of year to travel to Japan is April through May since it will be cherry blossom season and the weather will be at its best!