Spend one day in Kyoto and you’ll know: The former imperial capital of Japan is a special city. Launching a Kyoto itinerary is must for every first-time Japan trip plan.
Visiting Kyoto, you’ll unearth mysterious temples & shrines hidden in misty forests. You’ll sip matcha in traditional teahouses, clinging to cobbled streets. And you’ll enjoy Japan’s finest cuisine in historical restaurant districts. Kyoto is everything you’d expect out of Japan. And then some!
24 hours in Kyoto won’t give you much time to uncover all the complexities of the Japanese cultural capital. But it’s a start. Even if you can only manage a quick layover in Kyoto, it’ll be worth your while.
Not sure where to go in Kyoto in one day? Start exploring with this complete 1-day Kyoto itinerary…
Where to go in Kyoto in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
As much as we’d love to tell you that one day in Kyoto is enough time to get your fill, it’s not. While 24 hours in other Japanese cities might satisfy, in Kyoto, it’s impossible. You can’t visit Kyoto on a time-crunch without yearning to return.
24 hours in Kyoto isn’t enough time to do anything more than brush the surface. There’s too much to see over a large geographic area.
Only got a quick layover in Kyoto and want to make the most of your visit? Fill out your 1-day Kyoto itinerary with these activities…
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Embrace your jet lag. Pull yourself out of bed to catch the calm of Kiyomizu-dera Temple before the mega crowds descend.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Higashiyama, Kiyomizu-dera is one of the city’s finest corners. It’s a fantastic introduction to the fascinating city of Kyoto.
Even in a city that’s hardly short on charms, Kiyomizu-dera is among the most magnificent temples in Kyoto. It’s impossible to not find inspiration on the temple’s balcony. Supported by 13-metre-high columns, the terrace delivers stunning a panorama of Kyoto.
Visit the main temple and the three secondary halls—Amida-do, Okuno-in, and Shaka-do. After you’re down, slink down to see Otowa Waterfall plunging into the streams below. Join locals and take a small sip of the water. It’s supposedly endowed with special healing abilities.
If your travel schedule allows, visit Kiyomizu-dera in spring or autumn, two of the best times to visit Kyoto. In spring, you’ll witness an eruption of cherry blossoms around the temple. Or in visit in fall to watch the autumn colours envelop Kyoto from above.
Want to dig deeper into Kiyomizu-dera? Book yourself onto one of these recommended tours:
- Kyoto Full-Day UNESCO & Historical Sites Tour: Start your day at Kiyomizu-dera before continuing on to some of Kyoto’s most exciting attractions. Stops include Kinkaku-ji, Sagano Bamboo Forest, and Fushimi Inari Taisha. The full-day tour includes transportation, entrance fees, and an optional traditional Japanese lunch.
- Highlights of Kyoto Tour: Fit some of Kyoto’s top sites into a single day with this private full-day tour. The tour offers two different route options. Both routes include Kiyomizu-dera and Gion District.
- Kyoto Cultural Forest, Shrine and Temple Tour: Skip the line and get to know Kyoto better with help from a professional guide on this comprehensive full-day tour. Highlights include Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Sagano Bamboo Forest, and Kinkaku-ji.
From Kiyomizu-dera, descend into the hilly streets of Higashiyama Ward. Venture north towards Maruyama Park. Beelined, the park is about a 20-minute walk, but take your time and wander at will.
Higashiyama is full of traditional shops, restaurants, cafés, and teahouses. The atmospheric setting is everything you’d expect in an old Japanese city.
Planned your trip to Kyoto in spring? Maruyama Park is one of the most popular spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in the city.
Keep on the lookout for the unmistakable weeping cherry tree (shidarezakura) at the centre. You’ll also spot hundreds of cherry trees and maples scattered throughout the park. They’re punctuated by Japanese gardens, stone paths, ponds, bridges, and temples.
While wandering around Maruyama Park, don’t miss out on Yasaka Shrine. The shrine sits in the park’s western fringes, bordering the city. Dating back over a millennium, Yasaka Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto.
Among the shrine’s most distinguishing features is its two-storey vermillion entrance torii (gate). You’ll also see hundreds of paper lanterns around the shrine. The lanterns are sponsored by local worshippers seeking a dash of good fortune.
Hungry for a Japanese snack? Grab a quick bite of the best food in Kyoto along nearby Shijo-Dori before continuing to the next stop on your itinerary. Shiji-Dori is one of the best food streets in Kyoto,
Want to get the most out of wandering around Higashiyama? Visit with a professional guide on one of these hand-picked tours:
- Kyoto Lanes & Lanterns Tour: Enjoy traditional Japanese snacks and see Kyoto at its finest on this small-group walking tour. The tour trots through Gion and Yasaka Shrine. Food samples and a professional guide are included in the price.
- Kyoto Temple, Shrine, Geiko & Sake Tour: This small-group guided tour focuses on the best of Kyoto in the Gion & Higashiyama areas. Highlights include Nanzen-ji Temple, Kiyomizudera Temple, and Yasaka Shrine. You’ll also enjoy sake tasting in Gion District.
- Kyoto Historical Walking Tour: On this value-laden two-hour walking tour, you’ll absorb some of Kyoto’s finest historical charms. The tour walks along the route between Marayuma Park, Yasaka Shrine, and Kiyomizu-dera.
Continue your day wandering through the gardens and temples of Maruyama Park. Along the way, you’ll see temples like Chion-in and Shoren-in. When you’ve had your fill, make your way to Nanzen-ji Temple. This lovely temple is nestled in the forested hills of Higashiyama.
Visiting this Zen Buddhist temple complex could while away several hours. On the grounds, you’ll sift through temples, stone paths, and rock and pond gardens. The temple always leaves its visitors spirited.
Walking the temple grounds at Nanzen-ji is free. Expect to pay to enter the individual halls and temples of the complex.
From Nanzen-ji, it’s a short 5- to 10-minute walk north to the Philosopher’s Walk. This path is one of Kyoto’s most famous walking routes. The short stretch runs about two kilometres alongside a canal.
The Philosopher’s Walk is named in tribute to Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro. The well-liked professor walked the path daily to clear his head on his commute to Kyoto University.
As lovely as the route is at any time of year, the Philosopher’s Walk is at its best in spring. See its cherry trees lining in full bloom is a transcendent experience. Time your visit right to enjoy one of Kyoto’s best hanami spots.
Once you find the path, follow it north. Soon, you’ll stumble upon one of the top things to do in Kyoto: Ginkaku-ji.
Looking for some company on The Philosopher’s Walk? Join in on this recommended tour:
- Kyoto Sightseeing Small-Group Bike Tour: Jam more into your day by taking to the trails on this action-packed 3- to 4-hour small-group tour. Highlights include Heian-Jingu Shrine, Nanzen-ji Temple, and the Philosopher’s Path.
If there’s one thing that everyone knows about Kyoto, it’s that the city is jam-packed with temples. With only one day in Kyoto though, you’re limited on how many you’ll be able to fit in.
Fortunately, we’ve got at least one more in the works.
Ginkaku-ji, translated as Silver Pavilion, is one temple you shouldn’t miss while visiting Kyoto. The temple’s history dates back to the late 15th century. Ginkaku-ji was built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The temple served as a counterweight to the impressive Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion).
Although its gilded brother is the handsomer of the two, Ginkaku-ji is still impressive. It’s a reasonable consolation prize for time-crunched travellers.
The highlight is capturing the beautiful vistas of the surprisingly-silverless main Silver Pavilion. Ginkaku-ji also contains a handful of smaller buildings amid ponds and gardens.
Known as the Sea of Silver Sand, the sand garden is worth checking out. Combine it with a visit to the moss garden to admire the intricacies of ancient Japanese landscape architecture.
From Ginkaku-ji, walk to the corner of Imadegawa-dori and Shirakawa-dori to catch a bus to Gion-Shijo Station.
Around the station, you’ll find yourself in Gion District. Gion is Kyoto’s old entertainment district. It’s an area that’ll mystify even the most hardened of travellers.
Like elsewhere in Higashiyama, Gion District harkens back to the spirit of old Japan. Traditional wooden Japanese architecture lines the district’s atmospheric streets. Inside, the buildings hide traditional restaurants, houses, and teahouses.
The area’s most popular stretch runs along Hanamikoji-dori south of Shijo-dori to Kennin-ji Temple. You’d do just as well, though, letting Gion unfold as you wander aimlessly.
Whatever you do, don’t leave Gion without checking out Shirakawa-minami-dori. Much like the Philosopher’s Walk, Shirakawa-minami-dori is fringed by weeping cherry trees. The street shines during hanami season.
Even at other times of the year, it’s still a beguiling scene. Marvel at the riverside greenery mixed with traditional wooden architecture. It’s no wonder many have dubbed Shirakawa-minami-dori as the most beautiful street in Kyoto!
Despite all its outward beauty, Gion District is most famous for its geisha. While most travellers dream of spotting geisha rustling through the alleyways, it’s unlikely you’ll see one in action. Not at least without dropping down (more than) a few yen.
The full geisha entertainment experience doesn’t come cheap. Or easy. You’ll often need an introduction from a well-to-do local to even get the opportunity.
Far more common for travellers is to opt for a traditional maiko experience. Maiko (geisha in training) are perfect hostesses for a lunch or dinner. They’re masters at entertaining guests with traditional Japanese performances and light-hearted conversation.
Not interested in paying extra for a more intimate maiko experience? Head to Gion Corner on Hanamikoji-dori for one of the nightly cultural shows.
Sure, it’s kitschy and touristy. But it’ll give you an excellent introduction to Japanese culture. It covers everything from tea ceremonies to traditional dramatic arts and dancing.
Looking to get the most out of your visit to Gion? Check out these recommended tours:
- Kyoto Walking Tour Adventure: This small-group walking tour packs in many of the highlights of Kyoto in three hours. Stops include Tofuku-ji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Gion District.
- Kyoto Night Food Tour: Combine a stroll around the beautiful Kamogawa, Pontocho, and Gion area with a 10-course kaiseki meal on this three-hour night tour.
- Nishiki Market and Gion Food & Drink Tour: Stuff your face with Japanese treats at Nishiki Market and in Gion on this 3-hour food tour. Tastings include yuba (tofu skin), hamo (Japanese pike conger eel), mochi (rice cake), matcha tea, and sake.
Whatever you do, don’t leave Kyoto without indulging in a meal at Nishiki Market. Only about 15 minutes by foot from Gion District, Nishiki Market is one of the best places to eat in Kyoto. In it, you’ll find everything from ramen and fresh seafood to matcha-infused desserts and tempura.
Browse through the selection of snacks. Follow your nose and the longest queues to find the best food that Nishiki Market has to offer.
Still haven’t worked up an appetite after an action-packed 24 hours in Kyoto? Pick up some unique souvenirs here for your friends & family back home. (Perhaps some poorly-translated English stationary is in order?)
Street food isn’t your thing? Exit Nishiki Market early to stroll along nearby Shijo-dori or Kiyamachi-dori. Along these street, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Kyoto to end your evening.
Ready to burrow into Nishiki Market? Hop onto one of these recommended tours:
- Nishiki Market Tour with 7-Course Lunch: Explore Nishiki to the fullest with your tastebuds on this ultimate food tour. Sample dishes like tako (octopus with quail egg), yuuba (sashimi tofu), and tsukemono (pickled vegetables).
- Nishiki Market Tour with Cooking Class: Take your first step in becoming a bonafide Japanese chef on this 3-hour market tour & cooking class combo. Shop for fresh ingredients at Nishiki Market before returning to a cooking studio for a lesson on how to make donburi (bowl meal). Yum!
- Nishiki Market and Gion Food & Drink Tour: Take on Nishiki Market & Gion with the help of a guide on this 3-hour food tasting tour. Sample dishes include yuba (tofu skin), hamo (Japanese pike conger eel), mochi (rice cake), matcha tea, and sake.
- Gion and Kamogawa Evening Food Tour: Not keen on the street food of Nishiki Market? This tour celebrates the city’s best food, ending with Kyoto’s haute gastronomic specialty, a 10-course Kaiseki meal.
Best hotels for 24 hours in Kyoto
The former imperial capital is one of the biggest and most popular cities in Japan. It’s no surprise that deciding where to stay in Kyoto is a bit of a challenge.
Accommodations in Kyoto are spread out and plentiful. But compared to cities elsewhere in Asia, Kyoto gets pricey.
With only 24 hours in Kyoto you’ll want to stay close to the city centre to make the most of your Kyoto itinerary. Get your search started with a few of these best hotels in Kyoto…
- Guest House Oumi is a beautiful budget ryokan less than a kilometre from Nijo Castle. The relaxing outdoor terrace offers a zen-like calm amidst the bustle of Kyoto.
- Mugen is another charming ryokan in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Kamigyo Ward. Both standard hotel beds and Japanese-style rooms are available for guests.
- The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is the ultimate Kyoto luxury hotel. It offers large elegant rooms that fuse modern sensibilities with traditional Japanese style. The luxurious garden suites are divine.
Recommended Kyoto day tours
Looking to squeeze more out of your Kyoto itinerary? Here are a few of the best day tours in Kyoto:
- Kyoto Full-Day Sightseeing Tour: Immerse yourself into the best of Kyoto in one day with this action-packed full-day sightseeing tour. The tour visits Kyoto’s most important cultural sites. Stops include Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kinkaku-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera.
- Kyoto Morning Tour: Short on time and want to get your sightseeing done right away? This 4.5-hour morning tour takes in top Kyoto sites like Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, and Kinkaku-ji. All transportation is included in the tour price including pick-up at select Kyoto hotels.
- Half-Day Small-Group Kyoto Cultural Tour: This 3.5-hour afternoon walking tour explores the cultural side of Kyoto. It includes stops the geisha district of Gion and the zen rock gardens of Tokufuji. You’ll also get to check out the famous vermillion gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine.
How to maximize your 1-day Kyoto itinerary: Tips & tweaks
Got more time or want to switch things up? Supercharge your Kyoto itinerary with these ideas:
- Need more temples in your life? Jam in Kinkaku-ji, the most iconic and impressive temple in Kyoto. It lies about 45 minutes from Nishiki Market by public transportation.
- All templed out? Skip out on Ginkaku-ji and find your way to Nijo Castle. It’s about 30 minutes away by foot from Nishiki Market.
- Want to escape the city? If you’ve got extra time, hop onto Kyoto public transportation to slip into the suburb. Visit the town of Arashiyama to take in the otherworldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Arashiyama Monkey Park.