If you’ve only got one full day in Kyoto, you’ll have to work fast and efficiently. This itinerary allows you to get a good sampling of what the city has to offer in just one day.
Chion-in Garden in springtime – image © Damien Douxchamps
First: A Few Things to Keep in Mind
This route takes you through Kyoto’s main sightseeing district: Southern Higashiyama. This is a good route to do in the off-season (summer or winter). In high-season (spring and fall), it will be too crowded for comfort. If you will be in Kyoto in high-season, or simply like quieter spots, check out our Off the Beaten Track Itineraries. If you’ll be in town during cherry blossom season, check out our Kyoto Cherry Blossom Itinerary.
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- Duration: 6 to 8 hours (not including evening stroll)
- Areas Covered: Southern Higashiyama, Downtown, Fushimi, (optional: Gion)
- Sights visited: Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Sannen and Ninen-zaka Area, Chion-in Temple, Shoren-in Temple, Downtown, Nishiki Market, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, and (optional) Gion Shimbashi
Chion-in Kiyomizu-dera with autumn foliage – image © Damien Douxchamps
8:30am: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Take a bus or taxi to the Gojo-Kawaramachi intersection. The closest bus stop is Gojozaka. Walk up Gojo-zaka, which is the main street that leads east, up the hill, to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Most likely, you can just follow the people. Halfway up, you can bear right up Chawan-zaka, which gets you away from most of the cars and buses. Enter the temple and fully explore the temple. Don’t forget to visit the wonderful Tainai-Meguri.
Sanen-zaka walkway © hslo
9:30am: Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka, then Maruyama-koen Park
After exploring Kiyomizu-dera, exit via the front of the temple and walk down Matsubara-dori Street (lined with shops) to reach the lovely preserved district of Sannen-zaka Hill. Continue down the street to where it flattens out and then go a bit further and take a right down into Ninnen-zaka, another lovely preserved district. You will come to a larger cross street with cars. Go left down the hill then quickly turn right into Nene-no-Michi, which is mostly free from cars. Follow this north, with one quick right-left jog to reach Maruyama-koen Park.
Sanmon-gate of Chion-in Temple – image © Damien Douxchamps
10:30am: Chion-in Temple
Exit the north side of Maruyama-koen and follow the street north to the impressive main gate of Chion-in Temple. Climb the steep steps and enter the wide courtyard of Chion-in. The main hall is under construction how and will be for several years, so you don’t have to linger here. Return down the steps and continue north.
Shoren-in Temple garden – image © Damien Douxchamps
11:00am: Shoren-in Temple
You’ll soon pass the enormous camphor trees in front of Shoren-in Temple. Enter the temple and enjoy a nice cup of green tea and a sweet while looking out over the garden.
Kyoto subway © st3f4n
11:45: Travel to Downtown Kyoto
Exit Shoren-in and walk north (downhill) to reach Sanjo-dori Street. Walk a short distance west (left) on Sanjo-dori to reach Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line. Take it two stops west and get off at Kyoto Shiyakushomae (downtown).
Nishiki Market © lucamascaro
1pm: Nishiki Market
After eating lunch, make your way to the east end of Nishiki Market (where it joins the Teramachi Shopping Arcade). It’s usually crowded here, even during the off-season. Hint: If you get tired of the crowds, you can bail by walking one block south and continuing along Shijo-dori Street.
Daimaru Department Store Food Floor, Kyoto – image © Chris Rowthorn
2pm: Daimaru Basement Food Floor
After you emerge from the west end of Nishiki, continue straight for a block and you’ll see Daimaru Department Store on your left. Go down the stairs in front of the entrance and enter the food floor. Explore the food floor and be sure to check out the Japanese sweets and tea section.
2:30pm: Take the Keihan Line to Fushimi-Inari Station
Exit Daimaru via the main entrance onto Shijo-dori Street. Walk east on Shijo-dori, across the Kamo-gawa River, and walk downstairs into Keihan Gion-Shijo Station. Take the Keihan Line south to Fushimi-Inari Station (all trains EXCEPT the limited express stop at Fushimi-Inari).
Torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine – image © Damien Douxchamps
3pm: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
The way is clearly marked from the station. Walk out of the station, take a left and walk up the hill, crossing the JR tracks. After crossing one relatively major street, you will see the first torii (gate) of the shrine. Walk up through this and you’ll shortly get to the main precinct of the shrine. Our Fushimi-Inari Hike gives a detailed route description. We don’t suggest doing the whole route on this day, but going up as far as Shin-ike Pond is a good idea.
Late Afternoon: Return to Hotel for Rest
By this point, you’ll definitely be in need of a rest. Take either the Keihan Line or the JR Line back from Fushimi-Inari to central Kyoto, depending upon where in town you are staying.
Kamo-gawa River and downtown Kyoto in the evening © dichohecho
7pm: Dinner Downtown
Downtown Kyoto has the best selection of restaurants in town. For some picks, check out our Downtown Kyoto District page.
Gion Shimbashi in the evening© zoonyzoozoodazoo
After Dinner: Gion Shimbashi
After dinner, if you still have energy, a walk through Gion is a great idea. Start from Shijo-Ohashi Bridge (the big bridge on Shijo-dori over the Kamo-gawa River). At the east end of the bridge, cross Kawabata-dori and walk north on the east side of Kawabata for about 100 meters. You will soon see a tree-lined pedestrian lane. This is the end of Shirakawa-dori. Follow it east and you’ll get to the Shimbashi District (also known as Shirakawa), which is the most beautiful street in Kyoto. In busy seasons, it will be crowded with people. After checking it out, make your way through the alleys south to Shijo-dori and walk east to Shijo and cross over into Hanami-koji, another picturesque lane. This is geisha territory, so keep your eyes peeled.
You may also wish to consider the Must See Kyoto 1 Day Itinerary that I’ve written up separately.
It’s important to think about your hotel location for making the most of your time in Kyoto. See Where To Stay In Kyoto for a rundown of the most convenient Kyoto districts for sightseeing.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world