Want to visit all the must see Kyoto sights in one day? Here’s a step by step itinerary to help you get to all of Kyoto’s must see places in one day if you’re pressed for time.
image © Damien Douxchamps
Here’s a list of Kyoto attractions that I consider must-sees (roughly in order of importance and appeal). Below that, I’ve provided a Kyoto 1 Day itinerary that helps you see all of these attractions (except Nijo-jo Castle) in the most time-efficient manner possible:
- Kinkaku-ji Temple
Kinkaku-ji, the famed “Golden Pavilion,” is Kyoto’s most iconic sight, rising above its reflecting pond like an apparition,
- Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
Perhaps the single most impressive sight in all of Kyoto, bar none, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is the most important shrine in the entire city. Don’t miss it!
- Ginkaku-ji Temple
Ginkaku-ji temple, the “Silver Pavilion”, has magnificient halls and gardens, with a tremendous viewpoint over the entire temple compound
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world.
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Kyoto’s must-see attractions. It’s a bustling riot of commerce and schlock, but it’s a lot of fun, especially for the kids.
- Chion-in Temple
Sometimes called the Vatican of Pure Land Buddhism, this vast temple is one of the most and popular temples in the city
- Nanzen-ji Temple
One of the best temples in the Northern Higashiyama district, Nanzen-ji Temple is a sprawling Zen paradise surrounded by lush green hills
- Tenryu-ji Temple
Tenryu-ji Temple is the headline attraction in Arashiyama, a Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and wonderful mountain views
- Nijo-jo Castle
Nijo-jo Castle is one of Kyoto’s most popular and impressive sights. It shows the power that the Shoguns wielded over the emperors throughout the Edo Period
Must See Kyoto Temples 1 Day Itinerary
– Start the day by heading to the west side of the city: Arashiyama (see the Arashiyama District page for transport details). Try to arrive in Arashiyama no later than 9am.
– From here, you’ll head to the northwest corner of the city to visit Kinkaku-ji Temple (the famed “Golden Pavilion”). For this leg, a taxi is really the only way to go since there’s no direct/efficient public transport. A taxi from Arashiyama to Kinkaku-ji will take around 20 minutes and cost around Y1900.
– After visiting Kinkaku-ji, catch Kyoto City bus no 204 all the way east (make sure to take it east rather than south) to the Ginkakuji-michi Stop. Walk from the bus stop to Ginkaku-ji Temple and visit the temple.
– After visiting Ginkaku-ji, exit the temple and walk south along the Path of Philosophy to Nanzen-ji Temple (about 25 minutes at a good clip).
– After visiting Kiyomizu-dera, walk down Chawan-zaka and Gojo-zaka to reach Higashioji-dori. Cross Higashioji-dori and walk west (downhill) on Gojo-dori to reach Keihan Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. Here, board any Keihan train except a tokkyu (limited express) and take it to Fushimi-Inari Station. From here, it’s a short walk to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, the last stop on this itinerary.
– Getting home from Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is easy: You can take the Keihan Line from Fushimi-Inari Station to Shihijo, Shijo or Sanjo stations, or the JR Line from Inari Station to Kyoto Station.
If you complete the Must See Kyoto Temples itinerary in one day, I wish you a hearty otsukare-same (job well done)! I sincerely hope that next time you come to Kyoto, you can slow down a bit and see some of the sights on one of my Off-the-Beaten-Track Kyoto itineraries.
If You Can Take More Than A Day, I Recommend You Do So
Important note: It is indeed possible to do the preceding itinerary in one day, especially if you are reasonably fit and are willing to take taxis where I have indicated. But be aware that it will be one long, rushed and tiring day. However, if you have two days in the city and can do the itinerary over those two days, then this would be a fantastic itinerary for those who want to check off all the must see temples in Kyoto.
image © Damien Douxchamps
Where To Stay In Kyoto To Make The Most Of A Short Stay
If you don’t have much time to spend in Kyoto, it makes sense to stay someplace centrally located and close to a variety of transport options. With this in mind, I’d strongly recommend staying either in the Kyoto Station Area or the Downtown Kyoto Area. Here are some of my picks:
Recommended Accommodation In The Kyoto Station Area
- Hotel Granvia Kyoto
The Kyoto Hotel Granvia is not only the best hotel in the Kyoto Station area, it’s also the most convenient, since it located directly above the station itself
- Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae
An excellent budget hotel near Kyoto Station, the Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae is a great value right on the doorstep of the station
- Tour Club
Kyoto’s best budget guesthouse just a stone’s throw from Kyoto Station. It’s a great place to meet other to meet other travelers
- Budget Inn
This excellent budget guesthouse near Kyoto Station is one of the best places to stay for small groups and families
- Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
A Japanese-style capsule hotel and budget hotel within walking distance of Kyoto Station, Capsule Ryokan Kyoto is a foreigner-friendly hotel with helpful staff
- Ryokan Shimizu
A foreigner-friendly budget ryokan near Kyoto Station, Ryokan Shimizu is a good place to experience a ryokan without breaking the bank
Recommended Accommodation In The Downtown Kyoto Area
- Aoi Kyoto Stay
Aoi Kyoto Stay is a collection of beautifully restored Kyoto machiya (traditional townhouses) that have been converted into accommodations.
- Kyoto Hotel Okura
The Kyoto Hotel Okura has the most convenient location of any hotel in Kyoto (it’s right downtown and directly above a subway line). It’s a luxury hotel with reasonable prices
Tawaraya is the finest ryokan in Kyoto and, arguably, the finest in all Japan. Private gardens and incredible attention to detail make it a very special Kyoto experience
The Hiiragiya is one of the finest ryokan in Kyoto. The service, décor and common areas are impeccable.
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Sanjo
A step up from your average business hotel with several interesting features and a brilliant location a short walk west of the center of Downtown Kyoto
- Best Western Hotel Kyoto
The brand-new Best Western is an excellent mid-range hotel located in the heart of Kyoto’s downtown shopping district
Is There Anything Missing From The Must See Kyoto Itinerary?
Some might wonder why I have not included any of Kyoto’s imperial properties (Kyoto Gosho, Sento Gosho, Katsura-Rikyu, Shugakuin-Rikyu) on this list. Frankly, I have never felt these places to be as rewarding as other spots in Kyoto, and the need to apply to visit and tour the properties as part of a group tour conducted in Japanese really dampens their appeal. Sure, architecture and garden snobs enthuse ad nauseam about Katsura-Rikyu, but trekking all the way there and being shepherded around like a schoolchild significantly detracts from the experience. For my money, if I’m after a superb garden and sublime house, I’ll take Okochi-Sanso Villa any day.
If you’re visiting Tokyo as well as Kyoto, be sure to check out my Must See 1-Day Tokyo Itinerary on TrulyTokyo.com. There are numerous other carefully crafted Tokyo Itineraries too, including 1-Week and 10-day Tokyo-Kyoto itineraries.
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