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Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Exploring Kyoto in 1 Day

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Exploring Kyoto in 1 day is tough but do-able. Keep in mind, however, that 24 hours is nowhere near enough time to explore this city of temples! Actually, you could spend a whole month in Kyoto and it still wouldn’t be enough time to see everything! In reality though, circumstances pose limits and that’s the reality of travelling. Keep reading if you’re planning a trip to Kyoto and only have a day to spare. This quick guide covers some top highlights you should be able to see in a day with some clever planning. 

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking on one of the affiliate links. I only recommend products I’ve personally used and liked. All opinions are my own. 

Essentials 

Language: Spoken language is Japanese but most businesses understand some English. It’s highly recommended that you have the destination addresses available in Japanese (Google Maps usually shows this) to show to taxi drivers. We found asking our hotel concierge to help us book taxis and restaurants was an effective way to make sure we got the reservations we wanted. 

Currency: the Japanese Yen 

Voltage: 120V. See my post Essential Items to Pack in your Carry-on for sturdy international adapters to get for your next trip to Japan. 

Major Train Station: Kyoto Station

Major Airport: Best options are to fly into Osaka at Osaka Airport or Kansai International Airport then take the high-speed railway from the airport to Kyoto Station. 

Getting There 

Flying into Kyoto 

Depending on your city of departure, you can fly into Kansai International Airport or into Osaka Airport. Osaka Airport serves mostly domestic flights which might be a good option if you’re flying in from other parts of Japan. Kansai International Airport is probably the main option if you’re flying in from overseas. Simply take the dedicated airport express trains from either airport directly to Kyoto Station. 

Ticket package to go from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station.



Exploring Kyoto in 1 day means you should check out discounted ticket packages if you’re taking the airport express trains to Kyoto Station. The ticket packages might be a tad much if you only need a train ticket to Kyoto Station. However, the ticket package is usually cheaper than buying 1 single direct train ticket. The package I was sold cost a total of 2800 YEN (about $18 to $20 USD)

Head to the tourist offices and ask about train ticket packages to Kyoto and they might sell you a package with 1) a single direct train ticket to Kyoto (one-way usually) and 2) multiple day passes to use on several of the Kyoto subway or train lines. The day passes for the subway or train lines could come in handy once you’re in Kyoto. The package I bought does not contain return train tickets from Kyoto. When leaving Kyoto, I simply bought a single direct ticket from Kyoto to Kansai Airport, which cost about 4500 YEN (about $28 to $30 USD). 

Taking the Train into Kyoto

See above if you’re taking the train directly from either one of the major airports in Osaka. If you’re taking the Shinkansen, then check out their website for routes and costs for passes. The final destination should simply be Kyoto Station. Keep in mind that buying a JR Rail pass (Japan’s high-speed rail pass for tourists) online is just a reservation and you need to exchange it for a physical JR pass once you’re in Japan. Head to a train station and the customer service will help you out with exchanging your JR rail online reservation for a physical pass. 

Where to Stay 

Unwind at the Richmond Hotel Premier 

Full Name: Richmond Hotel premier KYOTO SHIJO
Address: Japan, 〒600-8494 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Kasabokocho, 50番
Check rates: Agoda.com

Clean, functional, and modern. The location is near major historical sights such as Nijo Castle (about a 15 minute walk) and Gion District (about a 20 minute walk). There’s also a grocery store located right under the building that’s really convenient when you want to buy some fresh fruits (highly recommended to do while you’re in Japan!). Overall, the hotel is stylish and comfortable and the price is reasonable as long as you book early! Book way ahead of cherry blossom season (around April-ish if you’re planning to go) to avoid paying astronomical rates.

What to See and Do 

Exploring Kyoto in a day makes for a tight schedule. I recommend picking one, or maybe two, major historical sights if you’re short on time. The two I have listed below are popular tourist sights, but they’re small and easy to wander through, perfect for a one day itinerary. 

Gaze in wonder at Kinkaku-ji: the Golden Pavilion 

The Ashikaga shogun Yoshimitsu purchased this estate back in 1397 and made it his retirement home. He eventually rebuilt and redesigned it by gilding the entire roof in gold. The pavilion is built with 3 floors: the first floor is a dock for boats, the second is a hall for the Amida Buddha, and the third was where the shogun Yoshimitsu entertained his guests. Stroll along the banks around the pavilion and admire it in all its shining splendour. You won’t be disappointed in the photo opportunities you’ll get. Notice also the zen gardens and the floating islands with perfectly manicured bonsais in the middle of the reflective pond. 

View of Kinkakuji from the front with trees framing the picture.
View of Kinkaku-ji from the path.

The whole pavilion only takes about an hour to see since it’s just a stroll along the banks. There’s no entry into the pavilion. This is a great short, first stop in Kyoto and perfect for a 1-day itinerary if a day is all you got. 

A view of Kinkakuji wide angle picture.
A wide-angle view of Kinkaku-ji.

Marvel at the Splendour of Nijo Castle 

Built in 1601, Nijo Castle was home to the Edo period’s first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It’s a sprawling castle surrounded by a moat and the real showstopper is the Ninomaru Palace located behind the high walls. Inside the palace, you’ll find lavishly painted screens depicting herons and tigers.

A view of Nijo Castle buildings from a rampart.
View from the ramparts surrounding Nijo Castle.

After the tour of the palace, head outside to the Ninomaru Gardens and admire the landscaping. The garden is built around a central pond with strategically placed stones and bridges for maximum aesthetic appeal. See if you can spot the three islands in the pond: the island of eternal happiness, crane island, and turtle island. 

View of Nijo Castle garden with rock bridges and stones.
Ninomaru Gardens with stone bridges and large rocks.

Then stroll towards the Seiryu-en. A marvellous garden built in 1965 to host cultural events and tea ceremonies. This garden is lined with endless rows of sakura blossoms and it’s a wondrous sight during peak season. It’s definitely the perfect place for cherry blossom selfies! 

View of a house with cherry blossoms.
Seiryu-en Gardens filled with cherry blossoms.

Discover Kyoto’s Other Highlights 

Some other highlights you could visit quickly if you only have a day in Kyoto include:

  • Gion historical district for glimpses of maikos and geishas. It’s also where Pontocho Alley is (I wouldn’t recommend eating there since the shops mostly sell expensive Wagyu beef to tourists). 
  • Nishiki Market for endless rows of stalls of seafood and also a host of other goodies including Snoopy sandwiches and crab meat. 
  • Sanjo Dori covered-market for fresh snacks, groceries, coffee shops, and a variety of other trinkets. 

Where to Eat 

Savour handmade crepes by Gomaya Crepedo

Location: Japan, 〒604-8327 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Aneomiyacho Nishigawa, 72-5

Shokunin are people who devote their whole lives to learning and perfecting a craft. The owner of this crepe house Gomaya Crepedo is one of them. Each crepe she makes is light, fluffy, airy. She garnishes all her crepes with roasted sesame and even has packages of them for sale. They make great gifts or souvenirs.

Her menu is diverse, but I recommend trying the original crepe. It’s a light crepe filled with  black sesame creme, golden almond slices, roasted sesame, and chocolate flakes. It is heaven packaged nicely in a roll of pancake.

Head next door to Kamee Coffee (50-1 Kamikawaracho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8374, Japan) for a cafe latte to accompany the heavenly crepe you just had. So far, this little coffee shop is open on Sundays just in case you happen to be there on a weekend and need your caffeine fix! 

Delight in an Elegant Kaiseki Meal 

Restaurant name: Minokichi Hotel New Hankyu Kyoto Restaurant
Location: Japan, 〒600-8216 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 京都新阪急ホテル地下1F

For dinner, you must try a kaiseki meal at Minokichi hotel if you only have one night to spend in Kyoto. This place is right by the Kyoto train station so it’s easy to spot. Kaiseki is a prix fixe tasting menu showcasing local, seasonal ingredients at their freshest. Each dish is elegantly prepared and served; flavours are bursting with brightness. Our tasting menu showed-off the beauty of bamboo shoots and it’s amazing to see how creative chefs can get with one single ingredient. Ingredients change, of course, depending on the season you’re visiting. A kaiseki meal is highly recommended to conclude your one day tour in Kyoto. 

One night in Kyoto is definitely too short to take in the beauty of the city. There are hundreds of temples to visit and, if you manage to visit during cherry blossom season, you must take your time to admire the splendour of the sakuras. Promise yourself that you’ll be back for a longer time during your next trip (at least a week!) to truly take in all the splendour Kyoto has to offer. 

Planning for more dream trips or bucket-list journeys to Japan? Check out my other Japan travel guides like my one day travel guide to Kobe or my guide on how to spend a day in Nara.

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