If you’re thinking of unmissable things to do in Japan, a trip to Kyoto is a must! This city was once the country’s capital and is unsurprisingly packed with history, culture and preserved traditions that you can see all around you. During your first trip to Japan, I would recommend spending two nights in Kyoto while travelling between Hiroshima, Osaka and Tokyo. But if you’ve only got one day in Kyoto Japan, what’s the best way to make the most of it in only 24 hours? To help you out I’ve put together the perfect day in Kyoto that’s full of culture, fun things to do, delicious food to eat and a few tips on Japanese protocol so you can get a taste of this fascinating city!
A Japanese breakfast generally consists of vegetables, miso soup, a small portion of plain white rice, and a ‘main’ dish usually consisting of meat or fish. Located inside Kyoto Station is the delicious and affordable Yayoiken Hachijoguchi, a traditional “teishoku” restaurant that serves Japanese breakfast from 7:00am daily. Enjoy miso soup and rice served with your choice of salmon, sausage and egg, or natto soybeans to get a truly local start to your day. If you would prefer a snack with coffee for breakfast, there is a range of western-style choices close to Kyoto Station. Hoshino Coffee Asty serves pancakes and coffee from 7:00am. Tachibana, also located inside the station, serves high-quality western and Japanese meals from 7:00am. After breakfast, head to the Kyoto Bus Information Centre from 7:30am to grab your pass.
One of the most famous spots in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji Temple, is a great place to visit for its beauty and serenity. This “Golden Pavilion” is a golden-coloured Zen temple overlooking a large pond, with lovely gardens you can wander around while seeing the temple from different angles. Kinkaku-ji used to belong to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu before it became a temple after his death in 1408. Although the structure itself has been destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times due to wars and fires, the current building is a gorgeous sight and great to walk around in the morning. Explore the nearby old living quarters and throw a coin into the Anmintaku Pond for luck.
You can reach Kinkaku-ji Temple in about 40 minutes from Kyoto Station on the Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 (230 yen). Or, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station in 15 minutes and then take the bus 101, 102, 204, or 205 from there to Kinkaku-ji (490 yen total). Admission to the temple is 400 yen.
Another impressive display of Kyoto’s history is Nijo-jo Castle, built in 1603. Back when it was the country’s capital, the local shogun held an enormous amount of power and this can be seen in this maintained structure. Unlike the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo, you can actually enter the Ninomaru Palace where you can hear the squeaky floors deliberately made that way to alert residents to intruders. There are also some gorgeous gardens here, so it’s especially worth visiting if you’re in Kyoto in spring.
You can reach Nijo-jo Castle by bus from Kinkaku-ji in 25 minutes. Take the 101 from Kinkakujimichi Bus Stop to Nijojomae (230 yen). The castle can also be reached on the Tozai Subway line if you’re not coming from Kinkaku-ji. Admission is 600 yen.
Photo: Travel Caffeine
There are a number of restaurants around Nijo-jo Castle, varying from green tea cafes to restaurants offering full meals such as renowned Kyoto sushi. It’s likely you’ll be hungry after walking around so much, so the tempura restaurant Tem-pu is a good choice; this cosy eatery offers all-you-can-eat deals and is just a few minutes’ walk from Nijo-jo Station. There is also Kyoto Ramen Takabashi and Okonomiyaki House Guruguru-don if you fancy ramen and Osaka savoury pancake okonomiyaki, respectively. Both of these are near Nijo Station.
To avoid the inevitable afternoon crowds, why not book a unique experience in Kyoto? A traditional tea ceremony is a great way to find out more about local culture and you get to try some delicious fresh matcha tea, too. The actual experience varies depending on the organisation. In some, you can try on traditional clothing such as a kimono. Some offer explanations in English (make sure to check before you book). Tea Ceremony En in Gion offers group or private ceremonies from 2500 yen per person and is open daily except for the New Year holiday. Tea Ceremony Camellia is another great choice. Located near Ryoan-ji Temple, they offer private and group ceremonies in fluent English from 2000 yen per person. If you’re visiting in peak seasons such as cherry blossom season and summer, be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
A visit to Gion is one of Kyoto's most popular things to do and so it's a hotspot in the daytime, but why not try visiting in the evening? The lit streets of this historic district give this part of town a truly magical feel. Yasaka Shrine is particularly pretty when it’s lit up after sundown. You might see a geisha or maiko walking around in this area, but you are kindly asked not to disturb them as they are likely working or are on their way to an appointment. Seeing a real geisha or maiko in Kyoto is one of those wonderful experiences that will make your trip unforgettable. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t spot one, however! There is plenty more to do in Gion, such as strolling down Shinbashi Dori, seeing the Kyoto Ebisu Shrine, or browsing one of the many souvenir shops in the area.
Finish off your day with a drink or two in a local izakaya Japanese pub! Many izakayas also serve food from fried meat on sticks to fresh soybeans. Near Gion-Shijo Station is Kukuzen, a stylish modern bar serving Japanese food and cocktails. If you’d like to try yakitori, or meat on a stick, head on down to the more casual Kamichatani, which also sells seafood and a selection of sake, Japanese rice wine. There is a large selection of izakayas and bars in Gion that start to open at around 5:30pm and are usually open until the early morning. Greet locals, try foods you’ve never tasted before, and enjoy some cheap local sake with your meal.
Just be aware of the last train or bus home if you’re out far from your accommodation. Bus and train times vary, but you can expect subway lines to stop running at around midnight. And the most important thing: “Cheers!” in Japanese is “kanpai!”
Before You Go
The best way of getting around Kyoto is by getting a travel pass. There are several types of these and they can all be bought from the Kyoto Bus Information Center in front of Kyoto Station. The information centre is open from 7:30am to 7:30pm every day.
The Kyoto Bus Only Pass is, as the name suggests, only for the bus. It costs 500 yen per day for adults and 250 for children. This ticket can be used an unlimited amount of times within the allocated city area. This is ideal if you are planning on spending the day inside the main city area. This may be the best option for the itinerary described in this article.
The Kyoto Bus and Subway Pass works as a two-in-one deal for both the bus and the metro. The all-day pass for an adult is 1200 yen and 600 yen for a child. There is also a two-day pass option for 2000 yen and 1000 yen for adults and children, respectively.
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