Are you wondering how could it be possible to spend 24 hours in Kyoto and make the most out of this city? Despite its size and array of wonderful things to do, Kyoto can be explored in one day. First time I visited Japan, I spent 5 days in Kyoto and probably I would have happily stayed there for months to come. Truth be told, Kyoto is a fantastic city, with rich history and heritage. Many come to Kyoto to enjoy the most widely known attractions, but truly, it is right off the beaten paths where I discovered this city’s true spirit. I found matcha cafes, zen restaurants and forested trails where I expected them the least. Kyoto is magic. Before I continue, please note that there are myriad ways which you can discover Kyoto in 24 hours. I would like to share what is my favourite way of doing so.
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24 hours in Kyoto
Our 24 hours in Kyoto itinerary will be quick so make sure you wear something comfortable so you can cover as much of the city as possible. We recommend getting an IC Card so you can charge it in the morning and have enough money for the subway throughout the day. This will save you time as you won't have to buy tickets for the subway, just tap your IC Card as you pass through the gates. You can read a little more about our Japan Guide: What You Need To Know Before You Travel.
If I had one single day to spend in Kyoto, then I would want to make the most out of it by waking up as early in the morning as possible. Food in Kyoto is renowned for being fantastic, so what better way to start the day than by eating your way through the city. First stop would be the Nishiki Market, also known as Kyoto’s kitchen. Here, I found a huge variety of fresh food, snacks and sweets. I particularly enjoyed the matcha covered sweets, the Japanese pancakes and the amazing takotamago (octopus with a small boiled egg in its head). But there is a lot more to the Nishiki Market than just ready to eat goodies. There are also lots of shops with souvenirs and handcrafted items. There is plenty of fresh seafood and sushi available, as well as small ramen and tempura restaurants.
Hours: Varies by store, typically 9:00 to 18:00
Location: The Nishiki Market is in parallel to Shijo Avenue. It can be reached on foot in less than five minutes from Shijo Station or Kawaramachi Stations
From Nishiki Market, walk towards the Yasaka Shrine. There are other methods of transportation but I always like walking in a new city. This enables me to get to know and understand my surroundings. Yasaka Shrine is a great place to get an introduction to Kyoto’s spiritual side. It’s a relatively busy temple which in my opinion offers a peek into Kyoto’s Zen side. It offers a beautiful quiet walk, dotted with small vermilion lanterns. It features two gigantic torii gates, several small shrines, the Yasaka Shrine itself and a Buddhist temple. Beyond the temple grounds, you can venture into the Maruyama Park, a large green space with a pond, beautiful maple trees and stone paths which lead right into a cosy forested trail. It’s hard to spend a little time visiting the Yasaka Shrine, yet I feel like you couldn’t give this a miss during my 24 hours in Kyoto adventure.
Hours: Always open
Location: Japan, 〒605-0073 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Gionmachi Kitagawa
Shijo Dori is my ulterior motive to have sent you to the Yasaka Shrine. I discovered this street by chance. Shijo Dori is a foodie’s paradise and just like the Nishiki Market, has a tremendous amount of foods, sweets and goods which are sure to put the hunger at bay. Whilst meandering on Shijo Dori, I enjoyed charcoal ice cream and sakura mochi. Since Kyoto is so very close to Uji, it’s natural to find everything matcha around: matcha sweets, matcha cakes and of course matcha lattes. I can’t imagine the number of calories I paid for, but who’s counting? I found kombucha tea which is a plum tasting seaweed tea. It’s rather salty and actually incredibly delicious. On Shijo Dori I found some of the best dango in the whole of Japan, as well as myriad types of rice crackers, pickles and lots of chutneys. Being on Shijo Dori can get expensive, but since Kyoto has some of Japan’s best food, it seems only natural that you should fit in in a 24 hours trip to Kyoto.
Hours: Varies by store, typically 9:00 to 18:00
Location: Higashiyama-ku, Nakagyō-ku, Ukyō-ku and Nishikyō-ku in Kyoto
Just a short walking distance from Shijo Dori is Gion, Kyoto’s old entertainment quarters. This is the best place for geisha spotting. Geishas are quite elusive and there is a good chance you won’t be able to see one in real life unless you buy tickets for an actual geisha show. Nevertheless, Gion is a wonderful place which preserved some of Kyoto’s old soul, hence I see it as a must during 24 hours in Kyoto. Here, I found an impressive amount of winding, narrow streets, all dotted with old wooden Japanese houses.
Hours: Always open
Location: Gionmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0001, Kyoto Prefecture
To end 24 hours in Kyoto, it comes a time when we must return back to the train station. The Kyoto station is not just an ordinary place where you can grab a train, it’s an impressive shopping mall, full of shops, restaurants and supermarkets. In fact, I spent almost a whole day meandering through the Kyoto Station. Before taking the Shinkansen back to another city or on your way to the airport, I strongly recommend sitting down for one of the most fabulous meals you can enjoy in Kyoto. Either in Musashi where you can enjoy fresh sushi made right in front of your eyes, or Katsukura where you will be served the best Tonkatsu in this entire world. Whichever you go for, you are guaranteed to leave Kyoto feeling fully satisfied. For the train ride, go downstairs to the lowers floors and buy yourself some snacks and a bento box from the supermarket located in B1 in the Cube.
Musashi Opening Hours: 10AM–10:30PM
Musashi Location: Japan, 〒600-8214 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8−3
Katsukura Opening Hours: 11AM–10PM
Katsukura Location: The Cube, Japan, 〒600-8216 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward
I very much adored Kyoto and I can’t wait to go back and spend even more time strolling around and discovering its most secret places. If you decide to come back, don't forget to check where to stay in Kyoto and make the most of our Kyoto onsen guide. For the adventurous, we recommend several day trips from Kyoto so you can explore a little more of the Kansai area.
Would you like to add anything to my short but sweet 24 hours guide in Kyoto? What are you most excited about? Tell me all about in the comments section below.