Staying in Kyoto for a few nights was on my original Japan Itinerary however because I looked into accommodation late and was visiting Japan during Cherry Blossom Season which is the peak of tourism in Japan, once I had filtered out hostels in Kyoto in my budget range, only one option came up!
I debated whether to make it work but in the end I decided to stay in Osaka where accommodation is much more plentiful and do a day trip to Kyoto instead.
I didn’t know how much of Kyoto could be seen in one day but I managed to tick off 3 of my must see places in Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Shine, the Gion District and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove plus I saw a lot more of Kyoto and really enjoyed my day there, so I wanted to share with you how I spent my one day in Kyoto so you can follow this itinerary and get some pointers on where to start when planning your Kyoto day trip itinerary from Osaka, or maybe even Kobe as a day trip to Kyoto is possible from Kobe too!
I have a JR Pass so I reserved a seat on a train leaving Osaka Station to Kyoto Station at 8:10am arriving at 8:39am. It was a speedy and comfy journey on a train called Thunderbird. I’d definitely recommend getting this train and reserving a seat for free (which can be done with a JR Pass), although it wasn’t that busy so you probably don’t need to reserve in advance.
I knew the best time of day to visit Kyoto was early morning, especially because I was visiting high season and although I was happy with my early 8:10am departure if I was to do it again getting a slightly earlier train would not have hurt and would have meant I could get to my first stop in Kyoto a bit earlier and it would have been less busy!
Tip – Get a train as early as you can manage, you won’t regret it when you get there before all the other day tourists!
The two main, popular and iconic places to visit in Kyoto in my opinion are the Fushimi Inari Shine and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. They have been made even more famous thanks to Instagram and Instagram often shows you the shots with no one else in them making you think that you will see that too.
Well, if you want to see that you need to get to them early!
Of course I could only visit one of the two sites early as I was only in Kyoto for one day and after looking on a map I realised firstly, Fushimi Inari Shine and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove are opposite ends of Kyoto to each other and secondly, Fushimi Inari Shrine is much closer to Kyoto Station, so I decided to go there first.
To get to Fushimi Inari Shrine from Kyoto Station, when you get off the train head to the ‘JR Nara Line D’ Train on platforms 8-10. Check the train before you get on as you need to get the local train, not the rapid train as the rapid train does not stop at Inari.
The train from Kyoto Station to Inari Station takes 5 or so minutes and the station exit is across the road from the Temple Entrance so by 9:00am I was there!
Tip – If you want to see those iconic and very impressive Torii Gates with minimal people, when you arrive do not spend time seeing the Temples at the bottom, head straight up the hill to the Torii Gates and follow them up for as long as you can!
I was really surprised with how long the Torii Gates go on for, they keep going and going! I turned around after about 30 minutes of walking but I could have gone much further. I didn’t expect the pathway to be such an incline either but it is although luckily there are quite a few stopping points on the way.
Tip – If you want to get a photo in the Torii Gates of the Inari Shrine with no people in it you need to keep walking, the further you get, the less people there are, however this also depends on the time of day.
Alternatively to get a photo at the Inari Torii Gates with no one else in it, just take a selfie and block other people with you head like I have! ; )
By 10:00am I was back down at the base by the Temples and the day tour groups of Kyoto were arriving which made it so much busier and I was so glad I got there at 9:00am.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine does not shut so technically you can get there as early as you like and the earlier the better.
Outside the Temple are Street food vendors selling lots of different foods. In fact there’s lots of street food in Kyoto outside the tourist spots which is actually really nice and a great way to eat on the go and eat some fairly cheap eats too. I got an Okonomi Yaki which was really good for 500Yen which I don’t think is too bad for a popular Kyoto tourist site.
If you would prefer to sit down and get breakfast or brunch, or even just a coffee after that walk, a nice looking cafe close to Inari Shrine is Vermillion.
I then headed to Fushimi Inari Station Railway which is across the across and different to the station I got off at and headed a few stops on the metro North to Gion Shijo.
To use the metro / subway in Kyoto you can either by individual tickets or use a top up Icoca Card.
Tip – The Icoca Card is much quicker and not only work in Kyoto but all of Kansai so if you’re coming from Osaka to Kyoto, or Kobe to Kyoto you should already have one from these Cities. If not then it’s worth getting one.
If you’d rather get an Icoca Card in advance for the same price to save the stress when you arrive, buy an Icoca Card here.
The Gion District is Kyoto’s famous Geisha District and an older area of Kyoto. For me, this is what I imaged not only Kyoto to be like but Japan too. Especially after reading the book Memoirs of a Geisha which I read a few years ago and really recommend to you if you haven’t read it.
There’s a river running through the Gion Area of Kyoto with small traditional wooden merchant houses lining the streets. Because I was there at the start of April the Cherry Blossoms were also out in full bloom and it was extremely picturesque and a must visit place in Kyoto!
It’s said that you are very lucky in Japan if you see a real Geisha, especially here in Kyoto, however what you will most definitely see a lot of is tourists who have either hired Kimono’s or have had a full Geisha Makeover in Gion taking photos in the old backstreets of the area.
Gion and the surrounding neighbourhoods are not all traditional buildings though and Kyoto’s modern City buildings soon appear again however I pretty much walked along the Shirakawa River in a loop until it reaches the main Kamo River detouring via Okazaki Park and the Temple next to it (including a stop for a Matcha and Cherry Blossom Ice Cream outside) and I really enjoyed this walk as it took me through a mix of buildings and the river kept changing shape and looks at every turn, so I would recommend you follow the same walk through Gion, Kyoto.
Walking alongside the wide Kamo River was absolutely stunning, I did not realise this side of Kyoto existed. In both directions of the running river ahead of me I could see the Mountains and I knew that the City of Kyoto was spread out between them. This river is pretty wide although I can imagine in the Summer after a lack of rain it may become really shallow and even walkable??
After a walk along the River I headed into Kyoto Park which is a huge rectangular Park in the Centre of Kyoto occupying a lot of space. To be honest I was a little disappointed with Kyoto Park. Most of it is gated off and I believe you have to pay to enter them. There are a number of Shrines in Kyoto Park though, I just seemed to miss them.
Next up was another popular place to visit in Kyoto and that is Kyoto Castle and Palace aka Nijo Castle and Ninomaru Palace. Unfortunately this is not a free thing to do in Kyoto and a ticket is needed to get into the Castle and Palace gates. The cost of entry to Kyoto Castle is 600Yen and 1000Yen for the Castle and Palace combined ticket. I decided not to pay to enter as it was extremely busy and I’m a backpacker on a budget in Japan, but the Castle was a good walking point to head to and I enjoyed walking the smaller streets that led me from Kyoto Park to Kyoto Castle.
My next, and what turned out to be my last stop, was Kyoto Bamboo Forest which is actually quite far out of the Centre of Kyoto.
To get to the Kyoto Bamboo Grove by public transport, at the Castle I got on the subway at Nijojo Mae Station and got off at Nijo Station for the JR Line. I could have carried on to the end of the line to Uzumasa-Tenjingawa Station and then got on another subway line to Arashiyama Station but I would have had to pay for all of that on my Icoca Card. So when I heard the JR name called at Nijo Station, I checked my map and realised I could get a JR line to the Bamboo Grove in Kyoto by getting off at Nijo Station and getting the JR train to Saga Arashiyama Station.
Unfortunately for me, I got on a Rapid Train at Nijo and ended up heading through the mountains wayyy out of Kyoto (oops!) and had to get off at the next stop and get a local train back which stopped at Saga Arashiyama so make sure you check you’re getting a local train again and not a rapid (in fact keep an eye on this everywhere in Japan as I’ve made more train mistakes here than any other Country I think!).
Tip – If you have a JR Pass, wherever possible always look for a JR line instead of a subway so you get the journey included in your pass and do not need to pay extra.
I knew the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto world be busy any other time than first thing in the morning and it was indeed a total tidal wave of people from the station all the way into the actual forest.
The Bamboo Forest in Kyoto for me had been really hyped up, especially on Instagram and I’ll say that I was a little disappointed in the fact that the actual line of Bamboo Trees that you see so many photos of really is not that long, looking up is of course very impressive and the Bamboo Tree’s are very unique but if it hadn’t been made famous online I don’t think it would be a great place to visit in Kyoto, and if you’re reading this and have no idea about this forest, I would go as far as saying if you only have one day in Kyoto you don’t need to push yourself to visit here.
Aside from the line of Bamboo Tree’s though there are lots of temples and there’s more green spaces to wander and relax in, it was just way to busy for me in Cherry Blossom season to really enjoy it like this.
I did however enjoy the street food stalls that are located out by the road before the forest entry!
After visiting here I headed back to Saga Arashiyama on the JR line to Kyoto Station and then jumped on another JR train back to Osaka Station at about 16:00 meaning I had a nice full day in Kyoto and most definitely got some serious steps in as well as seeing this beautiful City.
I would say yes! I really enjoyed my Kyoto Day Trip, in fact I enjoyed Kyoto so much I do wish I had / could have stayed there overnight and if you have time and there is the availability in accommodation online I would recommend staying in Kyoto for at least 1 night and 2 days.
Nice Hostels and Hotels I walked past and can see online have good reviews are:
For more accommodation in Kyoto, have a look on Booking.com here.
But if like me, you only have one day then you should still go for sure. Just be sure to get an early train from Osaka to Kyoto or wherever you’re going from so you can beat the day tourists in your first few Kyoto attractions.
Although Kyoto is an easy City to walk around, I would recommend taking advantage of the public transport to cover bigger chunks of the City so that you can see more in one day and not tire your feet out too much.
If you would rather take an organised day trip from Osaka to Kyoto which means you do not need to organise the train or any of the activities yourself and you’ll have a local guide to give you information about Kyoto, have a look into these day trips:
Enjoy your trip!
To SEE my day trip to Kyoto, watch my Youtube video here!
For more of my Japan Posts see:
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My Name's Ellie Quinn.
I'm a complete travel addict and have been since I took my first backpacking trip in 2010.
Since then I've visited 50+ Countries on various trips! I created this blog to share my travel tips to help you travel better!
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