Kyoto in One Day: See This Ancient Capital in 24 Hours

Overwhelmed by the number of temples and shrines in Kyoto? Lauren Smith shows you how to see the best of this magical city in just one day.

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Kiyomizudera temple Photo © Photo by Mai Hoang on Unsplash

Located in a basin which experiences intense summers and winters, Kyoto is a city filled with mystery, temples and a haunting castle that sings.

Early Morning at Kiyomizu-dera

The uphill path to Kiyomizu-dera gets congested as the day goes on, but the temple opens at 6am. This is the perfect time to enjoy a quiet morning stroll around the temple and down to the Otowa waterfall. Take a moment to drink its magical waters for luck in love, studies, or for a long life. 

Built without a single nail, this old wooden temple has a stunning view that is especially magical in fall. 

After your visit to the temple, spend your walk back down sampling snacks at souvenir shops. We recommend the various flavors of yatsuhashi, a triangle-shaped mochi

Near Kiyomizu-dera is your next stop, Sanjusangen-do. This Buddhist temple, built in 1164, houses 1,001 statues of the goddess of mercy, Kannon. Its name literally means “33 intervals”, a traditional method of measuring the size of a building.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum and Nijo Castle

If you want to have a fun lunch experience, call ahead and make reservations at the Samurai Cafe and Bar near the International Manga Museum. Their popularity makes going in on a whim difficult. 

After lunch, learn about manga at the International Manga Museum. Peruse manga translated from all over the world and get a portrait done by one of their staff artists. Depending on the day and time, you can also watch artists at work. 

Nijo Castle in Kyoto at sunset. Photo credit: iStock/Drazen_

A short bike ride away from the Manga Museum is Nijo Castle. The best experience here is ditching your shoes to walk on the old wooden nightingale floors at Ninomaru Palace, where the shogun used to work and live while in Kyoto.

As people walk around the palace looking at painted sliding doors, the floorboards sing. It feels like the ancient palace is alive with the plucking of a thousand eerie strings. Nijo Castle also includes gardens and defensive keeps, but it pales in comparison to the sounds of those nightingale floors. 

Late Afternoon at Kinkaku-ji and an Evening at Arashiyama

If you're hungry, stop by Ryoan-ji for some yudofu (boiled tofu), a local specialty. You’ll have a beautiful view of the temple and its gardens during this traditional meal. Plus, it's vegan-friendly. 

Most temples stop letting in visitors 30 min before closing, so keep an eye on the time. If you manage to get it right, this can be the best time to visit. The doors will shut behind you, letting you explore and take pictures at your leisure. Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple, looks absolutely stunning as the sun starts to lower in the sky. 

After Kinkaku-ji, take the trains, buses, or a bike to Arashiyama's bamboo grove. There's a ton to do here and the tall bamboo grove is lit up at night. 

A Shinto shrine in the Arashiyama district. Photo credit: iStock/Starcevic

Hidden away in the grove is Nonomiya shrine. This small shrine is mentioned in Tales of Genji. You can also head over to Kameyama-koen Park to try and catch sight of some monkeys or finish your trip to Kyoto with a walk through the ethereal Kimono Forest at the train station.

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