Explore the best of Kyoto’s food & culture with this comprehensive one day itinerary.
If you only have a day in Kyoto, you’ll want to cover the best of traditional Japan, including temples, architecture, culture, and food. You can experience the best of popular and modern Kyoto combined in the Gion area, but we recommend starting in one of the best temples of Kyoto, Fushimi Inari. Head here earlier in the day before it gets busy and explore some of the hidden gems in this neighborhood.
Use this itinerary as a starting point to create your own adventure plan as you explore the best of Kyoto. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan if you find a more interesting route or neighborhood in your research.
Kyoto itinerary highlights
Take the train to the Fushimi Inari area. The Inari Station stop on the Nara Line is a bit closer, but the Fushimi Inari stop on the Keihan Line is another option if the Keihan Line is more convenient to where you’re staying.
Grab a bite or some coffee at one of the local cafes just before you reach shrine area. Vermillion Cafe is a local chain with a great view and casual atmosphere to enjoy fantastic coffees and simple pastries. If you haven’t been to a cat cafe before, Neko Cafe Time is also nearby, though it opens a bit late.
Fushimi Inari shrine tour
You’ve probably seen images from this famous shrine, with the famous walkway of temple gates up a winding mountain path. Start your day by marching up the main walkway through the many torii gates.
Optional forest hike up Inariyama
This is the best way to get a feel for Japan off the beaten path. We highly recommend taking some time to explore the full paths of the shrine to get the full experience if you don’t mind a bit of a steep climb. Expect to take an hour or two to go all the way up and around the main path.
Once you get past the main gates, you’ll see a sign and a path that goes up the mountain, away from the majority of the crowds. Keep following the main path through the forest up the mountain. You’ll pass several graveyards to explore at your own pace. Take your time wandering through each graveyard, enjoying the slightly eerie beauty of the shrines and relaxing sounds of waterfalls in the background.
Near the halfway point is a souvenir shop with a fantastic view of the city. Stop for a picnic snack and photo op before finishing up your hike down the mountain. Expect more gates and crowds as you near the end.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite after the hike, so this is the perfect pit stop. Enjoy street food like meat or seafood on a stick, mochi, takoyaki, and other treats.
Bonus shrine: Tofukuji or Kiyomizudera
If you skipped the full mountain hike or want to hit up a few more temples before heading to Gion, take a short train or cab ride north to Tofukuji or Kiyomizudera. Both make the top 10 lists of best temples in Kyoto. Tofukuji has more of a castle vibe, with beautiful gardens surrounding an ancient temple, while Kiyomizu features gorgeous views and a waterfall known for its purifying powers.
The Nara Line will take you straight to the Gion-Shijo stop. Gion could keep you busy for days, so don’t try to see it all. Plan to spend an hour or two exploring the main shopping street and some of the smaller side streets nearby.
Traditional shopping in Gion
Shijodori is the main street, filled with shopping and food stalls. This is the best place to find souvenirs for anyone on your shopping list. Stop in at any stall that looks interesting along the main street.
Make sure you walk through Pontocho, the old town of Gion, and snap a few shots of the old homes still standing. You might even run into a geisha if you’re lucky.
During your shopping, head west towards Nishiki Market. This indoor/outdoor shopping street is full of shops specializing in any kind of food imaginable. You’ll find snacks, desserts, and street food from mochi stands, takoyaki stalls, and shops selling nothing but pickled vegetables or dried fish. Many offer samples or let you buy small amounts for sampling.
If you’ve had enough of street food and snacks and want to sit down for a real meal, check out the many restaurants along this street or its side streets. A nice hot bowl of ramen and a glass of Kirin beer at Ippudo Nishikikouji would be the perfect end to your long adventure.
Bored with shopping for the day? Grab a pint at one of the izakayas or pubs nearby. Craft Man brewery features local beers in a quiet bar just a few blocks from the end of Nishikikojidori.
Optional: modern shopping at Kyoto Takashimaya mall
For more modern shopping or a break for some entertainment, head over to the department stores at the Gion mall. You’ll find an arcade and Pokemon Center Kyoto for a fun break from all the walking. This mall also offers modern clothing and home goods shopping if you still have room left in your suitcase.
The food court is also a good option if you don’t find anything at Nishiki Market that’s appealing, or you’re traveling with picky eaters.
Final thoughts on your trip
You can explore the best of Kyoto’s temples, culture, food, shopping, and more with a visit to Fushimi Inari temple and the traditional streets of Gion. You’ll get a taste of Japanese street food and snacks plus a wide selection of restaurants to choose from. Gion and the Nishiki Market offers any kind of shopping you could think of from traditional to modern.
This itinerary offers the best of Kyoto in just one day. If you have more time to explore Japan, explore other itineraries across Japan.