Are you planning a day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo? Some people would say a one-day trip is impossible, but actually, your two-way trip should only take around 12 hours. Of course, your time will be limited so you’ll only be able to see a few of the most famous sightseeing spots. However, after your day trip to Kyoto, you’ll be able to use the remaining time during your short stay in Japan to see other cities.
When you only have a short time for sightseeing, you need to make sure your itinerary is well thought out. You don’t want to be running around from one end of the city to the other. That would just be a waste of transportation time, so you want to have the sightseeing spots you plan to visit as close together as possible. And you want to make sure you’re able to get back to Kyoto station in time to make your train back to Tokyo in the evening. Here at TripleLights, we can help you find the right guide or tour for your Kyoto trip. But If you want to save even more time, you can simply send a request, telling us what you need, and we’ll match you with the right guide who can create your perfect Kyoto itinerary.
Kyoto One Day Trip from Tokyo: Access and Highlights 2020
- By Shinkansen
The easiest way to go to Kyoto from Tokyo is by using the Shinkansen or bullet train. There are several types of Shinkansen, but you need to get on the “Nozomi”, which only takes about 2 hours 20 minutes. And the cost is about 13,320 yen one way per person for free seating cars and about 14,000 yen for reserved seating. So you’re looking at a total of 26,800 - 28,200 yen total per person.
- By Bus
For people who want to go even cheaper, you can use the red-eye buses. They depart from the bus terminal in Shinjuku (BUSTA Shinjuku) at maybe around 11 or 12 pm and arrive in Kyoto early the next morning at 6 or 7 am. While the fares vary among companies, the cheapest price you can get for a one-way ticket is around 3000 yen per person. But make sure you can sleep on a bus and have the stamina to walk around Kyoto the next day. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s one way to save money and travel in comfort for low prices! The perfect choice for the smart, frugal traveler! Find the most affordable for you and book a ticket here!
On the Way Back
The last bullet train back to Tokyo is a little past 9 pm. So you can stay in Kyoto until after dinner if you want to. But it will mean getting back to Tokyo a bit before midnight. The very last train may be crowded so make sure to get to the station early so you have a few choices about which train to take home.
Famous Kyoto Sightseeing Spots
Below are a few main sightseeing spots you may want to visit in Kyoto. Despite the time constraint, you’ll be able to see 3 to 4 sightseeing spots before leaving the city.
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion is one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto. The golden building stands in the middle of a small lake and is reflected onto the surface of the water. It’s an amazing sight you won’t see anywhere else in the world. It is a Zen Temple originally built in 1397 as the residence of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, a “shogun” or military commander. This building is covered in gold leaf so it glitters when the rays of the sun hit it. And it is a wonderful sight in every season, whether the surrounding area is full of the green leaves of spring and summer, or the colorful colors of autumn, or capped with snow in winter.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine has become famous in recent years among foreign tourists for its tunnel of 10,000 red “torii” gates. It really is an awe-inspiring sight and of course, a fantastic photo spot. It’s an important Shinto shrine located in the Fushimi Ward of Kyoto. It stands at the base of a mountain and there are trails that go up into the mountain, suitable for a scenic 2 - 3 hours hike. The thousands of “torii” gates line these hiking trails, dwindling in number as you go up. But you don’t have to go all the way to the summit if you don’t want to or don’t have the time to. You can go up a bit and turn back at any point.
Nijo Castle is a World Heritage Site, built in 1603. It was the residence in Kyoto of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first “shogun” or military commander of the Edo era. Other palace buildings and a five-story castle keep were added to the castle later on by his grandson. After being used as an imperial palace for a while, it was donated to the city and opened for public viewing. It is one of the best examples of castle architecture in Japan and important historical heritage.
There are two palace buildings at Nijo Castle, the Honmaru Palace, and the Ninomaru Palace. Since the Honmaru Palace is seldom open to the public, the Ninomaru Palace is the main highlight of this sightseeing spot. The traditional Japanese gardens are also something to look forward to. There are several different types of cherry blossom trees around the castle, so you’ll be able to see them from late March to the end of April.
Kiyomizudera Temple is another World Heritage Site in Kyoto. It is famous for its large balcony, called a "stage", outside the main hall. The main hall’s roof is going through renovations until March 2020, so you won’t be able to see the whole of the beautiful temple. However, you’ll still be able to explore the hall from the inside
The view of the cherry blossoms from Kiyomizudera Temple in the spring is simply breath-taking! And so are the autumn colors of the maple trees. There is also a street leading up to the temple called Kiyomizuzaka. It's a great place to shop for souvenirs and try Japanese sweets in the cafes. Many people enjoy this street more than the temple itself.
Gion's Geishas and Temples
Gion (祇園) is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located in front of Yasaka Shrine around Shijo Avenue. The district has developed in the Middle Ages as one of the most exclusive geisha districts in Japan. So what exactly is Gion’s aesthetics? Gion attracts tourists with its streetscape lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, which are preserved for many decades. Hanami-koji street is the most touristic street of Gion offering shops, restaurants, and ochaya (tea houses), where geisha and maiko (geisha apprentices) perform shows to entertain guests.
Apart from temples and shrines, Gion and geisha culture also take big parts of Kyoto’s history and it’s a great place to explore the real color of the city.
Visitors can enjoy Gion all year round but the best time to visit would be in spring when cherry blossoms are blooming. Cherry blossoms perfectly suit the scenery of old Gion street. The most recommended view spot is by the Shirakawa Canal, which passes through the Gion district. Light-up of the trees is held during the season (late March to early April).
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Walking through the soaring bamboo stalks of the densely packed Bamboo Forest in the shadows of the morning light is eerily beautiful and incredibly serene. The Bamboo Forest thoroughly deserves its spot as an iconic Kyoto sight and one of its most photographed spots! But no picture can capture the feeling of standing in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove – the whole thing has a palpable sense of otherness that is quite unlike that of any normal forest we know of.
Here is a tip! The Bamboo Forest is hugely popular and gets extremely busy throughout the day. Arrive early and you will have the place to yourself for a short time after sunrise to capture some amazing pics!
While you are here, don’t forget:
Toei Kyoto Studio Park
This is the theme park for people who want to transport back into old, old-school Japan. Located in the ultimate cultural exploratory Kyoto, TOEI Kyoto Studio Park is part movie set and part theme park. If you love ninjas and Japanese film and literature, this is the spot for you.
Allowing you to wander through tv sets and explore familiar scenes, you can also attend performances including a ninja battle, a behind-the-scenes show, a guided tour led by an actor, street performances and a super-hero show in summer. There are a number of traditional restaurants and old-style coffee shops as well as a ninja-cafe and shops to browse too. There are different activities to try out but some cost extra – a bulk ticket can be bought offering four activities for 400 yen each, or you can purchase individual activities for 500 yen individually.
Try out Escape the Castle, Ninja Training, a 3D maze or haunted house among others!
9 AM - 17:30 PM (some variations depending on month and day of the week)
High School students: ¥1,300
Middle School students: ¥1,300
Elementary School students: ¥1,100
Above are only some of our suggested destinations in majestic Kyoto.among so many more. However, since you only have limited time, it is worth thinking hard about the logistics of your trip. It will certainly be a shame if you miss any of Kyoto’s aesthetics. This is where having a local guide’s knowledge about the city comes in handy. They’ll plan your day according to what is possible timewise while also trying to incorporate the places you want to visit.
Want to make your Kyoto trip more Interesting? Here's how!
TripleLights provides the best private tours and local guides across Japan! On TripleLights, you can find the best professional local guides all across Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our private tours to Kyoto.
Want to know how you can enjoy your tours to the fullest, especially if you are visiting Japan on a hot summer day? Explore all the amazing aspects of Kyoto and Japan with your personal van while escaping from the fierce heat and the hassle of public transportation! Save your transportation time for leisure time with your loved ones in your private car! Also, discover what exciting cultural experiences in Japan you can gain here!
If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Kyoto, you can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.
On TripleLights website, you can book a Tokyo to Kyoto day trip and have a tour guide take you from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. Or, you can make your way there by yourself and start your private tour of Kyoto from the moment you arrive. In this case, make sure to tell your guide at what time you’ll be arriving in Kyoto and have them pick you up at Kyoto station.
You can also request your tour personally customized, if you wish to have a tour that fits your pace, your schedule and enables you to discover Kyoto in a unique way. Just type what you would like to see and guides all over Kyoto will send you quotes and their recommendations according to your interest and budget.
Recommended Local Guides Tours in Kyoto
Below are links for tours you might want to look into, both for a tour starting from Tokyo and for local tours in Kyoto.
Day Trip to Kyoto from Tokyo by Local Guide Yuki
6 hour Kyoto exciting private tour by Local Guide Toshiyo
Kyoto Kiyomizu and Fushimi tour by Local Guide Makoto
Kyoto Must-See Spots tour by Local Guide Moe
If you can check the full list of Kyoto tours by Local Guides click here.
For more Japan tours, choose your favorite destination here.