As an Australian who lives in Kyoto, I've played guide to visiting friends, family, and colleagues many times. In this article, I'd like to introduce my suggestions for a one day food-focused trip around Kyoto. Within one day, you can only scratch the surface of this ancient city, but with a little organization, you can see some great highlights. In this article, I'll recommend an efficient course through the Kyoto spots that visitors always tell me they like the best, with a focus on delicious places to eat at each stop.
About Visiting Kyoto
My biggest piece of advice when visiting Kyoto for a short amount of time is to be honest with yourself and focus on the kind of things you like most, rather than what the guidebooks tell you to see. There are literally hundreds of beautiful temples and shrines worth visiting here, but I've also seen visitors hit the "temple fatigue" stage very quickly. So, if you like gardens, prioritize temples like Ryoan-ji or Ginkaku-ji; they may not be the most famous, but the gardens are world-class. If you're like my sister, who has no interest in temples at all, rent a kimono and explore the historical streets in search of delicious local food. You'll end up much happier with your day than if you follow someone else's idea of a good time.
In this spirit, with this article, I've focused on areas that have a little something for everyone. No matter what your perfect day in Kyoto looks like, if you follow this one-day route, you'll find some of the most striking shrines and temples, beautiful scenery, great shopping, and of course, some of the best food in town.
[8:00 am] Kyoto Station
Like most major Japanese stations, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to explore here, but if you've got only a day, we don't recommend using up too much time here. Still, it's worth heading to the Karasuma side of the station to take in the striking glass and steel atrium at the JR Central Entrance. Just out of the main entrance, you can also visit Kyoto Tower immediately across the road from the station. You can go up to the tower's observation deck (770 JPY), but Kyoto Station itself has some open-air observation areas that are completely free, too.
Breakfast: French Dining Top of Kyoto
French Dining Top of Kyoto
Average price: [Breakfast] 4,000 JPY
Address: 1, Taimatsu-cho, Higashi Horikawa-dori Shiokoji-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
[10:00 am] Fushimi Inari Shrine
Dedicated to the god Inari, Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its paths of torii gates called the senbon torii ("thousand torii gates"). As Inari is the patron god of such endeavors as agriculture and business, these vermillion red gates are each donated by Japanese businesses or individuals who were either seeking or offering their thanks for blessings. The black writing on each gate indicates the name of the patron and the date of when they made the donation.
Mid-Morning Snack: Jin
Average price: 600 JPY
Address: 63-3, Fukakusa Inari Nakano-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
[12:00 pm] Higashiyama Area
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most iconic Kyoto temples, with a grand stage that juts dramatically from the mountainside and a vividly colored pagoda that looks over the Higashiyama area. This temple is known for its gorgeous cherry blossoms in the spring and vivid autumn colors, but the stunning scenery is unlikely to disappoint no matter when you visit. Surrounding Kiyomizu-dera are some charming and historical streets, the most famous being Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. While often crowded, the preserved traditional architecture and historic streetscapes are some of Kyoto's prettiest.
When you're done, take a walk along Shijo Street and across Shijo Bridge to take in the view of the Kamogawa River. This river is very near and dear to Kyoto residents, and is a popular place for cycling, running, or just lounging in the sun in warmer months. If you need a breather from the crowds, head down the stairs and take a break on the riverbanks. Then, head to the nearby Kawaramachi Station, take the train two stops to Omiya Station, then switch to the cute purple Randen trams bound for Arashiyama.
Lunch: CAFE RESTAURANT Yayoi
My recommendation is the [Ochazuke Zen] (1,390 JPY), which comes with freshly-cooked rice and an assortment of small sides, including spiced whitebait, savory omelette, and local vegetable dishes. The restaurant recommends you eat your first bowl of rice plain, and then the second ochazuke style, which is rice with a tea-based broth poured on top.
If you'd like to try pasta with a Japanese twist, try the [Ojako Pasta] (1,390 JPY). Made with seasonal vegetables and topped with Yayoi's specialty dried and seasoned whitebait, this fresh and light pasta also comes with a soup and salad.
CAFE RESTAURANT Yayoi
Average price: 1,500 JPY
Address: 481, Gion Shimogawara Kiyoi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
Lunch: Yuba Higashiyamayuuzu
For lunch, we recommend the popular [Yuuzu Set] (2,600 JPY) that comes with uniquely textured yuba meshi (yuba rice bowl) as well as a range of yuba-based sides and a dessert. Another highlight is the [Yuba Hot Pot Set] (2,800 JPY), made with a rich soy milk sauce as a base and seasonal ingredients like local Miyama chicken.
Average price: [Dinner] 5,000 JPY / [Lunch] 2,000 JPY
Address: 570-218, Gion-machi Minami-gawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
Lunch: Kyoto Gion Tempura Yasaka Endo
The [Lunch Course "Aoi"] (5,500 JPY) is based around the season's fresh ingredients, including Kyoto vegetables and freshwater fish sourced from nearby Lake Biwa. This set comes with 13 pieces of seasonal tempura, soup, salad, and more. If you'd like an even more leisurely lunch, a full wine and sake (a kind of Japanese alcohol) menu, carefully curated to match various kinds of tempura, is available to choose from.
Kyoto Gion Tempura Yasaka Endo
Average price: [Dinner] 10,000 JPY / [Lunch] 5,500 JPY
Address: 566, Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
[4:00 pm] Arashiyama Area
Cross the street from the Randen Arashiyama Station and head straight to Tenryu-ji Temple. This is Arashiyama's most important temple, a World Heritage site, and in my opinion, has one of Kyoto's most beautiful gardens. If you have time before its closing, it's worth buying both the temple building and garden tickets, but if you're short on time, just opt for the gardens.
After exploring the grounds, exit through the North Gate to find yourself right at the famous bamboo forest. Coming out from the gate, if you turn left, you'll head through the most famous, albeit short, path of the forest. At the end of the path, you'll find the beautiful Okochi-Sanso Villa gardens (closes at 5:00 pm) and Kameyama Park. To the right, you can follow the bamboo path all the way back into the main street, where there are plenty of souvenir shops and street foods like yuba and matcha ice cream to enjoy. Don't ruin your appetite for dinner, though; I have some great suggestions for you below!
Togetsukyo Bridge's name translates to "moon crossing bridge", a name given by Emperor Kameyama, who reigned from 1259 to 1274. Moved by the beautiful sight of the moon and the bridge during one of the period's popular evening boating parties, he penned a poem remarking that it seemed as if the moon itself was crossing the bridge. Even today, Arashiyama has a very special feeling in the evenings that I'm sure will draw your day in Kyoto to a memorable close.
Dinner: Arashiyama Yugetsu
My recommendation is to choose one of the kaiseki course menus. Kaiseki is a traditional meal that involves small, individually plated dishes made with seasonal ingredients. There are three to choose from here: [Hana] (Flower), [Yuki] (Snow), and [Tsuki] (Moon). They range from 6,000 JPY to 11,000 JPY. If you're on more of a budget, consider one of Arashiyama Yugetsu's affordable range of courses that start from 3,600 JPY. Options include a mini kaiseki course, Japanese beef shabu-shabu (sliced meat parboiled with vegetables), and a Kuroge Wagyu (a type of high-quality beef) sirloin steak course.
Average price: [Dinner] 3,500 JPY / [Lunch] 3,500 JPY
Address: Kanyuchi, Saga Nakanoshima-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
Dinner: Arashiyama Kumahiko
Don't know what to order? The [Sagano Course] (15,000 JPY), which is only available if you dine on the second floor and make a reservation in advance, offers dishes that embody the flavors of Kyoto and the spirit of the restaurant founder. It's the perfect way to get a true understanding of just what this restaurant is all about. They can accommodate special dietary restrictions, so don't hesitate to discuss requests with them before your visit.
Average price: [Dinner] 18,000 JPY / [Lunch] 10,000 JPY
Address: 5-1, Saga Tenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map
Dinner: Kyo Suiran
Two dinner kaiseki courses are available: [Shisui] (16,000 JPY) and [Kinshu] (21,000 JPY). Both make expert use of the finest seasonal ingredients. Traditional Japanese techniques and flavors meet European elements like champagne and consomme to create vivid, exciting dishes that will delight as each arrives at the table.
Average price: [Dinner] 18,000 JPY / [Lunch] 6,000 JPY
Address: 12, Sagatenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Map