Let us guide you with our guide to 24 hours in Kyoto. With hundreds of temples alone, the ancient city of Kyoto is brimming with jaw-dropping sights and authentic experiences. We do not need to tell you that spending one day in Kyoto is not enough time to experience all that the city has to offer.
If, however, you only have a short time to spare, there are plenty of ways to make the most of your trip. From Buddhist meditation classes to geisha dining, this will possibly be one of the most cultural 24 hours of your life.
24 Hours in Kyoto: Morning
The best place to base yourself in Kyoto is around Kyoto Station. This centrally located train station connects Kyoto to Tokyo in under three hours which means that as soon as you arrive, you can begin to explore.
Whether you stay in one of Kyoto’s boutique hotels the night before, or, arrive by bullet train in the early morning, Kyoto Station is a great place to find some breakfast. The station boasts a huge number of Japanese fast-food stands with plenty of breakfast options. Just outside the station is Kyoto bus station which connects visitors to the entire city. Kyoto has a fantastic and easy-to-use bus system that allows you to see more of the city as you travel.
After breakfast, hop on the bus and head to Shunkoin Temple, situated just under 30 minutes from Kyoto Station. Nestled within a temple complex, Shunkoin is one of the only temples where visitors can enter the temple and take part in a meditation class. The tour and class are led by an English-speaking monk who is very passionate about introducing people to Zen philosophy and meditation.
Along with two short meditation sessions, visitors will learn about temple life and see the beautifully designed garden. The tour ends with a traditional Matcha tea and sweet treat. This happens every day at 9:00 in the morning so visitors should arrive in plenty of time. The meditation sessions and temple tour last around 90 minutes and cost 2500 Yen (22USD) per person.
The Golden Pavilion
After a refreshing meditation class, spend a little time walking around the surrounding complex of Buddhist schools and temples. The area is a peaceful part of Kyoto with very little tourists and is particularly beautiful during cherry blossom season. Once you are ready, get back on the bus and take a short journey to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Kinkaku-ji is a stunning gold leaf temple set in front of a lush green forest.
Kinkaku-ji is one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples and offers beautiful scenery. Dating back to the early 13th Century, Kinkaku-ji is steeped in history and offers fascinating architectural designs. The temple also has lovely gardens and a picturesque tea shop.
After a morning of temple hopping, it will be time to sample some food. Kyoto is brimming with wonderful places to eat from Michelin-starred fine dining to authentic street food stalls. For something a little more unique, opt for a cooking class. A cooking class in Kyoto provides visitors with an insight into the preparation of local cuisine. Some classes are even located inside the home of the chef which provides visitors with an extraordinarily rare opportunity to gain an insight into Japanese living. Along with new cooking skills, the chefs are more than happy to show and discuss Japanese customs and history. After preparing the food guests will receive a delicious feast of fresh local products.
Another special experience that visitors can take part in is the Japanese tea ceremony. A custom that has lived through thousands of years, today the tea ceremony is a ritual that is usually reserved for special occasions. The ceremony involves detailed and precise rituals that enhance the artistry of this tradition. Taking part in a tea ceremony is a fun, insightful experience and enables visitors to sample and prepare their very own Matcha tea.
If you still have some spare time head over to the ancient district of Gion. Gion was the entertainment hub of the Edo period and the home of the Geisha. Today, Gion boasts an atmospheric charm that resembles the ancient customs of Japan. Late afternoon and early evening is the best time to visit Gion to avoid crowds of tourists.
Meander through the winding alleyways and marvel at the variety of antique shops and art galleries that are set within buildings that are hundreds of years old. This is the best area to find authentic souvenirs including custom-made kimonos.
As Gion remains the geisha district, there is no better way to end an evening in Kyoto than at a geisha dining experience. Though private dinners come with a huge price tag, there are slightly more affordable group dining options.
Guests are usually hosted by an apprentice geisha known as maiko who hold conversations which are translated by a guide, and perform a variety of entertainment including traditional dances and songs. The geisha is essential in keeping Japan’s ancient past alive and this experience will take you back to a more regal time.