Summer in Japan, 8 things to do in Kyoto on a day trip
Updated: Mar 14
Kyoto is an amazing city and some may choose to stay here for much longer but we only had time to squeeze in a short day trip from Osaka! Kyoto is considered to be the cultural capital of Japan and used to be Japan's capital before it got shifted to Tokyo! It is known for many of its temples, Shinto shrines, traditional-looking houses, kaiseki dining and geisha spotting in the Gion district.
There is simply a lot to do in Kyoto and even though we woke up early trying to catch everything we could in Kyoto, we couldn't quite complete everything. So, here's our guide on how to best get to Kyoto and our recommended top 8 things to do in Kyoto given the short amount of time!
How to get to Kyoto from Osaka?
We have seen a lot of train lines, but the most confusing train lines got to be those in Japan. If you think you are heading to Kyoto, guess what, there are more than one "Kyoto Station" depending on which railway line you are taking. So here's hopefully a quick guide on how you can get from Osaka to Kyoto. There are a variety of ways to get to Kyoto from Osaka and the different ways really depend on which part of Osaka you are residing in during your holiday.
1. Shinkansen Tokaido-Sanyo Line (Osaka to Kyoto Station in 40 minutes)
We would say that the fastest way to get from Osaka to Kyoto is by Shinkansen. For most travellers to Japan, you would wish to purchase a JR pass that offers you unlimited travel on most of the public trains and buses in Japan. It is pricey (7-day from $340 SGD) but it is definitely worth it if you wish to frequent the Shinkansen. For example, during our travels, we took a 15-minute Shinkansen from Kobe to Osaka and paid a whooping $30 per person. And that's only for a one-way! So imagine a two-way trip plus 7 days of travelling already costs more for the 7-day pass plus you get to travel much longer distances. Do note that JR passes are not allowed on the fastest Nozomi and Mizuhu trains!
Also, even though this is the fastest way to get to Kyoto from Osaka, the station that you disembark is not exactly close to many of the attractions and you will have to make transfers that may cost you some time as well, so do consider the other options!
Additional Tip: If you are planning to travel from city to city using the JR pass, it may be wise to stay close to a JR station even though it may slightly away from the main sights. This way, you wouldn't have to lug your luggage walking and changing trains!
2. Hankyu-Kyoto Line (Umeda to Kyoto Station in 60 minutes)
This way takes about 20 minutes longer but it gets you right smack in the Gion district where you will find Nishiki Market and the Shopping District. That way, you can take the train in the morning, alight and head straight for lunch!
The cost of travel is significantly cheaper, SGD $9.85 for a one-day Hankyu Tourist pass and SGD $15.90 for two days. It allows you unlimited travel on the Hankyu Line in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. This is quite a popular option for tourists who do not have the JR pass and want to also travel to Kyoto the next day using the Hankyu Line.
3. Keihan Railway (Umeda to Tofukuji in 70 minutes)
Even though this is one of the slowest way to get to Kyoto, it is an easy way for you to head to some of the attractions along the way. Also, because it takes much longer than the rest, there is a high chance for you to get a seat! We took this route to Kyoto as it passes by the Fushimi-Inari area before reaching Kyoto. We also bought the Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing 1-Day Pass SGD $8.59 that allows us unlimited travel on the Keihan Line. It is good to purchase the pass online as it costs more when purchasing it within Japan.
Even though we wrote about the various passes and even purchased one of them on our trip from Osaka to Kyoto, we do want to recommend that you purchase the Kansai Thru Pass instead! Reason being is that because the specific railway passes only allow for unlimited travel on their line, which sometimes does not get you to where you want to go. Then you'll either have to walk, or suck it up and purchasing another ticket for another train service. However, the Kansai Thru Pass covers the both the Hankyu and Keihan line and you can take whichever that is closer (highly important)! You can get either the 2 day or 3 day pass and even allows you to take trains to Kobe and Nara for another day trip!
What to do in Kyoto on a Day Trip?
So now that we've got some clue on how to get to Kyoto, now let's head on with the attractions!
1. Fushimi-Inari Shrine
This is one of the most popular shrine and the must-go shrine when heading to Kyoto because of its instagram-worthy torii gates. If you hate crowds, try to wake up early and head there on an early train. Even though we did get there relatively early at around 10am, it was already packed with tourists!
Also, we must say that you definitely need to manage your expectations when heading there. Is it just us, or is the heat getting to us that it doesn't look as reddish and pretty as what we've seen in photos. Let us show you the reality!
For the smaller gates, the top portion is a little old and dirty and perhaps need to be cropped out? Also, if you notice on the right side, there's christmassy-looking poles... =/ What we did manage to take a photo of is the area without crowds. But you do need to be extremely extremely patient to capture such a shot.
The bigger gates at the other end of the trail looks a lot better but is full of tourists! So if you want a nice shot, head over early!! Hiking up in summer was tough and as it gets later in the morning, the heat can be unbearable. Bring along a large water bottle and check out our summer packing list!
To get to the summit it takes roughly 2 to 3 hours there and back. Should that be too much for you, you can try to get to the Yotsutsuji intersection which takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes up. Alternatively, you can walk however much you want and make your way back down!
Besides the torii gates, the shinto shrine itself is also really beautiful and is worth a look around!
While walking around the premises, you'll notice a pair of foxes that kind of guard the shrines. The foxes (kitsune) are considered the messenger of Inari, the god of cereals and the key that one of the foxes carries is the key to the rice granary. These foxes seem almost to be like a guardian of the shrine and we saw so many stone statues of them!
On your way out, you may even want to purchase a shrine to write down your wish or purchase one to bring home as a souvenir!
There were so many things to see here that we got a little carried away and spent more time than we've planned here!
2. Gion District
This was one of my favourite scene of Kyoto. Peaceful and serene, unlike the bridge where I took it from! =/ The Gion District is accessible via Gion Shijio Station or the Kawaramurachi Station.
The Gion district is a mix of the old and the new. On the side where the Nishiki market is, you'll see tall buildings, departmental stores and huge crowds of people.
3. Gion Shirakawa
And across the Kamo River, you'll see these cool Japanese huts on the streets towards Gion Shirakawa. The main street has many souvenir stores but also a lot of people. We took a turn and manage to take pictures without photo bombers!
4. Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market's so fun! It is full of colours with the sales of a variety of foods and souvenirs. If you're wondering what to eat at Nishiki Market, there's just so many choices that will stump you!
Try their -yakis. We had a okonomiyaki and it was superb! There's also sashimi on stick and grilled seafood but we had breakfast before heading over and was too full to have anything!
In Kyoto, mochi are triangular-shaped! Try these out. They do taste like regular mochi and have all sorts of other interesting flavours. For some of the stores, they even offer you free samples and tea!
5. Yasaka Shrine
The Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto Shrine that is considered to be the most famous shrines in Kyoto. It is a brightly-painted 1350 year-old shrine that sits in Maruyama Park. It is quite a bit of a walk from the closest train station to get to this shrine so make sure you do get good walking shoes!
Aside from the main shrine, there are also several smaller shrines in the area where you could take a stroll to look around.
At the back of the main shrine, you'll also find the Weeping Cherry Tree at the side of a beautiful lake with a bridge that is a great photo spot! Because it is a little further off the shrine, you'll also find fewer people and less crowds here!
We included this because it was part of our itinerary! However, due to the extremely scorching hot sun and the heatwave, we weren't able to walk over! Yes, so it seems that the fact that the heat kills is real! We were extremely exhausted by the heat even before we got to Yasaka Shrine and had to retreat to a cafe to escape the scorching sun! It was a real bummer that we didn't manage to see Kiyomizu-dera that is a 20 minute walk from the Yasaka Shrine.
7. Togetsu-kyo Bridge
The Togetsu-kyo Bridge is the landmark of the Arashiyama area in Kyoto and it is so beautiful whether or not you are gazing it from afar or even if you are on top of it.
On one side of the bridge, you'll see fishermen by the water trying to catch fish and on the other side, you can marvel at the beauty of the mountains!
To get to the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, you can take the train to Arashiyama Station and it is a short walk there.
Since the bridge is a tourist attraction, there are a couple of specialty shops, souvenir stores, and food stores nearby. Be it a refreshing iced green tea, or a green tea cone, they have them all!
8. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Walk towards Saga-Arashiyama Station and about another 5 minutes from there, you'll be at the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Forest! This is another key attraction of Kyoto and is a must-go for tourists!
It is just so interesting to walk between the Bamboo Groves and how it drastically reduces the heat in the area. The entire walk takes about 30 minutes to-and-fro but you can definitely just walk in as much as you want and turn back when you feel that you are done looking at the bamboos!