© Wikimedia/victor proof
© Wikimedia/victor proof

The best of northern Kyoto in one day

4 minutes to read

Kyoto is the Japanese ancient capital city and the most visited tourist destination in Japan. As there are many historical sites, shrines, temples and townships with an authentic old-time atmosphere, you will need to plan your visit to enjoy it to the fullest. When you arrive in Kyoto, you will understand why it is the most visited place in Japan. Kyoto city can be divided into four areas, but you can also explore many beautiful nature spots outside the city, as they are conveniently reachable by public transport. So, if you wonder how many days you need to discover Kyoto, I would say - longer is better. However, if you have only one day in Kyoto, here are my suggestions on how to get the best out of the bottomless historical charm and enjoy an authentic northern Kyoto's experience.  

A route to absorb the energy of historical Kyoto 

© iStock/lorenzoantonucci
© iStock/lorenzoantonucci

The west side of Kyoto has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites which are symbols of historic Kyoto, such as Kinkaku-ji temple, the only golden world heritage listed temple. Among other things, Kinkaku-ji offers a very famous Zen Garden, well known by zen fans from all over the world. You might have also seen this famous zen garden in a Japanese tourism promotion advertisement. Near these world heritage sites, you can find traditional eateries that offer Kyo-Kaiseki cuisine and historical onsen experience as well.  If you only have a day in Kyoto, this route is highly recommended to absorb the energy of historical Kyoto and experience the bottomless charm of Japan’s historical treasure.

© iStock/Sean Pavone
© iStock/Sean Pavone

Kyoto has a strong gastronomic history, reflected in countless delicious eateries, both traditional and modern, scattered around the city. Kyo-Kaiseki cuisine is a Kyoto style of dining. The appearance of Kyo-Kaiseki is absolutely gorgeous and meticulously detailed. The dinner is usually expensive (starts from 20,000 yen), while the lunch option is much cheaper (some places offer 5,000 yen Kaiseki lunch). It is highly recommended to include the Kyo-Kaiseki experience in your itinerary to explore Kyoto’s gastronomy.

Golden temple - Kinkaku-ji

Kyoto’s historical symbol and the world heritage site, Kinkaku-ji, is actually a nickname, and the official name is Kaen-ji. It was established about 600 years ago. The gardens and architecture centered around the Kinkaku-ji represent Sukhavati Jodo (Buddhism heaven). It symbolizes the splendor of the Kitayama culture that prospered at the time. The first thing that comes to your attention when you visit Kinkaku-ji is the golden pavilion, the main three-story building. The second and third layers are covered with pure gold on top of the lacquer, and a golden phoenix shines on the roof, expressing its luxury to the fullest. However, there are other must-see spots in Kinkaku-ji premises. For instance, one can see a beautiful tea house, a pond known as a power spot of Kinkaku-ji, a small water wall, etc. Hence, after all of this, your memory of Kinkaku-ji will stay golden forever. 

Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji), Kyoto
Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji), Kyoto
1 Kinkakujichō, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan

The most famous Zen stone garden - Ryoan-ji

Ryoan-ji Zen temple, built in 1450 by Katsumoto Hosokawa, a leading figure in the Muromachi, is now known worldwide for its eye-catching Zen Garden. It became so famous that Queen Elizabeth II praised this stone garden when she visited Ryoan-ji temple in 1975. You can feel the mysterious and peaceful atmosphere in this stone garden. Kyoyo Chi pond is also one of the highlights of Ryoan-ji, and the famous water lilies are in full bloom from May to July, which attracts many visitors.

Ryoan-ji temple, Kyoto
Ryoan-ji temple, Kyoto
13 Ryōanji Goryōnoshitachō, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001, Japan

A historical & artistic onsen - Funaoka Onsen

Funaoka Onsen, located near Kinkaku-ji, is a venerable peculiar building designated as a tangible cultural property registered by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan. The interior begins with retro majolica tiles and can only be described as art, such as the Kurama Tengu (a fictional character in old Japanese literature) carved on the dressing room ceiling and the openwork column. On the other hand, the onsen facilities are very modern, starting with the electric bath introduced for the first time in Japan, the jet bath, open-air bath, herbal bath, etc. The area is lined with guesthouses and cafes. Although it has a long history, it is a hidden tourist spot.

Funaoka Onsen, Kyoto
Funaoka Onsen, Kyoto
82-1 Murasakino Minamifunaokachō, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8225, Japan

Kyoto originated Soba, Nishin Soba at Hanamakiya

© Wikimedia/perke from kyoto
© Wikimedia/perke from kyoto

Since you are in Kyoto, I recommend eating "Nishin soba", which is said to have originated in Kyoto. After sightseeing at Kinkaku-ji temple, you can walk to Hanamakiya, which keeps the manufacturing method from the predecessor. Their soba contains carefully selected domestic buckwheat and wheat and make homemade buckwheat flour from scratch. Hanamakiya’s Nishin soba is a gem. The texture of homemade soba is gorgeously chewy, and the sweet and spicy herring is a perfect match for the elegant soup stock.

Nishimakiya, Kyoto
Nishimakiya, Kyoto
17-2 Kinugasa Goshonouchichō, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8378, Japan

As you can see, the bottomless historical charm of northern Kyoto explains why this city is the most popular tourist destination in Japan. If you have only one day in Kyoto, to see the best of it, start your day at Kinkaku-ji, which offers deep Kyoto history in many different ways. Enjoy gorgeous temples, world heritage sites, famous zen stone garden. Moreover, enrich your day by visiting a historical natural onsen in the middle of town, and do not forget to indulge in Kyoto gastronomy. After all these experiences, you can be sure that your day in Kyoto will be full of unforgettable golden memories.


The author

Mayo Harry

Mayo Harry

Hi, I am Mayo from Japan. Travelling around the world and Japan since my late teens, my life has been a continuation of trips. I am excited to share my knowledge and experiences of Japan with all of you.

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