Can I Do a Day Trip From Tokyo to Kyoto? Here’s How You Do It

Kyoto is an awesome city in the heart of Japan and a must-visit for anyone curious about Japan’s history and style. Imagine Kyoto as the ancient boss capital for more than a thousand years. This city keeps all its past stories alive through its old-school streets, mega temples, and gorgeous gardens. Embarking on a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto might sound ambitious, given the distance between these two iconic Japanese cities (280 miles). However, with efficient transportation options and meticulous planning, it’s indeed possible to immerse yourself in Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage and return to Tokyo all in one day.

A day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto can be made by taking an early Shinkansen to Kyoto and returning to Tokyo in the evening. The first Nozomi Shinkansen leaves at 6 a.m. and arrives in Kyoto shortly after 8 a.m. The last train back is around 9:30 p.m. and the round-trip costs about 26,000 yen per person.

While it is possible to make a day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo, it is not the easiest day trip, so planning will be essential to have a good day trip. In this article, we’ll explore the logistics, transportation choices, and tips to make the most of your day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Why Should You Make a Day Trip to Kyoto?

Fushimi Inari Taisha with no crowds
© Ana Costa

None will tell you that you will be able to see everything that Kyoto has to offer in one day, and I don’t recommend making a day trip to Kyoto if you have some days available on your itinerary. However, there are a few reasons that might motivate you to do a day trip instead of a longer stay.

Maximize Limited Time

A day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is a popular option for travelers who are short on time or have tight schedules. If you’re juggling a busy itinerary or limited vacation days, day trips let you make the most of the time you have.

Save Money on Accommodation

Short excursions are often lighter on the wallet for those on a tight budget. Staying overnight involves additional costs such as accommodation, while day trips allow you to enjoy new destinations without the added overnight expenses.

Add Flexibility

With a day trip, you have the flexibility to change plans on the go. If you discover a hidden gem in Tokyo or anywhere else during your trip, you can change plans without the constraints of pre-booked accommodations.

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Reduce Packing Hassle

Traveling light is so easy with day trips. You can explore with just a small bag, avoiding the need for extensive packing and unpacking. This simplicity is especially appealing when using public transportation or walking around while sightseeing.

However, being realistic about what can be accomplished in a single day is important. You won’t be able to see all of Kyoto’s highlights and have to choose the most significant to you. With careful planning, it is possible to see a few of Kyoto’s most iconic attractions, but it is unlikely to be a comprehensive experience.

Kyoto Day Trip Itinerary

To give you an idea of what to expect from your day trip, I crafted this Kyoto day-trip itinerary for you. There are many attractions to see and things to do, so it can be challenging to plan a day trip that fits everything in. Of course, you can replace some places for those that you’re interested in, but keep in mind the distance between the places you want to see.

Also, a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto can be quite rushed, especially if you are trying to see a lot of different attractions. It is important to give yourself enough time to enjoy each place you visit and not feel pressured to rush through everything. It is better to see fewer things than rushing through several places and not taking enough time to enjoy.

By the way, if need some ideas for things to see in Kyoto, you can check out my article about what to do around Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Morning

Kiyomizu-dera Temple
© Ana Costa

In the morning, you can visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto’s most revered temples perched on Otowa Mountain. Then continue to Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, two historic streets in Kyoto renowned for their traditional ambiance and well-preserved architecture.

Start your day by leaving Tokyo on the first Shinkansen at 6 a.m. so you can arrive in Kyoto shortly after 8 a.m. The Nozomi Shinkansen has fewer stops and costs around 13,000 yen each way.

After arriving at Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line for 3 minutes and drop off at Tofukuji Station. Then change to the Keihan Main Line for another 3-minute ride and drop off at Kiyomizugojo Station. The trip costs less than 500 yen. From there, you have a 20-minute walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

You should be at the temple around 9 a.m. if everything goes as planned, and enjoy the place for 1 or 2 hours, depending on your walking pace. When you finish your temple visit, head down to enjoy the Sannenzaka Path that joins Ninenzaka Street. These two streets are characterized by their preservation of traditional Japanese architecture. You’ll find various shops, teahouses, and souvenir stores along the way.

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You can easily spend more than 1 hour if you do some shopping, and these streets are usually crowded during the day, so make sure you allow enough time. Consider spending a little less time at Kiyomizu-dera Temple, if you’re interested in traditional architecture and shopping for souvenirs. I spent a huge amount of time at the Oshido store buying my kimono and accessories, but I really enjoyed the experience of trying different kimono and accessories.

Once you’re done, you can have lunch at one of the nearby restaurants, or head directly to the Gion district and eat something there, as there are more places to choose from. If you pack your lunch, it’s even better because you won’t lose time, but it all depends on the type of experience you want to have.

To keep up with the schedule, you should leave Ninenzaka before 1 p.m.

Afternoon

Yasaka Shrine Lantern Path
© Ana Costa

In the afternoon, you can immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. Stroll along picturesque streets, admire traditional wooden houses, and perhaps catch a glimpse of a geisha in her exquisite kimono.

Assuming you allow 1 hour for lunch, you should be able to start exploring Gion around 2.30 p.m.

From Ninenzaka to Gion District, it’s only a 15-minute walk, so you can save money on transportation and enjoy the surroundings at the same time.

Start your afternoon by visiting Hanami-koji Street, Gion’s main street, known for its picturesque scene with well-preserved machiya houses and traditional establishments. Hanami-koji is known for being a place where geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) can often be spotted. It’s customary to be respectful and discreet when observing these traditional entertainers.

Then, you can head to Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine. From Hanami-koji Street, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the shrine. Yasaka Shrine is adjacent to Maruyama Park, making it easy to visit both places. The shrine grounds are accessible 24 hours, so you can visit at any time, but you won’t be able to enter the closed buildings.

Around 5 p.m., you should be ready to cross the Shijo-Ohashi bridge and go to Pontocho Alley, a narrow and atmospheric alley known for its traditional machiya houses, teahouses, and restaurants.

In Japan, you can have dinner early, so it might be a good idea to experience one of the restaurants in Pontocho. Just make sure you’re ready around 6.30 p.m. to leave for your last visit of the day. From Pontocho to Gion-Shijo Station, you have to walk for 10 minutes.

Evening

Fushimi Inari Taisha at night
© Ana Costa

To finish your day trip with a highlight, head to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, an amazing complex of thousands of vermilion torii accessible 24 hours.

From Gion-Shijo Station, take the Keihan Main Line and drop off at Fushimi-Inari Station. It costs around 300 yen and it takes roughly 10 minutes. From there, you have a 5-minute walk to the shrine, and you should be at the shrine before 7 p.m.

This shrine is huge, so you won’t have the time to head all the way up to the summit, but you can take really cool pictures of the illuminated buildings and the beginning of the torii path. I visited this shrine during the day and in the evening too. During the day, it is amazing, but also very crowded. During the night, it becomes a mystical place with few lights and almost no tourists.

You will have roughly 1 hour to enjoy this incredible atmosphere before heading back to Tokyo.

When you’re ready, go to Inari Station and take the JR Nara Line to Kyoto Station. The ride takes less than 10 minutes and costs around 200 yen. Please, notice that you have to go to the JR Inari Station, not the Fushimi-Inari Station. I recommend being at Inari station around 8 p.m. to allow enough time.

Once you arrive at Kyoto Station, you can get the Nozomi Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Keep in mind that the last Shinkansen to Tokyo is around 9.30 p.m., so try not to miss it, otherwise, you will have to stay in Kyoto for the night.

As you can see, a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto can be quite tiring, especially if you are trying to see a lot of different attractions. It is necessary to give yourself enough time to enjoy each place you visit and not feel pressured to rush through everything, so adjust your itinerary throughout the day if needed.

Following the itinerary I gave you, you will have a long day trip, but you will also manage to see a few highlights. By taking the Nozomi Shinkansen, you will spend around 4 hours and 30 minutes in transportation from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, and around 10 hours sightseeing in Kyoto.

Tips to Make The Most of Your Day Trip

Here are a few tips and recommendations to help you out during your day trip.

  • Purchase your Shinkansen tickets in advance: This will guarantee a seat and save you time at the train station.
  • Plan your day strategically: Follow the itinerary above or choose attractions that are close to each other to minimize travel time.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: Kyoto is a walking city, so be prepared to explore on foot.
  • Carry a portable charger: Your phone will be your guide and navigator, so keep it charged throughout the day.
  • Respect local customs: Be mindful of cultural etiquette, such as removing your shoes before entering temples and shrines.
  • Purchase souvenirs: Kyoto offers a wide choice of authentic souvenirs, from delicate kimonos to delectable snacks and traditional souvenirs.

Is a Day Trip to Kyoto Enough?

A day trip to Kyoto is not enough to experience all the must-visit places in the city. Still, it is possible to have a glimpse at what Kyoto has to offer in one day. To explore the rest of Kyoto’s highlights that are further away, you need at least three full days.

With the 1-day itinerary I gave you, you can visit 8 places in Kyoto in about 10 hours depending on your walking pace and interests. You can even add Kodai-ji Temple or Chion-in Temple to your itinerary if go for a faster pace. Just be careful not to add too many places and end up rushing all day.

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Easier Day Trips From Tokyo

If you don’t feel like doing a day trip to Kyoto after reading all this, or you want other ideas for easier day trips from Tokyo, here are a few examples.

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Nikko

Nikko Toshogu Shrine
© Ana Costa

Nikko, known for its ornate Toshogu Shrine and stunning natural landscapes, is just a two-hour train ride from Tokyo. The ease of access and the UNESCO World Heritage sites make it a perfect day trip.

For more information about Nikko, check out my other article here.

Kamakura

Kamakura, with its Great Buddha and historic temples, is only about an hour away from Tokyo by train. The compact layout of its key attractions allows for a fulfilling day exploring its rich cultural and historical heritage.

Enoshima

Enoshima, a small island town with beaches and shrines, is less than an hour from Tokyo. Its relaxed coastal environment and the iconic Enoshima Shrine make it an ideal getaway for a day of sightseeing. This day trip is usually combined with Kamakura.

Hakone

Mount Fuji View from Lake Ashi in Hakone
© Ana Costa

Hakone, famous for its hot springs and views of Mount Fuji, is around 90 minutes from Tokyo. The diverse attractions, including museums, a ropeway, and a cruise on Lake Ashi, offer a varied and enjoyable day trip.

If you want to know more about Hakone, check out my other post about it.

Yokohama

Yokohama, located just south of Tokyo, boasts attractions like the Landmark Tower and the historic Sankeien Garden. Its proximity and the mix of modern and traditional make it an appealing day trip option.

Kawagoe

Known as “Little Edo,” Kawagoe is only about 30 minutes from central Tokyo. Its well-preserved Edo-period architecture and the Kurazukuri Street provide a charming and easily accessible historical experience.

Ashikaga Flower Park

Ashikaga Flower Park during Winter Illuminations
© Ana Costa

Ashikaga Flower Park, situated in Tochigi Prefecture, is known for its stunning wisteria displays and seasonal flower exhibitions. While it’s a bit farther, approximately two hours from Tokyo, the enchanting floral landscapes, including the famous Great Wisteria, make it a unique and visually captivating day trip.

While you can do it as a day trip on itself without rushing, you can also combine Nikko and Ashikaga Flower Park on the same day trip. That’s what I did on one of my trips to Japan, but I missed out on a few things in Nikko. You can check more information about Ashikaga Flower Park in my other article.

Conclusion

While a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto requires meticulous planning and an early start, the rewards are immense. From ancient temples to scenic landscapes, Kyoto offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich history and culture. With efficient transportation and a well-thought-out itinerary, you can easily navigate this journey and return to Tokyo in a day.

The 2-hour shinkansen ride back to Tokyo will allow to recover a little from this day before getting to your hotel.

Anf if you decide not to do a day trip to Kyoto, because this city has much more to offer, you can always pick easier day trips from Tokyo like Nikko, Kamakura, Enoshima, Hakone, Yokohama, Kawagoe or Ashikaga Flower Park.

Happy travel!

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