Kyoto – The Heart of Japan
When one is asked about Kyoto, the first thing that comes to mind is Geisha, shrines and temples. Yes, Kyoto is a historically rich city. It is the heart of Japanese culture and tradition, where you are able to see thousand year old shrines right beside newly built, state-of-the-art buildings. Basically, Kyoto is a city where history meets the future.
Although Kyoto prefecture is rather huge, Kyoto city itself is quite small and it is possible to travel and explore the entire city in a matter of a few days. However, there are cases where visitors come to visit Kyoto only on a day trip. To make things difficult, most of these visitors are on a low budget. It is, in fact, very common to see visitors coming to explore Kyoto on a day trip, from neighbouring cities such as Osaka. However, most of them left the ancient city wanting to extend their stay because they felt that they have yet to explore it all.
So here, I have made a short trip itinerary for a day trip in Kyoto, with only ¥5,000 in cash. This itinerary can be used at any season, so there are no seasonal events being placed here.
Kyoto Station [8.30am – 9am]
Since you are visiting Kyoto on a day trip, you are most likely going to arrive in Kyoto Station since it is the main transportation hub in Kyoto. Once you are there, purchase the 1-Day Bus Pass, which costs only ¥500.
This is like a gem to those who want to squeeze in as many sightseeing spots on a one-day itinerary in Kyoto by bus. It acts as a concession pass, which can be bought by anyone, no matter if you are local or foreigner. You can take the bus as many times as you want on that day itself. You can also purchase the pass and choose to use it in the future, whenever needed.
Current Expenditure: ¥500
Total Expenditure: ¥500
Arashiyama [9am – 10am]
First thing’s first. Take bus 28 from Kyoto Station and try to get to Arashiyama before visitors start pouring in. There are neither admission fees nor opening hours for most parts of Arashiyama, except for a few limited places of interest of course. Good news is that the famous bamboo grove is open to the public throughout the day and does not need any kind of admission fee to enter. Bad news is that, Arashiyama is usually packed with tourists all year round, especially during the cherry blossom season as well as the autumn colours season. So if you want to avoid the crowd, it is highly recommended to visit Arashiyama early in the morning, at least before 9am.
Iwatayama Monkey Park [10am – 11am]
After visiting the bamboo grove, you may want to hike up the nearby Iwatayama to get to the monkey park. It is a nice, refreshing 15-minute hike up the hill which you will then be rewarded with picturesque scenery of Kyoto city. Plus, of course, you will find an open area with monkeys roaming freely. It is also possible to feed the monkeys through cross-grilled windows in the small hut. To hike this hill though, you will have to pay an admission fee of ¥550.
Current Expenditure: ¥550
Total Expenditure: ¥500 + ¥550 = ¥1050
Kinkakuji [11am – 1pm]
From Arashiyama, get on bus 11 and head north towards Kinkakuji. Along the way, you will have to make a transfer at Yamagoe Nakamachi (山越中町行) bus stop, where you will have to take bus 59 which will get you all the way to the temple. This golden pavilion Zen temple is undoubtedly one of Kyoto’s must-see temples. In addition to the fact that it is plated in gold, each floor also represents a different style of architecture. This UNESCO world heritage site opens at 9am and it typically gets crowded throughout the day. However, there are slightly fewer people when it is close to the opening and closing hours, as well as during lunch time.
Current Expenditure: ¥400 [Kinkakuji]
Total Expenditure: ¥1050 + ¥400 = ¥1450
Lunch [1pm – 2pm]
From Kinkakuji, you can take bus 12, 101 or 15 and head south towards Nijo Castle. Alight there but no, it is not yet time for you to enter the castle. It’s time for lunch first! For that, you can look for a nearby ramen restaurant called Menbakaichidai. This ramen restaurant is famous in Kyoto for its “Fire Ramen”. It is voted as one of the “Best Restaurants by Foreign Travellers” on Trip Advisor. Take note that there is usually a long queue during lunch hours. When you finally get to enter the restaurant, you should sit at the counter and embrace yourself for the fire ramen experience!
Current Expenditure: ¥1250 [Menbakaichidai]
Total Expenditure: ¥1450 + ¥1250 = ¥2700
Nijo Castle [2pm – 3pm]
After a hearty meal, take a stroll to the nearby Nijo Castle. This particular castle has a 400 year old history to it. It used to house the first Shogun of the Edo Period, before it was used as an imperial palace for a relatively short period of time. Being one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites, Nijo Castle boasts the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture during the feudal era in Japan. It is also really unique in the way that the entire palace corridors have nightingale floors, due to the fact that it squeaks whenever anyone walks on it. This is for security measure against intruders. Walking around the castle will not take more than an hour as the perimeters of the castle is relatively small in size.
Current Expenditure: ¥600 [Nijo Castle]
Total Expenditure: ¥2700 + ¥600 = ¥3300
Gion / Hanamikoji / Nene no Michi / Ninenzaka / Sannenzaka [3pm – 5pm]
Hanamikoji, Nenenomichi, Ninenzaka, Sannenzaka – They all have one thing in common. These are preserved traditional streets, uniquely found in Kyoto! Still retaining the appearance of the previous eras in Kyoto, walking along these pedestrian-only streets will make you feel as if you have been brought back to the past. To get here, you will need to take bus 12 or 15. This is also the perfect opportunity for you to spend on souvenirs as there are many shops in the area, with some even selling local specialties such as pottery, sweets and pickles. These streets are linked to each other, and at the end of Sannenzaka, you will find yourself at the next popular tourist attraction, which brings us to the next point…
Current Expenditure: ¥0
Total Expenditure: ¥3300 + ¥0 = ¥3300
Kiyomizudera [5pm – 6pm]
Another UNESCO world heritage site, this popular Buddhist temple is really amazing as its main hall is said to be built without using any nails. It is famous for its special evening illuminations during autumn as well as during the cherry blossom season. The best time to visit this temple is right before it closes at 6pm, when you are able to see the sun setting behind the mountain range with Kiyomizudera’s main hall in the foreground. This is really the perfect way to end the day, isn’t it?
Dinner [6pm – 7pm]
After that, it’s dinner time! Take the bus and alight at Gion. Look for Gion Tsujiri. Usually, there is a long queue outside this restaurant. The first storey is mainly a shop while the second storey is for dining in. The Miso matcha udon here is really impressive. It makes use of Kyoto’s very own Uji Matcha. End your day trip in Kyoto on a cool evening with this hot and refreshing udon noodles. It will be sure to leave a good impression when you leave Kyoto!
Current Expenditure: ¥400 [Kiyomizudera] + ¥1100 [Gion Tsujiri] = ¥1500
Total Expenditure: ¥3300 + ¥1500 = ¥4800
End of Day Trip
And there you go! The estimated total expenditure for this itinerary is within the budget of ¥5000. This is just a simple, budget itinerary for a day trip to Kyoto from neighbouring cities such as Osaka. If you are short of time and money, then this itinerary is good for you!
The main point that I want to emphasise is definitely the 1-day bus pass. This pass will be a lifesaver for you if your main concern is money. I realised that not many tourists are aware about this pass, as I usually see them using coins to pay the bus fare. So when you come and travel around Kyoto, please get one of these 1-day bus passes. It only costs you ¥500 for unlimited bus rides for a day.
So if you’re planning to use this itinerary for your own travel plans, do let me know how it goes. Or if you want to share your own day trip plan with a budget of ¥5000 (or anything will do), please leave a comment below!
Happy travelling! (: