Our ideal 1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary offers a touring plan for stops along the Higashiyama Mountains, spanning from Silver Pavilion to Kiyomizudera, and beyond. Our plan of attack emphasizes efficiency while also slowing down to appreciate the majesty of Kyoto, and walking through some of the city’s most charming and historic districts.
We wanted to call this our 1-Day Higashiyama Kyoto Itinerary as a companion to our 1-Day Arashiyama Kyoto Itinerary, but decided to scrap both of those names. Bloggers take sacred oaths to never mislead our readers, so the more vague (and more accurate) “Eastern” and “Western” Kyoto itineraries are appropriate since a couple stops on each are technically beyond Arashiyama and Higashiyama.
Note that this itinerary is for those visitors to Kyoto with 3 or more days in the city. This itinerary is day one, our Western Kyoto Itinerary is day 2, and our Central Kyoto Itinerary is day 3. We will soon have itineraries for days 4 and 5 for those doing extended trips Japan. So, stay tuned for those!
This 1-day Higashiyama touring plan is a variant of the second day of our 2-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary. The main change when you go from 2 to 3 days in Kyoto is fleshing out that first day into two days. The other change we’d make is moving Higashiyama to your first full day in Kyoto, and this is particularly the case if you’re an early-riser. We think this will offer you a really solid, jam-packed day–but it does entail a lot of walking, so be prepared.
The thing we like about our Eastern Kyoto touring plan is that it’s equally logical to do in the chronological or reverse-chronological order. While our 2-day plan started at Silver Pavilion and finished at Fushimi Inari, you could do the opposite. If you’re an early-riser or Kyoto is the first stop in your Japan trip and you arrive with jet lag, reversing the order is ideal.
It also makes sense to do Eastern Kyoto on the first day of your visit because it’s the most tiring day of your time in Kyoto, includes the best sites–places you want to be alive with energy when you see. After comparing this to the second day of our 2-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary, you can determine which approach is right for you.
Anyway, let’s dig into this Eastern Kyoto Itinerary…
Kiyomizudera Temple – Opening daily at 6 a.m., you’ll want to arrive at Kiyomizudera by 7:30 a.m. in order for this itinerary to work–the earlier, the better (we told you this itinerary is for early risers!). If you’re reading this itinerary at home before taking your first trip to Japan, you might find this idea laughable, but don’t set anything in stone until you’ve actually arrived. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve found ourselves wide awake at 4 a.m. early in our trips due to jet lag.
If getting up this early is not feasible, do Fushimi Inari first, skip Tofukuji, then go to Kiyomizudera and the Higashiyama District. In my test-runs of this itinerary, I found heavy crowds do not appear at Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari until after 9 a.m. In an ideal scenario, you’d be done with both of these popular points of interest before 10 a.m. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Kiyomizudera Temple.
Higashiyama District – Once you’ve finished your enchanted morning exploration of Kiyomizudera, you’ll walk back down through the empty streets of the Higashiyama District. It’s very rare to have this area devoid of people, so embrace it.
Stop for photos along Kiyomizu-zaka, Sannen-zaka, and Ninen-zaka, and make sure to capture the view of Yasaka Pagoda from the narrow lane (pictured above). If you were to visit this area later in the day, it would be swarmed with people and these photos would not be possible (unless you waited until 8 p.m. or later!).
After that, walk down to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. From there, take the Keihan Main Line to Fushimi-Inari Station. There’s a Lawson’s 100 Yen convenience store across from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station if you need some breakfast on the go.
Fushimi Inari Shrine – Although Fushimi Inari is open 24/7, we recommend doing it second because this shrine’s huge size means it can absorb the morning crowds better than Kiyomizudera. Even though the senbon torii loop will already be busy by 9 a.m., once you get past that, it should be smooth sailing.
The early-morning hike up Mt. Inari is an awesome no-crowds experience, and we love watching the shrine “wake up” at this hour. When we had an apartment near Fushimi Inari for a month, we’d regularly do this hike in the early hours; the air was crisp, the vermillion color of the torii gates felt a little more vibrant with the sun kissing them, and the only sounds you’d hear was the flow of the nearby stream or the rustle of leaves. Quite simply, this is when Fushimi Inari feels most alive–ironic given that it’s when the shrine is most devoid of human life. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Tofukuji Temple – Depending upon how much time you spend at Fushimi Inari (you could as little as 30 minutes if you don’t do any hiking, or 3 hours if you hike to Mt. Inari’s summit), you might want to skip Tofukuji Temple. It’s easily accessible by walking, or taking the JR Nara Line from Inari Station, both of which will take roughly the same amount of time.
We like Tofukuji Temple, and the Hojo Garden is among the best gardens in Japan. During the fall colors season when the Tsutenkyo Bridge is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Kyoto, Tofukuji Temple is an essential stop. The problem with that is, if you’re visiting during the fall, you need to arrive at Tofukuji Temple right when it opens to beat the insane crowds…and you won’t accomplish that with this itinerary. As such, this is sort of a judgment call.
If you opt to skip Tofukuji Temple, take the Keihan Main Line from Fushimi Inari Station to Gion-Shijo Station. If you do Tofukuji, take the Keihan Main Line from Tofukuji Station to Gion-Shijo Station.
Nishiki Market or Gion – Gion-Shijo Station puts you directly between Downtown Kyoto and Gion. To the west is Nishiki Market. To the east is Yasaka Shrine. In between are a wealth of exceptional restaurants, bakeries, and food stalls.
To be brutally honest, we dislike Nishiki Market. It’s crowded, cramped, chaotic, and usually just gets on our nerves. Nevertheless, visitors seem to love it, so we’re presenting it as an option here. We think there are superior, substantive full-service options in the vicinity.
For us, Gion is more appealing. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants here don’t open until 5 p.m., but you have no shortage of bakeries and a few solid restaurants open for lunch. Wherever you choose to eat, make it quick. You can also skip lunch for now, saving it for a picnic in Maruyama Park.
Kennin-ji Temple – From there, you’ll walk to Kennin-ji Temple, which is the unofficial southern boundary of the Gion district. You’ll find Kennin-ji Temple ranked highly on few other Kyoto planning resources, but this is a must-do temple.
Past its nondescript exterior, this temple holds a surprising amount of beauty and character. Kennin-ji’s inside opens to an endless labyrinth of covered walkways, gardens, and nearly two-dozen buildings. There’s also a ton of art on display, including “The Wind and Thunder Gods” by Tawaraya Sotatsu, which is one of (if not the) most famous piece of art in Kyoto. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Kenninji Temple.
Maruyama Park Shrines & Temples – Following Kennin-ji Temple, it’s an easy walk to Maruyama Park and the cluster of temples in this area. Here you’ve got Chionin Temple, Shorenin Temple, and Kodaiji Temple. If you have the time, do Chionin Temple (it’s free) and Kodaiji Temple.
Maruyama Park is also a great spot for a picnic (or hanami in the spring!), so if you’d rather not eat a sit-down meal in Gion or Nishiki Market, it’s just as easy to grab some food and take it to the park. Fresco Gion is convenient to this area, and they have some great prepared meals in their deli case. (Lawson and 7-11 are also solid options.)
Nanzenji Temple – After finishing up in Maruyama Park, you’ll head northeast, passing the Westin and Keage Incline. The next stop is Nanzenji Temple, which is an exquisite temple with free public areas.
Nanzenji features some an impressive range of diverse features: a Sanmon gate, main hall, shrines, rock gardens, tea rooms, pond gardens, fusuma, and an aqueduct. That aqueduct is the unequivocal highlight, and we’d recommend walking around and under it, tracing it up hillside to reveal a treasure trove of other details at Nanzenji Temple. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Nanzenji Temple.
Eikando Temple – The next potential stop is only about 2 minutes from Nanzenji, and is incredibly convenient on your way to Philosopher’s Path. Despite this, the temple doesn’t have a ton of “curb appeal” so many people overlook it. For three seasons of the year, you might also consider skipping it, particularly if you’re on a budget or if it’s already after 2 p.m.
If you’re visiting during autumn, Eikando Temple is a must-visit. It is one of the most beautiful fall foliage spots in all of Kyoto, and even though admission costs more in November and December, it’s totally worth it. (You should also return for the nighttime illumination–it draws a huge crowd, but it’s among the best illuminations in Japan.) Click here to read and see more in our full post about Eikando Temple.
Philosopher’s Path – This itinerary involves a lot of walking, but the good news is that part of the journey in Kyoto is itself the destination. Philosopher’s Path is a quaint stone walkway that winds along a canal connecting Nanzenji Temple in the south to Silver Pavilion in the north with a variety of temples and quaint shops in between.
We view Path of Philosophers as a quintessential Kyoto experience. The path is named after influential Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who meditated while walking this path on his daily commute to Kyoto University. Any time of year this path is serene and contemplative, but it’s especially pretty during fall foliage or spring sakura seasons. Arriving at this point in the mid-afternoon should help avoid crowds, too. Click here to read and see more in our full post about the Path of Philosophers.
Honenin Temple – A nice diversion about halfway through the Path of Philosophers, Honenin Temple is a gem of Kyoto that’s hiding in plain site. You’ll see signs pointing there (it’s to the east of the main path, about 3 minutes out of the way), so just follow those.
There are two beautifully-manicured sand mounds, a moss garden, bridges, small buildings, and the main hut. In a way, Honenin Temple is like a series of picture-perfect vignettes. Even though no guidebooks will recommend Honenin Temple as a top (or even top 25!) spot in Kyoto, do not miss it. The quiet, secluded setting will impart a sense of serenity that other temples in the city would if they weren’t so popular! Click here to read and see more in our full post about Honenin Temple.
Silver Pavilion – After following our path through Higashiyama in reverse, this would put you at Silver Pavilion for the hour before it closes. With its one-way path that climbs above the temple buildings, you can enjoy a great sunset view right at closing that rivals the scene at Kiyomizudera. (Okay, it’s not quite as good, but close!)
It features numerous temple buildings, a meticulously-manicured dry sand garden, and moss garden spread across forested grounds that is mesmerizing when aglow with morning light. Silver Pavilion is an excellent and serene place to explore without crowds, and perfectly encapsulates the vibe of a zen temple.
In our field-testing of this itinerary, we found that Silver Pavilion admits visitors right up until closing time (no 30 minute advance closure like other temples); you’ll have 20 minutes from that time until staff start sweeping guests towards the exit. Click here to read and see more in our full post about the Silver Pavilion.
Okazaki Museum District – If you’re really ambitious, you could then catch the 32 bus from the Silver Pavilion and visit one of the museums in the park near Heian Shrine for their late evening opening. Our favorite is the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto–open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Realistically, it’s been a pretty long day at this point, so you might just want to grab dinner and head to bed. Even though you’ll be done with Silver Pavilion and back in the city-center by around 6 p.m., you’ll probably be ready to crash after the early rise and long day on your feet. Plus, there’s another long day of touring Kyoto’s Arashiyama and Sagano districts the next day!
If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
If you’ve been to Kyoto, do you have any feedback on this itinerary for Higashiyama and other parts of Eastern Kyoto? Any stops you view as skippable, or can’t miss locations we overlooked? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? If you’re a first-timer to Japan, do you need further clarification about any of this? We know it’s a lot to digest, so if you have additional questions, we’ll do our best to answer! Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!