Although one day is not nearly enough to explore Kyoto, sometimes it is all you have to work with. I went to Kyoto this summer as a day trip from Tokyo, and it was a day of errors for me. Unfortunately for me, I did not get the best experience out of Kyoto. Fortunately for you, I now know what I did wrong so you don’t have to repeat my mistakes.
Rule #1: do NOT go in the high heat of summer.
If you do, DO bring sunscreen, plenty of water (or go to 711 to buy water), a hat, and a fan. I guess it is not much of a rule as sometimes you don’t have a choice in what time of year you visit. If you do, choose cooler weather. If you don’t, go anyway and sweat it out.
Rule #2: do NOT rent a bike right outside the bullet train station on a cloudless day and bike 6 miles uphill to the Golden Temple
DO either take public transportation to the Golden Temple or skip it for the myriad of other temples that you can walk to downtown. If you choose to ignore this and you do rent a bike as soon as you leave the train station, make sure you are aware of the bike laws in Kyoto. You can ride almost anywhere, except for two streets that are well marked on maps and also on the streets. In those areas, you have to dismount and walk your bike.
Also, you cannot just leave your bike anywhere, you have to go to designated bike parking lots. They do cost a fee, but we never got to pay the fee because they were all full to the brim. Bike parking at the Golden Temple, however, was free.
Rule #3: do NOT go to the Bamboo Forest without bugspray and too tired to rent a bike
DO take public transportation to the bamboo forest and wait until you get there to rent a bike. This way, you will have enough energy to enjoy the cool bamboo canopy as the sun does not penetrate the forest all the way. Also, the mosquitoes! I wore long sleeves and pants and was still getting bitten.
Rule #4 do NOT go to Shinbashi Dori, the most beautiful street in Asia, after dark and when everything is closed. You will not be able to see or photograph anything.
DO buy some food to go and hang out under the big bridge in the evening
Things that I did not get a chance to mess up on this trip, but would be interested in on a return trip:
Explore all the temples downtown
Rent a Kimono for the day