10 of the best day trips from Kyoto

Shinkensen at the station

As much as I enjoy wandering the streets of Kyoto and immersing myself in the unique ambiance and flow of the city, it’s also a very convenient base to use for exploring the mid section of Japans main island, Honshu.  Kyoto has less of that big city feel that characterises Tokyo and Osaka but it’s still a significantly populated space and sometimes it’s nice to break that up with a trip to a smaller city or even into the countryside.

Here are 10 of our favourite day trips from Kyoto that can be feasibly enjoyed as day trips.  That’s not to say an overnight stay wouldn’t be enjoyable if time allowed but that’s not always practical and it’s no reason to miss out.  If like us you tend to travel with a moderate amount of luggage and like the convenience of limiting the number of accommodation moves required,then slightly longer day trips are an excellent option.

The speed of the Japanese rail system combined with the relative economy of a JR Pass make significant distances viable.  We have a bit of a routine with day trips usually starting early and picking up a Starbucks and something from the bakery just before we board the train for our breakfast and either returning after dinner, picking up a bento to eat on the train or eating at one of the (literally) 100’s of restaurants in the Kyoto Station precinct before returning to our hotel at night.

Some of these might be a bit long particularly if you’ are travelling with younger children but they work well for us.  Doing it this way we can generally have 8-10 hours to explore our days destination.  If we want to we can always snooze on the train but we do set the alarm on our phone.  Japanese trains run to such an exacting timetable it’s very viable to do this so we normally give ourselves a 5 minute buffer to pack stuff back in our bags and be ready to go because the station stops are very short.

Here are 10 of our favourite day trips from Kyoto in no particularly order:

Kanazawa

Using a limited express train it’s 2 1/4 hours to Kanazawa.  If you want to wander the Chaya districts at dusk in the hope of spotting a geisha or enjoy a leisurely evening meal of beautifully fresh local seafood it’s easily done as the trains back to Kyoto run well into the night.

Highlights in Kanazawa are Kenroku-en garden which is noted as one of the top 3 gardens in the country and the adjacent castle.  The geisha districts here are the next largest and most active after Kyoto’s but some of the old tea houses have been converted to living museums and tea shops which I really enjoyed experiencing.  The samurai district also has historical interest with old homes now open as museums.  We enjoyed the Oyama Shrine and Omicho market too, they weren’t part of our plan but we found both of them as we wandered around the city streets.  The ninja temple is another popular attraction but although it has many fun ninja style hidden passages and trap doors it doesn’t appear to have its own ninja history.

You’ll find more information on day tripping to Kanazawa from Kyoto in this post.

Kanazawa Chaya district

Nagahama

Less than 40 minutes after leaving Kyoto station you will arrive in Nagahama, which has a casual and friendly small town feel.  Across the road from the station you’ll find Nagahama castle, the park which is a popular sakura spot in spring time, and the shores of Lake Biwa.  The lake is a popular recreation spot in summer.

The town area retains the heritage of the area and you’ll find some interesting buildings around Kurokabe square housing glass ornaments and bowls which are a specialty of the town.  There are also some great restaurants and a museum with the towns intricately decorated festival floats on display.

Two events in town that we’ve been to and enjoyed on different visits are the Nagahama Bonbai festival featuring bonsai of cherry and plum blossom and the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri a festival of kabuki theatre expertly performed by children.

Nagahama glass window

Himeji

The bullet train to Himeji will take around 55 minutes each way.  The big attraction in Himeji is of course the castle, arguably the most impressive of the few original castles still standing from the feudal era.  Going through the open areas of the castle and the impressive gardens will require a few hours.  Allow extra in busy period like when the cherry blossom is in bloom or during golden week when the queues will be quite long.

You’ll pass the information centre just before you reach the castle, they speak English and will be able to help with planning out the rest of your day but my pick would be Mt Shosha (Shoshazan Engyo-ji).  This heavily forested mountain is home to an historic and sprawling temple complex.  You can hike all the way, take the ropeway then a light hike, or take a bus from the ropeway to suit your fitness and available time.  The temple was used for filming a scene from the movie The Last Samurai  but Tom Cruise’s acting ability shouldn’t be used as a reason not to explore this beautiful setting.

Himeji Castle | 2 Aussie Travellers

Enryukuji

This one’s a shorter commute, it’s only a 30 minute train trip to Sakamoto station in neighbouring Shiga Prefecture.  The cable car is fun, the views out over lake Biwa are amazing and the hike between temples on Mount Hiei feels a world away from the bustle of the city.

There’s plenty to see up here for those wanting to spend the day in the hills with temples and nature.  While there is a restaurant we recommend picking up a bento or a cold lunch from the 7-eleven or a bakery on your way and having a picnic.  There’s a konbini between the station and the cable car if you want to pick up drinks or snacks.

You can read all the information for planning a day trip to Enrukuji from Kyoto in this post.

Enryukuji Temples

Hiroshima

This is a longer stretch for a day trip at 2 1/2 hours on the bullet train in each direction but given that you sit back and relax in relative comfort on the train it can be done.  I know people who’ve done the day trip all the way from Tokyo although I don’t recommend that.

There are two options that you would probably do here, one is Miyajima Island and the other is to explore Hiroshima City with a focus on the Peace Park and central attractions.  If you’re a fast paced traveller (we’re not) you could do a half day at each.

For Miyajima Island catch the train to Miyajimaguchi (30 minutes) then walk down the short street directly outside the station to the ferry.  Don’t forget your JR pass also covers the cost of the ferry.  We like a full day on the island with the possibility of enjoying the sunset but plenty of visitors do only spend a couple of hours.  A half day would be enough time to see the famous torii gate, deer, the main shrine, shopping street and possible one or two temples in the lower area.  With a little longer we’d recommend the cable car and /or walk up Mt Misen for the views and visiting some of the other temples a little further out.  There are lots of lunch options in the shopping street with local oysters featuring prominently.  You can see the oyster beds from the ferry on the way in, I’ve had variations of the oysters on two visits with no ill effects.

In the city the Peace Park, museum and the A dome would be on most peoples list to visit.  In addition based on personal interests the castle and it’s park, baseball stadium, Shukkeien garden and shopping area may be of interest.  Hiroshima like most of Japan has great food options but if you’re a fan of Okonomiyaki trying the unique Hiroshima layered noodle version might also be on your list.

Our Hiroshima City self guided walking tour takes in most of the sites and if you want to speed it up a little consider taking the tram one way or heading straight to the Peace Park  The tram leaves from outside the train station and stops conveniently opposite the A-dome.

A Dome in Hiroshima

Osaka

It’s only 30 minutes through to Osaka and we picked up the Osaka Amazing Pass (previously called the Osaka Free Pass) from the information centre outside the main station.  For Y2300 it covers all your train (or bus) transport with free access to 28 attractions with discounts at some others.

We first took a look at the city from the river on the 60 minute Suijyo Aqualiner cruise.  Next we headed for Osaka castle, went inside to see the museum and also the Nishinomaru Garden, as we were there in ume (plum blossom) season we spent a while looking at the groves of blossom with a free guide who was able to tell us quite a bit about both the flowers and castle in English.  The Osaka museum of history is very near to the castle with some life sized townscape reconstructions if you are interested in that.  Osaka prides itself on its delicious food and it is well justified to spend a portion of your day deciding what to eat and enjoying it.  Late in the afternoon we went up the Umeda Sky Building observatory, it’s a great spot to enjoy the views as it transitions from daylight through to dusk and the city lights come on.  Dinner with the neon lights of Namba is also highly recommended.

Osaka at night

Kobe

Another day trip that’s under an hour from Kyoto is the city of Kobe.  In 1995 the city was devastated by the Great Hanshin earthquake but other than the museums and memorials you wouldn’t know know.  Kobe rallied immediately beginning the rebuild and re-opening it’s major port facility and infrastructure in record time which ensuring its continuity as a significant source of employment and income in the area.

There is of course much more to Kobe, having long been a thriving port it has a robust China Town and is one of the best places in Japan to celebrate Chinese New Year which determined the timing of our first visit to the city.  It also has a robust historic sake district which is open for tasting and many people would travel just to eat the renowned Kobe beef in the home city.

Find more things to do in this post on our top 8 things to do in Kobe.

Kobes China Town

Hikone

An hours travel from Kyoto could have you in the historic castle town of Hikone.  This town is home to one of 4 original castles in Japan listed as National Treasures.  The town sits on the shores of Lake Biwa and on a clear day there are great views from the top floor of the castle out over the town and lake beyond.

Hikone was a popular alternative for visitors during Himeji castles recent renovation period and has recently been undergoing some refurbishment of its own.  Walk around the edge of the moat and you’ll find a recreated castle street that offers good restaurant alternatives including one of our best meals of local beef in Japan.  The castle museum here has a good collection and is housed separately to the castle keep itself which stops it getting as congested.

If you’re a faster paced traveller consider joining Hikone and Nagahama into a single daytrip as train passes directly by Nagahama station on the way to Hikone.

Hikone Castle | 2 Aussie Travellers

Nara

The JR train through to Nara takes about 45 minutes.  This is one of my favourite relaxing days, it’s very easy and once you are there you can walk around between most of the attractions, it’s flat, green and relatively compact.  We’ve found the locals here very friendly, the architecture and history is amazing as this was an ancient capital of Japan and dare I mention again, great food.

The deer that mill around in the park, outside the temples and even around the shops are adorable.  Despite the signs advising that they can be prone to bad behaviour I haven’t seen anyone have any problems unless they fed them and even then it was being followed and pestered for more attention, nothing more intimidating.

You can see more of the 10 reasons why I love visiting Nara in this post and about Gango-ji, a special temple we visited for Setsubun.

Todai-ji in Nara

Okayama

An hour and 2o minutes headed west from Kyoto will have you at Okayama station.  This city is home to another of the top three gardens in Japan known as Koraku-en,.  It’s a huge garden and absolutely stunning during sakura when it’s a very popular spot for sedate family hanami parties but it’s equally beautiful at other times of the year.  The nearby Okayama castle forms part of the ‘borrowed scenery’ a common component of Japanese garden design and well integrated into this one.

After exploring the castle and gardens an interesting option while in this part of the country would be to head to the rural Kibi Plains and hire a bicycle to explore the paths between the rice paddies, temples, shrines and historic burial mounds along the way.  Catch the train (30 minutes) to either Soja or Bizen Ichinomiya to hire a cycle, it’s mostly on dedicated cycle paths and the cycle can be returned at the opposite station.

Okayama Castle

 

This is no where near an exhaustive list of day trips from Kyoto but it’s a few of the ones we’ve done and really enjoyed for a variety of reasons.  If you have your own favourites to add please comment below.

68 Comments

  • Hi
    I have just booked a our flights to Japan from 15th April – 4th May to see the cherry blossoms….
    Only thing is i am now finding that the weather in April is quite cold and you have to wrap up in a jacket and shoes (no sandals)
    We love to be in sandals and light clothes when on holiday as we live in cold and dreary england
    We were initially looking to book from the end of May to the begining of June. Would this option have been better. Is it alot warmer at this time?
    Thank you

    • Hi Parbin, I love the cherry blossom season and if you went any later you’ll miss it unless you are going right up north so I accept spring weather in Japan for what it is, a little grey and chilly at times. I wear mostly long pants and long sleeve top, boots and jacket/coat during our cherry blossom visits. During the day as we walk around you don’t always need the jacket. I have to be honest though and say I have been out in Kyoto in spring and been simultaneous (lightly) snowed on and watched the cherry blossom petals fall, on the other hand there have been a few days out walking where I would have liked a tshirt for a part of the day. I think we feel it more as we spend most of our time in a tropical region and arrive from temperatures in the 30’s so that would make a difference to our perception of the temperature. I wouldn’t consider April or June to be sandals and summer weather, in April from memory the low to high average temperatures are around 10-17c and I think June is around 17 – 24 so a bit warmer but not hot. I hope you enjoy your trip, it really is beautiful at that time of year and it’s that initial warming of the air that brings the blossom our so intensely I believe so it is worth it 🙂

  • Hi,
    Your site is very interesting and useful!
    We are travelling to Kyoto late May next year where we’ll spend 5 days. I know it will be fascinating, but I’m not a city person, (only in small doses).
    We then have 5 more days and would like to get out into rural Japan, the countryside. Walking, (asoppossed to full on hiking) photography, beautiful scenery away from crowds and concrete is the priority! Can you suggest any areas to go for a few days/nights that fit the bill? We only having 5 days before flying out of Osaka, so thought to stay within Kansai, Shikoku, or south end of Japan Alps regions. Thank you

    • We also like to break up our time in a city, especially Tokyo and Osaka, I find Kyoto a little different and can happily spend longer there probably because I spend much of my time in gardens, temples and shrines which are peaceful in themselves. It’s hard to spend much time in what we consider rural (coming from in New Zealand and Australia) without speaking conversational Japanese which we don’t but you don’t have to go that far from Kyoto to get out of the city as such. Arashiyama, a suburb of Kyoto is really nice around the river and the gardens and temples up the hill. Enryukuji is a nice area to spend the day that I’ve covered on the site. Hiroshima is a city but if you go over to Miyajima Island you can make a quick visit to the busy shrine area but the park and the trails up Mt Misen are fairly easy walking and avoid the crowds. A couple on our list for the future are hiring a cycle and cycling through the rice fields and temples of the Kibi plains out of Okayama (an easy cycle I’m told) or with a bit more time for an overnight then Koyasan would be high on my list. During the summer around Lake Biwa might be pretty so smaller cities/towns on the lake like Hikone or Nagahama which we enjoyed would be an option, both have castles and history from the feudal era and other attractions.

  • Thank you for this incredible post! Helping me plan our upcoming trip. We only have 2 weeks in the country and that too during the holidays in December/early January. We’re thinking one week Kyoto and one week Tokyo with day trips from both. Do any of your suggestions change for Kyoto if the travel period is late December? Or do you recommend a completely different area in Japan for the winter season (we are not skiers) Any advice much appreciated. Thank you

    • I think that is a good split of time especially at that time of year. New Year will see a lot of things closed for a few days and also offer some unique experiences (https://www.2aussietravellers.com/japanese-new-year-traditions/) and of course in Tokyo all the light ups are on. Both cities have plenty to see and also many opportunities to day trip. Some people like to carry their pack with them and stay somewhere different each night, our preference is a couple of bases and to day trip from there. A day trip like Nagano snow monkeys (ex Tokyo) or Kanazawa (ex Kyoto) does have a chance of snow but variable at that time of year. For example our previous research for new year in Kanazawa was anything from no snow to 30cm depending on the year. Have a wonderful time, what a great way to spend the holidays.

  • Thanks for your very informative blogs, its helping me organize our family trip to Japan in October. We are planning to go to Himeji as a day trip from Osaka. I was thinking we would then explore Mt Shosha. Would another option be go to Himeji and Hiroshima in one day? Or keep them both as separate day trips. I unfortunately am running out or days! Thanks again for your helpful information.

    • Hi Gaby it is technically possible depending on what you want to do and how long you spend at each place. We opt for a slower travel style so my preference would be to pick one over the other. If you pick the right trains it’s 55 minutes from Kyoto to Himeji, then around 1.5 hours on to Hiroshima. So with a longer day and targeting specifically what you want to do in each place it is possible. I would say that unless you have a deep interest in Japans feudal history or castle architecture you will likely want to combine it with something else that day. If you mainly just want to see the castle and aren’t so interested in going inside or seeing too much of the park and gardens then I think you would be OK.

  • Hi, we’ve just arrived in Tokyo and will be moving on to Kyoto next week. There’s plenty of trips on your list that we’d like to do, thanks for the info. Did you buy your JR pass in advance. We have been told we can’t get one now as they’ve to be bought in advance
    Thanks,
    Martin.

  • I was contacted by a reader about Airbnb in Japan and its legality. Anyway I recommended your blog to her and sent her the link about daytripping from Kyoto as she is thinking of doing that.

  • This is an incredible list! We are actually about to be in Japan for 3 weeks! Since we are on a budget we are thinking of spending a week in Osaka, a week in Kyoto, then a week in Tokyo and just really exploring around slowly by foot. This list is making me want to get out and see more around Kyoto! I just wish the train passes were a bit cheaper! This was super helpful and is getting us ready for our trip! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Megan there is plenty to do in Kyoto too for many weeks without leaving the city depending on you interests and travel style. I think we have over 50 posts on the site now covering things IN Kyoto. While we personally have found the JR pass to be excellent value if you plan it right it’s not the answer for every travellers time-frames or budget. It may not apply to you but often if you are planning to do a return trip between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto by bullet train the JR pass for 7 days is a very similar price which can open up some options without extra cost. There are of course other options to get between the three cities that are cheaper than bullet train by trading off some extra time in transit.

      • Thanks! We will use your site as reference for our trip! We are really looking forward to our slow 3 weeks! We were planning on staying a bit longer in Kyoto based on things we had heard! I am so excited your site has so much information on Japan! If only we had the budget to stay longer and travel to more places! We really wanted to see Shirakawago, but we just can’t fit it into our budget this trip! Perhaps next time!

  • Hey Toni,
    What would be your recommendation for Hiroshima if you were only doing a day trip, island in the morning and peace park in the afternoon or peace park in the morning and island in the afternoon?
    I am yet to decide which way we will do it but would love your insight.
    Thanks
    Sally.

    • Hi Sally, do you have a date in mind? If you do you can check the tide table and that would be my deciding factor on which way around to do it. The drama of the shrine and tori floating on high tide is well work working into your plan if at all possible.

  • Have a flight to Tokyo on Tuesday, we plan to get the bullet train straight to Osaka and base there for 4 nights. Do you recommend any trips from Osaka? Hiroshima is a 100% for me for a day but not sure what other citys/Towns to visit. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • All of the day trips in our Kyoto post are also suitable to do from Osaka. If it’s a first visit you’ll be wanting time to explore Osaka but I’d highly recommend both Kyoto and Nara.

  • Hi, I am finding this site quite helpful in planning a trip for 23 high school students. We want to base ourselves in Kyoto and just go no further that a day’s outing at a time.
    Can you give me an indication of expenses in relation to travel to and entrance costs and meals etc?
    I’m finding this trip hard to get a good overview of budget.

    • Hi Vivien, that sounds like a big planning exercise. Happy to help out identifying costs and resources if you can give me an idea of which parts you are trying to budget for. Does your school or other local schools have resources that they will share with you? Many schools that run exchange and travel programmes with Japan will have a big resource bank already, sister school arrangements and also have access to a lot of cost saving options and local guides etc that the general public won’t.

  • Hi, do you know if the recent renovation of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum make it difficult to visit on a Sunday due to how crowded it may get? We are debating either we should go to Hiroshima/Miyijama or Himeji/Kobe from Kyoto as a Sunday day-trip. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Mona, when are you planning on going? My understanding it that they’re keeping the museum open throughout the renovations, at the moment the east building is being renovated and the main building is still open, I think it’s around March that they will swap that over. As it’s only one part of the Peace Park it wouldn’t stop me going, although Himeji and Kobe are also a great day out. Enjoy your visit!

    • Hi, I went to the museum 2 daysago. It isn’t big but it is actually the best museum I have ever been to. Please go! When we went, there weren’t many ppl. It cost 50yen to get in 🙂

  • I’m heading to Japan next month so this is getting bookmarked! I’ve been trying to figure out where to go during my trip and there’s just so many options..Osaka is definitely on my list. The bullet train is going to be fun 🙂

  • Thanks for the post Toni – I remember visiting Hiroshima when I was 15 and it was a very sobering trip which I would highly recommend for everyone too. We took our 1,000 paper cranes which we had created here in Australia and hung them in the Peace Park. It was a very memorable part of our Japan trip.

  • I am so happy I found your blog. Thank you for the recommendations! I will be in Japan – mainly Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo – for two weeks at the end of the year. I will definitely be going to Nara and Hiroshima/Miyajima and will probably add Kobe, Himeji, and maybe Enryukuji or Takayama. I was wondering, though, what you think of Kurama? Is it worth a visit in lieu of one of the places I mentioned? Also, do you think a Kansai Thru Pass would be worth getting? Thanks again!

    • Hi Katrina. We haven’t made it to Kurama yet, it has been on my list for a couple of trips but what I had wanted to do was explore Kurama town then do the hiking trail over the hill to Kibune and have lunch on one of the dining platforms in the river. Unfortunately the famous restaurant is only open in summer (June to September) and our trips have always been spring and winter with the next planned for autumn next year so I think we will just do it anyway, I’m sure there will be plenty of other nice places for lunch. It looks fairly easy access as we always stay a portion of our time in Kyoto. Having said that I’m not sure I’d trade off any of the other places you mention but you could possibly do it as a part day in Kyoto combined with other places but again if it’s your first visit there are so many must see places it’s going to depend on your preferences. We have found the JR pass pays off on our visits but it will depend on your itinerary, if you are flying in and out of one city and therefore doing a round trip Tokyo to Hiroshima at some stage even if it is in parts by bullet train then it is likely it would pay off. We’ve looked at other combinations with the Kansai thru pass but it hasn’t worked for us so far, if you don’t have a JR pass for that period and you load the 2 or 3 day pass with the longer trips it might work. Have you found hyperdia.com, it an English language site for Japan transport and it’s very easy to do sample trips in there to get a costing and work out what pass is worth getting. I cover it a bit in this post https://www.2aussietravellers.com/top-tips-for-transport-in-japan/.

      Have a fabulous trip and let me know if you need a hand with hyperdia or if there is anything else I can help with.

      • Oh my goodness. I cannot believe that I didn’t see your response. My notifications did not work. 🙁 But thank you so much for your very thorough response! I am going back to Japan in January so this will definitely come in handy. I ended up not going to Kurama this trip because I ended up staying in Tokyo for longer and I didn’t get a thru pass either. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I love Japan! 🙂

  • Wow, I have never been to Japan, but it is on the top of my list of countries I want to visit some day. As you have proved again by your post it has such a grand history and culture. I will bookmark it for the future. Thank you!

  • You have convinced me to spend time in Osaka. We are flying Osaka/Shanghai after our time in Kyoto and I was debating whether to just transit straight through the city. It seems there is plenty to fill a day, so we shall. Thank you

  • While reading this entry, I’m missing Japan even more! I love their culture and food. When I’m there I hoard a lot of Kitkat matcha green tea to give to my family back home. Some find it good but some find it weird. I also ate every matcha flavored bread, cake or ice-cream I could find their. LOL.

  • This is a great resource for first timers in Japan. I wish I had seen this before we spent our two weeks in Kyoto Toni 🙂 However we just wanted to experience Kyoto itself on our first visit. Next time we will probably get a JR Pass and do day trips as well. Love this post.

  • This makes me really sad I still haven’t made it to Japan. Kyoto looks like the perfect place to base yourself with some great places really close by. I will finally get there one day! Thanks for the great photos and inspiration

  • Yes those are all really amazing places to visit around Kyoto, so wonderful. One of my favorites up in the Japanese alps around 1 1/2 hours away is the gorgeous city of Takayama – a craft city with many of the artisans working on the palaces of Nara and Kyoto.

  • You’ve shared so much great information about the area. If I ever decide to go I’m coming back to your site to help with the planning. Thanks for sharing!

  • I’m definitely bookmarking your post here!!! Japan is on top of my travel bucketlist and hopefully, my plan to visit it next year would push through. Thank you for your helpful tips 😀

  • These all look like fantastic travel locations around Kyoto. I especially like Enryukuji and the possibilities of natural and spiritual connections so close to the chaos and bustle of a large city. Thanks for the tips! – Emme @ Green Global Travel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *