A super fast and efficient public transport system, being geographically compact and with so much diversity makes Japan an ideal country to explore. You don’t need to be constantly moving from one base to another to see new parts of Japan, so much is accessible within a reasonable commute from a central city. We’ve taken these day trips from Kyoto but they’re equally suitable if you are based in Osaka, Kobe or Nara. Have fun!
Over almost 10 years of travelling regularly to Japan, we’ve taken dozens of day trips from Kyoto. As much as I enjoy wandering the streets of Kyoto and immersing myself in the unique ambience and flow of the city, it’s also a very convenient base to use for exploring the middle of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
Kyoto has less of that big city feel that characterizes Tokyo and Osaka but it’s still very populated and attracts a lot of tourists so sometimes it’s nice to break that up with a trip to a smaller city or even into the countryside.
Table of Contents
- Why day trips from Kyoto are such a great option
- These are 16 of the best trips from Kyoto
Why day trips from Kyoto are such a great option
Here are some of our favourite side 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.
Something to keep in mind with all of these trips is that they can be used from any of the bases in this central part of the country so if you prefer to stay in Osaka or Kobe, for example, these options are all still open to you.
The speed of the Japanese rail system combined with the relative economy of a JR Pass makes day-tripping over a significant distance viable. The same trips can be done with the purchase of individual tickets but depending on which ones you plan to do there are sometimes good cost savings to be made. We have a detailed article that works through whether the JR Pass is right for you and how to use it. We’ve purchased it many times now and currently, this Klook offer for the JR Pass seems to consistently be the best deal we can find.
We have a bit of a routine when we head out on a long-distance day trip. We usually start early and pick up a coffee from Starbucks and something from the bakery just before we board the train to eat en route for our breakfast. Then on the way back to our base we either catch a train that returns after dinner, pick up a bento to eat on the train or eat at one of the (literally) hundreds of restaurants in the Kyoto Station precinct before returning to our hotel at night.
Some of these trips might be a bit long, particularly if you are travelling with young children but they work well for us. Doing it this way we can generally have 8-10 hours to explore our day’s 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 a precise timetable it’s very reliable to do it this way and 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.
Where to stay in Kyoto: We find the Hotel Granvia ideal when we’re planning on taking a few long day trips out of Kyoto. Its location is super convenient for early departures and late arrivals being located right at the station. There’s an excellent selection of restaurants and shops nearby and you can easily access all areas of the city using the buses and subway that both originate from the station precinct.
These are 16 of the best trips from Kyoto
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 enjoying a leisurely evening meal of beautifully fresh local seafood it’s easily done as the trains back to Kyoto run well into the night.
You’ll find more information on visiting Kanazawa on a side trip from Kyoto in this post.
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.
Uji is a picturesque city in Kyoto prefecture famous for its 10th-century temple, green tea and attractive riverfront.
You can get to Uji on either the JR or Keihan line from Kyoto in around 30-35 minutes. They arrive at different stations but both are convenient for visiting the attractions in the city.
We have an article that sets out a full guide and walking map for exploring Uji. There is a lot to see and quite a bit of walking, the day trip itinerary will help find the places you are most interested in visiting in the most efficient way.
When in Uji don’t miss the fabulous meals, drinks and snacks that highlight the matcha tea the city is famous for. Whether you prefer the traditional tea ceremony, souvenir sweets to take home, a refreshing matcha soft cream cone or a meal of noodles infused with powdered tea you will find it here.
3. Kurashiki Bikan historical quarter
This heritage district of Okayama prefecture is situated on an attractive canal surrounded by heritage wooden warehouse buildings dating back over 300 years to the Edo period. It is one of the most attractive and well-preserved heritage merchant districts in Japan.
The simplest way to get here is to take the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Okayama and then transfer to a local train out to Kurashiki. All up including transfers will take around 90 minutes.
The area surrounding the canal is home to many talented artisans and features interesting shopping streets, galleries, museums and welcoming cafes.
If you don’t have a full day to spare you could easily combine a half-day at Kurashiki Bikan with other activities in Okayama such as the castle and gardens or cycling alongside the rice paddies on the path through the Kibi Plains. You could also hop off the shinkansen at Himeji or Kobe which are directly between Kyoto and Okayama.
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 springtime, 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 town’s 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.
The bullet train to Himeji will take around 55 minutes each way. The big attraction in Himeji is 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 the 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 a 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.
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 convenience store 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.
This is a long 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’ve met a number of people who’ve done the day trip all the way from Tokyo although I don’t recommend that.
Hiroshima city is flat and quite compact so it’s easy to explore on foot and there is a lot to see. We have our Hiroshima City self-guided walking tour that takes in most of the sites and if you want to speed it up a little you can take the tram one way or head directly to the Peace Park skipping the gardens and castle. The tram leaves from outside the train station and stops conveniently opposite the A-dome.
In the city, the Peace Park, the museum and the A dome would be on most people’s itinerary to visit. In addition based on personal interests the castle and its park, baseball stadium, Shukkeien garden and shopping area may be included. Hiroshima like most of Japan has great food options but if you’re a fan of Okonomiyaki trying the unique Hiroshima layered noodle version should be on your list too.
For Miyajima Island on a day trip, the quickest and easiest option is to take the Shinkansen to Hiroshima and then catch the train to Miyajimaguchi (30 minutes). Walk down the short street directly outside the station and you’ll be at the ferry. Don’t forget your JR pass also covers that train and the ferry across to the island making for quite an inexpensive day.
There are many things to do on Miyajima so we like to spend a full day on the island making sure we catch the torii and shrine ‘floating’ on the full tide, get to the top of the mountain and wander the streets and parks at our leisure. It also gives the possibility of catching a sunset although this is enhanced if you have the option to spend a night on the island.
You could reduce your time on the island to a few hours though and that would be enough time to see the famous Torii gate, the deer, the main shrine, the shopping street and possibly one or two temples in the lower area. With a little longer we’d recommend the cable car and /or walking 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’ll see the oyster beds in the Seto Inland Sea from the ferry on the way across. While being a bit concerned on the first visit we’ve ordered them in various forms on 3 different visits now with no ill effects although they are usually cooked.
A local tour guide is one way to get a deeper understanding of the culture and traditions associated with the island. Magical Trip runs a one-day hiking tour getting off the beaten path to experience more of the island’s attractions. You explore the famous shrine then follow a hiking path to the summit where you stop for lunch and appreciate the incredible view from up there before taking the ropeway back down.
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.
A possible day itinerary includes taking a look at the city from the river on the 60-minute Suijyo Aqualiner cruise. Heading to Osaka castle to see the museum, Nishinomaru Garden, and if you are there in the right season the ume (plum blossom).
You can meet a free local guide at the museum and other parts of the city, we had a great experience with one we met, she was able to tell us so much about both the flowers and castle in English that we might not otherwise have learned. The Osaka Museum of History is also very near to the castle with some life-sized townscape reconstructions.
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 is a good time to head up to the Umeda Sky Building observatory or the Harukas 300. You can 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.
Whether you are headed to Osaka for just the day or for a longer stay you will find our comprehensive guide to things to do in Osaka handy. It’s packed full of tips on where to eat, stay and play in Osaka.
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. Kobe rallied immediately beginning the rebuild and re-opening of its major port facility and infrastructure in record time which ensured its continuity as a significant source of employment and income in the area.
There is of course much more to Kobe. It’s a thriving port, 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 that is open for tasting and many people would travel just to eat the renowned Kobe beef in the home city.
We also really enjoyed our gondola up Mt Rokko and walking back down through the gardens. It has stunning views over the harbour and across to Osaka from the top and on the ride up.
Find more things to do in this post on our top 8 things to do in Kobe.
An hour’s 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 castle’s 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 from the castle keep itself which stops it from getting as congested.
If you’re a fast-paced traveller consider exploring both Hikone and Nagahama as a day trip as the train passes directly by Nagahama station on the way to Hikone.
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, as an ancient capital of Japan the architecture and history are amazing and again, there are so many great food options.
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.
If you are looking for a guide, Magical Trip has a half-day walking tour of Nara that is ideal to understand the culture and history of the ancient capital. The timing works well if you’re travelling from Kyoto or Osaka for the day. You’ll explore the most famous of the world heritage temples and shrines, walk through Nara Park, meet the friendly deer and discover a hidden 8th-century pyramid.
13. Okayama’s famous gardens and castle
An hour and 20 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 is 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.
14. Universal Studios
If you are looking for a change of pace, are travelling with children or just enjoy thrill rides and movies like Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Minions then a day at Universal Studios Japan can be a lot of fun.
On our visit to Japan this year we set aside a day to spend at Universal Studios in Osaka. I’m a long-time fan of Harry Potter and expected that anything done by Warner Bros and with Japan’s attention to detail was going to be great but it was even better than I had anticipated.
If you’re going you’ll need to set aside a full day, plan to be there at opening time and stay until the night parade is over and the park is closing. Our article on USJ gives you a sneak peek inside and tips on how to get the most into your day.
15. Minoo Park and Waterfalls
If you want to spend some time in nature then heading out into the hills north of Osaka for a visit to Minoo Park and waterfalls is a good option. It’s one of Japan’s oldest parks and especially beautiful in autumn foliage but a good choice at any time of the year.
You follow an easy walking path that is paved most of the way. Stop in at local shrines and temples, there are a few restaurants along the way in the lower section and places to get a drink and snacks like freshly roasted chestnuts and tempura maple leaves.
Our Minoo Park article has full details on how to get there and what to explore in the area. There is an onsen resort at the base of the park but if you just want a short stop to revive tired feet, warm up or relax, there is also a free foot onsen on the way back to the station, something quite unique to Japan.
16. Mt Rokko
Access to the hiking path and the ropeway up Mt Rokko is directly behind the Shin-Kobe station, which makes the bullet train the most efficient way to get here and it will take under 30 minutes. If you don’t have the JR Pass and don’t want the cost of the bullet train, you can take a local train and then the subway which will make the trip just over an hour.
Exit the station at the front, turn right and at the end enter the building in front of you and take the escalators down. Turn right again and follow the signs to the ropeway, it will take you up Mt Rokko to the views and herb gardens at the top.
If you exit the park at the lower end you will be on the hiking trail and can walk back down to Shin-Osaka station past the dam and waterfalls. Alternatively, you can walk, or take the ropeway in both directions.
There’s a restaurant at the top, beautifully maintained gardens with space for relaxing, huge glasshouses, views back as far as Osaka on a clear day and a cafe/bar.
KYOTO TRAVEL TIPS CHECKLIST
>For all the essential tips to help plan your visit to Japan see our comprehensive and FREE Japan Guide
>Looking for a great place to stay in Kyoto? We use and trust Booking.com for its great selection and value in Kyoto.
>We regularly purchase the Japan Rail Pass. Here’s everything you need to know to decide if it’s worth buying for your trip. We also use an IC card such as the SUICA card daily on subways, buses and private railways.
>Free WIFI isn’t widely available in Japan. For translation, directions, timetables and other information on the go personal WIFI are one of our essentials. We look at the various options in our cheat sheet to stay connected in Japan.
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This is not an exhaustive list of day trips from Kyoto but it’s a few of the ones we’ve done and they are all destinations we’ve really enjoyed for a variety of reasons plus they’re easy to get to using Japan’s efficient public transport system. If you have your own favourites we’d love to hear those too in the comments below.