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10 of the best day trips from Kyoto

Shinkensen at the station
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 trips from Kyoto but they're equally suitable if you are based in Osaka, Kobe or Nara. Have fun!

Over our years travelling 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 Japans main island, Honshu.  Kyoto has less of that big city feel that characterizes 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.

If you’re staying in Tokyo here are another 10 top day trips out of Tokyo.

 The speed of the Japanese rail system combined with the relative economy of a JR Pass makes 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 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 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.

Where to stay in Kyoto:  We find the Hotel Granvia ideal when we’re planning 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.

Here are 10 of our favourite day trips from Kyoto:

1. 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

2. 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 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 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

3. Himeji

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.

Himeji Castle | 2 Aussie Travellers

4. 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

5. Hiroshima

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 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 its 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 should 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

6. 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.

If you are headed to Osaka for the day or a 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.

Osaka at night

7. 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.   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

8. 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 the train passes directly by Nagahama station on the way to Hikone.

Hikone Castle | 2 Aussie Travellers

9. 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

10. 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

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 their 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 is one of our essentials. We look at the options in our cheat sheet to staying connected in Japan.

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10 day trips from Kyoto

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 and they’re easy to do using Japans efficient public transport system.  If you have your own favourites we’d love to hear those too in the comments below.

116 Comments

  • Thank you so much for sharing so many options and opportunities. My partener and I are travelling in Japan for the first time in Mid April until 30 April. We fly in and out of Tokyo and have a rough plan of 4 days in Tokyo, 4 days in Kyoto, a day in Hiroshima, 1 day in Naroshima. This leave 4 days free. My partner would love to experience rural life and we are thinking 1-2 days in Ohara, Nara, Kibune area might be in order, or perhaps Tomo-no-ura or Tango Peninsula …
    We’d appreciate y0ur comments and other ideas.
    We are aiming for a mix of experiences: rural, city and culture. Thank you!

    • So many good choices as you have already identified. Another option would be Okayama between Osaka and Hiroshima as it’s on your way. One of Japans top gardens are there not far from the Shinkansen station, then you can head out to the Kibi Plain and cycle alongside the rice paddies between two smaller stations stopping at the shrines and points of interest along the way. Kurashiki Bikan would add a cultural and scenic addition with the historic merchant houses along the canal.

  • Thank you so much for a beautiful blog and such a helpful resource in planning our trip to Japan! We will be traveling there for the first two weeks of April to celebrate our twin sons’ 18th birthday, and your advice and tips are helping to create a trip we are sure to remember for the rest of our lives! We arrive in Tokyo (2 days) then travel to the Mt Fuji area (Kawaguchiko Lake) for an overnight, then on to Kyoto (6) then back to Tokyo for the remainder (4). The Mt Fuji to Kyoto travel seems like the trickiest part, but do-able with trains and buses.
    You really have provided such valuable information and suggestions – I just wanted to send some thanks and good wishes your way!
    With gratitude -Sonya

  • we love your blog!!!!
    we are going to Japan in August 2019 for 13 days
    Tokyo – 4
    Nikko – 2
    Hakone – 2
    Takayama – 3
    Tokyo – 2 (including day trip to Kamakura)
    trying to work out whether to get a 7 or 14 day JR pass taking into consideration the need for a Nikko All Pass and Hakone Free pass
    at this point we are leaning towards the 14 day
    will we be OK in Tokyo since this doesn’t cover the subways?
    or buy a Suica, the Nikko All Pass, Hakone Free pass and Narita to Tokyo on arrival then activate the 7 day when leaving Hakone to cover the last part.
    your thoughts would be highly appreciated
    Justine

    • Hi Justine,

      If you only plan to activate the JR Pass for the 7 days from the day you leave Nikko (Tokyo to Odawara section) until returning to Tokyo, that’s around Y30,630 of tickets and the 7-day pass is Y29,110, so not a significant saving over the individual tickets. You can use JR to and from Nikko, using a single ticket on the way up, a SUICA on the buses and the JR pass on the way back but given the convenience of the Tobu option and the discount with the pass, especially if headed on to the lakes / onsen regions by bus it probably wouldn’t save you anything doing it that way.

  • Hi Toni,
    What are the day trips that can be done using the JR pass on this itinerary: Kyoto (4 days), Nagoya (5), Tokyo (8)?
    We plan on Shirakawa-go/Ainokura . What would be the difficulties here in terms of transport/weather as this is a December 22- January 6 trip.
    So in addition to the JR pass we need to purchase a Pasmo or Suica Pass (these neeed to be bought individually for each city?)
    Wish I’d found your blog earlier as I also like to base myself in a place to get the feeel of it.

    • Hi Angela, There are so many day trips that you can do when you have the pass from any of the 3 cities, it depends on your interests, how many days you have available for tripping outside of the city and do you have any particular interests. I have suggestions in this article for Kyoto (which are also suitable for Nagoya) and another article for Tokyo day trips. As you are visiting over the New Year holiday there may be some restaurants,shops and tours shut but mainstream transport operates pretty much as normal and depending on where you are the New Year celebrations themselves are something fun and different to experience.

      Whether I would buy a JR Pass would depend on the day trips you are planning to do and your main travel route, are you flying in and out of one city? The PASMO or SUICA aren’t essential but we do find them worthwhile for the convenience and time saving but you only need one and can use it across Japan, they used to be different in each region but not anymore, they’ll work for local trains, subways and many buses.

      You aren’t likely to see snow in the 3 cities at that time, it’s pretty rare that they get more than a light dusting right through winter. As you go north the chance increases, in Shirakawago on average the snow starts in late December so the amount for that timing will be hard to predict but it builds up to that fairytale scene quickly once it starts, it is a popular tourist destination and transport/tours operate daily right through the heaviest winter weather.

      Something we have found with Japans fast rail system is that it gets a lot colder quickly once you hop on a train and start travelling north, it might seem quite mild in Kyoto or Nagaya but you get on a train and can start seeing snow in the fields before you reach Nagahama. We learned the hard way the first time to tuck an extra layer or two in the bag just in case.

  • Hi There!

    I’d like to thank you for this very helpful Suggestions for Kyoto Day Trips – especially the ones illuminating the non-tourist-popular destinations 😉

    Since i had an unplanned Knee Surgery in August and wont be all that mobile as i used to be during our past 3 japantrips, your detailed Informations about the surroundings and traveling possibilities, aswell as the mention of lots of steps ect. , really helped me to replan our Vacations and through your reports i found some very new lovely Places I’d love to to with my female Fiancé 🙂

    Please keep up the great work and blogging!

    I’ll definitally follow your Blogs and i got to read lot’s of already existing Adventures 😉

    I love to share our own Discoveries to friends so i’m always very happy to see more and more people reporting on new and hidden Places around Japan :3

    Greetings Sonja

    (ps: Please excuse my sloppy english – i’m actual native german ;))

    • Hi Sonja, sorry to hear about your knee surgery, that’s got to make things more difficult but I hope you and your fiancé have a fabulous time back in Japan. Congratulations to you both!

  • Hi there,
    This is super helpful. My son and I are traveling to Japan in three weeks. (He’s obsessed and this is our second trip in the last 7 months.)

    I’ve been trying to figure out our itinerary and would love some advice. So far, we arrive in Tokyo on the evening of the 10th, spend one night, leave for Kyoto on the 11th, and are scheduled to leave on the 14th, heading wherever we want until we head back to Tokyo for departure on the evening of the 17th.

    Some have suggested that we head to Nikko, but it seems like a lot

    I have been to Nara and Osaka so want to try something different.

    Would you recommend that we extend our stay in Kyoto and just do day trips, or would you say one of these other spots would be worth a few nights?

    Also, do you recommend getting our train tickets before we go?
    Thank you so much!
    Sydne

    • Hi Sydne, I don’t know yours and your sons interests in Japan but there are plenty of day trip options around Kyoto that are interesting and fun. If you are getting the 7 day JR pass you could maximise that with day trips or even continuing on to Hiroshima for a night to see the city and Miyajima Island than back to Tokyo or perhaps Hakone on the way back through. We really enjoy the circuit in Hakone if you haven’t done it already and the onsen are wonderful although that may depend on your sons age. I always buy our rail passes in advance and have them delivered to home, although currently they are trialing sale within Japan it is more expensive to buy them there and there are limited places to buy them, with so much to see I prefer to have the voucher and just change it at my departure station, I often book the major trip tickets at that time too. Have a fabulous trip!

  • Hello, wonderful website. Which of these day trips would be good in winter – I’m going next week! I guess wouldn’t want to go to any of the gardens now, as you mentioned, would be a bit bare. Also, could any of these be linked up in a loop – a day each but heading back to Kyoto only after 2-3 days? Thanks.

    • Hi Olivia, yes they are also ideal to do that way. I guess you would separate them into going north (Hikone, Nagahama, Kanazawa or potentially with the extra time you could do Kanazawa, Takayama and Shirakawa-go as great winter options if you don’t mind a bit of snow or going west (Himeji, Kobe, Hiroshima and Miyajima). Will you have already been to Tokyo? If you are planning a couple of nights Hakone and Tokyo would be another option. I depends a bit on what you enjoy most about Japan too. If you do Kanazawa I would still do the gardens as they are quite fascinating with the trees wrapped to protect them from the snow and they usually do a winter lightup event around this time of year. Have a fabulous time!

      • Hi, thanks for the advice. Yes we have been to Tokyo, so really want to spend time on this side of island if possible. Will check out the rail passes to see what is the the most practical option.

  • Thank goodness I found your blog. After weeks of frustrating research it has helped us to plan our first trip to Kyoto in early May. Your day trips have inspired us to spend 8 days in Kyoto, with day trips to Himeji, Kanazawa, Hikone, Okayama. We will be arriving vis Osaka. A couple of questions if you could please help with: 1) would it be more cost effective to have a JRWest train pass for 5 days or a Kansai One Pass. We would start the pass on day 1 of our day trips and use the final day to get us back to Osaka. It is confusing to find out the differences between them. 2) would you recommend the fast train or bus from Osaka Airport? The train goes to the main train station but the bus gets us closer to our hotel which is near the historical centre. Many thanks.

    • Hi Lesley, thanks for your comments. The additional tickets are great for offering more choice but do make it more confusing and in some cases there still isn’t a perfect fit. The JR West pass (also called the Kansai WIDE area pass) doesn’t cover Kanazawa although it does offer good value at Y9000 for the other destinations as the Kyoto-Okayama return trip alone on single tickets would be Y14,000. I don’t recommend the Kansai One Pass for most people, it’s an IC card, you pay normal single ticket prices and while it offers some extra tourist info and a few discounts it doesn’t seem to offer a real benefit over buying a normal IC card such as Pasmo, Suica or Icoca that can be used all around the country, you couldn’t use the Kansai one pass for Kanazawa or Okayama. Unfortunately that leaves you without an ideal solution, your itinerary doesn’t make the full JR pass cost effective but to include Kanazawa the best option looks like the JR West WIDE pass and single tickets to Kanazawa which would make its addition a costly day trip. Sorry I don’t have another alternative to suggest.

      • Thanks so much for clarifying. We will decide which JRWest pass to buy, and we think the bus option from the airport might be better for us, as it’s our first trip to Japan.

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