Japan is an absolutely stunning country that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. It is famous for sake, cherry blossoms, geishas, neon billboards and so many other amazing things.
But it’s a fairly large country, so it’s impossible to really explore everything in one go. Tokyo is an excellent hub for exploring the northeastern part of the country, and Kyoto is the perfect spot the explore the southwest. In this travel guide, we will be focusing on the latter – travelling through this inspiring country while staying in Kyoto!
I will focus on cities that are not too far away from Kyoto, and that aren’t too complicated to reach – these are perfect destinations for day trips. There are so many other amazing areas in this country, but they’re not worth it if takes you 4+ hours to get there. So, let’s get into details about the best day trips from Kyoto!
Trains are definitely the fastest and most efficient way to get from one city to another. Japanese Shinkansen (bullet) trains reach speeds over 300 km/h, which is much faster than any car or bus. However, ticket prices add up, so it’s definitely not going to be cheap to visit every city.
Which is why we recommend you get the Japan Railway Pass – it will save you hundreds of Euros if you actually go to every city we’ve listed here. The pass gives you unlimited rides for a certain amount of time. It doesn’t include every single JR train (Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen trains are not included in the pass), but it’s still the best and cheapest way to get around the country.
You’re going to travel hundreds of kilometers just to visit one city, and trains are the least painful way to do that. They are fast, efficient and reliable, but also a staple of modern Japan. How can you visit the country without riding a Shinkansen at least once?
If you were thinking of renting a car, I have to urge you to give up on that idea. You would need to apply for an international driving permit, as foreigners are not allowed to drive in Japan. And it would be much more expensive than the trains – you’re not only paying for car rental, but also lots of tolls.
Even though it is technically a suburb of Kyoto, it will take about a day to explore the area. It is pretty far from the city center, and it’s not going to be on your way when you’re exploring the most popular Kyoto landmarks. Plus, it takes about an hour, hour and a half to get there from Kyoto station, which justifies the need for the day trip.
But just some 80 minutes away from the urban Kyoto lies a stunning bamboo forest with breathtaking water vistas and a huge monkey park. It will be great to get away from the city crowds and just enjoy a day in the nature, with scenic views of the city that lies below.
Arishayama is best known for the monkey park. It’s a 10-minute uphill walk from the Arashiyama station, so remember to bring some water. You can watch the monkeys go about their days and you can even feed some of them in the designated area. There’s usually a few newborns around, and seeing them cling to their mothers is absolutely heartwarming.
The park also features an observation deck with views that are going to take your breath away. The experience at the top will make the uphill hike more than worth it, so don’t let the steep hills scare you!
And if you actually enjoy the uphill hikes, then climb the 200 steps that it takes to get to the Daihikaku Senkoji Temple. It is absolutely stunning, and very close to the Arashiyama Myoken-dō Temple. Both offer magical views of the forest and Katsura River, in a remarkably quiet and peaceful area.
Of course, you can also go see some Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in lower Arashiyama – Dendengu and Hōrinji Temple are just minutes away from the train station and pretty hard to miss.
I would also recommend visiting the Fu-fu-no-yu hot spring, for another authentic Japanese experience. This Onsen on the Katsura rivers offers both a steam sauna and sulphur hot springs, for a very relaxing afternoon.
However, you won’t be able to do that if you have a tattoo – like most Japanese Onsens, Fu-fu-no-yu does not accept tattooed guests. But if you’re without ink, you can really enjoy the baths.
Osaka is an absolutely gorgeous city, and it’s pretty close to Kyoto. It takes about an hour to get there by train, so you should have plenty of time to explore this amazing city. Osaka is an exceptional blend of traditional and modern, famous for both its districts full of neon billboards, as well as the ancient castle, temples and shrines.
And you can go and see all of those amazing landmarks on your day trip from Kyoto! If you get on a train at Kyoto’s Sanjo Station and get out at Osaka’s Temmabashi Station, you’ll be some 10 minutes away from the city’s most iconic landmark – Osaka Castle.
The castle grounds are enormous, and it will take you a couple hours to fully explore them. There are several shrines and temples that are all worth checking out, as well as a multiple gorgeous gardens and park. Even the bridges that take you to the castle are beautiful – everything in this part of the city just makes you want to stop and take it all in.
Which you should absolutely do. And when you’re done exploring the best known tourist attraction in the city, head southwest to Osaka Museum of History. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the city’s history and tradition.
From there, head to Nakanoshima Rose Garden – a charming waterfront park in the middle of this busy city. Osaka’s first ever public park features a beautiful rose garden, a library and a ceramic’s museum, along with magical vistas.
After the park it’s time to really get a sense of urban Osaka. Get on a train and head to Dōtonbori – Osaka’s most popular entertainment district. It’s famous for huge neon billboards, great restaurants and many theatres. It’s also one of the most photographed parts of the city, because of the Tombori River Walk – perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in this part of Osaka.
And after exploring this part of Osaka, we can go back to some of its more traditional landmarks. Hozenji Temple is pretty close to Dōtonbori – the Buddhist temple is famous for the moss covered statue of Fudomyoo deity, and it’s a big change in pace from the neon-lights of the entertainment district. The temple is located in a quaint alley, hidden from the busy shopping street.
From there, I would suggest you head to Abeno Harukas, just south of Osaka Zoo. This is the tallest building in Osaka, and it offers the best panorama of the city. For me, that’s pretty much the perfect way to end a day in this exciting city.
Kobe is about an hour and a half away from Kyoto (by train), so it’s perfect for a day trip. You can really get to explore the city, and be home back in time for dinner! Or you can grab dinner in one of the amazing restaurants in Kobe – the city is famous worldwide for Kobe beef after all, and it would be a shame not to try it.
Kokobu Steak House has the reputation for having best Kobe beef in the city. If you want to have a really premium meal, head there. You will need to make a reservation first, as the restaurant is fairly small and the seats are limited. And you should know that this gastronomic experience will cost you anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 yen, so it’s definitely not a spot for travellers on a budget.
And if you can’t afford that or simply don’t want to try the beef, that’s fine – there’s a lot of other things to do in this port town. You can climb the Kobe Port Tower, for some absolutely breathtaking views of the city below. Or you can explore the city museums – Kobe City Museum is an excellent way to learn about the history and culture of the city.
An absolute must for me would be the UCC Coffee Museum. You learn a bit about the history of coffee and get to see all kinds of exhibits, from coffee pots to statues made from coffee beans. At the end of the tour you will also get to taste a couple cups of coffee, which is the main reason to go there. The entrance fee is around 300 yen, so it’s definitely worth the money.
Another interesting spot in the city is Kobe Animal Kingdom. The park/zoo is a short walk from the coffee museum, and an incredibly fun experience. It’s full of adorable small mammals like lemurs, racoons and beavers, and you can even interact with them if there aren’t too many people at the zoo. And of course there are many other animals in the zoo, including bears, snakes, all sorts of birds and many more.
But if you’re hoping to see pandas, you will need to go to Kobe Ōji Zoo. Here you can also see koalas, flamingos, zebras, giraffes, elephants and many other rare animal species. It’s a great place to visit if you’re travelling with kids, since there’s an amusement park in the zoo.
Another place worth visiting in Kobe is Nunobiki Stream. This scenic spot feature four waterfalls that you can reach via a wooded hiking trail, so wear appropriate shoes. The area is very peaceful and quiet, since there aren’t many people there. It’s a great spot to relax a while, and enjoy the scenic views before you head back to Kyoto.
You can get to Nagoya from Kyoto in about an hour, if you take the train. Nagoya Station is really close to some of the most famous city landmarks, so you can explore most of that area on foot.
The city is famous for its many museums and pachinko parlors. It also features an ancient castle, several city parks and numerous towers that offer breathtaking views. Be sure to grab breakfast before you get to Nagoya, so that you have enough fuel for all the walking around!
If you get out at Nagoya Station, you will be really close to Nagoya Castle. So, head there first; the 17th century castle is a sight for sore eyes, with a beautiful garden on the ground, amazing statues and exhibits on the Edo Period. You can learn about the history of the country, and after that you can stop by Ninomaru Chatei Tea House for a bite to eat or a cup of tea.
From the castle go north to Meijo Park. It’s a great spot to just relax or even have a picnic. The park is adorned with cherry blossoms, statues, a lovely windmill and a pretty large pond. And it offers beautiful views of the castle.
Next, I would recommend heading south to Nagoya City Science Museum. It has a huge planetarium with exhibits on weather and electricity – this includes a deep freezing lab, which simulates the conditions of Earth’s polar regions. There are plenty of other things to do in this seven-storey museum, so be sure to take your time.
When you’re done exploring the wonders of the modern world, go to Osu Kannon – a 14th century Buddhist temple with a library full of important classical works. After all, is it really a day in Japan without visiting at least one Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine?
If you’re in the mood for a panoramic city vista, go to Sky Promenade. The iconic tower features an observation deck with an unparalleled view of Nagoya, and a really good beer garden on the roof. Japanese beer and scenic city views – what’s not to love?
Nagoya is also home to Toyota Automobile Museum, which includes a chronological display of all rare and classic Toyota cars. You can see some really unique vehicles, and if you’re even remotely into cars, you will really love this museum. However, the museum is pretty far from most of the other attractions I’ve mentioned, so make the trip only if you have time to spare. And if not, head back to Kyoto.
The train ride from Kyoto to Nara is less than an hour long, so you will have plenty of time to explore this ancient city. Famous for numerous temples, shrines and deer, Nara is an absolutely stunning city that everyone should get to experience at least once in their lifetime.
The Miyakoji rapid train will take you from Kyoto station to JR Nara station in about 45 minutes, and the ride is covered by the JR pass. The station is about a 25-minute walk away from Nara Park, which is the first stop in this beautiful city.
The first thing you are going to notice in Nara Park are all the deer. They are tame, and you can feed them if you want – you can buy biscuits in the park that 150 yen per pack. Just make sure to not let the bags out of your sight, since the deer will try to grab them for themselves.
When you’ve had enough fun with the lovely animals head towards Tōdai-ji – the massive Buddhist temple with the largest Buddha statue in the country. First you’ll have to pass through the Nandaimon Gate of Tōdai-ji, which you can’t miss considering just how tall it is. There’s also a temple museum to your left when you just pass the gate, but it doesn’t feature too many exhibits.
Tōdai-ji is surrounded by a few shrines, parks and a pond. Take your time here and go and see everything you want – from the park, we’re heading to Heijō Palace Remains in a completely different part of the city.
You can take a bus directly from the park to the palace, which will save you quite a lot of time. And it’s definitely worth your time – the entire palace grounds are pretty vast, and there’s a lot to see there. There are a few ponds, one of which has a pretty large boat. Then there is the Suzaku Gate at the entrance to the grounds and the actual reconstruction of the 8th century palace.
There’s also a museum on site – Nara Palace Site Museum is an archeological museum that offers exhibits and artefacts from the Nara era.
Go northwest of this temple and you’ll find Saidai-ji Temple. It was originally built in the 8th century, and it is the main temple for the Shingon Risshu sect of Buddhism.
From there, head south towards other Buddhist temples. Tōshōdai-ji and Yakushi-ji are fairly close to one another, and both are absolutely stunning. Tōshōdai-ji is actually a temple complex famous for the 8th century Golden Hall. And the 7th century Yakushi-ji used to be one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara. It’s also a place that tourists frequently overlook, so don’t expect huge crowds.
Even though it’s pretty far away from Kyoto, I guarantee you won’t have any regrets if you decide to visit this amazing city. With a rich history, gorgeous landscapes and the most famous shrine in the country, one and a half hours on a train is a small price to pay.
And with the JR pass, you won’t actually be paying for anything. So, hop on a train early in the morning, to be able to get the most of your day in Hiroshima.
There are two parts of the city that are absolutely a must. And one of those is not even in the city; it’s actually the Miyajima island, famous worldwide for the floating Torii gate. There are two easy ways to reach the island – you can get on a train to Miyajimaguchi and then on a ferry. Or you can get on a boat at Hiroshima Port, which will take you directly to the island.
Once you’re there, you have to go see the Torii gate – it’s basically the whole reason you’re there! You should also visit the Kiyomori Shrine and Daishoin – the 9th century Buddhist temple complex is absolutely stunning.
Momijidani Park is another gorgeous area on this island with hundreds of maple trees. Take your time in Miyajima, and when you’re ready head back to Hiroshima port and start exploring the city.
Hiroshima Castle is a landmark you can’t miss. The restored 16th century castle is gorgeous, and it features a museum in addition to a couple Shinto shrines on the castle grounds. You can actually climb to the top of the castle for come lovely views of the city.
The second most popular Hiroshima landmark is actually really close to the castle. The Atomic Bomb Dome is an iconic war memorial, which features remains of the Industrial Promotion Hall that was destroyed during the atomic bombing. And it’s the first step in learning about the vast consequences the bombing left on this beautiful city, as well as appreciating just how well it recovered.
Head to the Peace Memorial Park next. The park and all of the monuments inside it are dedicated to the victims of the bombing – there’s the Children’s Peace Monument, the Timber Town Monument, the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, the Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Memorial Statue.
There’s also the Peace Memorial Museum – if you would like to learn more about the bombing, you should definitely visit it. But it is going to be an emotional experience, so just be prepared for that.
If you still have a couple hours to kill before you need to head home, go to Hijiyama Park. It is in the eastern part of the city, and it’s a lovely green space with cherry blossoms, an observation deck with epic city views and the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art. From there you can head back to Kyoto, and ponder all the things you got to see today on the train back home.
With a JR pass, it takes 45-60 minutes to reach Himeji from Kyoto. That leaves you with plenty of time for exploring this historic city, best known for the ancient castle.
The Shinkansen will stop at Himeji Station, and from there you want to head north. The majority of the most popular attractions are in the same area, so expect to spend the better part of the day there.
The city is most famous for the Himeji Castle – one of the few authentic castles from Japan’s feudal period. The 6-storey castle offers sweeping views of the vast grounds from the top floor, and it is something you should definitely experience.
There are many other interesting sights to see on the grounds other than the castle. Go check out the Okiku Well, the To no shimon Gate and definitely stop by the Koko-en Garden. It is one of several gardens on the grounds, but it is definitely the most beautiful one. It consists of nine separate gardens, which were all designed in styles of Edo Period. You will also see the residence of the lord of the garden, which includes a tea garden, a pond with a waterfall, a flower garden and a bamboo garden.
Not too far from the caste ground, you will see the Otokoyama Hachimangu shrine. It is right next to the Himeji City Museum of Literature, which holds some very interesting exhibits. Unfortunately, there are no English translation, so you’ll waste your time visiting this museum if you don’t speak Japanese.
Instead, head south to Tegarayama Central Park. It features a beautiful botanical garden, a museum, a memorial tower and even an aquarium, so there’s quite a lot to see and do there. But honestly, you’ll have a blast even if you just wind up walking around the park – the lawns are manicured, the bushes are trimmed to perfection and the smell of the flowers is heavenly.
Southeast from the park, you will find Kameyamahontokuji – a fairly large Buddhist temple of the Holy Land sect. And since it’s hard to imagine a day in Japan without stopping by a temple or a shrine, I recommend you go check this one out.
There’s another thing you can do in Himeji, but it’s pretty far away from the city center. Himeji Central Park is a drive-through safari with an amusement park, and you could choose to spend your entire day here. You can admire some wild animals from afar, ride the aerial lift or the ferris wheel, and really just have loads of fun. Or you could spend a day exploring the famous castle and the park in the city center. The decision is yours, but both of these activities truly make a great and exciting day trip from Kyoto!
Okayama is a city often overlooked by tourists, by definitely something that should be on your itinerary. It’s only about 90 minutes away from Kyoto, via the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen Line which is covered by the JR pass.
This is a city of art museums, Edo Period gardens, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and the Crow Castle. And visiting all those beautiful places is exactly what I have in mind.
Head to Ujo Park first – that’s where you’ll find the 16th century castle. It’s by the Ashari River, and it is a pretty peaceful area. Especially when you compare it to similar places in other cities that are more popular with tourists.
From there, you can cross the bridge to Okayama Korakuen. The restored 18th century gardens feature ponds, temples and numerous tea houses. If you haven’t witnessed a proper Japanese tea ceremony by now, this is the the perfect opportunity.
There are several art museums in the city, and you should visit at least one. The Okayama Orient Museum is the most popular one – it features a collection of several thousand pieces of historical art from the Middle East with a very cheap admission fee.
If you have it in you, I would recommend that you go and visit Shodo Island. There’s a ferry from Shin-Okayama Port and the ride to the island lasts about 70 minutes. The ferry arrives to Tonosho Port, which is some 30 minutes from Angel Road. That is an absolutely amazing sight – Angel Road is a chain of small islands that are connected with sandbars. You can actually walk from one island to the other when the tide is low; they disappear when the tide is high.
This is a gorgeous sight, something that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else, and if you don’t mind the long trip you should definitely go and see it. You can just sit around and enjoy the mesmerising nature, views of the ocean and take some amazing landscape photos. It would be the perfect way to conclude this day trip from Kyoto, and even your entire trip to Japan!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.