10+ Best Day Trips from Kyoto, Japan | solosophie

10+ Best Day Trips from Kyoto, Japan | solosophie
10+ Best Day Trips from Kyoto, Japan | solosophie

Last Updated on 29th March 2024 by Sophie Nadeau

From wild deer, castles, Japan’s very own Eiffel Tower and even exploring the world of Super Mario, here’s your ultimate guide on the best day trips from Kyoto and beyond!

One of those destinations that has something for everyone, Kyoto is a vibrant hub and embodiment of traditional Japanese culture. However, to immerse yourself fully in the spirit of Kyoto and it’s wonder, you should consider venturing beyond the city borders to discover a different atmosphere. 

Itsukushima Island is one of the most beautiful day trips from Japan. It’s an island in the Bay of Hiroshima and even has its very own herd of wild deer!

How to travel?

Kyoto is one of my favourite cities in the world but it’s also a great base from which to explore the surrounding region! We personally rented a car to get around but you can also visit most of the following places using public transportation.

For public transport, you can use your JR (Japan Rail Pass) which is highly recommended if you plan to do a lot of long distance sightseeing, say five or more trips while visiting Japan.

However, in late 2023 the conditions for the JR pass changed making it more expensive so it may actually cheaper to buy individual journeys (add up the individual cost of journeys to work out if it’s worth it or not), and be sure to check in advance whether or not you can use your JR pass on the train as some fast services don’t allow JR passes. Find out more about the Japan rail pass here.

If it’s your first time visiting Japan, be sure to check out my top Japan travel tips.

Day trips under one hour away

Nara

Once the former capital of Japan, and home to no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Nara is a historic treasure trove of cultural experiences. Easy to fall in love with thanks to its abundance of wild deer, beautiful parklands, and wealth of dazzling temples, this city in in south-central Honshu, is a highlight of Japan for many visitors.

One of the biggest draws to visiting Nara has to be to see the deer, which are allowed to roam freely throughout the sprawling Nara park. Visitors are welcomed to purchase a rice cracker and feed them to the deer, and in return they will likely bow back!

Aside from its natural beauty and wildlife, there are several temples to be explored, including Kofukuji temple and its iconic towering pagoda and Todaiji Temple, which has one of the largest temple entrances in all of Japan.

Nara is one of the easiest day trips to make from Kyoto, and as a fairly small city, you’re able to see the majority of it within a day, making it an idyllic day trip. For more inspiration, check out our guide to the best things to do in Nara.

Public transport: Miyakoji rapid trains operate every 30 minutes between Kyoto Station and JR Nara Station, the journey takes around 45 minutes one-way and costs 720 yen. This trip is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Uji

This is a more off the beaten path trip but a must-see for matcha lovers! Located in the south of Kyoto, Uji city is the place where you can enjoy authentic Uji Matcha in one of the many teahouses scattered across the city.

“Uji-cha” refers to tea cultivated in the city (only tea that is produced and processed within Kyoto Prefecture can be called this) “Uji Matcha” is made from this regional tea, and it is characterised by its initial tartness, followed by a deep sweetness. The colour is gorgeous too!

The city of Uji is also known for its abundance of historic temples and shrines that are situated along the serene Uji-gawa River. In fact, the temples of Uji are so famous that they feature on the 10-yen coin and are also the setting for The Tale of Genji, which is a important classic work of Japanese literature.

Most of Uji can be easily visited within the course of a single day. The best way to experience Uji is to visit the authentic Taihoan tea house and take joy in one of their tea ceremonies, then stroll along the riverside and take yourself on a walk of the temples.

Public transport: Kyoto and Uji are connected by trains along the JR Nara Line, and a one-way trip takes around 20 minutes by rapid train or 30 minutes by local train. Both trains cost 240 yen one-way. This trip should be covered by your JR pass.

Osaka

Modern and trendy, Osaka usually appears on many visitors first itinerary to Japan along with Tokyo and Osaka. This is Japan’s foodie city and there are many culinary delights that come from the region. Here are just a few top suggestions of what to do:

  • Osaka Castle This historic site is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and  played an important role in the unification of Japan during the 16th-century. The surrounding parklands are free to visit (you have to pay entry to go inside the castle itself) and it’s a beautiful spot, especially during the cherry blossom season (sakura) and in Autumn for the fall leaves (koyo).
  • Shitennoji One of the oldest temples in Japan, with history dating as far back as the 6th century!
  • Tsutenkanu This tower has become somewhat of a symbol of Osaka. Built in 1912, it was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  • View the city from the Umeda Sky Building – this unique piece of architecture isn’t the tallest of building in Osaka, but it offers stunning panoramic views of the city from the top of its Floating Garden Observatory.
  • Sample the culinary specialities – Taste some of the delights Osaka has to offer, including: tako-yaki (fried batter typically filled with minced or diced octopus), okonomiyaki (savoury pancake dish), ramen and kushi-katsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables).
  • Visit Shinsekai – Experience Osaka’s foodie scene by visiting this vibrant and funky neighbourhood that captures the city’s avant-garde spirit. Lined with an array of eateries serving fried delights, there’s also plenty of boutique shops where you can purchase a souvenir or two.

Due to it’s sheer size, one day isn’t really enough in Osaka, ideally you would spend up to at least 3 days (2 nights) to full experience the city. That being said, if one day is all you have, the it’s a sufficient time frame to get to see the true highlights and local cuisine. Read our How to Spend the Perfect One day in Osaka, to make the most out of your trip!

Public transport: The fastest way to travel between Kyoto and Osaka is to take the shinkansen (bullet train), this takes just 14 minutes and costs 1420 yen. For a cheaper alternative you can take the regular JR Tokaido Line from Kyoto Station to JR Osaka Station, this takes 29 minutes and is 560 yen. But, be sure to take a shinkaisoku (express) as the local trains are very slow. This trip is not covered by JR pass.

Universal Studios, USJ

Have you ever been playing your favourite video game and wished you could jump inside of it and explore? Well at Universal Studios you can! This is a must-see for theme park lovers.

Immerse yourself in the different universes of this theme park, compromised of rides and adventures at every turn that appeal to all ages. It’s a super fun way to spend your day out and truly an unforgettable experience.

There are also a number of food stalls and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. Check prices and ticket availability for your trip to Universal Studios here. If you don’t mind splurging out a bit, then I highly recommend purchasing the express pass. Unfortunately, non-Japanese credit cards often don’t work on the official website and so we purchased our express passes on Klook.

Public transport: The best way to get from Kyoto to Universal Studios is to travel by bus from Kyoto Station. The bus takes around 1 hour 10 minutes and is 900 yen one-way, but there is usually only one daily.

Alternatively you could travel by train as they are more frequent and leave from Kyoto Station every 15 minutes. However, you would need to use at least 3 or 4 different ones to get to Universal City Station, which takes around 45-55 minutes, so realistically you wouldn’t be saving much time.

universal studios japan

Himeji Castle

This is one of the most visited castles in Japan! Himeji Castle, known by many as the ‘White Heron’ due to its gracefully upturned eaves, that give the impression of a heron taking flight, gained its status as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Site’s in the country.

Standing high above a hilltop, this magnificent castle is considered to be one of Japan’s most treasured national monuments. Climb up to the main keep and immerse yourself in history, you can also visit the beautiful and serene Koko-en Gardens and enjoy a green tea.

Aside from the paid parts, you can visit a lot of the castle grounds for free! The giant grassy lawn makes for a popular spot to picnic in, particularly during the cherry blossom season as the patch of grass is lined with an abundance of cherry trees, it offers spectacular views of the castle. A visit to Himeji Castle can take between 2-4 hours depending on how much of it you want to explore.

While in the area I recommend visiting Engyo-ji Temple, situated at the top of Mount Shosha it lies just on the outskirts of Himeji. Rich with history of over 1000 years, you may well recognise it as it was used as a filming location in the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samuarai!

Public transport: Kyoto is connected to Himeji by the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, with the Hikari, the journey time takes roughly 55 minutes (you can use you JR pass on this train). Or you can take the Nozomi train, the journey takes 45 minutes (but you cannot use your JR pass on this train).

You can also take the local train, Shin-kaisoku JR special rapid trains which takes up to 90 minutes.

himeji blossom
The best time to visit Himeji Castle is undoubtedly during the spring when the sakura are in bloom!

Kobe

Nestled within the scenic mountain settings and framed by its beautiful harbour, the port city of Kobe is situated along Osaka Bay in central Japan.

Kobe is actually famed worldwide for its signature marbled beef, ‘Kobe beef’ (a variety of Wagyu) which is considered to be some of the best in the world! So of course, while visiting the city those who eat meat may want to sample this delicacy from the source and dine at a local steak house.

Home to one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, The Ikuta Shrine was built in the 3rd century and founded by the legendary, Empress Jingu. Another highlight to do while visiting is to take the Kobe ropeway up into the mountains and enjoy dazzling views of the cityscape and the emerald green forest below.

You can experience the main attractions of Kobe within a day, making it the perfect day trip. That being said, you could easily spend 2 days here to explore at a slower pace.

Public transport: JR special rapid trains on the JR Tokaido Line (also known as the Kyoto Line and Kobe Line) will take you from Kyoto Station to Sannomiya Station in central Kobe, direct. Journey takes around 50 minutes and costs 1,110 yen one-way.

A cheaper alternative that requires one transfer, you can take one of the limited express trains on the Hankyu Kyoto/Kobe Lines. From Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station to Kobe-Sannomiya Station in central Kobe, (you may need to make a transfer at Juso Station). The journey takes 60 minutes, but is only 640 yen one-way.

Nagoya

Home to its very own tower based on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Nagoya is the capital of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture. The hub of shipping and manufacturing, Nagoya city is home to Japan’s busiest port and is of crucial importance both for connecting to other countries and the economy.

Nagoya has a fascinating history and was in fact where the three founders of modern Japan were born, it’s also where some of the most famous samurai battles happened in and around the greater region. There are several historical attractions to visit, to name a few:

  • Nagoya Castle – Completed in 1615 by the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasuhe, and despite the wartime air raid destruction, it was the first castle to be designated a National Treasure. Back in the day, Nagoya Castle and its magnificent Hommaru Palace operated as a military facility.
  • Atsuta Jingu – A beautiful Shinto shrine which is home to the the sacred sword, with over 1900 years of history to uncover, it is considered one of Japan’s most revered Shinto shrines.
  • Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology – The birthplace of Toyota! As the name suggests, here you can immerse yourself in the world of the Japanese multinational automotive manufacturer.
  • Nagoya Marine Museum – Learn about the importance of the city’s maritime heritage as well as its role in people’s lives, Nagoya’s history through an interactive exhibition.
  • Nagakute Battlefield and museum – Located on the outskirts of Nagoya (around 45 minutes away), is one of the major battlefields of the Samurai era and where one of the bloodiest battles of Japan was fought.

Aside from its abundance of museums and galleries, there are also plenty of Japanese eateries to explore, as well as being a great place to do a spot of shopping! Nagoya is pretty big, so you won’t be able to see all of it, but it is easy to travel around thanks to its well connected subway, and makes for an excellent day trip to experience a bustling port city in Japan.

Public transport: Nagoya and Kyoto are both major stations on the JF Tokaido Shinkansen. The Nozomi train takes about 35 minutes, while Hikari and Kodama trains (these re both covered by JR pass) take between 40-60 minutes. A one-way fare from Kyoto to Nagoya is 5170 yen for a non-reserved seat.

A cheaper alternative is by local trains on the JR Tokaido Line, one-way takes around 2 hours 15 minutes and is 2640 yen, but you will have to take a transfer at Maibara Station.

nagoya castle

Kurama

This day trip is perfect for those who are looking to escape into nature! Kuarama is a rural town nestled in the northern mountains of Kyoto city. An enchanting place of magical temples and mystical history hidden in the luscious cedar forest, Kurama is also known to be the birthplace of the holistic healing art, reiki.  

Mount Kurama is a sacred mountain, and is famed for its beautiful nature trails which are richly lined with Kitayama Sugi (Japanese cedar trees). If you hike to the top, a moderate climb which takes up to 40 minutes,you’ll come across the main attraction of the area, Kurama-dera. This Buddhist temple founded in the 8th century houses some National Treasures of Japan.

After an adventurous hike, if you’re looking for a spot to relax, you can enjoy Kurama’s Onsen (hot spring) and sit in a hot tub surrounded by the wooded forest, is there anything more calming?

Public transport: Kurama is connected to Kyoto by the Eizan Railway, and trains depart every 20 minutes or so. You can get the train from Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kurama Station, the journey takes around 30 minutes and costs 470 yen.

Hikone

This delightful lakeside city is situated on the shores of the nation’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, and known for its picturesque scenery and historic castle which is one of the five castles to be a National Treasure in Japan.

Steeped in natural beauty and rich with history, this small city’s main attraction has to be that of Hikone Castle. Decorated in the Japanese Edo-period style, the castle considered the most significant historical site in Shiga and has been protected as a National Historic Site since 1951.

The castle is home to the tranquil Genkyuen Garden, a 17th century landscape with trails that wind around a huge circular tree-lined pond and link to various different pavilions.

Hikone makes for a great day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the busier cities in Japan, it’s the perfect opportunity to soak up history and enjoy the serene ambience of this more rural and quieter destination.

Public transport: The fastest option is by shinkansen (bullet train) via Maibara, this trip takes 30 minutes and costs 2350 yen. Alternatively, you can opt to take the JR special rapid train directly from Kyoto to Hikone, this journey takes 50 minutes and costs 1170 yen.

hikone
A small fishing port in Hikone on Lake Biwa at sunset

Day trips under two hours away

Hiroshima

Most famously where two atomic bombs was dropped during WWII, which killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people, and their effects are still being felt to this day. However, the idea that the city would be uninhabitable is false and today Hiroshima is home to nearly 1.2 million residents.

One of the most important things to see while visiting is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, inviting visitors to reflect on the tragic history of the city, as well as remember those who were most effected by its destruction. Another place of reflection is that of the Peace Memorial Park, a beautiful shaded green space which is filled with monuments such as the Flame of Peace, which honours those who were killed in the bombing.

Although Hiroshima is quite a large city, you can explore the main sights within a day. It’s definitely a macabre day trip as you can’t visit without thinking of the history which has been wiped out here, but it’s certainly a unique experience and absolutely somewhere you should try to visit once in your lifetime.

Public transport: Kyoto and Hiroshima are well connected by several shinkansen lines (bullet train), making it easily possible to get there directly. You can take the Nozomi train from Kyoto to Hiroshima, the journey takes 95 minutes. Or you can take a Hikari or Kodama train to Sakura, with a transfer at Shin-Osaka Station, this trip will take 2 hours. The cost from Kyoto to Hiroshima is likely to be around 11,000 yen one-way.

Amanohashidate

This is one of the three most scenic views and is a breathtaking sandbar whose name translates into English as ‘Heaven’s Bridge’. For the best view of the sand bar (which is said to resemble the form of a dragon when viewed from certain angles) you’ll want to get the chair lift to Amanohashidate Viewland. 

Amanohashidate (roughly translated as bridge in heaven) is one of the three scenic views of Japan and comprises of a gorgeous sandbar studded with pine trees and fine white sand. 

One of the best ways to enjoy a view of it from above is to head to Amanohashidate Viewland where you can admire the view, go on one of the little rides, or even eat at the restaurant. On the way up you’ll even take a scenic cable car to reach Viewland!

Public transport: Although not very frequent, so be sure to check in advance, you can take the JR Hashidate limited express trains and get directly from Kyoto to Amanohashiate in 2 hours. The cost one-way starts from 4,800 yen but can be higher depending on the day of travel.

Ine Town

This delightful traditional fishing village is characterised by its ‘funaya’ two storey wooden boat houses where the boat is stored underneath and the family lives above. Today around 230 of these houses survive.

Largely residential, the town is inhabited by working people and has a long and rich history as a fishing village. Regarded as one of the most beautiful towns of Japan, it’s worth visiting for its beauty alone!

However, its not just natural beauty and the unique funaya that make Ine Town special. You can visit the Urashima Shrine, where you can uncover the myth of the a young fisherman called Urashima Taro. Or hire a kayak and explore the village by water for a more interesting experience, and then enjoy lunch by the waterfront and sample some of the freshest seafood.

Public transport: The easiest way to get there is via bus. Take the bus from Amanohashidate Station, in the northern part of Kyoto and it will take you to Ine Town in just over an hour one-way, costing 400 yen.

Kayabuki no Sato

Kayabuki No Sato: Around an hour and a half’s drive to the north of Kyoto, you’ll come across a rural village which is filled with traditional thatched houses. Nestled at the base of tree-topped mountains, there are around 39 traditional dwellings still remaining to see today! 

While exploring the area, a unique place to visit is the Miyama Folk Museum. The museum showcases the inside of one of the traditional thatched houses and depicts the lifestyle of the villagers, displaying the typical life of a farm house in the 19th century.

Public transport: There’s no simple route as such, but it’s possible to reach for a day trip. From Kyoto, take the local or rapid train on the JR San-in line to Sonobe, the journey takes around 40 minutes. Then you will transfer at Sonobe station and go to Hiyoshi. From Hiyoshi, Station, you can take a Nantan City Bus into Miyama, the journey of this takes around 45 minutes.

Kurashiki Bikan

If you’re looking to visit a town which looks like it’s been frozen in the past thanks to an absence of overhead telephone wires, then you should consider a visit to Kurashiki Bikan Historical quarter. A dreamy destination and veritable example of historic Japan, it’s been referred to as ‘The Venice of Japan‘ thanks to its meandering waterway through its old buildings.

One of the best ways to experience Kurashiki Bikan is from the water via a gondola ride, or simply just strolling around the town and soaking up its beauty and romantic atmosphere. Home to the Japanese Folk Toy museum, as well as an art gallery and archaeological museum, there is an abundance of fascinating attractions to explore.

One of the biggest draws of a visit to Kurashiki Bikan is the sheer number of restaurants and cafés in the quarter, and the town has invested heavily in creating a great craft food and drinks scene. So be sure to indulge in local delights and enjoy a ramen, craft beer and some baked goods sold at one of the many specialty coffee shops.

Public transport: Using the JR and Shinkansen, you can get from Kyoto to Kurashiki Bikan in around 1 hour 30 minutes, one-way it costs between 5,500 – 8,500 yen.

Take a gondola ride

Yoshino Mountain

For cherry blossom fans this is an absolute must! In cherry blossom season (mid March to early April) Yoshino Mountain is a large slope, covered in pink and white clouds of blossom that look so soft you could sleep in them.

Rather than a freestanding mountain, Mount Yoshino is a large slope that is divided into four areas of trees, and has been a popular spot for centuries thanks to its abundance of cherry trees (there are quite literally thousands!)

The mountain trails stretch for 3.7 miles and are considered to be a moderately challenging route. The climb up and down to complete takes around 2 hours. Of course, the views at the top are mesmerising! and it’s the perfect way to explore Japan’s natural landscape.

Mount Yoshino makes for an idyllic day trip if you want to immerse yourself in nature and go on a hike through trails of history! Also worth noting, this spot is particularly beautiful during the Autumn season too, as you can probably imagine the shades of red, burnt orange and yellow make quite the spectacle.

Public transport: You can take the Kintetsu express train from Kyoto to Yoshino, with one transfer at Kashiharajingu-mae Station, the journey takes around 2 hours 10 minutes and costs 1480 yen. Or, by limited express train (with the same transfer required) you can get there in 1 hour 40 minutes, which will cost 2820 yen.

Be careful during cherry blossom season, as this destination is so popular the reserved seats (which you need for the limited trains) tend to sell out quite quickly.

Day trips under three hours away

Miyajima Island

Wild deer, a breathtaking Torii gate that look as if its floating on the water, and one of the most breathtaking mountain hikes in Japan: there’s no shortage of things to do in Miyajima to impress even the most discerning of travellers. For more inspiration, check out our Miyajima guide.

The island is scattered with Shinto and Buddhist shrines, many which lie in the foothills of Mount Misen, the highest point of the island. And, there are Deer are almost everywhere you look!

Truly a magical experience, this is a must-see destination while visiting Japan and luckily it’s easy to get to from a lot of places, including as a day trip from Kyoto.

Public transport: It’s surprisingly easy to reach Miyajima Island from the mainland, the best way is to follow the transport details given to reach Hiroshima. Then, from Hiroshima you can take the JR San-yo Line from Hiroshima Station west to Miyajima-guchi Station, the journey takes 26 minutes and costs 260 yen.

Then you will need to take a 10 minute ferry between Miyajima-guchi Pier and Miyajima , costs 180 yen. Both train and ferry are covered by the JR pass.

miyajima o-torii gate

Koyasan

Koyasan is an important Buddhist sect, a small temple town built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop, situated to the south of Osaka. Earning its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, this special destination is part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.

Visiting Koyasan offers an enchanting and tranquil ambience, exploring the 117 historic temples of Mount Koya, you can also see the largest cemetery in all of Japan, Okunoin Cemetery and the intricately carved Tokugawa Mausoleum (The Tokugawa family ruled Japan as shoguns, 1600-1868).

Also worth noting, this is the best place to stay if you wish to experience an overnight stay in temple lodgings! Many of the temples do in fact offer accommodation as well as the opportunity to try vegetarian Buddhist cuisine.

Public transport: A little further afield, the fastest and most efficient way to get to Koyasan from Kyoto is definitely via your own transport. That being said, it is possible by train.

One of the easiest routes is to travel from Kyoto to Osaka and then via Nankai Namba Station (in Osaka) you can take the Nankai Koya Line to Gokurakubashi Station, from there you take a cable car up to Koyasan Station. The journey time can take up to 2 hours 30 minutes and costs between 2,680 – 3,470 yen.

Enjoyed reading about the best day trips from Kyoto? Pin this article now, read it again later:

best day trips from kyoto japan

Charlotte is a photographer, cat lover and an avid knitter. When she’s not curled up on the sofa with her newest knitting project (and Rico her cat!) you can find her out and about on long walks. Currently living in the magical city of Edinburgh, she looks forward to travelling and seeing more of the world!

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