Osaka is perfectly placed in the heart of Japan, offering visitors an enormous wealth of exciting day trips. From Osaka, mountains, coastline, and serene lakes are at your fingertips, as are the historic cities of Nara, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. All of these places are a short train ride away from Osaka, and can be enjoyed with ease.
Once the capital of Japan, this compact city makes for a perfect day trip from Osaka. Nara is most famous internationally for its central park that is filled with thousands of friendly deer who bow to anyone they feel might offer them a biscuit. From the park, you can easily reach two of Nara’s most historic and religious sites Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga-taisha Shrine. While the focus is very much on these historic Nara sites, the city center also offers fantastic restaurants and boutique shops to explore. You can even pick up some "deer poop" local sweets which are simply peanuts covered in chocolate or a number of other deer-related souvenirs.
Getting There: Hop on the Yamatoji Line towards Nara Station, the journey should take around 45 minutes.
Travel Tip: Pick up some deer sable cookies for feeding the deer sold outside the park and at various stores. They also make for a cute but cheap souvenir thanks to their cute appearance.
Kyoto is one of the most special cities in Japan. Surrounded by mountains it’s part-lively city full of tiny jazz bars tucked and boutique shopping and part-frozen in time. It’s the heart of traditional Japanese culture and it’s a pleasure to get lost in the history around you. You can see the geisha make their way to their nightly work, visit wooden tea houses, or pay a visit to some of the 2,000 shrines in the city. Some of the highlights include the hike to the iconic Fushimi Inari shrine, a wander around Gion and Southern Higashiyama, and a visit to the golden and silver pavilions. Make sure you visit the historic Nishiki Market for street food and souvenirs.
Getting There: Take the rapid train from Osaka Station, it takes 23 minutes to reach Kyoto Station.
Travel Tip: As Kyoto is such a popular tourist spot, try and get an early start if you’re looking to visit some of the sights without crowds.
An easy day trip from Osaka that’s often overlooked, Nagoya is an entertainment hub full of shopping options, pachinko parlors, and Nagashima Spa Land one of Japan’s largest theme and water parks. The TV Tower is perhaps the most iconic structure of the city where you can catch a fabulous view of the city from two observation towers. As a city, it offers plenty of green space to explore including Tsurumai Park and Meiji Park. Nagoya Castle, in Meiji Park, is a particularly scenic visit during the spring and fall seasons. Make sure to pay a visit to one of the many art museums in the city or take a walk on the harborside.
Getting There: Take the train from Kyoto station to Nagoya station and you’ll get there in about 35 minutes.
Travel Tip: Nagoya is also the gateway to the Chubu region which is ideal for hikers as you’ll have access to the Japanese Alps and Mount Fuji.
Universal Studios Japan
A day at Universal is always fun and, since this is in Osaka itself, it’s the perfect day trip if you’re pushed for time and don’t want to leave the city. Universal Studios Japan is the first in Asia and has unique areas like an expanded Wizarding World of Harry Potter complete with a Great Lake.
Getting There: From Osaka Station City, take the Osaka loop line to Nishikujo Station, then take the Sakurajima line to Universal-City Station. The journey will take less than half an hour.
Travel Tip: There’s also a ferry service from Universal Studios Japan to Osaka Aquarium which takes 10 minutes.
If you’ve visited Kyoto city before or are interested in visiting the Japanese coast then a trip to Amonhasidate is a must. It’s one of the top three scenic views in Japan and an outstanding area of natural beauty. The area is a natural sandbar that joins two parts of Kyoto together across the Miyazu bar. Generally viewed from above it can also be walked or cycled making for a perfect day trip if you want to enjoy culture, as you’ll find Shinto shrines both before and after crossing the sandbar, but primarily stay outdoors.
Getting There: Take the highspeed train to Kyoto which will take 23 minutes. From the station, you can get the train or highway bus to Amanohashidate. The highway bus runs three times per day and tickets can be booked through Willer.
Travel Tip: Make sure to pick up some local snacks or souvenirs as you make your way up to the cable car, a great deal of local produce is sold in the small shops you’ll pass on the way up.
Miyajima (Shrine Island)
This island off the coast of Hiroshima is most famous for its iconic torii gate, the towering red shrine that stands in the water just off the island. While this is the furthest you can go for a day trip, it can still be done comfortably as long as you start off early. It’s certainly worth it for such a captivating place with wild deer roaming around, temples, and staggering mountain and coastal views. Also known as Shrine Island there are, unsurprisingly, many other shrines to visit apart from the famous Itsukushima Shrine and some of the most interesting include Omoto Shrine and Kiyomori Shrine.
Getting There: Take the 1.5 train from Osaka to Hiroshima Station. Following that, change to the JR Sanyo Line and alight at Miyajimaguchi station. Walk to the JR ferry for Miyajima Island which will take about 30 minutes.
Travel Tip: Go shopping and try street food on the historic Omotesando shopping street.
Take a trip along the world’s longest suspension bridge to this island which can be accessed from Awaji City. There is a lot to see if you love modern architecture, steaming onsen, and dramatic coastal scenery. Don't miss the centuries-old Sumota Castle which makes for an amazing view at sunset. The island has a long history of Ningyo Joruri puppet theatre so seeing a show there is a must as well as a visit one of the world's largest botanical gardens the Kiseki no Hoshi Greenhouse.
Getting There: Take the rapid train from Osaka station to Sannomiya Station and then take the high-speed bus to Awaji Yumebutai Station. From there you can make your way to the ferry crossing. The journey should take between 2 and 2.5 hours.
Travel Tip: If you’d like to carry on to the town of Fukura, you can catch the ferry and see the Naruto Whirlpools and bridge.
One of the most famous castles in Japan sits above the town of Himeji and can be seen from every angle as you wander the streets. The feudal castle is fully explorable and also hosts the Himeji Museum of art which features a number of historic pieces focused around the castle and local area. The castle gardens are just as dynamic as the interior so get ready to see cherry blossom trees, diverse flora, and impressive views of the town below. Behind the castle itself, you’ll find Himeji Shrine which was one of Japan's first UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of Japan’s most visited attractions.
Getting There: Take the 30-minute train from Osaka to Himeji Station. Once there, you can hop on the Loop Bus which will take you to the top sites of Himeji.
Travel Tip: Head up Mount. Shosha via the cable car for amazing views of the castle itself and to learn more about the history of Himeji.
This is a true hidden gem of the Kyoto area. Moriyama sits at the edge of Lake Biwa, which is a large and peaceful lake in the heart of Japan. Sitting in an outcrop that stretches out onto the lake is the Lake Biwa Museum, which is one of the most impressive museums in the area, featuring an aquarium and several incredible fossils of prehistoric creatures found in the local area.
Getting There: Getting to Moriyama from Osaka simply requires hopping on the Tokaido-Sanyo line at Osaka Station and heading straight to Moriyama Station, and it takes less than an hour.
Travel Tip: Continuing north from Moriyama takes you to even more remote lakeside villages which give you a more relaxed and intimate way of enjoying the lake and its surrounding scenery.
Hiroshima is a remarkable day trip for its humbling history but the city that exists today is a sparkling beacon of peaceful beauty. The people are kind and warm; the local spin on okonomiyaki is delicious, and the historic sites are a must-visit. Traveling to the Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome is a must, and it might be sorrowful but it also brings a newfound appreciation for the importance of international peace and friendship.
Getting There: The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train takes visitors from Shin-Osaka Station straight to Hiroshima Station in approximately 90 minutes.
Travel Tip: While visiting Hiroshima, you can also get to Miyajima Island where you can visit one of Japan’s most sacred and beautiful sites: the Miyajima Shrine (also known as the Itsukushima Shrine).
Kobe is often overlooked but a trip to this coastal city is very worth it if you love shopping or exploring unique museums. Kobe also has its own Chinatown where you can go for unique ramen dishes, dumplings, or interesting souvenirs. Make sure to pass by Ikuta Shrine, a shrine dating back to 201 A.D. that’s dedicated to love and marriage and is often visited by young couples looking for good luck. While there is no shortage of wagyu restaurants in Kobe, but Steak Aoyama is well worth a visit.
Getting There: Kobe is a quick 30-minute train ride from Osaka Station.
Travel Tip: Climb Kobe Port Tower for a 360-degree view of the city 328 feet (100 meters) above sea-level.
Located between Osaka and Hiroshima is an underappreciated destination. Okayama is a prefecture that’s full of gardens and shrines to explore, and its capital city of Okayama is a beautiful coastal city that encompasses all of Japan’s most unique aesthetic details: city, mountains, and sea. One of the great three gardens of Japan, Korakuen Garden is located here which features a tea house and rice fields as well as landscaped areas to wander and cherry blossom and bamboo groves. The garden's diverse flora means there's always something blooming. Don’t leave without visiting the majestic Okayama Castle with its surrounding moat.
Getting There: From Osaka Station, the train journey to Okayama Station takes 50 minutes.
Travel Tip: If you’re visiting during cherry blossom season then don’t miss Handayama Botanical Garden which has a thousand blooming trees and is generally not as busy as other viewing areas.