With Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen trains and so many wonderful places in close proximity to Kyoto, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the exciting day trips on offer. Whether you love grand castles, tranquil hikes, or sprawling coastal views it can all be found within a couple of hours of Kyoto.
Nara is an ideal day trip spot, compact but brimming with historic sites, restaurants, and the famous bowing deer of Nara Park. Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, an important Shinto shrine can be accessed through Nara Park making for a romantic walk, complete with wandering deer, that’s particularly beautiful during the fall or spring. Finally, visit Todaiji Temple which houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue.
Getting There: The journey to Nara from Kyoto Station takes 45 minutes on the JR Line Miyakoji Rapid train.
Travel Tip: Carry some cash to buy deer biscuits from vendors around and outside the park. The deer know to bow in return for a biscuit. Make sure to bow back!
Osaka is fun city with plenty to get up to. Head straight to Osaka Castle for one of the most famous sights in Japan. The castle itself holds a museum spread over seven floors which you can climb to reach the panoramic observation deck. Make sure you wander around Osaka Castle Park and Nishinomaru Garden. You’ll find street food stalls just outside the castle where you can pick up matcha ice-cream or delicious taiyaki (fish-shaped filled pastries).
Getting There: Take the rapid train from Kyoto Station, it takes 23 minutes to reach Osaka Station. To reach the castle from Osaka Station, take the JR Osaka Loop Line to Ōsakajōkōen Station.
Travel Tip: When you’re finished at the castle, head over to Dotonbori (Namba Subway Station) featuring some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. You’ll also see the famous Glico running man sign.
Widely considered to be Japan’s most spectacular castle, the dazzling white feudal Himeji Castle is just as impressive from below. Make sure you climb to the shrine at the top of the castle for views over Himeji and explore the nearby Edo-style Kokoen Garden.
Getting There: The best way to reach Himeji is by taking the 45-minute Shinkansen from Kyoto to Himeji. Once there, you can hop on the Loop Bus which will take you to the top sites of Himeji.
Travel Tip: If you’d like to continue the trip, then take a 30-minute bus ride to Engyo-ji Temple which featured in the film "The Last Samurai."
Amanohashidate is a famous sandbar and view platform in a beautiful coastal region in northern Kyoto. It’s ranked as one of Japan’s three most scenic views and is thought to resemble a bridge between heaven and earth. Take the swing seat down from the viewing platform rather than the cable car for a panoramic view.
Getting There: You can get the train or highway bus to Amanohashidate from Kyoto Station. The highway bus runs three times per day and tickets can be booked through Willer. Trains also run infrequently throughout the day between Kyoto and Amanohashidate.
Travel Tip: To extend your trip, catch an hourly bus 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) north of Amanohashidate to Ine, a small town surrounded by mountains situated around the Ine Bay.
Universal Studios Japan
This is the first Universal Studios to be built in Asia with eight exciting sections to explore. One of the biggest draws is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which has a few unique additions compared to the Orlando original, including the Great Lake.
Getting There: Take the train from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station then change to any of the direct (15-minute) trains to Universal Studios
Travel Tip: Visit the Takoyaki Museum just outside Universal Studios in the Universal Citywalk Osaka mall.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park serves as a reminder and memorial of those who died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Visit the A-Bomb Dome, which was one of the few buildings that survived the blast before Peace Park. There you’ll find the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and various monuments including the Children’s Peace Monument and the Cenotaph. For a different side to Hiroshima’s history, pay a visit to the beautiful Hiroshima Castle just a 15-minute walk from the park.
Getting There: Take the 2-hour Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima Station then hop on the tram and alight at M10, Genbaku Dome Mae.
Travel Tip: Try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki; a savory pancake, the ingredients of which are layered rather than being mixed in with the batter as is typically done in Osaka okonomiyaki.
Start out early for this day trip. You’ll first want to head for the famous 6th century Itsukushima Shrine and the floating torii gate; during low tide you can walk up to the gate. Nearby, at the foot of Mount Misen, you can see the Daisho-in Temple complex. From there you can take the gondola up Mount Misen for spectacular views.
Getting There: Take the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima Station, change to the JR Sanyo Line and alight at Miyajimaguchi station. Walk to the JR ferry for Miyajima Island. The whole trip should take just under 3 hours.
Travel Tip: Try some street food on Omotesando shopping street. Miyajima is famous for grilled oysters and Momiji-manju, a maple-leaf shaped dessert unique to the area.
Synonymous with the high-quality Kobe beef, a day in this coastal city will satisfy more than just your stomach. Climb Kobe Port Tower for a 360-view of the city 100-meters above sea-level and visit one of the many interesting museums including the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum and the Kobe Maritime Museum. Finally, visit Steak Aoyama for some delicious wagyu beef.
Getting There: Take the Special Rapid train from Kyoto station to Sannomiya Station in Kobe in 50 minutes.
Travel Tip: Go shopping at Harborland, a huge shopping, and entertainment complex which boasts beautiful harbor views, especially at night.
Take a trip to the seaside at Maizuru, a tranquil port city in the northern Kyoto region and a famous navy base. Make sure to try some of the specialty "navy food" brought to Japan from overseas at Shoueikan, a historic restaurant that you can explore after eating. One of the highlights of the area includes the Red Brick Park, a collection of warehouses built in 1901 to store torpedos. It’s now an art space, museum, and restaurant as well as a famous filming location.
Getting There: Take the train from Nijo (Kyoto Station) to Nishimaizuru Station, in 1.5 hours.
Travel Tip: Climb the Goro Sky Tower for coastal views and the cozy cafe inside.
There’s plenty to get up to in the urban hub of Nagoya. For some history, make sure to visit Nagoya Castle and Osu Kannon Temple before taking a peaceful stroll around Tokugawa Garden. You can also visit Nagashima Resort for some of the best roller coasters in the country and a hot spring complex. One of the most popular museums to visit in the city is the Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology, housed within a preserved factory from 1912.
Getting There: Take the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Nagoya Station (35 minutes) or the rapid trains (50 minutes). For Nagashima resort, take a 20-minute bus from Meitetsu Bus Center next to Nagoya Station.
Travel Tip: Drop by Critical Hit, the fantastic retro game bar for drinks and fun.
This beautiful Shingon temple complex in Otsu City inspired the Japanese classic novel "The Tale of Genji," written by Murasaki Shikibu in 1020. There’s a room and statues dedicated to the author. It also inspired one of ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige’s prints which features the moonlit view of Lake Biwa from the temple. Inside Ishiyama-dera Temple you will also find Chinese artifacts and the wollastonite Natural Monument.
Getting There: From Kyoto, take the Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line to Ishiyamadera Station, and then walk 10 minutes. You’ll need 500 yen in cash to enter the temple.
Travel Tip: In mid-September, you can watch an amazing view of the harvest moon from the temple and will also find festive and jazz events taking place.
Hikone is a beautiful small city on the shores of Japan’s biggest lake, Lake Biwa. Hikone Castle is one of four castles named national treasures of Japan. Completed in 1622, the castle is three stories high and boasts incredible views of Hikone and Lake Biwa. Don’t miss the extensive landscaped Genkyuen Garden at the base.
Getting There: Take the JR Tokaido Main Line or the JR Haruka Express from Kyoto Station to Hikone Station. It is a 20-minute walk to Hikone Castle.
Travel Tip: Grab lunch and go shopping on Yume Kyobashi Castle Road, the street leading up the castle created in the traditional Edo-style.
Minoo Park and Waterfalls
Searching for a natural escape? Look no further than Minoo National Park. It's famous for its gorgeous fall foliage and the Minoo waterfall, which takes about 40 minutes to reach from the gate. There are plenty of scenic hikes along well-marked paths to be taken depending on how long you want to spend in the park.
Getting There: Take the train to Osaka Station and change to the train to Hankyu Minoo Station.
Travel Tip: During fall make sure you try one of the fried maple leaves found at vendors around the park.