Top Day Trips From Kyoto:
As the old capital of Japan, Kyoto is uniquely positioned within striking distance of a lot of amazing side trips to consider during your visit. Thanks to one of the fastest and most efficient train systems in the world, doing to the top day trips from Kyoto is extremely easy. Within hours of Kyoto you can tour some of Japan’s best feudal castles, stay overnight with monks in a temple, sample some of the weirdest foods on the planet, see Medieval rural villages, and express your inner samurai! Hope you enjoy our top day trips from Kyoto!
Train Tickets & Transportation Info:
All of our suggested day trips from Kyoto are directly connected to town by bus or train making it very easy. Most visitors to the region travel from Tokyo making the purchase of the rail pass a great idea. A Japanese Rail Pass (website) covers all of your travel in a designated period (7, 14, or 21 days) and usually pays for itself after little more than a round trip journey between Tokyo and Kyoto making your other travel free. Because of the free travel you have no excuse not to do some side trips from Kyoto!
To help with planning your side trip transportation, HyperDia (website) is very helpful as they have the most extensive timetables and route information. You can also filter out the “Nozomi & Mizuho” trains which is important if you are traveling with a JR Rail Pass as they aren’t covered.
1. Himeji (55 Minutes Away):
About Himeji: With the best preserved feudal castle in Japan and an overwhelming samurai feel, Himeji is the top day trip from Kyoto. The main attraction in Himeji is the iconic castle keep that towers over the center of town. The castle was built in 1346 and has been expanded over the centuries into a complex of over 80 buildings. Unlike other historic castle in Japan, Himeji Castle has been spared from fires, earthquakes, and war including WW2 bombings to remain timeless. We love wondering around the huge complex on our way up to the keeps as the courtyards, detailed gates, and guardhouses are all very interesting. Expect that it will take 30-60 minutes to reach the keep from the ticket booth, but on the weekends there plenty of costumed guards, ninjas and samurais to take photos with along the way. The wooden interior of the castle keep is just as impressive as the beautiful exterior and you’ll be amazed at how well defended the castle was. Make sure to take in the views of the city and over 1,000 cherry trees below from your castle perch.
While in Himeji, you also need to find time to take the ropeway lift up to visit the sacred temples on top of Mount Shosha. The ropeway, which opened in 1958, turns the 45 minute hike up the mountain into an easy 5 minute ride. Surrounded by forests, the mountain’s temples have been home to Buddhist monks since 966 and are delight to hike around, especially with a bamboo walking stick in hand. The main hall at Engyo-Ji Temple is the most impressive build and became famous as the filming location for the hit movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise.
Getting To Himeji From Kyoto: By high speed rail it is only 55 minutes to Himeji from Kyoto station, however it is 1 hours and 35 minutes by standard rail. Both are covered by the JR rail pass, just avoid any trains marked Nozomi or Mizuho when using the pass. Getting To Himeji Castle: From the train station Bus #8 takes you to castle gates in 5 minutes for 100 yen a person, a taxi is 650 yen, or you can walk for in 15-20 minutes. Getting To Mount Shosha: Bus #8 goes to the ropeway life 25 minutes past the castle for 500 yen a person and a taxi is 2,500 yen and takes 10-15 minutes. The ropeway is open 8:30am-6pm. Rating as a Side Trip From Kyoto: 10 out of 10.
2. Nara (45-60 Minutes Away):
About Nara: Impressive temples, a giant Buddha, and sacred deer that bow to you for food make the 60 minute train ride to Nara one of the best day trips from Kyoto. In early day Japan, each incoming Emperor would choose a new city to rule from until 710 when Nara became the official capital of Japan. Just 84 years later the capital was moved to Kyoto where it stayed for over 1000 year, but Nara left still left a strong mark on Japan. It was here, that through strong influences from China, we saw the birth of Japanese arts and literature. One of the prime examples of art from the Nara Period is the huge 49 foot tall bronze Buddha statue inside the great hall of the Tōdai-ji Temple dating back to 752AD. Although the main hall surrounding the Buddha statue was re-built in 1692 at only two thirds its original size, it still remained the largest wooden building in the world until 1998 and is massive.
The most memorable experience on a day trip to Nara from Kyoto is feeding the sacred Sika Deer that roam free around town. Considered the direct messengers of the gods, there are over 1200 spotted Sika Deer in Nara. You will see them hanging out by they ancient wooden gates, resting in the grass, and walking right down the middle of the street. The friendly deer will politely bow to you to ask for a deer biscuit treat which are sold in the vending machines all around town. We didn’t know what to expect on our first visit, but feeding the deer was awesome. Especially if you have kids with you, you will love this day trip from Kyoto.
Getting To Nara From Kyoto: It takes 45-60 minutes by direct train with the express being faster. Rating as a Side Trip From Kyoto: 9 out of 10.
3. Mount Koyasan (3 Hours Away):
About Mount Koyasan: Often considered one of the most sacred places in Japan, the the top of Mount Koyasan is an amazing day trip from Kyoto, especially if you can make it an overnight stay. In 826 the monk Kobo Daishi established the first temple on top of the mountain as the home for the Shingon sect of Buddhism he founded just years earlier. Over the centuries the mountain top became home to over 100 temples including more than a dozen Buddhist temples lodges you can stay overnight in. Staying at one of the temple lodges with the monks is one of the top ten experiences in all of Japan. You will be able to sleep in a modest room with a tatami mat floor and sliding paper wall while getting a hands on feel for everyday life as a monk. During your stay you will eat Buddhist vegetarian cuisine (Shōjin Ryōri), can have chats with the monks, and have the opportunity to meditation sessions along with early morning prayer. The first morning prayer session is a memorial for the dead followed by a Goma Fire Ritual where wooden prayer sticks covered in hand written wishes are burned for good luck and good health. It is magical.
While the temple lodging stay it the main attraction, you will also want to check out the amazing Okunoin cemetery. The paths of the cemetery are lined with lanterns showing the difference phases of the moon and are surround by over 200,000 tombs, many of them covered in moss. All paths and bridges in the cemetery lead to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi who is said to still be resting in eternal mediation in the temple. Each day you can watch groups of monks carrying freshly prepared meals in as offerings to the Kobo Daishi. There is a wonderful hall next to the mausoleum which holds 10,000 lit lanterns that has to be been to be believed.
Getting To Mount Koyasan From Kyoto: Takes 3 hours by train with 2 transfers plus a short ride up the mountain funicular lift. Depending on where you are staying it will take 5-20 minutes by bus from the station to your temple lodging. Rating As A Day Trip From Kyoto: 8.5 out of 10; goes to a 10 out of 10 with an overnight stay.
4. Osaka (30 Minutes Away):
About Osaka: Osaka is at the cross roads of of many of the best day trips from Kyoto and it a worthwhile place to visit itself. There are a ton of things to do in Osaka from visiting its Feudal castle, absorbing the wacky atmosphere, and joining in of the neon drenched nightlife, but it is the unique food options along Dotonbori Street that draw us in. The unique street food is the best place to start as you can get baby octopus deep fried on a stick, delicious okonomiyaki pancakes, and our favorite dish Takoyaki wheat balls. The balls, which are flipped at amazing speed by the cooks chop sticks, are filled with octopus and other ingredients before being covered in delightful sauce. Even the outside of the restaurants are attractions in themselves from the famous robotic Kani Doraku Crab sign and the automated sushi chef among others. The food alone would make it a top 10 day trip from Kyoto, but everything together makes it one of the best side trips you can do while visiting the region.
Getting To Kyoto From Tokyo: High speed train takes 2 hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo Station. Add 30 minutes if leaving from Shinjuku Station. Add an additional 25 minutes from either station if you need the Hikari high speed train which is covered by the Japanese Rail Pass. Rating as a Day Trip From Kyoto: 8 out of 10.
5. Kobe (30-60 Minutes Away):
About Kobe: Famous for its marbled beef that melts in your mouth, Kobe is a great side trip from Kyoto, especially if visited on your way back from Himeji. Because the cattle in Kobe are raised longer than other regions, before being butchered, their meat gains extra fat that turns the beef into a buttery texture when cooked by a skilled chef. Near the Sannomiya Train Station are a number of famous steakhouses to choose from, (see our map above).
A terrible earthquake in 1995 devastated much of Kobe, but its vibrant Chinatown and historic sake breweries have persevered. If you visit during the day we also suggest touring both Chinatown and the brewery area to round out your visit to Kobe. The fresh rice wine from a local sake brewery always seems to taste better and is a good pairing for your Kobe Beef dinner.
Getting To Kobe From Kyoto: It is 30 minutes by high speed rail and 60 by normal rail. The high speed rail station is North of the main train station by 1 subway stop. Rating as a Day Trip From Kyoto: 7.5 out of 10. Best on the the way back from Hiroshima or Himeji.
6. Hiroshima (2.5 Hours Away):
About Hiroshima: Known as the site of one of the atomic bomb drops in WW2, Hiroshima has since become a popular destination for travelers looking to pay their respects. Visiting the A-Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial can be humbling and emotional. As an America or British tourist the thought of visiting Hiroshima can be a little awkward, but it is rewarding to visit if you can. The people of Hiroshima are amazing and the memorials are reminders of the impact of war as well as a reminder to overcome while striving for peace. Sitting out in the bay of Hiroshima is the enchanting Miyajima Island which has a large Torri gate built right into the ocean. The gate is accessible by foot at low tide and by boat tour during hide tide. As an extra bonus there are usually many wild deer hanging out to greet you near the island.
Getting To Hiroshima From Kyoto: It is 2.5 hours by high speed rail. Rating as a Side Trip From Kyoto: 7 out of 10.
7. Kibune & Mount Kurama (60 Minutes):
About Kibune: Kawadoko-style dinning, means place on the river, and is an experience you just have to have while in Japan. Some restaurants in Kyoto have patios overlooking the river, but you have to take a side trip to nearby Kibune to get the real deal. The village of Kibune, meaning the Yellow Boat, has over 20 restaurants where the terraces are literally built right over the water. Known as Noryo Yuka, the river flowing under these terraces provides a soothing sound and helps to cut down on the Summer heat. Our two favorite kawadoko restaurants in Kibune are Tenza (website) and Jaya (website) and river dinning is available May through September.
We also love to hike up the lantern lined, rough stone steps to the the Kibune Shrine to work off our meal. If you want to take a slightly longer hike, consider heading up and over Mountain Kurama which offers some great forest scenery. If you are going to hike all the way up the sacred mountain, give yourself about 40-60 minutes to reach the summit from Kibune and another 25 to get down the other side where the train can take you back to Kyoto. Near the Kurama train station you can rub the long nose of the red faced statue of the forest spirit Tengu which guards the base of the mountain.
Getting To Kibune From Kyoto: It is 30 minutes by train from Kyoto to Kibuneguchi Station with a couple short transfers followed by either a 5 minute bus ride or a 30 minute walk to Kibune. Keep in mind that Kibune is on the West side of Mount Kurama and if miss your stop and ride to the end of the line it’ll be a 70-90 minute hike over the mountain to reach Kibune. Rating as a Side Trip From Kyoto: 7 out of 10, best in mid-Summer when the restaurant tables over the river are available.
8. Hanshin Tigers Baseball (75 Minutes Away):
About Hanshin Tigers Baseball: A bit rowdier than American baseball, attending a game in Japan is awesome, even if you aren’t a sports fan. The energy level is high, there is always something exciting or goofy going on, and no fan base is more exciting in Japan than those of the Hanshin Tigers.
Baseball Season: March-October. Buying Tickets: Hanshin Tigers often sell out days before each game, but your hotel should be able to help you book as it’s in Japanese. You can also use the Loppi automated ticket machine at most Lawson’s Drug Stores with help from the staff. You can visit the Loppi website HERE. Team Website: HERE. Getting To The Park From Kyoto: Sitting right between Kobe and Osaka it takes 75 minutes to get to the Koshien Stadium from Kyoto Station as it is on the slower train route. Rating as a Side Trip From Kyoto: 6.5 out of 10.
9. Universal Studios (45 Minutes Away):
About Universal Studios Japan: Opened in 2001, the Universal Studios theme park near Osaka saw a big jump in popularity in 2014 with the addition of Harry Potter World. Complete with and full village, castle, and real-life Diagon Alley, the Harry Potter World is fun for the entire family. We have always loved Universal Studios for its exciting rides and unique movie experiences, but it has now risen to become a top 10 day trip from Kyoto. Being Japan, expect a little bit better service than in theme parks in other countries. There are even some purely Japanese twists to the park like the Dragon Ball Z area. We would have the park rated even higher as a side trip from Kyoto just because of the fun factor, however, there are other Universal Studios in the world while many of the other sights on this list cannot be seen anywhere else.
Park Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-7pm; Saturday & Sunday open until 8-9pm; crowded on weekends and Japanese holidays. Park Website: Here. Getting To The Park From Kyoto: Takes 45 minutes by train with 2 transfers. It is 30 minutes to Osaka Station; 6 minutes on the JR Loop Line counterclockwise to Nishikujo Station; 5 minutes on the Yumesaki Line to the Studios. Rating as a Side Trip From Tokyo: 6.5 out of 10.
10. Arimacho Onsen Village (1 Hour Away):
About Arimacho Onsens: A trip to the thermal waters of an onsen hot spring spa is a must while in Japan for so many reason. While Tokyo has the village of Hakone, Kyoto has Arimacho as its onsen escape. We actually perfer Hakone between the two cities as there are additional activities to add on, but Arimacho is nice because it is far less crowded while still offering excellent service.
11. Medieval Farm Villages (2-3 Hours Away):
About Japan’s Farming Villages: If you want to get a taste for how the Japanese countryside was in Medieval times you need to visit one of the country’s preserved farm villages. Dating back to the early Edo Period, the villages are filled with untouched timber homes with picture perfect thatched roofs. The most well known villages are Shirakawa-go and Gokayama which sit in the Japanese Alps just over 3 hours from Kyoto. The farmhouses are right out of a storybook and many offer overnight bed & breakfast stays which are divine. Because 3 hours away is a little far to day trip from Kyoto for some visitors without staying overnight, you can also get a peek at Medieval farm life in the village of Miyama. Located less than 2 hours North of Kyoto, it is a bit smaller than Shirakawa-go, but it also very well preserved. In addition to the shape of the roofs being a little different, Shirakawa-go has many working farms and guest houses, while Miyama is largely made up of private homes.
Getting To Miyama From Kyoto: It’s 45 minutes by train Northwest to Hiyoshi Station plus a 50 minute ride on the Nathan Bus to the village. You can also do it in 2 hours by bus from the South with a transfer in Shuzan. Getting To Shirakawa From Kyoto: Takes 3 hours 15 minutes from Kyoto with a 2 hour train to Kanazawa plus a 75 minute bus ride. Rating as a Side Trip From Tokyo: 6 out of 10; goes to an 8 out of 10 if doing an overnight stay.
12. Kurashiki Canals (90 Minutes Away):
About Kurashiki: During the Edo Period, many cities in Japan, including, Tokyo were filled with criss-crossing canals which have been filled in over time. Luckily in the village of Kurashiki, a large part of the old canals have been preserved so you can experience the past. The best way to do it is on a classic flat boat tour directed and powered by a local guide. The boats are specially During your tour you get to wear a dǒulì rice patty hat as your guide gently glides and steers the boat with a long bamboo pole. You’ll go under beautiful stone arch bridges and draping tree branches which are extra special during cherry blossom season in early April.
Park Website: Here. Getting To Kurashiki From Kyoto: Takes 9-120 minutes by direct train. Rating as a Side Trip From Tokyo: 6 out of 10.
13. Iga Ueno Ninja Town (2 Hours & 15 Minutes Away):
About Iga Ueno: Compete with its own feudal castle, the village of Iga Ueno is commonly known as Ninja Town because of the large ninja school that operated here in the Edo Period. You will find people dressed up like ninjas all over the place as tourism has allow the locals to embrace their rich ninja heritage. Especially if you have kids with you, you will want to visit the ninja museum which has small shows and demonstrations with modern ninja dressed in character. Because the castle and samurai feel at Himeji are so impressive, it makes Iga Ueno seem not as cool in comparison. Nothing against Iga Ueno, it is pretty cool, it just isn’t close to as cool as Himeji.
Getting To Iga Ueno From Kyoto: Takes 2 hours and 15 minutes by train with 3 transfers. Rating as a Day Trip From Kyoto: 5.5 out of 10.
14. Uji (30 Minutes Away):
About Uji: Byodo-In Temple is very historic and is on the back of the Japanese 10 yen coin. A re-creation of the temple has been built in Hawaii which is what it looked like in its early days. The island in front of the temple has Ukai Fishing in the Summer where ducks on ropes dive of fish until torchlight at night. The village of Uji is also well known for its tea and there are many active farms along with tea houses.
Getting To The Uji From Kyoto: Takes 30 minutes by direct train. Rating as a Day Trip From Kyoto: 5 out of 10.