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10 Best Day Trips from Kyoto in 2024

Mika Kaibara
Feb 12, 2024

Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city steeped in history and tradition. Known for its stunning temples, serene gardens, and tranquil teahouses, it offers a glimpse into the country's past. However, the allure of Japan extends far beyond Kyoto's city limits. From the iconic Mount Fuji to the deer-filled parks of Nara, there are countless day trips that promise to enrich your Japanese travel experience. 

This blog post will guide you through the 10 best day trips from Kyoto, each offering a unique blend of culture, history, and natural beauty. Whether you're an avid adventurer, a history buff, or a food lover, these destinations will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of Japan's rich and diverse landscapes.

1. Nara 

Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

Just a short 40-kilometer journey from Kyoto, Nara is a city steeped in history and tradition. As the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara holds an important place in the country's cultural heritage.   

An absolute must-visit is the Todai-ji Temple, home to the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The temple itself is a feat of engineering, being one of the world's largest wooden structures despite being only two-thirds of its original size.

Another major attraction is Nara Park, where over 1,000 tame deer roam free. These deer are considered sacred and are a natural monument of Japan. Visitors can buy special crackers to feed them, making for a unique and interactive experience.

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The Kasuga-taisha Shrine, known for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns, is another site that shouldn't be missed. The shrine, along with several other historical sites in Nara, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nara is also renowned for its traditional arts and crafts, including calligraphy brushes and "akahada" ceramics. Be sure to explore the local shops and take a piece of Nara's culture back home with you.

Despite its proximity to the bustling city of Kyoto, Nara offers a peaceful retreat filled with historical treasures. Its ancient temples, friendly deer, and timeless traditions make it a must-see destination in Japan.

2. Osaka

Osaka Castle

Just 55 kilometres from Kyoto, Osaka is a vibrant city where modernity and tradition coexist. Known for its dynamic food culture, cutting-edge architecture, and lively nightlife, Osaka is a city that never sleeps.

One of the must-see landmarks in Osaka is Osaka Castle. This magnificent structure, surrounded by a moat and park, is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season. The castle tower houses a museum that tells the history of the castle and the city.

If you're a foodie, don't miss out on Dotonbori, Osaka's famous food street. Here, you'll find a plethora of restaurants and street food stalls serving everything from takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) to sushi and ramen. Don't forget to take a photo with the iconic Glico Man sign!

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For shopping enthusiasts, Shinsaibashi is a paradise. This bustling shopping district offers a wide range of options, from high-end boutiques to local shops selling traditional goods.

Osaka is also home to Universal Studios Japan, a theme park that offers a variety of attractions based on popular films and shows, including Harry Potter, Minions, and Jurassic Park.

With its blend of cultural heritage and contemporary attractions, Osaka provides a contrasting experience to the tranquility of Kyoto. Its energetic atmosphere, delicious cuisine, and diverse entertainment options make it a must-visit destination.

3. Uji (Kyoto Prefecture)

Byodoin Temple

Located just 15 kilometres from Kyoto, Uji is a charming city with a rich history and cultural heritage. As the second oldest city in Japan, Uji offers visitors a chance to step back in time and immerse themselves in traditional Japanese culture.

Uji is most famous for its premium quality green tea, which is considered among the best in Japan. The city's tea culture can be explored at its various tea houses and through the tea ceremonies that are often held there. Don't miss the chance to try ‘matcha’ (powdered green tea) flavored treats such as ice cream and noodles when you're here.

One of Uji's main attractions is the Byodoin Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple features a stunning Phoenix Hall, which is depicted on the Japanese 10 yen coin. Inside the hall, you can admire a beautiful statue of Amida Buddha along with 52 wooden Bodhisattvas.

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Uji River, which flows through the city, provides a scenic backdrop for leisurely walks. In summer, the riverbank becomes the stage for traditional cormorant fishing performances.

Another notable place to visit in Uji is the Tale of Genji Museum, dedicated to the world's first novel written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, in the 11th century.

Despite its small size, Uji packs a big punch when it comes to cultural and historical attractions. Its idyllic landscapes, iconic landmarks, and delightful tea culture make it a must-visit destination when you're in the Kyoto area.

4. Kobe (Hyogo Prefecture)

Kobe Port

Kobe, a city situated 75 kilometers from Kyoto, is a cosmopolitan delight that's nestled between the sea and the mountains. It's a city of contrasts, where modern urban architecture meets natural beauty.

Renowned globally for its Kobe beef, the city offers a culinary experience like no other. However, Kobe's appeal extends beyond its food. The city's maritime history has left a strong Western influence, particularly visible in the historic district of Kitano. Here, you can find well-preserved foreign residences, known as Ijinkan, which offer a glimpse into the city's past as an international port.

The iconic Kobe Port Tower provides a panoramic view of the city and its harbor. Meanwhile, the nearby Meriken Park is a waterfront park that houses several memorials and artworks, including a monument dedicated to the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

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The Mt. Rokko range, which serves as a stunning backdrop to the city, offers hiking trails and an observatory with breathtaking views of the cityscape below. The Arima Onsen, located on the outskirts of Kobe, is one of Japan's oldest hot spring resorts, perfect for those seeking relaxation.

In essence, Kobe is a city that seamlessly blends tradition with modernity, making it an ideal day trip destination from Kyoto. Whether you're a foodie, a history buff, or a nature lover, Kobe has something to offer everyone.

5. Himeji (Hyogo Prefecture)

Himeji Castle

Himeji, located 95 kilometers from Kyoto, is a city that's home to one of Japan's most iconic landmarks - Himeji Castle. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, also known as White Heron Castle due to its elegant white exterior, is one of the best-preserved examples of Japanese castle architecture.

The castle, with its intricate defence systems and stunning views over Himeji, is the main attraction, but there's more to this city than just its castle. Adjacent to the castle grounds is the Koko-en Garden, a beautifully landscaped garden that recreates the ambiance of the Edo period.

In the city of Himeji, you'll also find the Himeji City Museum of Art, which houses an extensive collection of both Japanese and Western art. The museum's architecture, a blend of traditional and contemporary elements, is a sight to behold in itself.

For those interested in history and culture, the Engyo-ji temple, a 1000-year-old temple complex on Mt. Shosha, offers a serene escape. The temple is famous for its large wooden pavilion, which was used as a filming location for the Hollywood movie "The Last Samurai".

6. Koya-san(Wakayama Prefecture)

Koya-san

Located 90 kilometers from Kyoto, Koya-san, also known as Mount Koya, is a sacred town nestled atop a mountain plateau amidst the eight peaks of the mountain. Revered as the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect in Japan, it offers a unique spiritual experience.

Founded in the 9th century by Kobo Daishi, one of Japan's most significant religious figures, Koya-san hosts over 100 temples. Many of these temples offer lodging to visitors, providing an immersive experience into monastic life, including public baths, tatami rooms, and vegetarian monk cuisine.

The most sacred area of Koya-san is the Okunoin Cemetery, the largest in Japan, with over 200,000 tombstones lining the path to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. The path through the cemetery is a tranquil walk, particularly mystical under the towering cedar trees.

Visitors can also experience the Danjo Garan, a complex of temples, halls, pagodas and Buddhist statues. Kongobuji Temple, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, is another highlight, known for its beautiful rock garden.

Koya-san's secluded location, surrounded by thick forests and crisp mountain air, adds to its serene and mystical atmosphere. It's not just a place to visit, but a place to unwind, reflect, and connect with a part of Japan's spiritual history. Whether you're seeking spiritual insight or simply a peaceful retreat, Koya-san is a worthwhile destination.

7. Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Situated 360 kilometers from Kyoto, Hiroshima is a city that has risen from the ashes of World War II with a message of peace and resilience. Known globally for its tragic past, Hiroshima today stands as a beacon of hope and renewal.

The city's most poignant symbol, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, is a must-visit. The park is home to numerous monuments, including the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome), one of the few structures left standing near the hypocenter of the atomic bomb explosion in 1945. It stands as a stark reminder of the devastation caused by nuclear weapons.

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Beyond its historical significance, Hiroshima offers a rich cultural experience. The city is known for its unique style of okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with various ingredients. The Okonomi-mura, a three-story building filled with okonomiyaki restaurants, is a food lover's paradise.

A short ferry ride away lies Miyajima Island, officially known as Itsukushima. The island is famous for its floating torii gate, which seems to rise out of the sea at high tide. The island also offers beautiful hiking trails and the opportunity to see wild deer up close.

8. Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture)

Nagoya Castle

Only 130 kilometres away from Kyoto, Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city and a hub of industry and commerce. While it may not have the historical allure of Kyoto or the bustling energy of Tokyo, Nagoya offers its unique blend of modernity and tradition.

One of the city's standout attractions is Nagoya Castle. The castle, originally built in the 17th century, was reconstructed after World War II and remains an iconic symbol of the city. It's known for its golden dolphin-like creatures, called "kinshachi," that adorn the roof.

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The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is a must-visit for those interested in technology and manufacturing. Here, you can learn about the history of Toyota as a textile firm before it became a global automobile giant.

If shopping is on your agenda, don't miss Osu Shopping Street, a popular shopping area that combines modern shops and traditional temples. Nagoya is also famous for its local cuisine. Be sure to try hitsumabushi, a grilled eel dish, and tebasaki, Nagoya-style chicken wings.

9. Okayama

Scenic spot with white bridge at Koishikawa Korakuen garden, Okayama, Japan

A mere 160 kilometers from Kyoto, Okayama is a charming city that offers a pleasant blend of traditional and contemporary attractions. Known for its mild climate and called the "Land of Sunshine," Okayama provides a warm welcome to its visitors.

At the heart of the city lies one of Japan's most renowned landscapes, the Korakuen Garden. Built in the 17th century, it's considered one of the three great gardens of Japan. The meticulously maintained garden features vast lawns, tranquil ponds, tea houses, and a hilltop viewpoint offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Adjacent to Korakuen is Okayama Castle, also known as "Crow Castle" due to its black exterior. While the main tower is a modern reconstruction, it provides a striking contrast to the white castles commonly found across Japan.

The city is also the gateway to the historic town of Kurashiki, with its beautifully preserved canal area. The Bikan Historical Quarter is home to traditional wooden warehouses converted into museums, boutiques, and cafes.

Okayama is also famous for its local specialty, the sweet and juicy Okayama peaches. Make sure to try them if you visit in the summer!

10. Kurashiki

The old townscape of Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture

A short 170-kilometer journey from Kyoto will take you to the historic city of Kurashiki. Known for its well-preserved Edo-era merchant quarter, Kurashiki is like a living museum that offers a glimpse into Japan's past.

The city's main attraction is the Bikan Historic Area, where white-walled wooden warehouses line a scenic canal. These beautiful buildings, once used for storing rice, have now been transformed into a variety of museums, shops, and cafes. The canal itself, complete with traditional wooden boats and weeping willows, creates a picturesque scene that seems to come straight out of a painting.

One of the standout museums in Kurashiki is the Ohara Museum of Art, which boasts an impressive collection of Western art - the first of its kind in Japan. You can admire works by renowned artists like El Greco, Matisse, and Picasso here.

Kurashiki is also known for its denim industry. Kojima district, often called the birthplace of Japanese denim, is filled with shops where you can buy high-quality jeans and other denim goods.

The Ivy Square, a red-brick complex that was once a cotton mill, is another interesting spot. It now houses a hotel, restaurants, and a brewery. Whether you're a history buff, an art lover, or a shopping enthusiast, Kurashiki has something for everyone. Its old-world charm, combined with its vibrant cultural scene, makes it a worthwhile stop on your journey through Japan.

Beyond Kyoto: Unveiling Japan's Treasures in 2024

Embarking on any of these day trips from Kyoto opens a gateway to the vast cultural and natural wealth that Japan has to offer. From the serene temples of Nara to the bustling streets of Osaka, each destination enriches your journey with unique stories, breathtaking landscapes, and deep historical roots. 

These excursions offer a glimpse into the diverse facets of Japanese life, past and present, allowing travelers to weave their own narratives in the rich tapestry of experiences.So pack your bags, lace up your walking shoes, and prepare for the adventure that awaits beyond the borders of Kyoto.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can you day trip from Kyoto?

There are numerous destinations for a day trip from Kyoto. Some of the most popular ones include Nara, known for its historic sites and deer; Uji, a haven for matcha lovers; Arashiyama, a district in Kyoto known for its bamboo groves and temples; and Himeji, home to the beautiful Himeji Castle.

How many days in Kyoto is enough?

The number of days needed in Kyoto depends on your interest and itinerary. However, a common recommendation is to spend at least three to four full days in Kyoto. This allows enough time to visit the major sights in the city and also take a couple of day trips to nearby areas.

Can Hiroshima be a day trip from Kyoto?

Yes, Hiroshima can be a day trip from Kyoto. The Shinkansen (bullet train) can get you there in about two hours. Spend the day exploring the Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima Castle, and try the local cuisine.

Is it worth visiting Kobe?

Absolutely! Kobe offers a unique blend of natural beauty, architecture, and culture. It's well-known for its scenic harbor, vibrant nightlife, and of course, the world-renowned Kobe beef. A day trip to Kobe can be a delightful addition to your itinerary.

Which is better, Kobe or Nara?

Both Kobe and Nara offer unique experiences. Nara is a historical treasure trove with ancient temples and friendly deer roaming around Nara Park. Kobe, on the other hand, is a modern city known for its fashion scene, sophisticated cuisine, and stunning harbor views. Choose based on your interests.

Is Kobe closer to Osaka or Kyoto?

Kobe is closer to Osaka. It takes about 20-30 minutes by train from Osaka, while from Kyoto, it takes around 50-60 minutes.