14 of the Most Stunning Day Trips From Kyoto
Kyoto is a bustling city with plenty to do, see, and love. However, planning a trip to Kyoto doesn’t mean you have to stay in the city. This guide highlights the best day trips from Kyoto and includes top tips to help you navigate the area hassle-free.
Japan’s eighth-largest city and one of the country’s most popular tourist hubs has a wealth of attractions to entice visitors. From jaw-dropping temples and sublime gardens, to bustling markets and hidden alleys offering a chance to spot geishas.
All in all – Kyoto is a melting pot of unique culture, mind-blowing architecture, and tantalizing cuisine.
Kyoto lies in the western region of Japan, a short train ride from Osaka. Even though Kyoto packs a bunch of exciting activities for all ages, there are also many beautiful places worthy of your time nearby. Therefore, after exploring the abundant top sights in Kyoto, heading out on one (or more) of these fantastic day trips from Kyoto is highly encouraged.
Luckily traveling in Japan is effortless thanks to the excellent transportation network. Moreover, you can easily access all of these day trips from Kyoto by either train or bus. However, if you are not comfortable accessing these areas on your own, or prefer joining a group, I’ve also included some terrific tours. These tours will help you fully enjoy your visit without all the stress of planning out a trip on your own.
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Before you jet off on your Kyoto trip, it’s essential to have the basics already in place. Here are a few things I highly recommend you consider for a stress-free trip:
- Search for the best hotel prices in Kyoto. Although Gion is one of the best areas to stay in Kyoto, you might want to consider basing yourself near the Kyoto Station. This will allow you to easily travel further afield. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more quiet, this guide on the best neighborhoods to stay in Kyoto will also come in handy.
- Order a portable wifi device for pickup when you arrive at the airport. You’ll need this to access transport schedules, maps and more on the go.
- Get a discounted JR Pass or hire a private charter to get around hassle-free. The JR Pass allows you to travel on multiple train lines and, moreover, will save you a ton of money on these day trips from Kyoto.
- Order an ICOCA card to pick up at the airport. The ICOCA card is similar to other top-up cards you can find in Asia, like the Easy card in Taiwan or the Octopus card in Hong Kong. Not only does it enable you to tap and go on public transport, but you’ll also be able to buy goodies at convenience stores.
- I never travel without travel insurance, and neither should you. I highly recommend World Nomads. They have a bunch of excellent options to choose from, ensuring you and your belongings are covered on any trip.
- For Instagram-worthy photos and the chance to have an authentic Japanese experience, you might want to consider renting a kimono.
- Grab a Lonely Planet guide book for useful tips and everything you need to know about traveling in Kyoto.
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Top 14 Day Trips From Kyoto
If you are wondering what the best day trips from Kyoto are, you’re going to be spoiled for choice after getting through this guide. This curated list sets out 14 of the most stunning day trips from Kyoto – as recommended by world travelers.
Day Trips within 1.5 hours from Kyoto
Arashiyama is synonymous with one of the most iconic towns in all of Japan. Home to the mesmerizing Bamboo Forest and ancient temples, it’s not hard to see why Arashiyama is one of the country’s top Natural Heritage Sites.
Start your day by taking a relaxing stroll across the 155m long Togetsukyo Bridge. The bridge was built during the Heian Period and offers an excellent vantage point over the river with mountains as a backdrop.
Then head over to the Hozugawa River. For a unique experience, enjoy a romantic river ride or rent a canoe to admire the scenic landscape. There’s also a beautiful trail following along the promenade over the mountain to the heart of the village.
From here, have a walkabout in town, grab some food and then head to the Bamboo Grove. Here you will walk through towering bamboo forests offering countless excellent photo opportunities. Be sure to also stop by centuries-old, Tenryuji. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of Kyoto’s top 5 Zen temples.
Arashiyama is an excellent day trip from Kyoto and one that should be high on your side trips list. If you already have a JR Pass take the JR Sagano/ San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. The ride takes less than an hour. Alternatively, access Arashiyama by bus from Kyoto Station. The journey is slightly longer, but the scenery along the way makes up for it!
Recommended by Jodie from Alajode.
Himeji Castle makes for a magical day out, and can easily be visited on a day trip from Kyoto. Traveling to Himeji station from Kyoto only takes around 45-55 (depending on which train you catch), thanks to the direct line that runs between them. To get there, take the JR Tokaido or Sanyo line. If you’ve already bought a JR Pass for your trip to Japan, the high-speed Shinkansen won’t cost you anything.
Himeji Castle is a towering white castle that you won’t be able to miss. One of only 12 castles of its kind to have survived, this medieval white castle looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. You can climb up to the top floor of the castle and enjoy some magnificent views of the surrounding area. You may have to wait in line for a while, and you’ll need to be fit enough to climb the many stairs, but it’s well worth doing! Whether you climb up or not, make sure you schedule in some time to enjoy the surrounding park as well. Himeji Castle is encircled by a moat, on which you can take a short boat ride – or simply admire the beautiful scenery from the sidelines.
Recommended by Alexander, from Gourmand Trotter
Kobe is an easy day trip to make from Kyoto that takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes on the train. Kobe is a famous harbor city in Japan, and it’s also a popular destination for tourists wanting to try the famous Kobe Beef.
There are plenty of restaurants serving Kobe Beef, but be sure to choose a reputable restaurant, so you don’t end up paying a premium price for regular wagyu beef. Kobe Beef Steak Restaurant Royal Mouriya is a great place, although somewhat expensive.
Kobe is also very famous for its sake, and visiting a sake brewery is one of the best things to do in Kobe. If you want to visit an old wooden shrine, you shouldn’t miss the Ikuta shrine, which was built in 201 AD.
The most famous district in the city is Harborland, and here you’ll find plenty of attractions and entertainment along the waterfront. It’s a fun area to explore, especially if you’re traveling here as a family.
To get here, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line, which is a direct train from Kyoto.
Recommended by Lena from Nagoya Foodie.
Nagoya is Japan’s 4th largest city by population with many exciting sights. But unfortunately, it is often overlooked by travelers.
In Nagoya, you can visit one of the most fantastic castle reconstructions. The Hommaru Palace is entirely made from wood and is decorated with golden wall paintings.
Other highlights of Nagoya include the Toyota Museum, where you can learn about Japan’s largest car manufacturer.
Don’t miss the Osu shopping street, a roofed-over network of shopping streets with shops selling everything from second-hand items to high-end electronics. Even if you just come here to window shop, the atmosphere is fantastic.
There are many more activities in Nagoya not to be missed.
The top reason to visit Nagoya isn’t the fantastic sights; it is the local food that makes Nagoya such a great day trip destination from Kyoto. The local cuisine is Nagoya Meshi and is unique to the region. Dishes like Miso Katsu, deep-fried pork cutlets in Miso sauce, and Hitsumabushi, grilled freshwater eel, are all a must-try.
Nagoya is only about 130 kilometers from Kyoto, and it can be easily reached by bullet train in 35 minutes. The one-way trip costs 5700 yen. Other options include local trains and buses. These options are much cheaper but take over 2 hours one way, which won’t leave too much time for sightseeing.
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One of the best day trips from Kyoto is undoubtedly Nara. This quintessential town is a beautiful mix of age-old temples, unique traditions, and sublime gardens. The best part about taking a Nara day trip from Kyoto, however, is a chance to meet the cheeky free-roaming deer.
Start your Nara day trip by heading to the Nara Deer Park, where you can enjoy a gentle stroll among the beautiful gardens and snap some pictures of the semi-tame deer. Many vendors sell ‘deer cookies,’ but take note that the deer are quite cheeky. Then make your way to the most iconic temple in town, Todai-Ji. Here you can witness the second largest Buddha statue in Japan, Daibutsu, towering 15-m high. The temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the main hall houses many interesting relics and artifacts worthy of your time.
A short stroll away, head over to Kasuga-Taisha – a beautiful Shinto Shrine dating back to 768 AD. Along the way, you’ll see towering dense forests, secret paths lined with more than 3000 stone lanterns, and of course, more deer. Before making your way back to the train station, drop by Kofuku-ji Temple. The temple is home to a five-story pagoda, a museum, and a beautiful hall showcasing some prized artifacts.
If you already have a JR Pass, do take the JR West line to Nara. Trains run every 30 minutes, and the journey only about 45 minutes. Alternatively, take the Kintetsu train, which is slightly cheaper and faster but only runs on the hour.
Recommended Nicole from Nicole LaBarge Travel Blog.
Osaka is an ideal day trip from Kyoto. The city is only 15 minutes by train from Kyoto, and there is so much to do there!
When visiting Japan, the main cities to visit are Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Osaka is the third-largest city in Japan, and you will find everything here from culture to history to great food.
You can start your day at the Osaka Aquarium. There is a reason why the aquarium is on every list of things to do in Osaka. There are over 30,000 animals in this aquarium, and you could spend a whole day here exploring.
Next, head to Osaka Castle. Built in the 1500s, you can explore the castle, but more importantly, you can explore the grounds and gardens surrounding the castle. You could easily spend half a day here.
And last you must try some of the foods that are famous in Osaka such as Okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese pancake similar to pizza. Or you can have a bowl of ramen.
If you’re wondering how much time to spend in Osaka, this guide on how many days to spend in Osaka will come in handy.
Recommended by Mayi from Secret Moona.
We hear very little of the city of Uji, even though it is located only minutes from Kyoto. Overlooked by tourists and yet famous throughout Japan for its powdered green tea (matcha), Uji is a city to discover. The little town is one of those Japanese cities with an undescribed charm. The smell of tea tickles your senses as soon as you arrive at the central station and follows you throughout your visit.
If you are looking for a great day trip from Kyoto, Uji is a city made for you! It is a quiet and beautiful destination where you can enjoy temple visits, taste amazing matcha flavored food like ice cream or soba, appreciate sunset viewing, and cormorant fishing on the river.
Start your day by a visit to Byodo-in Temple, a beautiful temple with a garden and pond. Afterward, take a stroll in the main shopping street and taste some of the street food on offer like mochi and takoyaki. If you rather sit down, head over to Aiso for a yummy tempura meal set with soba noodles. After the delicious lunch, cross the Kisen-Bashi Bridge to To-no-Shima Island and take a stroll along the Uji river banks. Finish the day by visiting Ujigami Shrine, the oldest standing shrine in Japan before heading to the train station.
Recommended by Kavita from Kavey Eats, Pete Drinks.
If you are interested in Japanese whiskey, Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery is an easy day trip from Kyoto, located just a short train ride away.
The Distillery offers a tour and tasting (you need to book your place in advance) that takes visitors around the distillery, from mash room to still house to warehouse. The guide speaks in Japanese, but English-language audio guides are available, and the guides will help you play the relevant explanations for each part of the tour.
The tour ends in a vast tasting hall where visitors are treated to a dram. Be warned that these are usually served with soda water already added (the traditional Japanese way of drinking whiskey) but ask for yours neat with still water on the side, and they are happy to oblige.
After the tour, head to the Visitors Center, which houses a museum on the history of Suntory, and the all-important shop. Best of all, and not to be missed, is the Yamazaki Whiskey Library and bar. This incredible reference library includes not only Suntory whiskeys but also whiskeys from around the world. Here, you can buy drams of other whiskeys in their range, and even the individual components that make up their blends – a fascinating insight into how blends are created.
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Day Trips 1.5+ hours from Kyoto
Recommended by Sally from Our 3 Kids v The World.
Hiroshima was a highlight of our whole visit to Japan. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the lives lost on August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped. The explosion wiped out 90% of the city immediately killing 80,000 people but the overall toll is reportedly over 400,000 lives from the exposure to radiation and related illnesses.
While it’s a somber experience, I love that the Japanese have made this area so special, a learning space, a place where we learn why we must never have a site like this again. I had an elderly Japanese lady stop me close to the Children’s Memorial and thanked me for taking my kids there, she said, ‘we must learn.’
The best way to travel between Kyoto and Hiroshima is by Shinkansen, the bullet train. This trip will take approximately 1hr 40mins; however, you will likely have to change trains at Shin-Osaka, this will only take 10-15mins. Trains are very punctual in Japan, so no need to be there too early.
While doing this in a day may be a bit rushed, I highly recommend doing it if that’s the only option. However, if your itinerary allows, spend a night or two in Hiroshima as there is quite a bit to do. The free Hiroshima shuttle bus makes getting around to the main attractions very easy.
Recommended by Michael from Time Travel Turtle.
In the Kii Mountains, not far from Kyoto, people have walked along sacred paths for centuries as part of a spiritual pilgrimage. These routes, known collectively as the Kumano Kodo, link the most famous temples and shrines. And the most spectacular of the destinations is Koyasan.
Koyasan was founded as a religious city, and it has about 120 temples in total. The most famous of them is Kongobuji, which was built by the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect. It has some incredible sliding doors with intricate paintings on them and is a must-visit.
But what makes Koyasan so atmospheric is the way the religious buildings blend with the natural elements around them, integrated into the forests and the streams, with the rock formations and the mountain in harmony.
There are lots of things to see in Koyasan – some of the highlights are the Okunoin Temple and Cemetery, the Garan temple complex, and the Reihokan Museum. But the most unique thing to do here is staying overnight in one of the temples and learning about Buddhist life. It’s the main reason that people visit Koyasan and it is an exceptional experience.
The best way to reach Koyasan from Kyoto is via Osaka. Catch the train to Nankai Namba station in Osaka and transfer onto the Nankai Koya Line. Get off at Gokurakubashi and catch the cable car up the mountain to the temple city.
Recommended by Alyse from The Invisible Tourist
Have you heard of Kurashiki? My guess is probably not. This ancient town dates back to the Edo period (1603 – 1867) and is almost undiscovered by foreign tourists! Known as the “Venice of Japan” due to its canal-lined historical area, the highlight is the local “gondoliers” taking visitors on relaxing boat rides to discover the local attractions.
The combination of weeping willows, authentic local cuisine, and old merchant warehouses dotted throughout give the town a charming atmosphere. With rickshaw riders jogging past, it’s easy to imagine what life was like here centuries ago.
During the Edo period, the old merchant warehouses in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter were used to store rice that was exported through the country, resulting in the local area becoming quite prosperous. Today, these warehouses have been converted into artisan shops, museums, and restaurants, making it a beautiful place to explore and learn about Japanese culture.
Kurashiki is even home to the first museum in the country dedicated to Western art. The impressive private collection housed at the Ohara Museum of Art includes the likes of great masters such as Monet, Picasso, and Cezanne. It’s incredible how this collection ended up in Japan, so I recommend visiting the museum to find out how!
Located just 15 minutes from Okayama station and 120 minutes on the JR Sanyo line makes it the perfect day trip from Kyoto. For a small town, Kurashiki is big on surprises!
Recommended by Ioana from The World is my Playground.
Miyajima, known as the Island of Shrines, is one of Japan’s most sacred sites. Officially called Itsukushima (even on the map), the island makes a great day trip from Kyoto.
The island can be reached in about 3 hours from Kyoto by train. If you leave with the 7 am train from Kyoto, you’ll be in Miyajima by 10 am with enough time to see the island and return. You’ll need to get off at Miyajimaguchi Station and jump on the ferry for a 10-minute ride to the island. You can easily spend a day here, but a few hours are also enough if you want to combine it with your day trip to Hiroshima. The island’s serenity is just what you need to process the emotionally challenging experience you’re bound to have at Hiroshima, and it’s a beautiful way to end the day.
Miyajima is also home to herds of adorable deer and countless shrines. The most famous one being the Itsukushima-jinja Shrine, with its beautiful and infamous shrine gate, the Torii of Miyajima. During high tide, the gate looks like it floats in the water, but during low tide, it can be seen up close. See it at golden hour in all its glory.
Close to the shrine, you’ll find the Daisho-in Temple, which is worth a visit. Time permitting, stop by Momiji-dani-koen Park for a relaxing stroll, then take the Miyajima Ropeway cable car to the top of Mt. Misen for a beautiful panoramic view of the island. Once at the top, you can walk up another 30 minutes to reach the summit and see more temples and shrines.
Recommended by Noel from Travel Photo Discovery.
Kyoto is a fantastic place to explore and base yourself for shorter day trips in the region. If you plan on visiting the Alps region, there’s a scenic train ride going uphill to the historic city of Takayama at the base of the Japanese Alps.
A gorgeous historic city to explore, Takayama has a beautiful central old district with a river that divides the old city district and newer sections of the city. Takayama maintains that old village appeal with lots of small shops, art galleries, and artisanal vendors that sell locally made products, foods, and other takeaways that are a part of this city. Takayama is an excellent day trip from Kyoto as it has an authentic vibe of Japanese traditional culture, food, and lifestyle.
One of the most popular times to visit is in spring and fall harvest when Takayama hosts these amazing street festivals and parades done during the day and night. You’ll find vendors all along the river and streets selling local foods, take away appetizers/snacks, and other regional crafts and goodies for visitors to enjoy.
Do take a trip to Takayama for an enjoyable experience around the city. Check out my first impression of visiting Takayama here for more images and inspiration to visiting the area.
Top Travel Tips: Although visiting Takayama on a day trip is possible, you should know the journey is a bit long. Travel times between Kyoto and Takayama may take up to 4 hours depending on which trains or buses you take. Therefore, schedule permitting, we highly recommend spending at least one night in this scenic village.
Recommended by James from Travel Collecting.
Yoshino Mountain is probably one of the most famous places in Japan to see cherry blossoms. The mountain is covered in more than 30,000 cherry trees, and the entire hillside turns pink in the sakura season. The flowers are typically at their peak early-mid April, and this is also when the Hanakueshiki Festival starts.
However, it is worth visiting Yoshino from Kyoto at any time of the year. In addition to the trees and parks, there are several shrines and temples, including the famous Mikumari Shrine, dedicated to a fertility goddess. There are also plenty of restaurants to stop off in, many serving a local specialty dish of mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. The town, spread along a three-tiered ridge, is not that big, so it is easily manageable as a day trip from Kyoto.
The easiest way to get to Yoshino from Kyoto is by Kintetsu Railway. It takes 2 hours and 10 minutes on the express train, but only one hour and 40 minutes on the limited express train. You’ll also need to change trains at Kashiharajingu-mae Station. From the Yoshino train station, you can walk up the steep hill, or take a shuttle bus to the town.
As you can see, there are many beautiful places to explore near Kyoto. Which day trip from Kyoto is your favorite? And what tips do you have for fellow travelers planning a day trip from Kyoto? Drop your comments below.
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