Although visiting Kyoto should be on your Japan itinerary, there are also amazing day trips from Kyoto that should not be missed.
Kyoto is the historic capital of Japan. To this date, it still holds the record for being Japan’s capital for the longest time.
Centuries of political, cultural, culinary, and artistic history was forged in this central Japanese city, in historic districts like Higashiyama.
But Kyoto is more than that. Its central location also allows for Kyoto to be a perfect travel hub with so much of the rest of the country at your fingertips.
READ MORE: Check out our perfect Kyoto itinerary blog post!
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Here’s Our Guide to the Best Day Trips from Kyoto
From historic sites like Himeji Castle to natural wonders like Amanohashidate, Japan’s third-largest city of Osaka, and sites of historic cultural majesty like Miyajima, there is so much that can easily be reached from Kyoto in a single day.
These day trips from Kyoto are all beautiful, unique, and easy to do.
The city of Nara was once also the capital of Japan during the, appropriately named, Nara period.
Today, Nara is best known for its enormous park filled with thousands of tame, beautiful deer that roam the area freely.
Nara forms a kind of triangle with Kyoto and Osaka, meaning that all three cities can be easily travelled between by train.
Nara is far smaller than both Kyoto and Osaka, and as such the city can be easily explored in a single day.
Nara majestically blends the urban and the rural in an uncanny, almost unbelievable way.
Half of the city is a small urban sprawl of shopping arcades, local Japanese restaurants, and quiet pedestrian streets.
The other is an enormous parkland populated by two thousand deer who roam this hilly area and bow to visitors as they pass.
Within Nara Park are the famous Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga-taisha Shrine, symbols of Japan’s religious history as well as its tight and intimate bond with nature.
READ MORE: Check out these other amazing things to do on your day trip to Nara.
2) Awaji Island
The largest island within reach of Kyoto, Awaji Island can be found on the south side of Kobe and wraps around Osaka Bay.
On the island is the city of Awaji, which is home to an incredible botanical garden known as the Kiseki no Hoshi Greenhouse.
Just to the south of Awaji city on Awaji Island is a delightful theme park known as Onokoro.
What sets this theme park apart from the rest is its beautiful collection of miniature replicas of landmarks from all around the world, including Notre Dame, the Sphinx of Egypt, and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
A lesser-known part of Awaji Island, which can be found on the same eastern side of the island as Awaji city only further down, is the ruins and remains of Sumoto Castle.
This sight makes for an incredible view if you are still on Awaji Island come sunset.
The original stone walls of the castle, blended with the crashing ocean waves behind it, paint one of the most beautiful yet almost secret scenes in all of Japan.
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city (after Tokyo and Yokohama), and considered by many to also be its most exciting and vibrant metropolis.
It is connected to Kyoto by a fantastic train network that allows visitors to move between these two major cities in under an hour.
And, while a day trip isn’t enough to see the entire city of Osaka, it is certainly enough to see all of Osaka’s most captivating and beautiful attractions.
The most unmissable attraction in Osaka is also its most prominent: Osaka Castle.
Located on a central hill that overlooks the entire city, Osaka Castle is one of the most perfectly maintained and spellbinding historic landmarks in all of Japan.
A day trip from Kyoto will get you up to and inside the castle.
Beyond Osaka Castle, the downtown area of Dotonbori, which lines either side of the Dotonbori River, is the neon-lit hub of Osaka.
A far cry from the atmosphere of the castle, Dotonbori is where all of Osaka’s best bars, shops, and restaurants can be found.
Day and night, this area is abuzz with an electric atmosphere.
READ MORE: Add these activities to your day trip to Osaka.
Hiroshima’s name precedes the city itself and is inescapably connected to the monumental tragedy which befell it at the end of World War II.
But it is worth mentioning this in order to put in perspective what exists of the city today, which is a sprawling mini-metropolis populated by kind and happy people living in a warm and temperate climate.
Hiroshima is a beautiful, bustling city that’s easy to get to from Kyoto if you take the shinkansen bullet train.
Getting to Hiroshima early from Kyoto gives visitors plenty of time to see some of the city’s best sights.
The first and most essential being the Peace Memorial Park, which is found in the centre of the city.
Within the park is the Atomic Bomb Dome, a shell that has remained since World War II as a sobering reminder of the devastation caused to this beautiful city.
Even though the dome was directly beneath the blast when the bomb was dropped, it somehow survived and remained standing, and so it does so to this day.
Hiroshima also has its own castle, which is a modern recreation of the one which stood in the same place during the 16th century.
And between the Peace Memorial Park and Hiroshima Castle is also the Hiroshima Museum of Art.
READ MORE: Check out these other interesting things to do in Hiroshima.
Amanohashidate is at the very northern tip of Kyoto province and can be reached by train on a day trip from Kyoto city.
It is one of the great scenic views of Japan, and a staggering place of incredible natural beauty.
Its name means “heaven standing bridge”, Amanohashidate is a natural sandbar bridge that links two points of northern Kyoto province together across the Miyazu Bay.
The sandbar itself is 3.6km long and lined with green trees. On the northern end of the sandbar is a Shinto shrine known as Motoise Kono, and on the southern end is the Buddhist Chionji Temple, with Amanohashidate linking them together.
Given how Shintoism and Buddhism have historically been Japan’s two primary belief systems, there is something wonderfully symbolic about their temples and shrines being naturally linked in this way.
The Amanohashidate site has been a place of deep cultural and artistic importance in Japan for centuries and has been captured in famous ukiyo-e art but legendary artists such as Hiroshige.
Today, the area is frequently visited by people heading up from Kyoto, a trip which takes around two hours.
What makes this such a pleasurable natural place to visit is that it can be viewed and photographed from the nearby hills.
But is can also be walked along on foot, which is best done during the early summer months when the sky is blue and the weather is perfect.
A good option is to join a tour of Amanohashidate, which you can book directly on the Klook site.
BONUS – Booking ahead of time ensures you won’t miss out on the tour, and get the best price too! And just for NOMADasaurus readers, if you use the Klook discount code “NOMADS10” on the website when checking out, you’ll get $10 off your first booking!
6) Himeji Castle
Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nagoya all have castles, but they are not necessarily defined by them.
Himeji Castle, however, is the defining feature of the town of Himeji.
This is because it is perhaps Japan’s most magnificent and glorious castle: an enormous structure of pearly white walls atop stone which towers over the town and can be seen from every street.
Himeji itself lies a little down the coastline from Kobe and Osaka, within easy reach of Kyoto for a comfortable day trip.
But it is undoubtedly the 17th century Himeji Castle which is the town’s great draw.
The castle lies at the heart of an enormous park which is also home to several incredible attractions.
One is Sannomaru Square, a garden with views of the castle.
And another attraction is Himeji Museum of Art, which can be found just to the east of the castle and contains several stunning pieces of local historic art.
Behind Himeji Castle is Himeji Shrine, a shrine of shinto origin often visited by local people.
The castle itself was one of Japan’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites and is still today one of Japan’s most visited attractions outside of Tokyo and Kyoto.
It is a stunning piece of architecture and possibly the most incredible castle to behold in all of Japan.
Located right between Kyoto and Tokyo, the central city of Nagoya is an often overlooked day trip destination from Kyoto.
Slightly more modern than the historic ancient capital, Nagoya offers visitors a wealth of entertainment options.
Experience Japan’s phenomenally popular pachinko parlours and the Nagashima Spa Land, a theme park and water park with roller coasters and a huge Ferris wheel.
South of Nagoya’s centre is the peaceful Atsuta Jingu shrine, while just north of the centre is Nagoya Castle, which has been restored to its former glory in recent years.
Meijo Park, which Nagoya Castle sits at the exact centre of, is a large and beautiful place to stroll through, especially in the spring weeks when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
And right in the very heart of the city is Nagayoshi Museum, which displays exhibits of modern art that frequently change, keeping the museum fresh and exciting for return visitors.
READ MORE: Here’s our list of the best things to do in Nagoya.
You may not know Miyajima by name, but you certainly do to look at it.
Miyajima is the more popular but unofficial name of Itsukushima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima which is the furthest place you can comfortably get to for a day trip from Kyoto.
Miyajima is most famous for its iconic torii gate: an enormous red shrine that stands in the water just off the island itself.
Photos of this torii gate are synonymous with so many people’s mental images of Japan itself, making it easily one of the most iconic and captivating views in all of Japan.
Just like the former capital of Nara, Miyajima also has its own wild deer roaming around, which add to the majesty and allure of the place.
The deer roam the island as they please, living there peacefully with nature and the visitors who come and go.
The Itsukushima Shrine, for which the island is officially named, can be found off the northern tip of the island.
The city of Kobe lies just on the other side of Osaka from Kyoto and is very easily reached from both cities.
Kobe is, of course, most famous for its marbled beef, which is considered by many to be the finest beef in the entire world.
Beyond its world-famous beef, Kobe is also a fascinating and exciting city to explore in its own right.
Kobe is divided into two areas: the waterfront bay area, which includes Rokko Island, and the hilltop area to the west of Mt Rokko.
There is an antique cable car which is still in perfect working order and can take passengers up to Mt Rokko for a view of the surrounding area and the ocean beyond.
On the waterfront is the Kobe Maritime Museum, which is a gargantuan place that celebrates, and educates visitors on, the maritime history of Japan, including the nation’s feats of naval engineering.
The nearby Kobe City Museum is home to local pieces of artwork and archaeological finds from the surrounding area.
Then there is also the lesser-known Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Art, which houses a surprising wealth of 19th-century European sculptures as well as local pieces of artwork.
READ MORE: Be sure to add these incredible experiences to your Kobe day trip!
While Kyoto grants visitors easy access to several other large cities like Osaka, Nagoya, and Hiroshima, it also allows for the opportunity to explore smaller but equally beautiful and fascinating towns.
One such town is Moriyama, a town in Shiga prefecture just a short train ride east out of Kyoto.
Moriyama is home to the Biwako Ohashi Bridge, which plays a song using the echoes created from ridges carved into the road as you drive over them.
There are a few of these singing roads in Japan, but this is one of the lesser-known ones, and the fact that it sings across a long and beautiful bridge makes it even more spectacular.
Moriyama is also home to the Lake Biwa Museum, a museum of Japanese nautical history which also doubles as a freshwater aquarium.
The museum itself is located within a stunning floral garden on the water’s edge which is most impressively viewed at the turn of summer when all the flowers are in full bloom.
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