Kyoto is one of Japan’s top tourist destinations and sees over 500,000 tourists each year! It is a popular destination for many reasons, however it can also be used as a great base for day trips to other parts of the country.
We stayed in Kyoto for 5 days, spending 3 of these exploring Kyoto’s main temple areas and spending the other 2 on day trips. We really wish we’d had more time to do further day trips as some of the places we could have gone looked just amazing!
Himeji Castle is regarded as Japan’s most spectacular castle and is also listed as a world heritage site – rightly so too! Every corner we turned we were blown away by a new detail, from the ridiculously impressive doorways to the bright white walls and the intricate carvings. A couple of fun facts for you, construction of the castle originally begun in the 1400s and the current complex was completed in 1609. Amazingly the castle has never been badly damaged by war, earthquake or fire however it did recently undergo a huge restoration – hence why it is looking so amazing at the moment! We had a lot of fun walking around the gardens of the castle and exploring each floor one at a time. We saw some beautiful views from the top of the tower as well!
How to get there: From Kyoto main station, we took a Shinkansen to Shinosaka, then changed trains to a Hakata bound Shinkansen, getting off at Himeji. It took 1 hour and was included in our Japan Rail Pass. Without the pass it would have cost us about ¥5000 or via a standard train 1.5 hours and ¥2300.
Cost: ¥1000, or ¥1040 if you want to visit the Kokoen Garden next door as well (we didn’t).
Universal Studios (Osaka)
Originally I was going to say Osaka in general, however to be honest we only went to Osaka to go to Universal Studios… and we only went to Universal Studios to go to Harry Potter World! This obviously won’t interest everyone, however walking into Hogsmeade we were just awestruck. The main Harry Potter 4D ride was incredible, walking through the castle was amazing, and just sitting in Hogsmeade was absolutely magical! There’s obviously lots of other parts of Univeral that were a lot of fun too, however Harry Potter World was definitely the highlight.
How to get there: From Kyoto, we took a JR train to Osaka, then changed trains once more before getting off at Universal City. It took 50 minutes and was included in our Japan Rail Pass. Without the pass it would have cost us ¥800.
Cost: ¥7600, bloody expensive! Our entire daily budget gone but it was totally worth it.
Okay so strictly speaking we didn’t actually do this as a day trip – we stayed in Nara for 3 nights due to an event we were attending. We highly recommend staying overnight in Nara for a few reasons (see this article to find out why), however if you are pushed for time it is do-able as a day trip. Nara was the first capital of Japan and as a result is awash with beautifully stunning shrines and temples! We spent 2 days walking around the historial park, slowly exploring each temple, shrine and garden as well as feeding and making friends with the deer that wander the park and town. Such a relaxing and photogenic place!
How to get there: From Kyoto, you take a standard train direct to Nara. It takes between 45 minutes (rapid train) and 1.25 hours (local train) and is included in the rail pass or ¥710.
Cost: Varied! Some of the temples and museums have an entry fee, some do not. You could see a lot for free if you wanted to stick to a budget.
The one place we wish we had visited… Mount Koya.
We really wanted to visit Mount Koya however ran out of time. It takes 3 hours to get there from Kyoto, so do-able in one big day however an overnight stay is generally recommended. Mount Koya is the centre of the important Buddhist sect of Shingon Buddhism and has many historically important temples to wander through. The small temple town on the mountain top looks truly incredible, and we will definitely make the effort to visit next time we go to Japan!
How to get there: From Kyoto, you take the Shinkansen to Shinosaka, then take 2 different trains to Gokurakubashi. From there, take a cable car up the mountain and a 10 minute bus ride to the town centre. It takes 3 hours to get there, hence why an overnight stay is recommended! The cost is partly included in the Japan Rail Pass (¥1540 extra) or ¥2960 without. There are special passes available (details below).
Cost: ¥1500-¥2860. ¥1500 gets you a “Combination” ticket to almost all sights on Koyasan. Alternatively ¥2860 gets you a “Koyasan World Heritage” ticket which includes round trip travel from Osaka, unlimited bus travel on Koyasan and entry to many of the sights.
So there you go! Please let us know in the comments if you’ve got any other suggestions for day trips, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook to keep up to date with our adventures!
Happy travels 🙂