Kyoto is the Japan of your dreams, but where can you go for the day when you want to explore outside of the city? Find out here.
Known by many names, from the city of 10,000 temples to the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is a dream destination. This city of history, with its beautiful temples and shrines, is a perfect combination of Japan’s past and present. It’s also a great starting point to explore other cities, towns, villages, and more remote destinations, a little further afield with some amazing day trips possible using the Japan Rail Pass and the country’s world-leading domestic rail network. In this blog, we’ve pulled together six of the very best day trips from Kyoto to consider while visiting this beautiful part of the world.
Day Trips from Kyoto
Kyoto is an excellent base to explore the surrounding area and get off the beaten path. While the vibrant and dazzling mega city of Osaka is an easy day trip from Kyoto, we’ve chosen to leave that off today’s list and focus on more offbeat choices (with a couple of popular choices as exceptions). Ready for some daytripping?
While there are big cities and popular tourist destinations within easy reach of Kyoto, it is also a gateway to smaller towns and villages you may not have heard of or considered visiting before. Uji is a prime example. Uji is mainly known for three things: World Heritage sites consisting of historic temples, shrines, tea and the Tale of Genji. Let’s start with Uji’s temples and shrines. Of the various temples in Uji, one you won’t want to miss is the Byodo-in Temple. This historic Buddhist temple dates back to 1053 and is one of two World Heritage sites in the city. Byodo-in Temple is celebrated for its elegant Phoenix Hall, a picture of which actually adorns one side of the 10¥ coin. Within this deceptively tall hall you’ll find a beautiful three-metre-tall statue of Buddha Amida. Aside from seeing the Phoenix Hall, make sure to visit the temple museum and see its assortment of artefacts. Next is Ujigami Shrine, the most important place of Shinto worship in Uji. Like the Byodo-in Temple, this Shinto shrine is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto recognised by UNESCO. The shrine isn’t particularly large but is shrouded in plenty of imperial history and is said to have been constructed by 1060. This makes it one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.
Next is an amazing literary fact that relates to Uji. Did you know that the oldest novel in the world is believed to be a Japanese tale from the 11th century? The novel is The Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman, recounting a romance story of a prince and his adventures. Uji is the setting for the final ten chapters of the novel, a fact that the city is still quite proud of. No surprise then that there are multiple landmarks around Uji that commemorate that connection. One is a statue celebrating the novelist Murasaki Shikibu, just by the Uji Bridge across the river. But the city also hosts the Tale of Genji Museum dedicated to the story. Inside the museum exhibits show you what contemporary life was like during the period when the novel was set. All of this should make it clear that Uji is an essential stop if you’re going on a literary tour of Japan.
Drinking green tea is ever-present in life in Japan, being both the most popular beverage and part of many customs and traditions. Uji and its surrounding region has long had a reputation for its superior tea and it was one of the first places to properly adopt this habit from China. While in the city, the best way to experience tea in Uji is by visiting one of its riverside tea houses. You’ll also find Uji tea in most local restaurants and stores, while it’s common to find matcha-flavoured food like ice-cream for sale. There are even certain places, like the Taihoan tea house where you can experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony first-hand.
Finally, as a side attraction, running through the city is the Uji River, one of the most beautiful spots in Uji. There’s plenty of nature on display as you look along the river to the surrounding hills blanketed in forest, which is especially pretty come spring or autumn. To really relax, take a boat ride on a local boat usually used for cormorant fishing. Reaching Uji from Kyoto with the JR Pass is as easy as can be. All you need to do to get there is take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto and hop off at Uji Station near the city centre. From there it’s a short walk to the many attractions listed above. A perfect day trip from Kyoto.
Another day trip off the beaten path. Kurashiki is a dream destination for those looking for beauty, history, fun, authenticity, and fewer crowds and tourists. Kurashiki is celebrated for its historical quarter full of canals and its interesting mix of cultural attractions. The natural place to start your visit to Kurashiki is with the city’s Bikan Historical Quarter. This beautifully preserved part of the city dates from the Edo Period, when Kurashiki was a major merchant and shipping town. Because it escaped unscathed from World War II, the area boasts many historic storehouses that now house cafes, museums and various stores. The quarter also features the old canal system that linked the storehouses to the city’s port and with weeping willow trees along their banks, it’s certainly a beautiful sight to see.
You can even take a boat trip where you’re gently rowed along as the scenery passes by. Beyond just the general character of the Bikan Historical Quarter, you’ll also find many of the best places to visit in Kurashiki, making it an essential stop for tourists. One of the most important religious landmarks in Kurashiki is the Achi Shrine in the Bikan Historical District. This Shinto shrine sits on a hill overlooking the city’s old quarter, which visitors reach by climbing a steep staircase. But it’s worth it when you reach the top as you get to see this ancient shrine from the 8th century dedicated to good fortune and safety at sea.
Kurashiki is also known for its many museums, including having the first museum of western art in Japan. The Ohara Museum of Art is a Neoclassical building that opened in 1930 and features international works by such names as Monet, Rodin and Pollock. Exploring its main gallery, you’ll find paintings from various western nationalities and time periods, making it both eclectic and impressive. And one last claim to fame that Kurashiki has is a surprising one - it’s also Japan’s denim jean capital! The city of Kurashiki has one last claim to fame that may surprise you; it’s Japan’s capital of denim! It was the first place in Japan to manufacture denim and is still famed for its jeans. Rather than mass-produced jeans, the ones from Kurashiki are typically made in small specialist workshops, with countless businesses lining Kojima Jeans Street. So, if you’re in need of a new pair of jeans, you know where to go. To get there, simply take the 90-minute Hikari bullet train to Okayama Station, then the JR Sanyo line to Kurashiki Station. If Kurashiki sounds like your kind of place then read our comprehensive guide, What to Do in Kurashiki, The Quaint Merchant Town of Japan, for everything you need to know.
Just one hour from Kyoto, and the home of the world-famous beef, Kobe is a great day trip and a small, contemporary port city ! What’s so special about Kobe beef we hear you ask? Kobe beef must be the most legendary beef in the world, both for its quality and its price - a single steak can easily cost a month worth of rent! You can easily pay a few hundred dollars for a meal that features Kobe beef.
To cope, don’t think of it as just food, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can be found pretty much everywhere in Japan, but nowhere better than Kobe itself, and while it can be served many ways, arguably the best ways to eat it are either in shabu shabu, which is a soup that has boiled meat, sukiyaki (hot pot), or teppanyaki, which is most people’s favourite. That is when the chef prepares the Kobe beef right in front of you. As we said, it is an experience and Kobe is the place to go for this culinary adventure!
If that is not enough to convince you to visit Kobe, the city also boasts plenty of shopping opportunities, sprawling landscape views from the top of the nearby Mt. Rokko and its own Onsen Hot Springs Resort (Arima Onsen) within the city limits. And finally, Kobe (Ashiya district in particular) was also the childhood home of famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami! To get there from Kyoto, take a 50-minute JR Limited Express Super Hakuto train from Kyoto Station to Sannomiya Station and then a loop bus from there.
If history, wildlife, scenic views, and serene temples and shrines are your thing then Nara is the destination for you. It’s also easily accessible from Kyoto and an ideal day trip. Nara is relatively small and makes for the perfect day out with the JRailPass. Most of its historic attractions, as well as its famous free-roaming deer, are also located within the 660 hectare Nara City Park, which makes it easy to navigate. Start with a visit to the Heijo Palace site, which is a remnant from the time when Nara was the Capital of Japan and is now a World Heritage site. From here, go to the city centre for a visit to Kohfukuji and its three story pagoda. This is one of the most famous pagodas in Japan. Next, it is only a five-minute walk to the Nara National Museum, which houses a magnificent collection of Buddhist art and historic national treasures. After lunch head east through the deer park to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, known for the many stone lanterns donated by worshippers, a profound atmosphere of calm can be felt. After visiting the shrine, take a walk through the forest and soak in the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the place. The last and most famous of our recommendations is Tōdai-ji - the crown jewel of Nara. This Buddhist temple complex houses the Great Buddha and its guardians. Even though it was completed in 752 A.D., it remains as one of the national masterworks of Japan.
On a day trip from Kyoto station, take the JR Nara line bound for Nara (it’s that simple!) from Osaka take the JR Yamatoji line, also bound for Nara! Both options are covered by the JR Pass. From Nara station the park can be reached on foot in about 20 minutes and is a pleasant walk. Alternatively the park can be reached by bus in about 5 minutes, costing 100 yen.
5. Takao, Kyoto
Takao is a remote mountain valley about 1 hour north of Kyoto. Famous for its three historic temples and beautiful natural scenery. The name Takao is used to refer to both the mountain valley, local village and wider mountainous area. A visit to Takao is great any time of the year, and should take from half a day to a full day. Besides visiting the famous temples, there are beautiful hikes to be made, especially during the autumn leaves season. The area is also less frequented by tourists and makes for a great occasion to enjoy some peace and quiet, or even zen! Arguably the most famous attraction in the area is Jingoji Temple.
Also worth a visit is Kozanji Temple. Dating back to 774 the temple is especially interesting for those interested in Manga. On display are Japan's oldest Manga drawings, possibly the oldest in the world. Kozanji is also a famous tea ceremony and is said to be at the origin of the tea ceremony in Japan. It’s possible to visit the old tea plantation and try some of Kyoto’s finest tea.
Takao can be accessed by JR Bus from Kyoto station, in addition to several stops along the way in central and west Kyoto (including JR Nijo Station). The fare is covered by the JR Pass, in addition to a variety of JR-West passes, without the pass the fare is 530 yen / one way.This bus stop is called Yamashiro-Takao 山城高雄. Kyoto city bus line 8 also runs between Shijo Karasuma and Takao, with a flat fare of 230 yen per ride.
Known as the bridge to heaven and considered one of the three most beautiful views in Japan, Amanohashidate is a pine covered sandbar in the northern coastal part of Kyoto Prefecture.Going back through the centuries, Amanohashidate has been lovingly gazed at for more than one thousand years. As early as the Heian period (794 to 1185), it was viewed as one of Japan's three most beautiful views (the others being Matsushima and Miyajima) and featured in poems, ukiyo-e art and literature. Viewed from the mountains of either side, Amanohashidate appears as a pathway between heaven and earth among the simmering waters of the Asoumi sea. Around the area, there are a variety of attractions, and activities to enjoy. Such as beautiful hikes, temples, shrines, a small theme park, and different kinds of water fun.
In terms of getting to this beautiful area, a limited number of direct trains run directly between Kyoto station and Amanohashidate Station. These “Hashidate” train services are the fastest and more convenient option. Taking 127 minutes / 4,990 yen for one way. During the day, there are also options available with a transfer along the way. The route is partially covered by the Japan Rail Pass, travel between Kyoto station and Fukuchiyama is free. From there the route continues on the Kyoto Tango Railway, a private railway company, and an additional fare of ¥1,200 for local trains and ¥2,150 for a Limited Express train is required. Read our full guide to Amanohashidate - the Bridge to Heaven - for more.
Below we have more on Kyoto, including an essential travel guide, as well as recommendations for Osaka, which is another good day trip destination due to its proximity by train.
- While travelling in or out of Kyoto, knowledge of its trains and train station - the second largest in Japan - is vital. Our guide to Kyoto Train Station: Travel and Trains will tell you everything you need to know.
- As we mentioned above, another good day trip from Kyoto is the spectacular city of Osaka. For a fast-paced tour of everything Osaka has to offer, read our guide to 48 Hours in Osaka.
- Our guide to The Best Buddhist Temples in Kyoto is an essential read for anyone visiting the city of 10,000 temples.
- Finally, for those travelling to Tokyo and looking for similar day trips, check out our recent blog, Daytripper: Best Day Trips from Tokyo.