The capital of Japan for over 1000 years, Kyoto may not own the title anymore, but the evidence is everywhere. Dotted all over the city you will find Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, and many other UNESCO World Heritage Sites – 17 to be precise.
The wealth of culture and history in Kyoto is staggering and is a big reason why it is visited by close to 5 million tourists annually. Its food scene is another major attraction.
As memorable a time Kyoto is bound to be, sometimes getting outside the city limits is exactly what you need. Variety is very much the spice of life.
So, once you’ve had your fill of Sake and Kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) and you’ve tickled the city’s cultural side, it is officially time to spread those wings. Each of the day trips in this article can be comfortably achieved in a day from Kyoto and come certified to offer you a great day out.
1. Osaka Castle And City
Osaka is a beautiful Japanese city with a rich history similar to Kyoto’s. In fact, it has long been regarded as a cultural hub of Japan and is well worth the visit. Getting to Osaka is super easy as it is so well connected to Kyoto. You can get the high-speed train, bus, self-drive, or taxi.
As time is of the essence on a day trip, we would suggest booking a private taxi for the day. Get them to pick you up from the hotel early and whisk you straight to Osaka Castle.
Osaka Castle is the city’s most significant building. Completed in 1586, Osaka Castle was, for centuries, considered an impenetrable force of Japan and something its people were very proud of. The castle and its grounds are extensive and it is very easy to spend half a day sightseeing here.
Once you have finished exploring Osaka Castle, head into Osaka city center for some world-class Teppanyaki and, of course, plenty of Sake. Located in the Hotel Granvia, Teppanyaki Kiryu serves Teppanyaki with a French twist and is the perfect place to get a taste of the city. Your driver can then swoop in and pick you up right out front for the hour or so drive back to Kyoto.
Nara is often regarded as the best day trip from Kyoto, and for good reason as it offers a lot. One of the coolest things about Nara is that it is small (well at least by Japan’s standards). Where Osaka is home to over 2.5 million people, Nara’s population is just 360,000. This makes it a super easy place to visit for the day.
One of the things Nara is most famous for is its wild deer population. With a deep connection to the World Heritage Listed Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, the city’s deer population frequent its surrounding forests, parks, and sometimes even the streets.
To make the most of your day out in Nara it is recommended to book a guided tour from Kyoto. Although Nara can be accessed via public transport, it is not as connected to Kyoto as a city like Osaka. Look for a guided tour that takes you to significant sites like Toshodai-ji, Todiji, Kofukuji, Shosoin, and Akishinodera. It will make your day a whole lot more enjoyable and informed.
3. Farm to Table Local Cooking and Cycle Tour
We thought it was time to mix it up and what better way to do that than a local cooking and cycle tour. Meet your private guide by Kyoto Station in the morning and make sure you’ve stretched it all out before getting there. Taking you past Lake Biwa, Shirahige Shrine, and the picturesque Hata Rice Terraces, your appetite will be well and truly in gear by the time you reach your lunch destination.
Lunch is a hands-on experience that puts you in the home of an Obaachan (elderly lady), where you will be helping her prepare an authentic country-style Japanese meal. You will share her table to eat as she talks shop on Japan, its history, and her life. The whole tour takes about six hours and will give you a spectacularly rare insight into the old way of Japanese life and cooking, with a little taste of adventure.
Kinosaki is a quaint mountain town nestled into a valley by the coast. It is about a three-hour drive from Kyoto city and the stunning scenery that passes you by will make the time fly. Kinosaki is famous for its onsen (public hot springs) for which the town proudly boasts seven. A day trip to Kinosaki is not complete without experiencing an onsen.
One disclaimer, though, is that it is fiercely forbidden in Japanese culture to wear any form of clothing or swimsuit inside an onsen. So, if you’re not comfortable with nudity, Japan’s hot springs won’t be your thing.
Kinosaki also has a kicking little food scene and its canals and stone bridges do tranquil proud. If you have time, the coast just outside Kinosaki is an unspoiled vision of ancient Japan. A true off-the-beaten-track town and experience – Kinosaki will leave its mark.
Unlike the rest of the day trips on this list, Hiroshima, from Kyoto, in a day, should only be reached via high-speed train. It takes three hours on the train, but the trip to Hiroshima is well worth waking up early for. By car, you’re looking at four and a half hours on a good run.
Known around the world as the “peace capital”, it is hard to believe the total devastation that occurred here on August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima is referred to as the peace capital due to the numerous sites in the city that pay respects to the past and bring hope for the future.
Dedicated to the legacy of the victims, directly and indirectly, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is the most visited site in the city. Other notable sites include the Memorial Cenotaph, the Flame of Peace, and the ruins of the old Chamber of Industry and Commerce at the Atom Bomb Dome.
To get from monument to monument we would suggest jumping on the city trams. Failing that, you won’t have a hard time picking up a local taxi in Hiroshima. There’s no beating around the bush on this one, the Hiroshima day trip from Kyoto is long. Our suggestion is to put your well-traveled feet up at a Kyoto Spa the following day. Something luxe like Aman Kyoto will do just fine.
Kyoto is perfectly positioned for day trips. Surrounded by impressive cities, scenic landscapes, and endless hidden gems, you could spend two weeks checking out the Kyoto region and still want more. These five day trips are a good place to start.