It’s been over a year since Spencer and I spent a week in Japan, and I’m still not over it! I would go back tomorrow (if I had the time off to spare and the money to get me there). So while I was daydreaming about cherry blossom season, okonomiyaki, and our inevitable second trip, the idea for this blog post came to me! Kyoto day trips filled our time in Japan, and I wanted to share my favorites with you.
While we spent our first two-ish days in Tokyo, Kyoto was our home base for the majority of the trip. We got a little Airbnb convenient to the rail station and spent our days going back and forth to all the places we’d dreamed of seeing. I would definitely recommend Kyoto as the place to stay if you’re day-tripping through Japan because 1. it’s gorgeous in its own right with way more to see than you’ll ever get to, and 2. it’s convenient to so many cities.
I picked four of my faves plus one that’s still on my bucket list below:
Time by train: 1 hour, 45 minutes
If you’re looking for a way to experience the grandeur of Mt. Fuji without going all the way out to the base, Hakone is the way to go. It’s on the way to Kyoto from Tokyo by train (by the way, I’m very pro-Japan Rail Pass), and we took a half-day to do the full Hakone Loop, complete with a cable car system, ropeway, and pirate ship!
Yes, it’s a little touristy. Yes, it’s still worth it.
The entire loop cost us about $35 per person when we went, and we cycled through each stop on the trip before catching another shinkansen and arriving in Kyoto.
Time by train: 1 hour
It’s nearly impossible for me to pick my favorite of these Kyoto day trips… and then I remember Nara and I swoon. The ancient capital city of Japan, Nara is beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it’s teeming with arguably domesticated deer who will eat crackers out of the palm of your hand.
Oh, and they’ll bow for them. I’m not making this up.
Nara houses the largest Buddha in the world along with dozens of other historically significant sites, but my favorite part was simply strolling through Nara Park, visiting the different shrines and imagining how many others had walked the paths before us. In the hustle and bustle of vacation (because I always overfill our schedule and suffer for it), it was a perfect, relaxing moment to take a breath and just enjoy how beautiful Japan is.
Time by train: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Time by train: 45 minutes
Real talk: Spencer and I had planned to visit Himeji after our morning in Hiroshima. We even got off the shinkansen and headed out into the town surrounding the castle, and then we realized it was pouring so much that we could hardly see the castle from the train station for all the rain.
For reference, Himeji Castle is huge and also exactly 1 mile from the train station. Which has a completely unobstructed view. And we still couldn’t see it.
Since everything we wanted to see (and there was so much of it!) was outside on the grounds of the castle, we decided to skip trudging through the mud in the rain and added it to our “when we come back” list.
I can say it’s easy to get to from Kyoto, and if you’re already heading out to Hiroshima, you should make the stop in Himeji. It’s on your way, and that castle is a beaut even in the rain!
Time by train: 30 minutes
Osaka is so close to Kyoto that it’s practically criminal that we never made it there during our trip. But we had a limited amount of time to explore with a big a list of priorities, and Osaka wasn’t one of ours.
Now, if your list contains city life (because Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan), nightlife, and food, then you’ll probably want to add Osaka to your itinerary. It’s supposed to have a very different vibe from Tokyo with a more bright and playful feel. And there’s also a Universal Studios Osaka? So if you need your theme park fix, that’ll do you!
Osaka is a port city that boasts great seafood restaurants and neighborhoods dedicated to different styles of cuisine. It’s definitely on my “when we come back” list.
Which Kyoto day trip are you wanderlusting over?
P.S. For my entire one-week itinerary for Japan, including what we saw, how we traveled, and everything we ate, check out this blog post!