Kyoto Tourism Tips: 5 Day Trips Near the City, and Beyond
Make time for some day trips from Kyoto and experience more of Japan than you ever thought possible.
Kyoto is an incredible place to visit. In this thrilling city—one of the largest in Japan—the traditions of the past collide with the modernism of the present and future to create the perfect balance of the two. You may find a centuries-old shrine down one street, then turn a corner and end up face-to-face with the large metropolitan hub that is the Kyoto train station. The air here has a different sort of feeling; visitors are often awed and amazed by the blending of cultural eras in this exciting city.
When visiting Kyoto, it can be difficult to make plans that include everything you want to see in the area. After all, there is so much to see and do in and around this massive city that it would be nearly impossible to pack it all into a single trip. With this list, you can make the most of a short stay in Kyoto. Check out these five incredible day trips and pick your favorites from this list of the best ways to spend a few days in the Kyoto area.
If you or someone in your family or travel group has a penchant for historical Japanese sites, then Himeji is the day trip for you. From Kyoto, you can board the bullet train and get there in less than an hour of travel time, one-way. The train ride itself lasts only about 45 minutes, and there is a ten minute walk from the station to the main exhibit of Himeji: the castle.
Himeji castle is a massive black and white fortress that stands out on top of a hill in the middle of beautiful landscaping in Himeji. The castle sits on the original site of a fortress that was built in the early 1300s; in 1581, the fort was redesigned into something similar to the castle you can see today. In 1601, Ieyasu Tokugawa took control of the castle and passed it along to one of his supporters. As thanks for the support, Tokugawa worked on the castle for nearly a decade longer, adding on to it and making it into the impressive building you can still tour today.
Himeji castle is easily the most widely recognized and well-known castle in Japan. Taking a day trip out to the castle is like walking back in time. Although the castle is usually fairly busy with tourists and locals alike, there is so much to explore in and among the building and grounds that you will not feel too crowded there. One of the most exciting parts of the self-guided tour of the castle is the “long corridor,” which is just what it sounds like—a long hallway with many offshoot rooms. You can see, all along the hall, the ways that the castle might have been defended when it was still operational, including ducts for pouring boiled oil onto enemies below.
Himeji Castle is open for exploration daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Technically, if you happened to get up and get started early in the day, you might be able to make this trip a half-day excursion; however, consider planning a full day just to be sure you have plenty of time for enjoying everything. Enryakuji is on a half-hour ride from the Kyoto train station to Sakamoto Station. From the station, there is a short walk to get to the base of the nearby mountain; when you see a large torii gate, you’ll know you’re going in the right direction! A little more walking will bring you to a second torii, where you will have the choice to keep walking up the mountain or to take the cable car.
If you are intrepid and love hiking, you might want to take the walk; otherwise, it’s best to jump on the cable car and ride to the top of the mountain. Once you reach the cable car’s destination, take some time to get some photos of the beautiful scenery before finishing your walk to the temple itself. The Enryakuji temple is actually a Buddhist monastery known for its beauty and for being the birthplace of Tendai Buddhism.
There are many buildings within the monastery’s complex for you to take a look at. Take your time and explore as much as you’d like to. Brochures are available in English for most of the sights that can be seen at Enryakuji. Just remember to remain quiet and reverent, as this is a legitimate place of religious practice and worship for some.
Enryakuji is accessible from March to November, 8:30am to 4:30pm, and December to February from 9:00am to 4:00pm.
Hiroshima is one of the most educational trips you could make from anywhere while you are in Japan; from Kyoto, it is about a 2-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride from Kyoto station, one way. This is a longer day trip than the others on this list, but it is well worth it. Plan an entire day for traveling from Kyoto to Hiroshima and back, and expect to do a great deal of walking while you’re in Hiroshima itself. Most of the historic sites can be reached within walking distance of each other and of the train station.
Do not leave Hiroshima without stopping by the Atomic Bomb Dome. This building was located directly beneath the epicenter of the atomic bomb’s explosion, and it is preserved in as much of its post-bomb state as possible, to remind visitors and residents alike of the need for peace in the world. Just across the bridge from the Dome is the Peace Park, with beautiful and serene memorials to the victims of the atomic bomb. The children’s memorial is located here as well.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is also located near these two sites, and it is a very humbling experience. There is a lot to be learned from a visit to this museum. If you are traveling with young children, you may want to skip this one, as it shows graphic depictions of the aftermath of the bombing.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum opens daily from 8:30am. In March through November, it is open until 6:00pm; from December through February, it is open until 5:00pm.
Hop on the train from Kyoto Station and in about fifty minutes, you’ll be in Kobe, one of the most modern Japanese cities today. Although Kobe is often overlooked by first-time visitors to Japan, it is an exciting day trip from Kyoto that will leave you wishing you had even more time to spend in this fun and vibrant city.
You may recognize the name “Kobe” from the well-known high-quality beef that is produced in this area. What better way to begin your day trip to Kobe than stopping in one of the many restaurants in the area that serve fresh, locally-farmed Kobe beef? Later in the day, you might want to visit one of the many sake breweries located just on the outskirts of the city. In between your eating and drinking excursions, take some time to explore the Hanshin Earthquake Memorial Museum, located within the city, and take a look at the remains of the earthquake’s devastation that have been preserved around the port area.
Kobe is also well-known for its Chinese New Year celebration, but even if you don’t visit the city during that time of the year, stop by Chinatown for some great shopping, dining, and entertainment. Last but not least, if you’re interested in botanical gardens, visit Sorakuen, a nearby garden decorated and landscaped in a traditional Japanese style.
The Earthquake Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 5:30pm.
It is closed on Mondays and, if there is a holiday on Monday, it is closed the following Tuesday.
Last but certainly not least, consider spending a day of your Kyoto-based Japan exploration in Nara. The trip takes only about 45 minutes by train from Kyoto station, making it an excellent and quick trip from Kyoto. Nara is an exciting, smaller city in Japan, and was once the capital city a long, long time ago.
One of the biggest draws of Nara is its nature and wildlife. Even though it is a bustling city, like so many cities in Japan are, you are never more than a hop away from something natural when you spend time in Nara. And just about every time you look over your shoulder, you’re bound to be followed by one of the large number of deer that have become tame and wander the city freely. Be careful when interacting with these deer, but for the most part, they are docile.
While in Nara, stop by Todai-ji temple, home of the great Buddha. This massive Buddha statue is made of bronze and weighs about 250 tons, making it the largest Buddha in the world. One of the massive pillars that holds up the wooden building in which the Buddha is housed makes for an entertaining aside. The bottom of the pillar is carved with a small hole that is said to be the size of the nostril of the great Buddha statue. If you can crawl through it, you’ll live a long life. It’s a tight squeeze, but it’s fun to try!
Todai-ji Temple is open Friday through Wednesday from 9:30am to 5:30pm; it is closed on Thursdays.
While in Kyoto, there is plenty to do in the city itself to take up a great deal of your travel time. However, if you would like to explore more of Japan than just what can be found in Kyoto, try any or all of the day trips listed here. You’re sure to enjoy soaking up the culture and seeing more of the country than you might have expected when you tour the areas near Kyoto. Enjoy yourself, and happy travels!
Lead image: flickr photo by HerryLawford https://flickr.com/photos/herry/407620688 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
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