Nine day trips from Kyoto
Nine ideas to explore the surroundings of the ancient capital: my favourite day trips from Kyoto
Allow time for your visit to Kyoto. Many visitors plan to spend just two or three nights in the ancient capital of Japan. But if you are interested in Japanese culture and history you should stay longer than that. Four days is, in my opinion, the ideal time span to experience the best that this extraordinary city that I deeply love and to get a feel of its atmosphere. Three full days would be the absolute minimum.
But you can stay longer in Kyoto. You won’t get bored. But if you want to take a break from the city or get a different perspective, if you want to explore those beautiful hills that surround the city, well, here are some ideas.
I have decided not to include in the day trips Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari as they are part of a typical visit to Kyoto
1. The hike from Kibune to Kurama
These two beautiful villages nestled in the hills north of Kyoto are surrounded by a beautiful forest. The best way to see them both is to walk the path (easy, although steep at the beginning) that connects them. In winter is best to start from Kibune, ending in Kurama where you can relax at the local onsen.
⇒⇒ I wrote about it here: Kibune and Kurama hike
2. Takao and Kiyotaki
This is another easy, wonderful walk that is a great mix of nature and culture. To reach Takao you can take a JR bus from Kyoto Station. The area is home to three beautiful temples of the Shingon sect. The most famous one is the Unesco World Heritage site Kozan-ji: there can be seen what is considered by some to be the first manga in history, a satirical drawing with anthropomorphic animals. It’s from the eighth century.
From Takao one can walk along the river to Kiyotaki village (allow an hour) and then reach Arashiyama (an hour and a half on foot from Kiyotaki along the path I was told). The scenery is gorgeous.
From Kiyotaki is also possible to get a bus to Arashiyama
⇒⇒ I wrote about it here: from Takao to Kiyotaki
Ohara is where I probably first fell in love with Japan, during my first trip. I followed an advice and ended up in this small village among the hills, surrounded by fields and imposing woods. It was snowing and I was a little worried.
But all worries disappeared when I saw the beautiful garden of Sanzen-in temple and soaked my body in the rotenburo (outdoor onsen) at Ohara no Sato. Other beautiful temples that can be visited in Ohara are Hosen-in and Jikko-in.
You can get to Ohara by bus from Kyoto Station (number 17), from Shijo-Kawaramachi (bus 16) or from Demachiyanagi (both): it takes over an hour.
⇒⇒ more on Ohara on Inside Kyoto
Is a huge city like Osaka really a day trip? This extraordinary city deserves much more than that, but sometimes it’s just difficult to make it fit into the travel plan. You should just remember that it can be easily visited from Kyoto: the two cities are connected by the convenient Hankyu-line which links Kawaramachi and Umeda, the heart of Osaka, in 40 minutes for 400 yen!
This makes it possible to spend even just an evening in Dotonbori!
⇒⇒ Osaka one day itinerary (from Inside Osaka)
Uji shouldn’t be missed in a trip to Kyoto and you should find a way to include it in your plans even if you are staying just three or four days. The Byodo-in, its main treasure, that looks like it’s floating on water is really a marvel: there you can also visit the famous Phoenix hall, a beautifully preserved part of the temple that dates back to the eleventh century (Heian period) when Kyoto became the capital of Japan.
⇒⇒ I wrote about it here: A half-day trip to Uji
The famous ‘white Heron’ castle is one of the most beautiful in Japan. And one of the very few original ones, as Himeji Castle hasn’t been destroyed and reconstructed in the last centuries.
But Himeji is not just the castle and the nearby beautiful Kokoen gardens. The Shoshazan temple complex (also seen in the movie ‘The Last Samurai’ for whoever is interested) can be reached with a short bus ride and ropeway (1300 yen for the combination ticket).
This is enough to justify the 2.270 yen for the JR rapid service ticket (one way) from Kyoto to Himeji (85-95 minutes depending on the train). And if you have an active Japan Rail pass you can take the Shinkansen and save money and time!
7. Hikone Castle and Nagahama
This is another beautiful original castle, but a completely different one, on the shores of Lake Biwa, in Shiga. This castle was built in 1622 and is much smaller than the White Heron of Himeji. From Kyoto it takes 40 minutes by train to get to Hikone.
The visit can be easily combined with that of Nagahama, a pleasant town famous for two festivals: the Bonbai exhibition (from mid January to mid March) brings to the town beautiful plum tree bonsai; the other is the Hikiyama Matsuri, a religious festival held every year from April 13 to 16 (the climax being on the 15th).
- on the blog 2 Aussie Travelers you can read more about the Hikiyama festival
- An interesting article about both events here on Japan Magazine
⇒⇒ read more on Hikone Castle on Japan Guide
8. Konan Sanzan
We stay in Shiga-ken with these three wonderful, ancient temples, definitely off the beaten track (at least of foreign tourists). Allow a full day for this trip that can get tricky as you will be riding trains, buses and walking!
⇒⇒ read more on Konan Sanzan here!
I shouldn’t really include Nara here as all guidebooks mention this ancient capital of Japan as the typical day trip from Kyoto. Just remember to leave Kyoto station early as Nara is full of beauties to be seen and experienced. Many visitors at the end only remember the great Buddha and the deers but Nara is much more. And one wouldn’t be disappointed staying overnight and exploring the area the following day (seeing for instance Horyuji or the secluded Muro-ji, in the Sakurai area).
⇒⇒ This is a nice blog post, on Green and Turquoise, with beautiful pictures and a basic itinerary in Nara
My name is Patrick Colgan, and I am an Italian blogger – my blog in Italian is Orizzonti – All photos published with creative commons (attribution-non commercial and can be used with the same licence)