Best Day Trips from Kyoto

By: Lucas Taliaferro

Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is a city steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty. While Kyoto itself offers an abundance of attractions, there are also several fantastic day trip destinations just a short train ride away. Among these, Nara, Osaka, and Kobe stand out as must-visit places that offer a diverse range of experiences. 

Nara: A Journey Back in Time

Nara, located about an hour away from Kyoto by train, is a city with a rich history that predates even Kyoto. The highlight of Nara is undoubtedly Nara Park, where over a thousand friendly deer roam freely. These sacred deer are a symbol of the city and are protected as national treasures. Visitors can feed and interact with them, making it a unique and memorable experience.

Nara is also home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Todai-ji Temple, which houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. The impressive Great Buddha Hall and beautiful Nigatsu-do Hall are worth exploring as well. The quaint streets of Nara's Naramachi district provide a glimpse into traditional Japanese life, with preserved machiya (wooden townhouses) and charming shops.

Osaka: The Culinary Capital

Osaka, a bustling metropolis just a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto, is often referred to as the "Kitchen of Japan." This vibrant city is famous for its street food, lively entertainment, and modern attractions.

While in Osaka, don't miss a visit to Dotonbori, a neon-lit district that comes alive at night with an array of restaurants, street food vendors, and entertainment options. Try local delicacies like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).

Osaka also hosts one of the largest aquariums in the world, and Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is a fascinating attraction, especially for families. It's home to a diverse range of marine life, including whale sharks, dolphins, and penguins. The central tank's design allows visitors to observe marine creatures from different levels and angles. Definitely check out the Whale Shark!

Osaka Castle, a magnificent fortress surrounded by lush gardens and a moat, offers a taste of Japan's feudal history. If you're interested in modern attractions, we visited Universal Studios Japan for some theme park fun during our CIEE organized overnight trip.

Kobe: A City of Scenic Beauty

Nestled along the coast and easily accessible from Kyoto, Kobe is a city known for its stunning views, international influences, and delicious Kobe beef.

One of the best ways to appreciate Kobe's beauty is by taking a ride on the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. This aerial tramway provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Another iconic spot is the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, one of the world's longest suspension bridges, which offers fantastic photo opportunities.

Kobe's Chinatown, Nankin-machi, is a great place to savor Chinese cuisine and explore the vibrant culture of the Chinese community in the city. And, of course, you can't visit Kobe without trying its world-famous Kobe beef. Many restaurants in the city offer this tender and marbled delicacy.

In conclusion, Kyoto's strategic location allows you to embark on captivating day trips to Nara, Osaka, and Kobe, each offering a unique set of experiences. From the ancient treasures of Nara to the culinary delights of Osaka and the scenic beauty of Kobe, these destinations promise to enrich your Japan travel experience. So, when you're in Kyoto, make sure to set aside a day to explore these neighboring gems and make your visit to Japan truly unforgettable.