The ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto, is captivating in its own right, from the expansive Fushimi Inari-tai shrine to the western suburbs. Its location at the center of the Kansai region makes it a great base for exploring further.

The best day trips from Kyoto are listed here. You can get to each one by train in less than two and a half hours. You can buy a Kansai Wide Area Pass if you want to make a lot of trips in a short period of time. The majority of routes are covered by a rail pass.

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Visit the historic sites of peaceful Nara

It takes one hour to travel.

The tranquil Nara is home to some of the country's most historical sites. The capital of Japan was the first permanent one. You can see its highlights in one day if you arrive early.

The huge Todaiji temple and Kasuga Shrine are worth a visit. You can walk through the Japanese gardens at Yoshiki-en while you are in Nara-ken. Isui-en has a garden with Mt Wakakusa as the backdrop.

The JR Nara line takes 55 minutes to get to Nara Station from Kyoto Station.

Two chefs cook traditional Japanese street food on in Osaka, Japan
Osaka: arrive hungry and be ready to eat © Vincent St. Thomas / Shutterstock

Osaka is the best place to try Japanese cuisine

It takes less than 30 minutes to go somewhere.

Arrive from Kyoto hungry because Osaka is known as the nation's kitchen. The motto is "to eat oneself bankrupt" Okonomiyaki and takoyaki can be found along the Dotombori River or near the Tsutenkaku Tower.

You can eat in the alleys of Ura-Namba and theTiger alley. Boutique and vintage clothing shops can be found in the hip hoods of Amerika-Mura, Horie, and Nakazakicho.

You can get to Osaka from Kyoto Station by taking a JR rapid train. There is a bullet train between Kyoto and Osaka.

Sweet young couple sitting on wooden chair seat to enjoy aerial view of Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens and skyline cityscape with twilight sky at dusk in Japan
Kōbe is one of Japan's most attractive cities © Shutterstock / Blanscape

Kōbe is a city on the edge of nature

It takes one hour to travel.

Kbe is a beautiful city in Japan. At the heart of the city are the popular retail districts of Motomachi and Sannomiya, but head uphill from Sannomiya Station and you'll find merchant houses, quaint cafes, and unique shops.

The population of Kbe is 1.5 million. Nunobiki Falls has been a muse for artists, poets and worshippers for hundreds of years. You can go to Himeji-j if you have time.

You can get to Kbe from Kyoto Station by taking the JR Express Super Hakuto train.

The famous Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan
The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima has been preserved as a memorial to the atomic-bomb attack of 1945 © Chase Davidson / 500px

Explore Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and beyond

It takes under two hours to travel.

The city is known for its atomic-bomb attack in 1945, but it has more to offer than that. The Atomic Bomb Dome is one of the few buildings left standing near the epicenter, so if you want to pay homage to the blast victims, you should go to the Peace Memorial Park. The shell is a memorial.

The short trip over to the gorgeous island of Miyajima is a good pick-me-up after that. One of the three great views of Japan is this spot. You can take a cable car up to the summit of Mt Misen if you want to see the Seto Inland Sea.

You can take the Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train from Kyoto Station. The JR Sanyo Line takes 25 minutes to get to Miyajimaguchi Station.

Cherry blossom frames the shot of two kayakers on a lake
Get out on Lake Biwa on a visit to Shiga Prefecture © YEH, YUNG-HUNG / Getty Images

Maibara in Shiga Prefecture is the perfect day trip for outdoor adventure

It takes under 30 minutes to travel.

The inspiration for hundreds of poets is the largest lake in Japan, Biwa-ko. The kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and cycling that attracts most visitors still make for a great day trip from Kyoto.

You can hire a bicycle at the train station. The 17th-century Hikone-j castle is located south of the charming town of Hikone. The reconstructed Nagahama Castle on the waterfront is one of the highlights of Nagahama.

You can get to Maibara from Kyoto Station on the JR line.

 Japanese couple wearing yukata and walking outside a Kinosaki Onsen
Kinosaki Onsen is where visitors can really unwind © Rei Imagine / Shutterstock

Kinosaki Onsen is the best relaxing day out

It takes 2.5 hours to travel.

The Onsen on the Japan Sea coast is ideal for stress reduction. With seven public bathhouses and a whole host of private ones, this beautiful willow-lined canal town is awash with relaxing hot springs that are renowned for their good fortune.

Gosho-no-yu is the town's most famous bathhouse, and it's busiest too. There are outdoor baths and single person baths in Kinosaki. There is snow crab caught in the Sea of Japan. Many of the ryokans serve multi-course crab meals, which are delicious works of art.

You can get to Kinosaki Onsen from Kyoto by taking the limited express train.

A small boat with passengers wearing conical hats is punted along a canal lined with willow treres
Experience Kurashiki from the water with a canal boat ride © Sean3810 / Getty Images

Take a traditional canal boat tour in Kurashiki

It takes 90 minutes to travel.

An important trading post during the Edo period, much of Kurashiki's character comes from its historic black and white warehouses. The atmospheric Bikan quarter is made up of the converted buildings.

The hara Museum of Art is located in the laneways lined with old wooden houses and shops. Ivy Square is a pretty courtyard that used to be a textile factory and is now home to entertainment.

You can take the Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train from Kyoto to Okayama Station. It takes 20 minutes to connect to the station.

Downtown Nagoya skyline on a sunny day
Nagoya is the birthplace of Toyota with two dedicated museums © f11photo / Shutterstock

See the shrines and museums of Nagoya

It takes 35 minutes to travel.

Don't listen to the people who say Nagoya is boring. They have never been. This manufacturing powerhouse, just over half an hour from Kyoto, is a cosmopolitan curio that has some fantastic museums, seafood to die for, and an unpretentiousness you won't find in Tokyo and Osaka.

One of the most sacred Shint shrines in Japan is the 1900-year-old Atsuta-jing, and the International Design Centre Nagoya is a great place to visit on a day-tripper's itinerary.

Two museums that celebrate the world's largest car manufacturer are located in the birthplace of Toyota. Toyota Kaikan Museum is the place to go if you want to see the latest wheels on the production line.

It takes 35 minutes to get to Nagoya from Kyoto.

The beautiful Korakuen Garden in Japan
Kōraku-en in Okayama is one of the finest landscaped gardens in Japan © Artem Smetanin / 500px

Wander Okayama's stunning garden before hitting the "Kitchen Runway"

It takes one hour to travel.

Okayama is often seen as a short diversion before traveling to Hiroshima, however it can be a great day trip if you want to. Kraku-en is one of Japan's prettiest gardens, but there's enough time here to spare.

It is a corker in gardens. In the spring, the plum and cherry-blossom trees are beautiful, in the summer white lotuses unfurl, and in the fall the maple trees are a delight for photographers. In around three hours, you can explore its expansive lawns, which are broken up by ponds, teahouses, and other Edo- period buildings.

Okayama has the best range of restaurants in the area. The "Kitchen Runway" is a collection of modern, casual restaurants.

You can get to Okayama from Kyoto Station. You can take Bus 18 from Okayama Station to the Kraku-en-mae stop.

The article was published in July of 2019.