Ishiyama Temple

Oh the temples and shrines you will see in Kyoto! Kinkaku-ji (the “Golden Pavilion”), Ginkaku-ji, and Fushimi Inari Taisha are all very worthwhile sights. Unfortunately, they can be a bit crowded. This will predictably take away something from the Zen of it all, but don’t worry! We’ve got a few ideas for great day trips you can do from Kyoto. From nature ensconced temples to urban bustle to a historic canal commercial district, read on to discover what awaits you outside central Kyoto.

All of the excursions listed below are easily accessible by train, and are roughly within one hour from central Kyoto. We’ll be giving you ballpark pricing on transit, and letting you know if you can use a JR Pass on the trip. As a general rule, all these spots are prettier in spring and fall, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go during the other two seasons!

Visit a mountain top temple and lovely onsen too

Kurama Onsen
The grandeur is just getting started.

This first excursion is one of the exceptionally easy day trips you can do from Kyoto. Technically, it’s still in Kyoto city, but you’re not going to believe it. Welcome to Kurama. The temple (Kurama-dera) was founded in the 8th century, but its religious affiliation has changed a bit over time. Honestly, for the vast majority of visitors, this is inconsequential. Come for the views of both the temple and the valley that lies below. Also come for the lovely nature walks. If you’re up for it, you can walk up and down the mountain to get to the temple, but there’s also an inclined surface cable car (small fee) that makes life considerably easier.

Once you’ve soaked in all the ambiance of Kurama-dera and eponymous mountain, consider soaking your body at the nearby Kurama Onsen. These hot springs are absolutely lovely. We recommend the outside baths. It’s super peaceful and you get to enjoy mountain views across the valley as you soak. There’s an indoor hot spring complex as well, but honestly we don’t think it’s worth the money. Pro tip: Bring a washcloth and also a towel to dry off if you can. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy a small towel at the onsen for a couple bucks or so.

Kurama is at the end of the line Eiden Kurama Line, and the train station name is “Kurama”. Although the JR pass cannot on this private train line, it’s not a very expensive ride at all – roughly around US$4 from central Kyoto’s Demachiyanagi Station. To get to the onsen, you can walk the ten minutes or ride the free shuttle from Kurama station. If you’re not in the mood to deal with transportation, you can always customize the itinerary of our private Kyoto car tour.

Get Bold and Brash in Big City Osaka

Osaka from above
This is as close as you’ll get to serenity in Osaka.

As refined as Kyoto can be is as unrefined as Osaka can be. Don’t get us wrong! It’s a perfectly safe and well organized city. It is Japan after all! But Osaka people and the culture they have created are unlike anywhere else in the country. This is a merchant town on steroids, with a history of importance centuries longer than Tokyo. To say that Osaka people scoff at Tokyo would be an understatement. (Conversely, to say that Tokyo people don’t care about Osaka would be perfectly accurate.)

What are you going to do in Osaka? Well, you’re definitely going to get down to some eating, be it on our super fun night food and culture tour, or from one of the tens and tens of thousands of restaurants out there. You’ll also want to explore Dotonbori, and check out Osaka Castle. Better yet, come along on one of our private daytime walking tours and see those spots and much more!

Getting to Osaka from Kyoto can be done on JR, but it’s not really worth the effort to ride the shinkansen even if you have a JR pass. This is because the shinkansen station for Osaka is outside the center of the city. If you don’t have a JR pass, you may just want to use the Hankyu or Keihan lines. They are often more convenient, and they’re cheaper too. Plan on less than US$5 each way. Some Kyoto people might tell you that Osaka is one of the worst day trips you can do from Kyoto, but you should politely ignore them. It’s an awesome city.

When armed with a JR pass, use it for the longer day trips you can do from Kyoto

Step back in time and relive the old merchant days.

Kurashiki has a perfectly preserved old merchant quarter with lovely canals ready made for strolling. Old warehouses have been converted into shops and cafes, making it an all around very pleasant experience. Plus, it’s right across the street from JR Kurashiki Station. We think this is a beautiful spot, but while you’re in the neighborhood, we’ve got a couple other ideas. First of all, would it be gauche to mention there’s an outlet mall on the other side of Kurashiki Station from the old merchant quarter?

Shopping aside, a visit to Kurashiki is going to involve a change of trains at Okayama, which has a nice walkable city core. The big thing to see in Okayama is Korakuen gardens and the castle next door. The castle’s nothing as grand as Himeji, but it is still a very pleasant stop with an interesting walk through. It being a castle, there will be a spot of uphill walking to get to it. It’s all part of the fun. Being a sweat towel if it’s the dead of summer.

From Kyoto, you’ll ride the shinkansen about an hour to Okayama. Kurashiki is then about a fifteen minute local JR train ride away. If you don’t have a JR pass, we can’t in good conscience recommend doing this all as a day trip from Kyoto. It’s just too expensive. However, Okayama is roughly halfway between Kyoto and Hiroshima, so maybe you could swing something in combination there!

Ishiyama Temple is a sleeper of a gem!

Ishiyama Temple
You know what’s NOT being obscured by those trees? People cramping your vibe.

If you take a look at a map, you’ll see there’s a giant lake just to the northeast of Kyoto, in neighboring Shiga Prefecture. At the base of this lake, as the water tapers ever narrower, is the entrance to Ishiyama Temple. If you’re looking for one of the lower key day trips you can do from Kyoto, you’ve found it. This is one of your correspondent’s favorite temple grounds in all of Japan. In a word, Ishiyama Temple is LUSH. So, so lush. Fall colors: amazing. Spring time’s bright new greens: transcendent. Your plan to visit: in motion. Really, you’ve got to check it out. Naturally, if it’s on this list as a temple, it’s blissfully bereft of crowds. And I almost dare you to find a non-Japanese person there. It’s time to get deep.

Google Maps is the best way to figure out how to get here since it depends which part of Kyoto you are coming from. It’s possible to ride JR for about US$2 of the in total around $4 journey, but keep in mind the extra time in might take to save that US$2.

Day trip galore! And even more time in Kyoto.

We hope this list of day trips you can do from Kyoto hasn’t left you with the impression that we don’t love Kyoto, because we absolutely do. You should spend at least three full days in Kyoto. But sometimes you just want to get off the beaten path, you know?

Thanks for reading, and while you’re here, check out our Kyoto tours.

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