Osaka and Kyoto are neighbors, however they differ dramatically in style and story. While Kyoto shows off its imperial history, Osaka highlights post-war growth and modernity. Both cities feature cultural charms and fascinating sights for visitors to appreciate, but a visit to one without the other tells only half the tale of Japan’s past and present.
We at Pinpoint Traveler are partial to Osaka, encouraging all visitors to Japan to come visit our somewhat eccentric foodie haven to dive deeper into today’s version of Japanese culture and nightlife. But we would be remiss not to give credit to Kyoto’s remarkable breadth of architectural history and traditional culture. Each city plays its part, and both cities deserve your time and attention.
Given their close proximity, it is entirely possible to base yourself in one and visit the other. We highly recommend you choose Osaka as your base to take advantage of both lower accommodation prices and Osaka’s exceptional nightlife options. Basing yourself in Osaka also makes your international airport experience much easier! If you stay in Kyoto, you need to journey through Osaka to reach either of the airports for your flight home.
Our recommendation: Join us for a Kyoto day trip from Osaka to experience the temples and shrines by day and then return to enjoy the vibrant nightlife in Osaka for the best of both worlds!
How to Get to Kyoto from Osaka
You can easily visit Kyoto from Osaka on a day trip. It’s only a 15-minute train ride between the cities via Shinkansen or around 30 minutes via regular train.
If you have a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for your travels around the country, you can ride in the non-reserved seating car on the Hikari or Kodama Shinkansens (not the Nozomi Shinkansen). Without a JR Pass, the Shinkansen fare costs 1,420 yen for a non-reserved ticket.
Using the JR line, you can reach Kyoto in 25–30 minutes, depending on the station where you board (either JR Shin-Osaka Station or JR Osaka Station, respectively). The fare costs 560 yen (around US$5) for a one-way ticket.
Alternatively, you can take the Hankyu train from Osaka, boarding at Hankyu Umeda Station and arriving at Kawaramachi Station in Kyoto. Kawaramachi Station is close to the Gion area, giving you a more central starting point upon arrival in Kyoto. The fare costs 400 yen one-way and the tokkyu (Limited Express) ride takes about 45 minutes.
Why Visit Kyoto from Osaka
Kyoto is the former imperial capital of Japan and retains its historic charm, attracting visitors from all around Japan and the entire world. It is often called the cultural capital of Japan; counting the number of shrines and temples dotted throughout the city, it’s easy to see why.
If you’ll be staying in Osaka and want to visit Kyoto, you can easily do a day trip (or several) to explore the many fascinating sights around the city. Note that the most popular sights in Kyoto are actually quite spread out and can be challenging to see in a single day tour by public transportation.
Our private Kyoto day trip from Osaka allows you to see the main sights plus a few lesser-known gems without having to traipse around Kyoto navigating public transit options.
What to Do on a Kyoto Day Trip
Kyoto has plenty of attractions for the culturally curious traveler. Some of our top picks include the popular, well-known temples and shrines making the city famous, alongside some lesser-visited local spots.
When visiting Kyoto from Osaka, you’ll definitely want to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha. The thousands of vermillion gates have undoubtedly filled your social media feed as you research your Japan trip. While this is an incredibly popular attraction, it is absolutely worth visiting. We just recommend that you get there first thing in the morning or later in the evening to try to avoid the majority of the crowds.
Another top spot in Kyoto is Tenryu-ji, boasting beautiful gardens and an oft-photographed temple. The Arashiyama bamboo grove behind the temple is another popular attraction we recommend you visit.
You can peruse the rest of our list of main attractions in Kyoto at your leisure. To see some lesser-visited spots we like to show visitors, take a look at our Kyoto private car tour itinerary. This tour can be done from Osaka or from Kyoto, with easy adjustments due to it being a private tour.
Other Day Tours if You Stay in Osaka
If you’re staying in Osaka, you can take more than just a day trip to central Kyoto. We highly recommend you consider an Uji day trip to enjoy a more tranquil part of the city.
You could also consider a day trip from Osaka to Nara, famous for its resident deer who roam about and pose fairly well for photos.
We also suggest a Kobe day tour from Osaka to enjoy the hot springs, sake, and famed kobe beef! Want to find out more about the city? Check out our blog about why Kobe is worth visiting.
As Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka itself has plenty to explore. If you’re staying in Osaka, join us for an Osaka walking tour by day and then our Deep Osaka foodie tour at night to dive into local culture.
While we could wax poetic about Osaka’s exceptional qualities, we just hope you decide to visit and join us. Then you can hear it all first-hand and ask us questions as we enjoy the history, culture, and quirks of our beloved city.
Until then, please enjoy our recommendations for the best things to do in Osaka at night to whet your appetite!