The Real Japan

Exploring Osaka’s Surroundings: 5 Captivating Day Trips

Osaka’s location makes it a perfect hub for exploring the Kansai region. Its excellent public transportation connections provide easy access to several captivating day trip destinations.
In this blog post, I will take you on a journey to five fascinating day trips from Osaka: Wakayama, Nara, Kobe, Himeji, and Kyoto. Each destination offers its own unique attractions, be they culture, local food, history, or natural beauty.
Get ready to pack your daybags and embark on some unforgettable adventures!


1. Wakayama – stunning natural beauty

Nachi waterfall with orange pagoda in front, located in Wakayama

Wakayama, a picturesque prefecture south of Osaka city, is known for its stunning natural landscapes and spiritual sites. A centre for the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, and with sacred pilgrimage routes through the Kii Mountains, if it’s hiking through nature you crave then Wakayama delivers ample opportunities.
To get there from Osaka take the Kuroshio Limited Express or JR Hanwa Line to Wakayama Station.

Key Attractions:

  • Wakayama Castle:

    Start your day with a visit to Wakayama Castle, an impressive hilltop fortress offering panoramic views of Wakayama city. The Nishi-no-Maru Gardens next to it are ideal for a leisurely stroll afterwards.
    Wakayama Castle main tower among cherry blossoms

  • Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail:

    Explore a part of the Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and embark on a hike through lush forests, ancient shrines, and serene waterfalls.
    Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail

  • Nachi Waterfall / Nachisan Seiganto-ji Tendai Buddhist Temple:

    One of Japan’s most recognisable images is the view of Nachi falls, its highest waterfall, with the vermillion three-storey pagoda of the Nachisan Seiganto-ji Tendai Buddhist Temple in the foreground.
    Nachi Waterfall, Japan's tallest falls located in wakayama

  • Kuroshio Market:

    Discover fresh seafood at Kuroshio Market and indulge in a seafood feast. Look out for the seafood barbecues and events and live shows, including the 3-times daily ‘tuna show’ where an expert cuts up the huge fish.

  • Recommended Place to Eat:

    Try the mouthwatering seafood bowls or barbecued fish at Kuroshio Ichiba Market’s seafood stalls.
    fresh fish at Kuroshio Ichiba Market’s seafood stalls
    dishes at Kuroshio Ichiba Market’s

2. Nara – a park full of wild deer

Nara is a city steeped in history and home to some of Japan’s most iconic landmarks. It has some magnificent Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples (but with smaller crowds than those found in the more famous Kyoto). Nara Park in the heart of the city is a must, where you can, carefully, hand feed wild sika deer.
To reach Nara from Osaka, take the Kintetsu-Nara Line from Osaka-Namba Station to Kintetsu-Nara Station.

Key Attractions:

  • Nara Park:

    Be enchanted by thousands of free-roaming deer at Nara Park as you wander through this city centre pleasure area. It’s a great spot for a picnic (tables are provided) – just watch out for the deer trying to steal your food!
    deer at Nara Park

  • Kasuga Taisha Shrine:

    Explore Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s grandest Shinto Shrine, known for its beautiful bronze lantern-lined pathways and ancient architecture.

  • Todaiji Temple:

    Thought to be the world’s largest wooden structure, this imposing Buddhist temple enshrines the dramatic Great Buddha statue designated as a national treasure.
    giant Buddha in Nara's Todaiji Temple
    Todaiji Temple in Nara

  • Cultural Tip:

    East of Todaiji Temple is Nigatsu-do Hall. Visit here to see the mesmerising Omizutori, a water-drawing ritual, held in early March, in which 14 huge torches are set alight after sunset.

  • Recommended Place to Eat:

    Head to the charming Naramachi district where you’ll find an attractive selection of small, independent cafes and restaurants. They’re all worth a stop, but spinach curry is a favourite of mine.
    Naramachi district's charming streets
    restaurant entrance in the Naramachi district

3. Kobe – cosmopolitan street culture

Kobe Harbor skyline at night

Kobe, a compact, vibrant port city, offers a cosmopolitan mix of modernity and tradition. The closest of our destinations to Osaka, it sits just on the other side of Osaka Bay. It’s a thin strip of a city, backed by the attractive Rokko mountain range. The various cable cars up Mt. Rokko are definitely worth a ride for the expansive views from the top (including back towards Osaka over the bay).
To go to Kobe from Osaka, take the JR Special Rapid Service from Osaka Station to Kobe’s central Sannomiya Station. It takes just 22 minutes.

Main Attractions:

  • Kobe Harborland:

    Stroll along the waterfront promenade of Kobe Harborland, explore cafes, bars, shops, a selection of restaurants offering a variety of Japanese and international cuisine, and admire the dazzling night views and lights from the Port Tower.
    Kobe Harborland ferris wheel and cruise boat

  • Kobe Beef:

    Don’t miss the opportunity to savour the world-famous Kobe beef at a local steakhouse. There’s a handful of specialist restaurants in the city. Any one of them will serve up an unforgettable meal.
    Kobe beef

  • Nunobiki Herb Garden:

    Take a scenic ropeway ride to the delightful Nunobiki Herb Garden and immerse yourself in a fragrant world of herbs and flowers. If you fancy some exercise, either on the way up or back down, there are hiking trails connecting it to the north of the city.

  • Western Houses:

    Visit Kitano-cho, a district in the north filled with beautifully preserved Western-style houses from the Meiji era.
    western architecture in Kitano district of Kobe
    unique starbucks in western architecture building in Kitano district of Kobe

  • Recommended Place to Eat:

    Try Kobe’s unique roasted ‘Kobe Pork’ dishes at a local teppanyaki restaurant for a delicious alternative to Kobe beef. Or grab a pork bun on the go from a street vendor in the city’s lively Chinatown.
    Chinatown in Kobe

4. Himeji – spectacular castle and hidden gems

Himeji Castle aka White Heron Castle

Himeji is renowned for its pristine White Heron Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But there’s plenty more here to discover. Its history features sake, Japan’s samurai warriors and it has one of Japan’s most impressive Buddhist temple complexes hidden in Mt. Shosha.
To get to Himeji from Osaka, take the shinkansen (bullet train) from JR Shin-Osaka Station to Himeji Station. The journey takes only 30 minutes.

Key Attractions:

  • Himeji Castle:

    Explore the magnificent Himeji Castle, often called “White Heron Castle” due to its stunning white exterior. I’ve visited plenty of castles in Japan over the years, but Himeji never fails to impress. It’s even more spectacular when lit up at night.
    stunning white castle walls at Himeji-jo

  • Kokoen Garden:

    Visit Kokoen Garden, a beautifully landscaped Japanese garden adjacent to the castle. Built on the excavated site of a samurai house district, it features nine distinct smaller gardens, each presenting a different seasonal view.
    koi pond at Kokoen Garden in Himeji

  • Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple:

    Discover the serene Engyo-ji Temple, famously featured in the movie “The Last Samurai”. It’s actually a sprawling complex of Buddhist temples nestling in the densely forested Mt. Shosha.

  • Festival Tip:

    The Nada Kenka Matsuri (Nada Fighting Festival) is a boisterous festival during which competing floats and portable shrines literally smash into each other! Held every October at the Matsubara Hachiman Shrine.

  • Recommended Place to Eat:

    Head to Memme if udon noodles are your favourite, or if ramen is more your thing then you should check out Kobe & More.

5. Kyoto – a cultural treasure trove

Kiyomizu-dera Temple and wooden pagoda in Kyoto

No shortlist of day trips from Osaka should fail to mention Kyoto. The former imperial capital is a treasure trove of traditional culture and history. It’s also great for a spot of shopping (and this coming from someone who usually hates shopping!).
When you arrive, be sure to explore Kyoto Station. Its unique design is (surprisingly) open to the elements. When the weather is fine be sure to take the escalators up all 15 storeys and walk on the roof, taking in the views across the city below.
To reach Kyoto from Osaka, take the JR Kyoto Line from Osaka Station (or the Tokaido-Sanyo Line from Shin-Osaka) to Kyoto Station. Either route takes less than 30 minutes.

Key Attractions:

  • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion):

    Admire the gilded, golden beauty of Kinkaku-ji, one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples. It’s one of those sites that actually lives up to expectations and looks as stunning in real life and it does in photographs.
    Kinkaku-ji, Golden Pavilion temple in Kyoto

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha:

    Explore the thousands of vermilion torii gates that lead to Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and prosperity. It can get crazy busy though, so get here as early as you can to experience it at its most peaceful.
    red gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove:

    Wander through the enchanting bamboo forest in Arashiyama and visit the historic Togetsukyo Bridge. If you’d like a quieter alternative, head to Take-no-michi or ‘Bamboo Path’ in the Muko district.

    famous bamboo grove in Kyoto

  • Hidden gem:

    Discover the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple (on the outskirts of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove), known for its whimsical and charming moss-covered stone statues.

  • Recommended Place to Eat:

    Savour traditional Kyoto kaiseki (multi-course meal) at a cosy, family-run restaurant in the Gion district.

I hope these few personal recommendations have given you a few ideas to add to your visit to Osaka. The city’s proximity to an array of diverse day trip destinations makes it an ideal base for exploring the cultural riches and natural wonders of the wider Kansai region. Grab your daypack, hop on the train, and embark on a journey of discovery from Osaka. And be sure to let me know if these 5 day trip ideas inspire you to take a few new journeys and discover some new favourite destinations.

About the Author

A writer and publisher from England, Rob Dyer has been exploring Japan’s islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of


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