Osaka: A City Built for Day Trips
Often spoken of in the same breath as Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations for a reason.
Not only is it home to one of Japan’s largest international airports, but it’s also home to a whole range of fascinating attractions ranging from ancient castles to hands-on experiences to theme parks to some of the best food in Japan. Don’t believe me? Just check out Adventures Around Asia’s post on the most unique things to do in Osaka.
Another huge selling point for Osaka is how connected it is to the rest of Japan. From this dynamic city, it is possible to take a number of fascinating day trips to nearby landmarks and cities.
Once you’ve finished exploring Osaka, why not take one (or more) of these fascinating Osaka day trips to extend your exploration?
#10 – Ise
The starting point for the breathtaking Kumano Kodo Iseji, Ise City is home to one of Japan’s most beloved Shinto shrines in the form of the Ise Grand Shrine.
While Mie Prefecture is part of the greater Kansai region, Ise lies a long way from Osaka. Even so, it is possible to get there in a shade under 2 hours on the JR train. Set out bright and early for your chance to experience the serenity of Ise Grand Shrine in the early hours of the day.
If you’re pressed for time, skip Geku and focus your attention on the beauty of Naiku. When you’re done there, wander along Okage Yokocho to sample delicious street food and do a little souvenir shopping in an old-town themed street.
There’s more to see in Ise than the Geku and Naiku Shrines, of course, with the wedded rocks at Meoto-Iwa being a popular spot for young lovers wanting a little extra luck for their romance.
Lastly, Ise is famous for its delicious cuisine. There are plenty of places to eat in Ise, but I’m especially partial to the delicious Ise udon, which has more noodles and less broth. It’s perfect for a carb-o-holic like me!
Getting There: You can reach Ise from Osaka 2 hours and 20 minutes on the slow JR train (1,700 Yen/$17 USD) or in just under two hours on the express JR train (3,030 Yen/$30 USD).
See: Ise Grand Shrine and Meoto-Iwa.
Extend Your Stay: If you’re keen to tackle the Iseji Kumano Kodo, Ise is the starting point for my two-week Kumano Kodo itinerary.
#9 – Naoshima
You might not know the name, but you’ve probably seen the eye-catching photo of that iconic sculpture sitting out on the pier.
Sometimes known as ‘art island’, Naoshima is an idyllic little beach island that has been overrun with stunning works of art. Thanks largely to the Benesse Corporation, Naoshima is fast becoming one of Japan’s most popular tourist attractions.
Naoshima is a bit of a journey from Osaka, as you’ll need to take the JR train to Okayama and then transit on local lines to the ferry. It’s just 45-minutes from Osaka to Okayama.
Once you’ve taken the ferry (for the princely sum of 290 Yen/$2.90 USD), you’ll be able to wander Naoshima at your leisure to soak in its many art installations and its immense natural beauty.
Getting There: Take the JR train from Shin-Osaka Station to Okayama Station and then follow these instructions. It’s around 6,000 yen ($60 USD) on the JR line, or 3,020 Yen ($30 USD) on the slower local trains.
See: Wander the many art installations on the island.
Extend Your Stay: Spend a day or two exploring Okayama.
#8 – Sakai City
So close to Osaka that you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re the same city, Sakai City is the place to go for hands-on activities. Less than a half-hour’s travel from Osaka, it’s the perfect place to get a little off the beaten path and try something new.
Adventures Around Asia has already designed a fantastic girls day in Sakai, but there are plenty of man-friendly activities as well.
In the course of a single day in Sakai City, I tried my hand at honing my own sashimi knife, dyed yukata fabric, learned how to make Japanese candy, attended a tea ceremony, and soared high over the city’s ancient burial mounds in a VR experience.
As a relatively new tourism market, you’re going to want to email the Sakai Tourism Board (email@example.com) ahead of time to get some assistance in planning things, but it’s well worth the day-trip.
Getting There: It takes roughly 30-minutes to get to Sakai from Osaka or Kansai International Airport.
See: Visit the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko for a traditional tea ceremony, make Japanese sweets at Machiya Cafe Sacay, and visit the city’s ancient burial mounds.
Extend Your Stay: Splash out on a night at the Agora Sakai Regency and explore the city by bicycle.
#7 – Himeji
While Osaka has an impressive castle of its own in the form of Osaka Castle, Himeji Castle is hands-down the most famous castle in all of Japan.
Japan’s best-preserved feudal castle, Himeji-Jo is sometimes known as White Heron Castle due to its striking all-white exterior and the graceful curve of its eaves. It’s one of Japan’s most beautiful architectural achievements.
Insider tip? You can snap your photos of Himeji Castle without having to pay for admission, although the tour of the interior is informative and you’re obviously helping contribute to the upkeep of the historic site.
At just ninety-minutes on the JR train from Osaka, it’s totally possible to experience both Osaka Castle and Himeji Castle in a single day too!
Getting There: It takes ninety-minutes to reach Himeji from Osaka.
See: Himeji Castle is the obvious attraction in Himeji.
Extend Your Stay: While there might not be enough in Himeji to hold your attention for multiple days, you could pay a visit to the nearby Kokoen Gardens for just 40 Yen more with a combined Himeji Castle/Kokoen ticket.
#6 – Nara
Famous for its friendly population of deer, Nara is a city with far more to offer than just an up close and personal interaction with hungry deer.
Many flock to the city to wander Nara Park and feed the bowing deer, but to me, the real attractions are the many temples and shrines in the city. Todaiji and Horyuji are doubtlessly impressive, but my heart belongs to Shintoism and Kasuga Taisha is every bit as stunning as the shrines that dot the Kumano Kodo.
The city is home to a number of other temples and shrines, but is also a great place to tour Japanese gardens. Yoshikien is especially gorgeous.
Getting There: It takes a shade under an hour to reach Nara from Osaka.
See: Wild deer in Nara Park, Todaiji and Horyuji Temples, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and Yoshikien gardens.
Extend Your Stay Stick around for dinner at Sakura Burger, where you can try delicious Japan-US fusion burgers.
#5 – Kobe
Famed for its succulent Kobe beef, I discovered that Kobe is far more than just a place to grab a meal. If you’ve read my One Day in Kobe post, you’ll see there is a wealth of things to do in the port city.
From scenic hikes and the stunning Kobe Herb Gardens to the modern vibe of Meriken Park and the nearby shopping precinct to going on a boozy sake distillery tour, there’s just so much about green, modern Kobe to love.
Getting There: It takes 15-30 minutes to reach Kobe from Osaka.
See: Try Kobe beef, visit the Kobe Herb Gardens, go on a sake distillery tour, and visit Meriken Park.
Extend Your Stay: You can see a full day itinerary for Kobe outlined in my One Day in Kobe post, but this could easily be extended out to two days with a full-day to relax and enjoy the Kobe Herb Gardens.
#4 – Universal Studios Japan
While it technically lies within Osaka, a day trip to Universal Studios Japan is an adventure unto itself. With multiple ‘worlds’ to explore, an attached shopping/dining precinct, and rides & shows galore, USJ is a fantastic day out for the entire family.
Our visit just so happened to coincide with Christmas festivities, which meant an abundance of Minion madness as part of the park’s ‘Yellow Christmas’, but we also managed to sneak in a little time at the fantastic Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Our day at the park only scratched the surface of what there is to do, as we weren’t able to find time to explore attractions such as the Evangelion VR ride, the terrifying Hollywood Dream roller coaster, or the Jurassic Park ride.
We did, however, ride the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey rides, both of which were a blast!
We also saw two fun parades and the famous The Gift of Angels nightly performance, which is truly gorgeous to behold.
Getting There: It takes around 30-minutes to reach Universal Studios Japan from Osaka city.
See: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, live shows and parades, themed rides, and delicious food.
Extend Your Stay: It’s a big park, so why not book a hotel in the attached City Walk so you can spread your exploration out over two days?
#3 – Hiroshima and Miyajima
Famous for all of the wrong reasons, Hiroshima will forever live in infamy as the site of the first use of an atomic bomb against a civilian population.
Rebuilding from the ruins of that war-ending event, Hiroshima now stands as a tribute to the destructive capacity of war and the healing that had to be done after that fateful day.
Visitors to Hiroshima can learn more about the bombing of Hiroshima by visiting sites such as the A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, but there is more to dynamic Hiroshima than its dark past.
Gorgeous gardens such as Shukkeien, historic sites such as Fukuyama Castle, and the World Heritage-listed Itsukushima Shrine are worth the trip in their own right.
The latter is on nearby Miyajima, which might mean you’ll want to spend a night in the area so you’re not rushing to fit both Hiroshima and Miyajima into a single day.
Getting There: It takes 2.5 hours to get from Osaka to Hiroshima, with Miyajima another hour from Hiroshima.
See: Visit memorials to the Hiroshima bombing, tour Shukkien gardens, and pay a visit to Miyajima.
Extend Your Stay: If you want to explore at a more relaxed pace, consider booking a hotel in Hiroshima or Miyajima so you can take your time.
#2 – Koyasan
One of the holiest locations in all of Japan, Koyasan (Mount Koya) is the center of Shingon Buddhism and a hugely popular tourist attraction with those wanting to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese culture.
As you would expect from a holy site, Koyasan is awash with temples, pilgrimage trails, and opportunities to get in touch with a little inner peace.
For those with a little more time, Koyasan is a fantastic place to overnight at a temple or even launch your own exploration of a longer pilgrimage trail such as the Kumano Kodo.
Getting There: It takes just over ninety-minutes to reach Koyasan from Osaka.
See: Buddhist temples and pilgrimage trails.
Extend Your Stay: Spend a night in a traditional temple to really immerse yourself in Buddhism.
#1 – Kyoto
I would be loathe to say Kyoto is just a day trip city. There’s enough in gorgeous Kyoto to warrant a full week of its own, but if time is pressing and you’re based in Osaka, it’s certainly possible to get a taste of Kyoto in a day.
The city wears its history on its sleeve, and you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous temples and shrines at every turn. It’s also the home of Japan’s fading geisha culture, so geisha-watching is a pastime of its own.
For mine, the real highlights for a day in Kyoto would be Fushimi Inari shrine (best seen at dawn), the Arashiyama bamboo grove, golden Kinkaku-ji, and the chance to spot geisha in Gion.
You’ll be dealing with crowds every step of the way, however, so keep that in mind when planning your day in Kyoto!
Getting There: Kyoto is an hour from Osaka.
See: Kinkaku-Ji, Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari, and spot geisha.
Extend Your Stay: Kyoto deserves more than one day. Consider spending at least three days in Kyoto to really do it justice.
As you can see, Osaka is not only a fantastic place to visit, it’s also a fantastic place to base yourself while you take day trips to nearby cities such as Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, and Himeji.
It really is the perfect combination: a hub for exploration and an attraction in its own right.
What are your favourite day trips from Osaka?
What about things to do in the city itself? How would you recommend a visitor spend their time in Osaka?