Kyoto is an amazing place. It’s full of beautiful temples, luscious gardens, and historic architecture you won’t find elsewhere. But for some, hanging around temples and shrines all day can get a little repetitive, and there’s so much to see in nearby cities. That’s where we slap a day trip from Kyoto into our itinerary! And to keep things interesting, I thought I’d look at some of the weirder, less popular spots that are still a lot of fun to visit.
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Where To Stay in Kyoto
Since this is a list of day trips, you’ll still need to have your hotel in Kyoto. And for that, I’d suggest CHISUN PREMIUM Kyoto Kujo. It’s reasonably close to the station and just two minutes from the nearest bus stop while still being a decent price. Definitely a convenient location for travel.
PHOTO CREDITS: CHISUN PREMIUM KYOTO KUJO VIA HOTELS.COM
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Where to Go On a Day Trip From Kyoto
1. Osaka’s Artsy Neighborhood Nakazaki
Kyoto’s a pretty traditional place. So, a day trip from Kyoto to a more alternative scene might just be the remedy if you want a change of pace. For that, check out Osaka’s hipster district, Nakazaki. It’s home to chic cafés, bohemian art galleries, and vintage fashion shops. Personally, I love its origin story: what started out as an aging, run-down neighborhood was renovated by local artists after the turn of the new millennium into a cool, artistic town within the city. You can walk around and soak up the atmosphere, shop at an organic grocery store, or try out some unique animal trinkets.
2. Arashiyama – Bamboo Forests and Monkey Parks
Okay, this one may not really qualify since it’s not that unknown, but I definitely didn’t know about it. Arashiyama is a World Heritage Site, complete with moon-crossing bridges, a gorgeous temple, and a bamboo forest. I’ve only seen pictures of the bamboo forest (so far, anyway), but it has a seriously surreal feel to it. Other travelers recommend going in early morning, when the sun beams shine through the bamboo.
3. Amanohashidate Sandbar for a Stroll Like No Other
Amanohashidate Sandbar (try saying that three times fast) is just plain wild. This sandbar is 3.6km long (or 2.2 miles) and covered in pine trees. It has a nice, wide dirt road laid out, with a smattering here and there of shops, shrines, and restrooms. Which is good, because it takes 45 minutes to get from one end to the other. No cars are allowed on the sandbar, but you can shorten the trip to around 15 minutes by renting a bike from nearby.
Surrounded by all those massive pine trees, it’s like taking a walk in a forest sandwiched in an ocean. This unique natural wonder is a must for any tree-huggers and beach babes (or dudes) out there.
4. Miyajima – a Temple on the Water
While part of the point of taking a day trip from Kyoto is to get away from temples, Miyajima has one that you don’t want to miss. This temple stands entirely on water. You may have even seen pictures of its famous torii gate ankle-deep in the Seto Inland Sea. I’d recommend checking out both the gate and the “floating shrine” just for its uniqueness factor, but it’s especially gorgeous during a night cruise. You can also walk up to the famous torii gate during low tide if you want to see it up close.
5. Feed Some Deer at Nara Park
Okay, Nara isn’t exactly underrated – it’s probably the most popular spot for a day trip from Kyoto. But having been there myself, I can’t not put it on the list. Besides, feeding deer is still a really unusual attraction, so I think it still counts.
Plus, it’s more than just deer and giant Buddha. Its temples have some really interesting yearly practices, and I’d highly recommend checking them out if you can get the timing right.
In March, Todaiji Temple holds a bunch of rituals using water and fire over a two-week period. In January, they set Mount Wakakusa on fire. August has the Nara Tokae Lantern Festival, and then throughout the year there are several flower festivals for hydrangeas, cosmos, and more.
6. Ninja Village Koka No Sato
Be honest. How many of you love ninjas? There are ninja hangouts here and there all over Japan, but the best one for a day trip from Kyoto has to be Koka No Sato. This ninja village has houses showcasing hidden corridors and cool ninja traps, a museum that goes into real-life ninja and the kind of tools they used, and a kendo hall where you can sign up for a little sword practice.
7. CupNoodles Museum in Ikeda
While most of the places that made the cut are more “unusual,” the CupNoodles Museum in Ideka City (located in Osaka) takes the #1 spot on the weirdness scale. But that’s mostly just for the concept of even having a museum dedicated to instant ramen.
The museum itself is very respectable. It has a gallery that goes into the history of instant ramen, first invented in 1958 in some dude’s backyard. (And I mean that quite literally.) You can see the factory, a tunnel of instant noodle packages of every variety you can think of, a tasting room, and a recreation of the shed that started it all. It’d be inspiring if I weren’t talking about 3-minute noodles.
8. Canal Boat Ride in Kurashiki
As someone who loves taking photos during vacation, you better believe my ears popped up when I heard that Kurashiki is one of the most picturesque places in Japan. It literally has a district that translates to “aesthetic district.”
On top of that, you can get boat rides in the canal! And here I was, thinking inner-city boat rides were only for Venice (and Macau, but that’s a different story).
9. Awaji Island Whirlpool Cruise
Awaji is an island just off the coast of Kobe, and just so happens to be home to the Naruto Strait Whirlpools, some of the biggest and fastest whirlpools in the world. As in, swallow a ship whole levels (a small ship, anyway). The best way to see them is on the Whirlpools Cruise. (Don’t worry, the captain knows how to steer around them, so you’re in good hands.)
You can also sign up for classes to play with dolphins at the Awaji Janohire Outdoor Resort, so you can double up on the fun.
10. Sake Lovers Gather at Fushimi
I thought about adding Uji, the Green Tea Capital of Japan, to this list, but thought the green tea I tried in Japan tasted like grass. I’m more of a liquor girl anyway. And tea isn’t the only way to get a taste of Japan – not when you have sake on the menu.
Fushimi has its own sake district with traditional breweries and enough bars to quench anyone’s thirst. You can even visit a sake museum if you’re curious about how sake is made.
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