If you’re based in Osaka, exploring Kansai couldn’t be easier. From historical castles to ninja towns, with islands and whirlpools in between, there are more day trips from Osaka to choose from than you ever thought possible!
If you’re lucky enough to have a good chunk of time based in Japan’s Kitchen, you might be looking for some new places to visit that offer a break from the neon lights of Dotonbori. Aside from the more obvious locations like Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nara, the Kansai region has a whole host of fantastic locations to explore than can easily have you there and back in a day, with the smug feeling that you’ve made the most of your time. You can choose from onsen towns for a relaxing soak, sacred mountain retreats or land yourself on a not-so-deserted island—whatever tickles your fancy! These are our top picks for easy day trips from Osaka, and all as cheapo as possible. The travel costs listed are one way, and keep in mind that while JR trains are covered by the JR Pass, most JR-run buses are not.
Kobe | 25 minutes | ¥410 | Direct train
Often bypassed in favor of Kyoto or Osaka, for those with limited time, Kobe is a fantastic city and perfect for a cheapo day trip.
As one of Japan’s most important port cities, there is a real mix of cultures, with one of the largest Chinatowns in the Kansai region. Dating back to 1868, the area has grown and was named Nankimichi after the city Nanjing. This is a great place to grab lunch, be it street food like steamed buns or the traditional cheapo cut-price lunch set.
The city of Kobe was heavily damaged in the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and over 5,000 people died. Today the city has been rebuilt, but you can visit the dedicated museum to learn more about it.
While it may not quite be in your budget, for dedicated foodies this is of course a great opportunity to try the world-famous Kobe beef, or head to the Nada District for some locally brewed sake.
Sorakuen Garden is perfect for a peaceful stroll and the culture vultures can head to the Hyogo Museum of Art for a mixture of modern works by Japanese and international artists, all housed in the creation of Skytree-designer Ando Tadao.
Locals and visitors will agree, however, that Kobe comes into its own at night, with spectacular night views counted as some of the best in Japan. View the city from the Shin-Kobe Ropeway (which also passes the Nunobiki Waterfall) where you can hike from the top station to Mount Maya, which has 10-million dollar views of Kobe and Osaka.
Getting there: This is one of the easiest routes: simply hop onto either the JR Kobe Line or the JR Rapid Service for Himeji and you’ll be in Kobe within 30 minutes!
Awaji Island | 1 hour | ¥1,500 | Train and ferry
This small island is perched between Honshu and Shikoku and is attached to Akashi City by the world’s longest suspension bridge: the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. As a sightseeing spot in itself, with its own exhibition center, the bridge also helps with accessing the island. Although, a ferry is easier if relying on public transport.
Sumoto is the main city and has plenty for a day’s worth of sightseeing, including natural hot springs and Sumoto Castle, which was destroyed in the early 17th century but rebuilt just after the Edo period in 1928. You can also explore the Awaji Yumebutai, which is a mixture of gardens, walking trails and the largest greenhouse in Japan, all built on the excavation sites for the Kansai International Airport.
If you head down south to the town of Fukura, you can catch a ferry to see the (sorta-famous) Naruto whirlpools and Naruto Bridge. You can pair this up with a trip to the Awaji Joruri Puppet Theater, which displays the island’s tradition of ningyo joruri puppet theater (note it is closed on Wednesdays).
Getting there: Take a train from Osaka to Akashi (40 minutes, ¥920) and then catch a ferry from Akashi Port which is a few minutes’ walk from JR Akashi Station. It takes 13 minutes to cross and costs adults ¥500 each way, plus a ¥22 charge if you take your bike or small animals. The ferries are very regular, especially around commuter times but still pretty decent on weekends, continuing until around 11:20pm; you can check the timetable here.
Arima Onsen Town | 60 minutes | ¥1,200+ | Direct bus
Although technically in Kobe, this picturesque onsen town is on the opposite side of Mount Rokko from the city center, and is well worth a trip in itself. Although it has become a bit of a concrete town (the fate of many an onsen town in Japan) you can still enjoy a town-like feel with some narrow shopping streets remaining.
As one of the oldest hot spring resorts in Japan, it is a popular spot due to its ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ water—the former offering iron deposits to aid muscle pain and the latter offering carbonate which is good for joint ailments. There are picturesque onsen sources dotted throughout the town with steam shooting from them, as well as two public bath houses with prices starting from ¥550 to ¥850 per person. The many hotels and private onsen houses also allow day visitors and are generally fancier, although the costs are also a bit higher reaching into the thousands-of-yen range for improved soaking facilities and better views. There are also plenty of shrines and temples to see in the town and pleasant strolls so you can cool off between soaks.
Getting there: The train is a little tricky from Osaka: It takes three trains to reach Arima Onsen (changing at Sanda and Arimaguchi) and costing ¥1,250 for the 70-minute journey.
Alternatively, you can catch one of the direct buses run by JR and Hankyu which come in at between ¥1,200 and ¥1,300 depending on whether you leave from Shin-Osaka or Osaka respectively.
Wakayama City | 90 minutes | ¥1,240 | Direct train
Wakayama is usually a stop-off for people on the way to hike the Kumano Kodo or view the Nachi Falls, but the city deserves a day of exploration in its own right. If you begin in the heart of the city, head to see the castle tower before strolling through Oda Park which has plenty of temples and shrines to explore during your strolls.
For an early lunch and some unusual entertainment don’t miss the tuna-filleting displays which take place three times a day at Kuroshio Market. You can try out the freshest of fish at the indoor restaurants or purchase something to take home if the tuna is looking too delicious to leave behind.
The town is famed for onsen and there are plenty of bathhouses to try dotted around city, mainly based in hotels. If you want to head out of town for the afternoon, you can choose one of the onsen towns a short train ride away. Some of the top options include the baths at the National Park in Kada—catch the train from Wakayamashi Station to Kada (25 minutes)—and hop on a free shuttle bus to enjoy onsen with views to die for.
Alternatively, you could catch a train to Kishi to meet the world-famous train station cat Nitama, replacement of the much-loved Tama the cat who served until 2015. The journey takes 35 minutes from Wakayama Station and has some lovely views on the way.
Getting there: If you catch the JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service for Wakayama, you can continue straight to Wakayama without changing. The journey takes 1.5 hours and costs ¥1,240.
Tokushima City | 150 minutes | ¥3,600 | Direct bus
Best known for its amazing Awa-dori Festival in the summer, Tokushima is a busy city on the edge of Shikoku and is also home to the first Temple of the 88 Sacred Temple complex: Ryozenji Temple. You can visit the temple by catching a train to Bando Station (30 minutes on the Kotoku line, ¥260) although trains only run around once an hour, so keep that in mind for returning.
If you aren’t in town for the amazing Awa-dori, be sure to head to the Awa Odori Kaikan building where you can see daily dance performances, ancient posters, uniforms and even machines that let you try the footwork yourself. From the 5th floor you can catch the ropeway to Mount Bizan for views across the city and over the Seto Inland Sea.
Back down in the city you can explore the castle grounds, and although not much is left of the castle aside from walls and a moat, there is plenty to see. The Tokushima Castle Museum has some heirlooms and samurai armor as well as the only surviving example of a feudal lord’s boat which is worth a trip on its own. Right next door is the Omote-Goten Garden which includes a dry garden as well as pond garden, and it is the perfect place for some relaxing reflection. As the castle park and ruins are free, the garden is too—and it’s especially popular during cherry-blossom season (the museum costs ¥300).
Getting there: The simplest way to reach Tokushima is on one of the JR buses from either Osaka Station, Osaka Namba or USJ which go directly to Tokushima for ¥3,600 each way. The journey takes about 2 hour and 40 minutes and they run roughly every hour from 6am. From Tokushima the buses run every every half hour from 3:15pm until the last one at 7:45pm (so don’t miss it!). You can check the times here.
Takeda Castle ruins | 164 minutes | ¥2,590 | 3 trains
An unusual and very outdoorsy option for your day trip is a hike into the mystical remains of Takeda Castle. Often wrapped in mist and known as the “castle in the sky”, Takeda is a pretty magical spot and you have to work for it too.
Originally built in 1411, it was abandoned during the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and eventually fell into disrepair before being opened to tourists after restoration in the 1980s. While there are no buildings remaining, you can see the layout of the fortress and surrounding wings thanks to foundations. If you stay overnight nearby, the best time to view the castle is at sunrise in October or November, as this is when the famous mist appears. If you head to the Ritsuunkyo viewpoint on the slopes of the mountain opposite the castle, there are viewpoints just over half an hour up the trail which lead from the car park.
On a regular day, there are two steep trails from the back of the train station that will take you up to the castle in a pretty intense 40 minutes of trekking. From March to November you can catch a bus that will take you to a point 20 minutes from the castle so have a glance at the times when you arrive to see which suits you better! To reach the Ritsuunkyo viewpoint without a car, it is a 45-minute hike from the town or a 10-minute taxi journey.
Getting there: From Osaka Station, catch the JR Special Rapid Service for Himeji and then jump on the Bantan Line for Teramae where you’ll change to the Bantan Line for Wadayama and alight at Takeda Station.
If you leave at 7:17am you’ll arrive at 10:26am which is a little longer (the 164 minute version departs at 8:38am and arrives at 11:22am) but gives you more time for exploring if you’re worried about time.
Iga: Home of the ninja | 109 minutes | ¥1,490 | 2 trains
A small town with two big claims to fame, Iga is a fun day trip for those fresh to Japan and old hands too. The most obvious selling factor is of course the ninjas, from sneaky figures perched on train luggage racks to a fully dedicated museum and performing troupe.
The Iga School of Ninjutsu was one of the country’s leading schools in the feudal ages and produced many high quality warriors and the city has kept a firm grip on its history. The museum has a selection of tools, weapons and costumes used by ninjas of the past as well as a very entertaining session in a ninja house with demonstrations of revolving walls and trap doors used long ago. At the end you can see the ninja performance which is an entertaining show of shuriken (ninja stars) and sword fights with some comedic falls thrown in for good measure.
In the town you can visit a ninja cafe with resident cats (ninjas would use the dilation of their feline friends’ eyes to tell the time), black sesame ice cream and even a chance to try shuriken yourself.
The second claim to fame is that Iga is the birthplace of famed Haiku poet Matsuo Basho—there is a small museum dedicated to him in the grounds of Ueno Castle as well as a hat-shaped memorial called Haseiden Hall which was built to commemorate the 300th year since his birth.
Getting there: Catch the Yamatoji Rapid Service from Osaka to Kamo and then switch to the Kansai Line for IgaUeno Station. This should take just under 2 hours and provide some pretty stunning views.
Himeji’s famous castle | 63 minutes | ¥1,490 | Direct train
Painfully popular during cherry blossom season and only a little less so during the rest of the year, Himeji Castle is a must-see if you’re in the Kansai area. Considered to be the country’s most impressive castle, it is also called the White Heron Castle and is known for its complex grounds and elegant appearance.
The castle avoided damage during fires, wars and earthquakes and is one of Japan’s 12 original castles, although it underwent significant restoration before re-opening in 2015. There are over 80 buildings spread across the grounds and it is free to explore up to the Sannomaru (third bailey). Entry to the castle will set you back ¥1,000, and if you would also like to visit the nearby Kokoen gardens you can get a combination ticket for ¥1,040—so probably best even if you’re not sure you’ll visit both. The walled paths and twisting routes up to the castle are really unusual and add to the sense of occasion, along with steep staircases as you approach the castle itself. The inside is mainly empty and has some displays as well as a shrine, but is best for the views across the countryside surrounding it.
Getting there: Again, this is a pretty easy journey as you simply hop on the JR Special Rapid Service for Himeji and settle in for the hour-long journey. This would be covered on the JR Pass if you’re luck enough to have one, otherwise it will set you back just under ¥1,500 each way.
Mount Koya: Spiritual escape | 2 hours| ¥2,680 | Train/bus
Spiritual, stunning and energizing, an afternoon spent exploring Mount Koya is a treat for the soul that you won’t forget any time soon. As the resting place of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, it is one of the holiest sites in all of Japan and certainly demands a certain level of respect when visited. You can follow the path through the Okunoin Cemetery where he is buried to visit Torodo Hall, which is filled with over 1,000 lanterns. Kongobuji, the main temple of Shingon Buddhism is located a little further on and is home to beautifully painted doors and Japan’s largest rock garden—well worth the 500-yen entry fee.
As our full article points out, this is not a leisurely day trip—it takes around 2 hours from Osaka. That means you will have to keep up the pace, or consider making it an overnight temple stay if you want to relax a little. That’s not to say it can’t be done though. Just make sure you keep an eye on the time as train service going back stops a little earlier than you may be used to; check before you leave the station for the day.
Getting there: Usually this journey is fairly simple and involves taking a rapid train from Osaka Namba to Gokurakubashi Station with a change at Hashimoto… however… Gokurakubashi Station was damaged by a typhoon in October 2017 and is due to be fixed by April 2018. You currently have to head out to Hashimoto Station and catch a replacement bus service to Koyasan which increases your time.
Consider purchasing the Koyasan World Heritage ticket which costs ¥2,680 and includes your return train travel as well as unlimited use of buses around Mount Koya and discounts to entry fees for attractions.
Kinosaki Onsen | ¥3,700 | 3 hours | Direct bus
Kinosaki Onsen town is one of the most magical spots in Japan, with too many hot springs to choose from and a quaint traditional setting. Unlike most onsen towns which are filled with concrete eyesores as soon as they become popular, this place has more of a Venetian-vibe with narrow twisting streets and impossibly photogenic bridges. The 3-hour travel time might make this look like more of a weekend away but it could be done as a day trip since you can arrive at 10:14am and head home on the final bus at 5:40pm.
The town center has a steady flow of yukata-clad visitors enjoying locals treats and onsen-hopping between the public baths. Ryokan encourage guests to explore the town rather than keeping them at their own restaurants and even provide free entry to the public baths as an incentive. There are literary monuments and a ropeway to the mountain summit for panoramic views. The ropeway is close to Onsenji Temple with a stop-off point at the main hall further up the mountain. Traditionally, guests would pray at the temple before being admitted to bathe in the town.
The onsen are famed for being the healing place of injured storks so you can bath in public or ryokan baths to your heart’s content and even visit a stork sanctuary just outside the town. There are a total of 7 public baths and countless ryokan, so you’ll have plenty of choice for your soaks!
Getting there: Traveling by train requires a minimum of three transfers, which may seem a lot of hassle since it only saves you about ¥350 compared to the bus option. You can catch one of the Zentan Highway buses from Osaka Hankyu-Umeda or Shin Osaka to Kinosaki Onsen with discounts available on some return tickets.