There’s more to Japan’s Kansai region than the famous cities we know and love. Get exploring and visit mountains, valleys, and beaches to escape the heat with these summer getaways in Kansai.

Kansai is one of the most-visited regions of Japan, but most people only make it to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Across its seven prefectures, there are countless amazing spots to explore, from sacred mountains to remote valleys. Perfect for day trips, weekend getaways, or a real vacation let’s talk about the best summer getaways in Kansai.

1. River dining in Kibune | Kyoto

summer food japan
Nagashi sōmen | Photo by iStock.com/show999

One of the closest options to Kyoto, Kibune is a top summer destination from the ancient capital. While nagsashi sōmen is one of the most enjoyable summer dishes, it only gets better when eaten on the river. Every summer, restaurants put out wooden decks waterside for diners to enjoy the cool river air as they fill up on the refreshingly cold noodles. After lunch, you can hike to Kurama and see ancient trees, temples, and even a museum before soaking in an onsen (hot spring).

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Catch a bus from Kyoto Station to Demachiyangi Station. Then hop on a train to Kibuneguchi Station. From there you can either catch a bus (not too regular) or enjoy the 20-minute stroll.

Pro tip: Check out the easiest ways to get from Tokyo to Kyoto.

2. Sun and sand at Shirahama Beach | Wakayama

Beach at Shirahama
Ready for a beach day? | Photo by iStock.com/EarthScapeImageGraphy

If beaches are your deal, then head out to Shirahama, an onsen town with nightly fireworks shows throughout summer and a picture-perfect beach. Since its name means “white beach”, you can picture the sand-and-sea combo awaiting you. The town is one of the three oldest onsen resorts in Japan, so you can soak in spring water as well as the sea while you’re there.

Make your way to Shirahama Station on the Kisei or Kuroshio Line. Then catch one of the many buses headed to Shirahama Bus Station (about 20 minutes) which is right by the beach.

3. Shrines and pearls in Ise and Toba | Mie

kansai trips
Wedded Rocks | Photo by iStock.com/Spaceindy

Mie is an often-overlook prefecture with lots to offer, including the beautiful cities of Ise and Toba. Ise is famed for the sacred Ise Shrine, but also a pristine river to frolick in and wonderful narrow streets filled with quaint shops, restaurants, and performance areas. You can visit the Wedded Rocks out on the shore, pay your respects at the shrine (or the 100 others in the area, no exaggeration) and enjoy the local specialty of Ise ebi (spiny lobster). Nearby, Toba is a town famed for pearl-diving women who search the shores of the Ise Peninsula for treasures. Visit Mikimoto Pearl Island to see the free-diving local women and enjoy the seaside-air.

Make your way to Ujiyamada or Iseshi Station in Ise (the latter is somewhat closer to the shrine). From Ise, catch the Toba Line to Toba; it takes about 15 minutes.

4. A bridge to heaven: Amanohashidate | Kyoto

amanohashidate
The bridge to heaven | Photo by iStock.com/bee32

Known as the Bridge to Heaven, Amanohashidate is a land bridge stretching across Miyazu Bay. To understand the namesake, you have to look at the sandy stretch backwards with your head between your legs. There are special blocks to help you take in the view — and don’t worry, you’ll be one of many. Be sure to visit Nariaji Temple — where wishes come true — and take a ride on the Ferris wheel for some bonus nostalgia points. “Pure water” beach is one of the most popular spots to relax at and offers exceptionally clear water (of course). Afterwards, you can visit some of the small shops and restaurants located along the pine tree–lined strip.

From Kyoto, catch the Hashidate Limited Express which takes just over 2 hours. Alternatively you can catch the Tankai Kaisoku Bus which runs four times a day and takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.

5. Mount Koya | Wakayama

kansai trips
Mount Koya | Photo by iStock.com/ncousia

Stay in a temple, dine on traditional Buddhist cuisine, and explore the forest-covered mountain trails! Mount Koya is a spiritual escape in all senses of the word. As the resting place of Kukai, the area is the most sacred in Japan, and the perfect place to enjoy some time away from the modern world. Mount Koya is home to the Okunoin Cemetery and Kongōbuji (head temple of Shingon Buddhism), plus important halls, gardens, and smaller buildings to explore. If you’re keen to wake up to morning prayers and try traditional shojin ryori (Buddhist cooking) — look for a traditional shukubo (temple lodging).

Head from Osaka Station to Gokurakubashi Station, this will take about 2 hours and involve one or two transfers depending on your timing. From there take the ropeway which takes you up to the top in 5 minutes for ¥390. Consider the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket which covers transport from Osaka and on the mountain for 2 days.

6. Ōmihachiman | Shiga

Omihachiman  canal view in summer
Japan’s Venice | Photo by iStock.com/linegold

A canal town close to Lake Biwa, Ōmihachiman is a miniature Venice, without all the trash and crazy-expensive restaurants. The castle town is on the Nakasendō highway, a postal trail between Tokyo and Kyoto, and was once a transport hub. Now, you can take relaxing rides on the waterways and enjoy the cooling breezes from the mountains. There are traditional streets lined with merchant’s storehouses, a ropeway to Hachimanyama where you can look down at Lake Biwa, and plenty of temples and shrines.

Ōmihachiman can be reached directly from Kyoto Station in about 35 minutes.

7. Mount Takao | Kyoto

Kiyotaki River kansai trip
The Kiyotaki River | Photo by iStock.com/PL3

Kyoto’s Mount Takao (not to be confused with Tokyo’s Mount Takao) has three stunning temples to explore, including one World Heritage Site. There are also waterfalls and shady walking paths snaking around the nearby mountains. Not only recgonized by UNESCO, Kozanji Temple is also home to Japan’s earliest examples of manga and the country’s oldest tea field. Its neighbors, Jingoji and Saimyōji, are well worth exploring. Then have a stroll along the Kiyotaki River (ideally after lunch at one of the nearby restaurants). While it’s popular in autumn for the golden leaves, in summer you can go swimming — and we all know what we would rather do right now.

You can catch a JR bus from Kyoto Station to Takao, which takes about 50 minutes.

8. Awaji Island | Hyogo

Hyogo Awaji Island
Awaji Island | Photo by iStock.com/bee32

A more unusual option, Awaji Island lies in the Seto Inland Sea, just across Osaka Bay from, well Osaka. The island is an unusual mix of nature, design, and tradition with some breathtaking views and a beach thrown in there for good measure. Hike to Sumoto Castle atop a hill for a nice breeze and a great view. Then, stroll along Sunset Boulevard at Keino Matsubara Beach and make the most of the amazing seafood on offer. One of the most unusual spots is the Yumebutai Garden designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando, which features stair-like designs filled with plants reminiscent of Japan’s famous layered rice paddies.

You can get to Awaji Island from both Osaka and Kyoto via Sannomiya Station. At Sannomiya Station you can catch a high-speed bus to various parts of the island taking between 50 and 90 minutes depending on your destination.

9. Lake Biwa’s beaches | Shiga

kansai beach
Lake Biwa | Photo by iStock.com/dar_st

The largest freshwater lake in Japan, Lake Biwa is a non-traditional beach that still ticks all the boxes when it comes to escaping the summer heat. Omi-Maiko is the most popular beach as it is a direct train ride from Kyoto and has sand, warm waters, and mountain views. You can camp, set up a barbeque and relax as if really were the beach — with jet skies and wind surfers lining the horizon. If you want a quieter spot, head to Makino Sunny Beach. It’s farther north and considered to have the clearest water in the lake. It has a well-equipped campsite and plenty of good barbecue spots too.

The journey from Kyoto Station to Omi-Maiko (Omimaiko Station) takes about 45 minutes by train. For Makino Beach (Makino Station), continue on the train for another 40 minutes or so.

10. Mitarai Valley | Nara

Mitarai Valley, Nara
Mitarai Valley | Photo by Coniferconifer used under CC

The most remote option on our list, this stunning natural gorge is home to sacred mountains, holy temples, and lantern-lit onsen towns. Mount Omine, an important site in the Shugendō sect of Buddhism draws many pilgrims, especially in August, and makes for a good hike (although women are banned from a lot of it traditionally…). Hiking along the gorge will bring you to waterfalls, swimming spots, and suspension bridges. If you’re feeling fancy, you can stay at one of the traditional ryokans in Dorogawa Onsen or try Tenkawa for a few more options. While it can be done in a day trip, there’s limited transport, so staying overnight will allow you to explore further.

To reach the gorge, you need to first get yourself to Shimoichiguchi Station on the Kintetsu Line (around 1.5 hours from Kyoto, 50 minutes from Nara). From there, take the bus (1 hour) to Tenkawa Kawai Bus stop, then walk 40 minutes to the gorge.

More ideas for summer getways in Kansai

Of course, these are just a few of your options for summer getways in Kansai. If you’re looking for more ideas we’ve also got recommendations for summer day trips from Osaka and Kyoto. For those stuck in Tokyo, why not check out these summer day trips? Or if you’re a beach goer, these cheap beach trips from Tokyo are for you.

And if you’re looking for ideas on how to stay cool, what summer foods to eat, or which summer festivals to check out, we’ve got all that too.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Last updated in July 2023 by Maria Danuco.

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