The Best Osaka Day Trips
After exploring Tokyo, many travelers often find themselves heading straight for rollicking Osaka, a city synonymous with fantastic food and friendly people.
Known colloquially as "Japan's Kitchen", Osaka is the place to spend hours hopping through bars along Dotonbori and marveling at the many shapes and colors lighting up fantastic restaurant facades as you nibble on street food like takoyaki.
Once you've gotten your fill of takoyaki, venture out of central Osaka with these day trips. Under an hour's train ride will zip you toward kawaii critters, stunning temples, and so much more.
This list covers the highlights of Nara and Kyoto, two cities that once housed Japan's emperors and are packed with cultural experiences.
Not far is Hyogo Prefecture which hosts beachy Awaji Island, and Kobe city, which has all the features of a Japanese port city. That is to say, pretty views and a unique multi-cultural aesthetic.
Rent a car to traverse the well-developed transport system connecting Kansai's major cities, or take advantage of the high-speed JR lines that shuttle travelers across the region daily. Either way, you'll enjoy some amazing views of central Japan from the windows as you head off to enjoy a day in Kansai.
Nara: More than deer in the ancient capital
Did you know that Nara was the first capital of Japan? During the Nara period (CE 710 to 794), it was the seat of the Emperor and enjoyed an influx of technology and ideas from the West. Originally called Yamato, Nara is most famous for its bowing deer, but the city has much more to offer, from UNESCO World Heritage sites to plentiful shopping and charming nature.
Of course, you can't miss a trip to Nara park, where herds of deer roam freely, gratefully accepting treats with a bow. They can be a little pushy, so it's best to keep an eye on kids — and your snacks! Offer them a handful of deer crackers which you can pick up from the vendors nearby instead.
After feeding the deer, grab some deer-themed snacks for yourself and souvenirs. Higashimuki is next to the station, and the giant Nara Nagomikan offers quick access to the impressive Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
Kasuga Taisha itself is a massive wooden shrine guarded by impressive religious sculptures. Its attached moss garden is also a lush, secret hideout for deer, so you can snap some great photos there. If you time your trip well, you might even get to see the lanterns lit, a spectacular event that only happens twice a year, in February and August. You'll find a massive Buddha statue and artful interior decorations inside the shrine.
Both Nara's Todai Temple and Kasuga Taisha are UNESCO world heritage sites, and the top of Kofuku Temple offers stunning views of Nara. Tour the area's many religious sites and see if you can discover some ancient artifacts of your own.
Stay at the Deer Park Inn in Nara and enjoy watching the deer graze from right outside your room. This cozy hotel has intimate bed-and-breakfast vibes in a convenient sightseeing locale.
Kyoto: Experience in traditional Japan
The Kansai region is home to not one but two of Japan's former capitals. Kyoto, a city whose name even translates to "former capital", was the seat of the Japanese emperor from the end of the Nara period until 1868. Kyoto offers the most stunning examples of Japan's rich religious history and classical architectural style.
Take the train from Osaka to Kyoto and enjoy a hike up Fushimi Inari Shrine. The shrine is iconic with its ambling paths lined with red torii gates. They might look like impressive religious symbols, but these gates allow the shrine's benefactors to show off their donations, too; you'll see inscriptions on the sides showing the names of those who have donated. The torii gates make for an impressive photo op if you manage to find a break in the crowds, so try to go early in the morning before the tourists pour in.
Before heading into town, visit glimmering Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera for even more Buddhist history. Kinkaku-ji towers over a reflective pond and is particularly beautiful when surrounded by stunning foliage during spring and autumn.
Kyoto offers a plethora of cultural experiences, from elegant Geiko performances to tea ceremonies and flower arranging classes. Stroll around Matsubara-dori and look at the shops while dressed in rental Kimono before heading towards lunch.
Nishiki Market, called "Kyoto's Pantry", is sure to get your mouth watering with its nearly endless stalls of fresh produce, seafood, and takeaways like yakitori. Invest in savory souvenirs at this traditional market before returning to Osaka.
KeFU Stay and Lounge is a remarkable little hotel about fifteen minutes from some of Kyoto's best attractions. What makes it special is the minimalist, contemporary design and delicious attached cafe. It's a great spot to get to know some fellow travelers. Twin, single, and even family rooms are available to accommodate a variety of guests.
Kobe: East-meets-west in Kansai’s heartland
Thirty minutes on a train will land you in the city of Kobe. Osaka may have its reputation as a food town, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Kobe beef, and this is the place to try it!
On top of world-renowned steak, Kobe is home to some of the best chocolatiers and coffee roasteries in Japan. Its long port history has afforded Kobe an eclectic mix of Western and Japanese cultural flavors. Visit the opulent homes of old seafaring merchants and European diplomats in Kitano-cho before indulging in some luxury yourself with a cut of that Kobe wagyu!
After lunch, take a stroll around the impressive Herb Garden or tour one of Kobe’s many historical sake breweries. If you prefer your drinks non-alcoholic, join a coffee walk around town or even take a brewing class at the UCC Coffee Museum (it's currently closed to general admissions, but they still host seminars and online tours).
More eclectic fun awaits at Kobe Harborland, the perfect place to enjoy dinner and a night view of Kobe before heading back to Osaka.
As far as panoramas, Ｍt. Rokko offers stunning daytime city views, or you can enjoy the romantic atmosphere of Kobe Harbour at night from Kobe Port Tower. You can access the mountain with a hike or take the cable car to the peak. Kobe Port Tower’s expansive ocean views make it a popular spot for couples and offer a sweeping view of the Sea of Japan.
Stay at Kobe’s Hotel Pearl City for a nostalgic, elegant night that brings together the best of the city’s East-meets-West flavor. Bathe in the hotel’s grand spa, fashioned after Japanese public baths, before enjoying a meal at the Hotel Pearl City’s western-style restaurant.
Awaji Island: A little island with big personality
The island of Awaji connects the mainland to Shikoku via the world's longest suspension bridge. Called the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, it spans nearly two kilometers and even has its own information center. Take your rental car over the massive structure or view it from the deck of the public ferries that offer easy access to the island.
Awaji island is also home to Japan's largest greenhouse, which sits in the garden and walking complex of Awaji Yumebatai. Sumoto Castle is a worthy historical stop in your Kansai itinerary, and southern Awaji is home to the remarkable Naruto whirlpools. As you watch them from the Naruto bridge, you'll be shocked at how close ships come to the whirlpool's edge.
Warmer months invite beachgoers and barbecue-ers to Awaji's shores. Awaji's beaches have a friendly vibe where you can enjoy hanging out with the locals over some fresh seafood and a couple of beers. Plenty of people bring their pets too. Enjoy a casual day in Kansai's famously relaxed atmosphere on Awaji Island.
If you make the trip over to the island, you owe yourself at least a night's stay before taking a sunrise trip back to Osaka. Stay any time of year at Hotel and Lodge Green Cozy, whose twin and double rooms offer a simple, clean atmosphere close to Awaji's many parks. During summer, experience the vacation vibes of beach-front Sea Aiga. You can stay in tatami rooms, beachy cabins, or even stationary RVs for a one-of-a-kind night. The hotel is pet friendly, with a buffet and outdoor barbeque.
Universal Studios Japan: Movie fun for everyone
It might not be a trip from Osaka so much as within it, but it’s easy to spend a whole day exploring the thrills of Universal Studios Japan. USJ features a variety of themed areas that take inspiration from new and classic movies. It’s fun to try out all the novelty food, too, like a suspiciously shaped JAWS-inspired hot dog.
Fans of Nintendo will be excited to see the new Super Nintendo World area, where you can immerse yourself in the Mario Bros’ colorful world of mushrooms and green pipes. From roller-coasters to photo spots, engaging shows to familiar characters, Universal Studios Japan is a fantastic place to spend one of your days in Osaka.
Stay right next to the action in Osaka’s La’gent Hotel, which is the perfect option for families who can’t get enough of the theme-park atmosphere. Special stay plans come with themed amenities, like a set of strawberry season goodies and meals. You can even bunk in themed rooms that are sure to delight kids of any age.
But the fun doesn't have to end when you leave the park. Osaka is home to several themed hotels that offer visitors a unique and immersive experience. Here are the top 10 themed hotel rooms you can book near Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
Osaka stays for daytripping
The Ibis Styles Osaka is fantastic for daytrippers for two big reasons. First, it’s only a four-minute walk from JR Osaka station. The second? The impressive breakfast buffet. Twin, Double, and King rooms all come equipped with coffee makers and modern interiors. The hotel is located right next to some of Osaka’s popular shopping and dining areas, too.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better deal that takes more care of its guests than the Hotel Kansai. If your itinerary includes more exploration than hotel lounging, you’ll be thankful for its neat accommodations. Twin, single, triple, and group rooms are all available, and the hotel offers a great breakfast service. Try the customizable tamago-kake-gohan (a raw egg on rice, plus your preferred toppings) at its egg bar for a traditional Japanese meal before you head off.