If you are staying in Osaka, there is a lot to see but you might be curious to explore the Kansai region.
There are so many local gems, so many castles and temples, you could travel forever. So here are a few Osaka day trip ideas to make planning your Kansai and Osaka itinerary easier.
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How to Get a Kansai Pass
Kansai Japan is well connected and there are many trains going hourly. Train travel in Japan*, however, isn’t cheap so having a railpass is a good way to go.
You can choose between different regions and time frames to match the railpass to your travel plan. No need to get one for the entirety of Japan if you are just exploring the Kansai region, for instance.
Until mid 2020, the JR railpasses can only be ordered and shipped to an address abroad, so make sure to book it way in advance. You can get your Kansai Railpass easily here*.
The pass is valid for a year and can be validated at bigger JR railway stations. (Come early in the day to avoid the queues!) You will receive a booklet with a list of all the customer service counters available for this.
Example Itineraries for travelling Japan:
Do You Need a Kansai Rail Pass?
The JR railpasses are great value if you want to see as much as possible in a short time and make extensive use of train travel. For slow travel, I recommend bus travel.
The Kansai Pass allows you to travel within a certain region, which makes it an affordable option for short term visits to Osaka and beyond.
Should your railpass not arrive in time, you can always return it and get the money back and instead invest in a local Kansai Thru Pass.
This one also includes discounts for many local shops and restaurants and can be used already at from the airport to get into town.
Day 1: Nara
The number one day in the Kansai region undoubtedly has to be Nara. This quaint city used to be the capital of Japan and has retained its grandeur in its vibrant temples.
All the Great Seven Buddhist temples are still standing and beautiful shrines, such as Kasuga-Taisha, will make for amazing photos.
The true highlight, though, are the local Nara deer in Nara Park. They may be wild but are quite used to people feeding them rice crackers.
Over 1200 deer are said to roam around freely in the parks, forest and at times even the city. Just be careful when you get close to them as they can kick and bite.
How to get from Osaka to Nara: Take the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service for either Kamo or Nara. It takes about an hour and costs 800yen without the JR Kansai Pass.
What to eat in Osaka
Osaka okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancakes), takoyaki (fried dough ball with octopus), kushi-katsu (deep fried skewers) and butaman (steamed pork buns) are a must!
Day 2: Wakayama
This underrated destination is not far away at all from Osaka. You can use your JR Kansai Pass to reach Wakayama City within an hour. Getting from the train station to Wakayama Castle takes around 30 minutes on foot.
Wakayama Castle sits snugly on a hill atop the mouth of the Kii River and the O-hashi-rōka bridge down below has been well preserved. Look at it from outside before you venture onto the castle grounds and the gardens.
Getting inside the castle costs a small entrance fee and you will see a small exhibition inside on its history and preservation efforts. It’s nothing too exciting, if I’m honest. In front of the entrance is a kiosk and benches and a fine view over the city.
But besides the castle and gardens, there are many other wonderful sights, not just in the city but the Prefecture of the same name. With your railpass, you can also get to the coastline and admire the lighthouse.
Or you go for a scenic hike around the mountains. For instance at mount Koyasan, there are a few things to do and you can also plan a temple stay.
How to get from Osaka to Wakayama
Take the JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service for Wakayama to Hineno and then the JR Kishuji Rapid Service for Wakayama.
The ride takes around 90 minutes and costs 1,240 yen without the JR Kansai Pass.
Day 3: Castle Hopping
There are over 140 Japanese castles in the Kansai region and many of them can be easily reached with a JR Kansai Pass. To make the trip convenient, I recommend heading westward all the way to Akō.
In Akō, sadly, there are only a few ruins left and a temple that stands on the former castle grounds.
From there, you can head back to Himeji, where you can see one of the prettiest castles in Japan. Its pristine white glow is best experienced in spring when surrounded by pink cherry blossoms.
From Himeji, you can take the train to Akashi, where it takes only five minutes to reach the park and former castle wall remains. Why not plan a small picnic among the old walls?
If you still have time, you can also visit the city of Kobe on the way back to Osaka.
How to get from Osaka to Ako
Take the JR Special Rapid Service from Osaka to HIMEJI and change into JR Sanyo Line for BANSHUAKO.
Get off at the last stop. Then, follow the signs to get from each station to the respective castle (ruins).
Day 4: Kyoto
Kyoto is super close to Osaka and an absolute must. You can easily spend at least two days in the former capital of Japan as there is so much to see in Kyoto beside the famous Gion district.
The second most popular destination in Kyoto must be the red Fhushimi Inari torii gates.
And the best time to visit Kyoto must be cherry blossom season followed by autumn with the red maple leaves.
If you have the Kansai rail pass, you can get from Osaka station to Fushimi Inari in only a few minutes and then walk up the mountain, following the gates. For more tips on rail travel in Japan, check out this guide*.
How to get from Osaka to Kyoto
From Osaka station, there are trains leaving every ten minutes. It takes around thirty minutes. Ticket prices can range from 560 yen to 3,020 yen without the JR Kansai Pass, depending on which train you chose.
What to eat in Kyoto
Shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine), obanzai ryori (multi course meal), yuba (skimmed tofu) and yudofu (tofu cooked in hot broth) should be on your list.
Tell me: Where would you go with a Kansai Pass?
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