Updated: Dec 5, 2019
Osaka City, Japan’s Kitchen, is the prime location to be when traveling around Kansai. You can easily catch a train to other cities and various areas, then be back in Osaka for the night, stuff yourself with lots of great local food - just to do it again the next day. It is accessible to a major airport hub (Kansai Airport), and you’re just one Shinkansen ride away from other cities outside of the Kansai area.
Here are some great day trips you can do from shortest train ride to the longest.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
A good way to spend the day with your friends is to head out to a theme park of some of your favorite characters like Minions, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, etc. It is slightly notorious for its long lines for their popular attractions like Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, but I see the time queuing in lines as a great way to have a lunch break or just have a nice long chat with friends (if not, there are express passes available). USJ has a lot of seasonal changes to the park, so make sure you look into them and take advantage of them!
(~20 minutes to Sannomiya station)
Kobe Beef lovers rejoice, you are only 20 minutes away!
Other than Kobe beef, the city is also very well known for its Chinatown and pastries (cakes). The city is highly influenced by foreign trade, thus why there are a lot of interesting architecture to explore. The outskirts of Kobe city is lined with mountains great for nature lovers and hikers, as there are many trailheads and paths to hike.
(~30 minutes to Kintetsu Nara station)
Nara is known for its deers in Nara Park, where they bow three times in order to try to nibble off your fingers for the senbei cookie you are holding to feed it. And it is much closer to Osaka City than most people think. Within Nara Park, there are various temples you can visit, which makes it a great and easy day trip for solo travelers and families alike.
(~40 minutes to Kishiwada station)
This city has a special place in my heart as I lived 2 years of Japan life here. During September, it holds one of the largest Danjiri Festivals in western Japan. Danjiri celebrates the autumn harvest and you can see loads of locals pulling very detailed floats through the city.
During the spring, Kishiwada castle is one of the best place (and lesser known) to view cherry blossom.
Besides those things, Kishiwada is full of history and cultural architecture. It was also the Japanese period drama filming location for “Carnation” (2011-2012). The proximity of the city to the airport makes it a good brief stopover before boarding your flight out of Kansai Airport.
(~45 minutes to Rinkutown Station)
Rinku Town is not so much a town nor does it have any sightseeing, but more just a huge Outlet Mall complex. This is a good area for people who want to go shopping for some high-end brands last minute, just before getting on their flight to depart. The close proximity to Kansai Airport is one of the reasons why the mall quite popular amongst tourists.
(~50 minutes to Bampakukinenkoen Station)
Expo City is a huge family-friendly area with lots of shopping, kid-friendly activities and a huge (paid) park area. The park is the home for the “Tower of the Sun”, an art piece created by Okamoto Taro for the Japan World Exposition in 1970. Recently, the operators have opened up the inside of the art piece, and you can explore the inside of the art work.
For shoppers and families, Lalaport is a huge shopping complex that houses the only “Pokémon Gym” in the nation and a Gundam cafe. It also houses an aquarium, and other active learning “museums” for your kids to enjoy.
(~40 to 60 minutes, various stations)
This is a HUGE city, and you can easily spend 2 to 3 days here just soaking in the cultural architecture, temples/shrines, museums and so much more. On the west side of the city is Arashiyama and the Kinkakuji area, while the east side is Higashiyama (Gion/Sanjo), Kiyomizu and Fushimi area. To the north, you have a popular hiking route between Kibune and Kurama.
Do your research and make sure you know what you’re getting into. There are a lot of seasonal events in Kyoto as well, and the city is most well known for its seasonal foliage. It also has a huge cafe scene with tons of unique cafes. However, if you just have one day to spare, I would focus on the east or west side of the city!
(~60 to 80 minutes to Himeji Station)
There are two attractions in this city that are worth checking out: Himeji castle and Soshazan. Himeji castle is one of the 12 original castles still standing in Japan, and perhaps the biggest of the 12. You can see the castle all the way from the train station and during your entire walk to the castle. For a small fee, you can enter into the grounds, the outer wall and the main keep.
If time allows, definitely make your way out to Soshazan Temple Complex. You must pay for the cable car ride and the combined entry into the Temple Complex. This attraction may be a little difficult for people who have mobility issues, as there is still a steep hike after the cable car ride.
Uji city is in Kyoto prefecture, which means that in a lot of ways, the city is an extension of Kyoto city in cultural architecture. However, Uji city is most famous for its production in green tea (matcha). If you’re a fan of green tea, you will find rows of tea shops and green tea goods - from green tea soba, sweets, bread, alcohol and even spaghetti! The downtown area of the city is fair easy to navigate; a great place to experience tea ceremony and just wind down.
This is also the birthplace of the famous Japanese story “Tales of Genji”. There are several artworks dedicated to the story all around the city, and even a museum. Great place for fans of the work to visit!
Minoo Park & Cup Ramen Museum
Minoo and Ikeda city (where the Cup Ramen Museum is) are in close proximity of each other, which you can easily make a day trip of. Minoo Park is a great hike for people of all ages. It is a relatively easy hike, even if you are not very fit. There are a few sharp slopes, but the main trail is overall very gentle and very flat all the way to the Minoo Falls - the main attraction. This spot is particularly popular during autumn foliage season.
After the hike, you can put on your creativity cap - because at the Cup Ramen Museum, you can design your own cup noodle! Keep in mind that the closing time for the museum is quite early (for tourist attraction standards), so if you want to make your cup noodle and have a walk around the small museum, make sure you have enough time!
Mt. Rokko and Arima Onsen
Just on the outskirts of Kobe city is a famous onsen town, Arima. Famous for its close proximity to the big cities and its water quality, it is a great way to wind down and relax after days of traveling. The town is also great for hikers going up Mt.Rokko, then down the other side of the mountain to Arima onsen. Nothing like a good bath after a day’s long hike!
For non-hikers, Mt.Rokko has a lot of other activities up on the top, connected by ropeways on both sides. Mt.Rokko has a spectacular view of the Kobe port and it’s supposed to be one of the best night views in the country.
(~90 to 120 minutes)
Yes, now we’re getting into territory that’s much over an hour, but I personally think Koyasan is one of the best day trips out of Osaka if you want to get away from the bustle of the city. On most days, the traffic in this UNESCO world heritage town is minimal to none. Of course, on weekends and holidays, the crowds increase - but even still, perhaps it’s due to the nature or maybe it’s a temple settlements, it never feels suffocating.
Most people recommend a temple stay for the experience, but personally, I think a day trip is enough for people who may not have enough days to spare.
There are a lot more places, but I will leave it for the next post.
I hope you enjoy this list!
If you've been to these places, what is your favourite day trip spot from Osaka? Let me know in the comments below!