Kyoto was the capital of Japan and is on the island of Honshu. The city is known for the many classical Buddhist temples, Imperial Palaces, gardens, ancient Shinto Shrines, and wooden houses. Kyoto is located in the valley of the Yamashiro Basin in Eastern Tamba Highlands. The city is surrounded by three mountains, and three rivers run through the valley making for fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities and sightseeing.


1.Amanohashidate

Amanohashidate
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Amanohashidate is a sandbar on the Miyazu Bay in the Kyoto Prefecture. Amanohashidate means “bridge in heaven” because the people believed the sandbar resembled a bridge connecting heaven and earth. The town is ranked as the number three most scenic place in Japan with attractions able to be explored on foot or bicycle. Some of the favorite attractions on the sandbar include a few temples, a Kono shrine, observation decks, and a small amusement park. Visitors can access the sandbar via train or highway bus. No personal vehicles can be driven to Amanohashidate.

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2.Arashiyama

Arashiyama
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Arashiyama is home to the world-famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and the site is one of the most critical districts in Kyoto. The city is found at the base of the Arashiyama Mountains and about 30 minutes from the center of Kyoto. The Main Street and Togetsu-Kyo Bridge are top-rated tourist attractions with a lot of foot traffic. Visitors can walk up the river for peace and quiet at Kameyama-Koen Park. The Tenryu-Ji Temple and Bamboo Grove are just a little past the park. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Walking Tour is the best way to see the sites. Okochi-Sanso Villa is why Arashiyama is the second most important site in Kyoto. The Imperial property is beautifully preserved, and no reservations are needed to visit. Visitors should also consider renting a boat and exploring the waters when cherry blossoms are in bloom.

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3.Awaji Island

Awaji Island
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Awaji Island is an integral part of Japanese myth and legend. Said to be the island that the country of Japan formed from first, Awaji includes many historic sites, landmarks, hot springs, and some of the best food in Japan. “The Region of Food,” as the island is called, was home to the Imperial Palace gardens and livestock dating back more than 1000 years. Kobe Beef comes from Awaji cattle and is known for its perfect marbling and highest quality of flavor. Visitors wanting to relax at the spas and resorts around the hot springs can book day trips or overnight accommodations. Some of the facilities feature open-air and rooftop hot spring public baths.

Sumotokenkofukushikan F1 2-26 Minato Sumoto-shi, Hyogo-ken 656-0027

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4.Enryukuji Temple

Enryukuji Temple
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Visitors to Kyoto who want to explore ancient architecture and Japanese culture should spend a day at Enryukuji Temple on the summit on Mountain Miei. The temple was established by Saicho in 788 and is the Tendai Buddhism sect headquarters. The monks at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are known as “marathon monks.” Enryukuji Temple once featured a vast complex of more than 3,000 buildings that were protected by warrior monks. Visitors to the temple today can spend time at the kokuhoden Museum and the Eastern Pagoda Area. Some of the oldest buildings are found in the Western Pagoda Area such as the Shaka-do which contains an image of Buddha hand-carved by Saicho.

4220 Sakamotohonmachi, Otsu, Shiga, 520-0116, Phone: 07-75-78-00-01

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5.Expo ’70 Commemorative Park

Expo ’70 Commemorative Park
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Osaka is home to a vast public park called The Expo ’70 Commemorative Park where the Japan World Exposition was held in 1970. More than 75 pavilions were erected to showcase the cutting-edge technology corporations and Japanese businesses that were making waves at the time. There are over 5,000 cherry blossom trees which bloom in early April on the grounds where there are also museums, gardens, Tower of the Sun artwork, Nifrel aquarium, Orbi Osaka, and the largest Ferris wheel in Japan. The park is also where the brand-new, a three-story shopping mall, Expocity was built. This mall features more than 300 retailers and several restaurants, as well as a food court.

1-1 Senribanpakukoen, Suita, Osaka 565-0826, Japan, Phone: +81-6-68-77-73-87

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6.Fushimi and Uji

Fushimi and Uji
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Just south of Kyoto is the world-famous city of Fushimi, where sake is produced. The serene city is also filled with historic sites, wooden brewery houses, and picturesque canals lined with trees. Fushimi is also known for its hot springs which produce water perfect for alcohol production, and the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine dedicated to the god of rice—Inari. Visitors to Fushimi can take a Jikkokubune Canal Cruise to a small museum depicting the ways Fushimi has changed and developed. Stay overnight at the Okura Kinenkan, the 19th-century river inn that is still operational today and dedicated to a famous samurai of Japanese legend, Sakamoto Ryoma. Visit in March to participate in the annual Sake Festival.

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7.Hikone

Hikone
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Hikone Castle Festival Parade is the main attraction of Hikone where almost 1,000 people come together to march for over two hours. Parade participants are dressed up as castle lords and wear traditional style clothing and “red devil soldier” costumes. This event occurs annually in November. The Hikone Castle Cherry Blossom Festival is another top-rated event that takes place the first three weeks of April while the Buddhist Lantern Festival happens annually in August. Most people journey to Hikone to see Hikone Castle. Built in 1622 after twenty years of construction by two samurai brothers, the castle was designed to be uniquely beautiful in the lunar light. Visitors to the castle can stroll through the gardens and walk around the outside of the castle.

1-1 Konki-Cho, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture 522-0061, Japan, Phone: +81-07-49-22-27-42

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8.Himeji

Himeji
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Travelers who love ancient castles will love taking a trip to Himeji and visiting Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Treasure of Japan. The castle is the best-preserved surviving Feudal Castle in Japan and is also known as the “White Heron Castle.” The approach to the gate is maze-like with walled paths, gates, and turns. The castle stands 6 stories tall and is open to the public. Access may be limited during the cherry blossom season when traffic is high. Himeji is located in the Hyogo Prefecture and is less than an hour from Kyoto. The city is also home to Mount Shosha, a temple mountain that was featured in the film, The Last Samurai, and Kokoen Garden which is next to the castle.

68 Honmachi, Himeji City, Japan, Phone: 07-92-85-11-46

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9.Hiroshima

Hiroshima
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Hiroshima is best known for being the city where the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6th, 1945. The bomb destroyed the entire city but after decades of rebuilding Hiroshima has become the most significant metropolitan city in the Chugoku Region and is home to more than one million people. Visitors to Hiroshima can visit the reconstructed Hiroshima Castle, The Shukkeien Garden, which was also reconstructed, and the Peace Memorial Park which commemorates the thousands of lives lost during the bombing. Downtown Hiroshima is a vibrant community with Hondori Street being an attraction in itself with a beautiful pedestrian mall that is lined with boutique shops and restaurants.

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10.Kanazawa

Kanazawa
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The seat of the Maeda Clan was once in Kanazawa, a town that rivals Kyoto in cultural achievements and is the capital city of the Ishikawa Prefecture. Buildings in the old castle town including the Nagamachi samurai district are still standing and preserved in excellent condition after World War II bombings and many other historic landmarks have been converted into museums. The Higashi District still operates traditional teahouses with geisha performance. The most popular attraction in Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden. This landscape garden is one of the top three most beautiful in Japan and was at one time part of the Kanazawa Castle outer gardens which were constructed over two hundred years by the Maeda family. Kenrokuen has been open to the public since 1871.

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11.Kinosaki Onsen

Kinosaki Onsen
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On the coast of Hyogo Prefecture on the Sea of Japan is a town set around hot springs discovered in the 8th century. The traditional onsen town features fame arcades, public baths, and the local ryokan population where yukata and wooden clogs. Other than the hot springs, which draw thousands of visitors, Kinosaki is also home to the Stork Sanctuary and Onsenji Temple. Kinosaki is a resort town that has resisted overdevelopment to create an urban place with a lot of local ambiances. The city is designed to be walkable, and all guests are given free tickets to the public baths. Accommodations in Kinosaki are wooden ryokan structures.

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12.Kobe

Kobe
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The capital city of the Hyogo Prefecture is Kobe, which is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Kobe is between the Sea of Japan and the Rokko Mountain Range, which provides fantastic landscape views and popular ports like Yokohama, Hakodate, and Nagasaki. Kobe was completely rebuilt after the devastating 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. The Earthquake Museum commemorates the event. Other attractions in Kobe include dining at the restaurants that serve the freshest Kobe beef, visiting Arima Onsen hot spring resort, Sorakuen Garden, and the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. Visitors can also climb Mount Rokko and stand on observation decks with panoramic views of Osaka and Kobe.

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13.Koka Ninja Village

Koka Ninja Village
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If you have ever daydreamed about what it would be like to live life as a ninja in a remoted town, tucked away from modern conveniences, Koka Ninja Village is a great place to explore. The Ninja Village is one of several ninja related attractions in Koka. There are several buildings that are part of the rural compound in the forest. One of the houses includes hidden rooms and trap doors that staff at the Ninja Village are happy to demonstrate. A throwing star range and obstacle course are also found on the property along with a small museum displaying Koka Ninja weapons, tools, and manuals.

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14.Minoo Park

Minoo Park
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Minoo Park is a beautiful, forested park just a few minutes outside of Osaka in a wooded valley on the Kansai Region. This area is particularly impressive in the fall when autumn colors paint the valley. This natural outdoor oasis is the only green space close to the Osaka metropolis, and there are three kilometers of walking trails that begin near Hankyu Minoo Station and lead visitors to Minoo Waterfall. This waterfall is 33 meters high and the main attraction at the park. Most visitors can hike the paved trail to the waterfall in under 45 minutes. There are even shops, temples, and facilities along the first half of the trail.

1-18 Minookoen, Minoo, Osaka 562-0002, Japan, Phone: +81-7-27-21-30-14

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15.Miyajima

Miyajima
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During high tide, the famous torii gate on the island of Miyajima looks like it is floating on water and is the most popular attraction on the island whose name means “shrine island.” Miyajima is a romantic getaway with several ryokans that is available for overnight rental, and some of the most breathtaking and inspiring views in all of Japan. Visitors to the island should stop by the Itsukushima Shrine to see the floating gate, hike the tallest mountain on the island, Mountain Misen, or spend time at the Daisho-in Buddhist Temple at the foot of the mountain. There is also a small Museum of History and the Miyajima Aquarium.

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16.Nagahama

Nagahama
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Nagahama is best known as a castle on Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. The original castle was constructed in the 16th century; however, a replica now stands and serves as a museum with exhibits focused on the history of the Jomon people, the oldest cultural group in Japan. Exhibits also highlight the ballistic relationship that Nagahama has with Tanegashima, and on the top-level an observation deck provides panoramic views of the mountain, lake, and the Shiga Prefecture. There are several other attractions in Nagahama which is thriving since its days as a post town including Black Wall Square, Kurokabe Glass Kansho Kan, The Flintlock Museum, and the oldest railway station in Japan. Visit in April to celebrate the Nagahama Festival with kabuki theater.

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17.Nagoya

Nagoya
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Nagoya is the capital city of the Aichi Prefecture and the fourth most populated city in the country with more than 2 million people living there. The city was first developed as a castle town during the Edo Period and was one of the three branches belonging to the Tokugawa Family. Many historic buildings were demolished in World War II bombings; however, visitors can still visit the reconstruction of the Nagoya Castle. Other attractions in Nagoya include the Railway Museum, Nagashima Resort Park, Tokugawa Art Museum, and the Toyota Headquarters. The Science Museum is also home to one of the largest planetariums in the world.

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18.Nara

Nara
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The first permanent capital city of Japan was established in Heijo in 710. The city is now named Nara and is around one hour from Kyoto. The city was only the capital until 784, but there are still many historic landmarks and relics that visitors can explore including some of the oldest temples and shrines still standing in the country including the world’s oldest wooden buildings which are featured in Horyuji Temple. Visitors to Nara should also spend time in Nara Park, known for the wild deer that live there, and the Isuien Garden. People who have an interest in Buddhist art should visit the National Museum in Nara and the Shin-Yakushiji.

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19.Okayama

Okayama
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Known as the land of sunshine, Okayama Prefecture has some of the best fruit in Japan and is home to culturally historic sites such as the Korakuen Gardens and Okayama Castle. Near the castle, visitors can explore Kurashiki, a picturesque community known for its canals, and Kojima which is home to a denim manufacturing plant. Many visitors to Okayama also spend time on Naoshima, a nearby art island in the Kagawa Prefecture, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Mimasaka Hot Springs, and the Kurashiki Bikan Historical District. Stop at any of the local restaurants in Okayama for the sweetest peaches and grapes, as well as Okayama Oysters.

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20.Omihachiman

Omihachiman
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Visit the historic and preserved merchant village of Omihachiman which sits on Japan’s largest lake and the ancient road leading from Kyoto to Tokyo. Many visitors enjoy boat tours of Lake Biwa with the most popular time to visit is during The Omihachiman Sagicho Fire Festival, one of the most dangerous and exhilarating festivals in Japan. Locals dance around the large straw, and bamboo floats that they set fire to during the mid-March festival. Don’t miss the Eigenji Temple during autumn to stroll through the tunnel of bright red leaves. Visitors can learn about the city at The Omihachiman City Museum, which has an extensive collection of folk art.

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21.Osaka

Osaka
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Osaka is one of the most populated cities in Japan, second only to Tokyo, and was once known as Naniwa and the first known capital of Japan pre-Nara Period. Today, visitors can find the reconstruction of Osaka Castle and Sumiyoshi Taisha which is the head shrine of the Sumiyoshi Shrines. This metropolitan city is also home to many modern entertainment options such as Universal Studios Osaka on the waterfront, and Osaka Aquarium which is one of the best aquariums in Japan. Visitors interested in the vibrant nightlife, shopping, and dining should spend the day n Minami, the southern part of downtown Osaka.

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22.Otsu City

Otsu City
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Less than a day away from Kyoto is Otsu City in the Shiga Prefecture. Otsu is the main port for Lake Biwa, and many cruises depart from Otsu. There are many outdoor recreational opportunities for enjoying the lake from the shores of Otsu as well as hotels, resorts, and inns. There are also forests that surround Otsu with trails for hiking, Buddhist monuments, and panoramic views of Japan’s largest lake. Historic sites to see in Otsu include Hikone Castle where the Battle of Sekigahara was fought and Enryaku-Ji Temple.

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23.Sakurai Area

Sakurai Area
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One of the oldest Shinto Shrines and remnants of one of the oldest roads are found in Sakurai, which is a popular tourist destination for English speaking visitors due to the signage in English. One of the most popular attractions is Nishiuchi Sake Brewery which offers tours and tastings, and the revered Ohmiwa Jinja Shrine in the ancient cedarwood forest that holds legends of a white snake deity still today. Sakurai is also famous for its Miwa Somen Noodles which can be found in most restaurants in Sakurai. Make sure to visit the candy shop that has been making monaka for more than 160 years, Mimuro Shiratamaya Eiji.

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24.Wakayama City

Wakayama City
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A Tokugawa House cadet branch is found in Wakayama City, a castle town is known for the Wakayama Castle where one of Japan’s greatest Shoguns, Tokugawa Yoshimune, ruled from. Many remnants of the Feudal Period remain standing in Wakayama including the traditional Ryujin Onsen which is still open and operational today. The city allows easy access to Wakaura Bay where visitors can enjoy beaches and water recreation, beautifully forested vistas for hiking, and hundreds of flowing cherry blossom trees in the spring. Wakayama dining is known for its incredibly fresh seafood including whitebait and seabream, which are local to the bay.

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25.Mount Yoshinoyama

Mount Yoshinoyama
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The Nara Prefecture is home to Mount Yoshino and is the best place to view the blooming cherry blossoms in Japan. The first cherry blossom trees were planted on the mountain slopes more than 1300 years ago according to legend, and there are more than 30,000 trees covering the mountain today. The mountain is not a freestanding mountain but rather a slope divided into four distinct areas—The Shimo Senbon, Naka Senbon, Kami Senbon, and Oku Senbon. The tourist town of Yoshino is also found on the slope with many shops, temples, and shrines along with parks and viewing points.

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25 Best Weekend Getaways and Day Trips from Kyoto