Truly one of the most incredible countries on Earth, Japan stands out for the remarkable diversity of its landscapes and the richness of its culture. Japan is a nation boasting of some of the most futuristic cities and state of the art technology in the world, while also being home to ancient temples, mystical forests, and historic landmarks from days gone by.
It’s a place where visitors can feel like they’re living in two totally different times all at once, and many travelers heading to Japan tend to spend most of their time in the nation’s capital: Tokyo. The largest metropolitan area on the planet, Tokyo really epitomizes the fascinating culture and diversity associated with Japan, home to both sci-fi-style skyscrapers and historic temples.
Tokyo is an incredible city and one of the best places to see and experience authentic Japanese life, but there’s much more to the Land of the Rising Sun than its capital. Another must-visit Japanese city is Kyoto, which is about 6 hours away from Tokyo by car. This distance means that many people assume a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is impossible, but this kind of day trip is actually perfectly possible. Here’s how to do it.
Getting to Kyoto from Tokyo
About 450 km (280 miles) separates the major Japanese cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, so the very prospect of doing a day trip from one city to the another seems like a very tiring and challenging proposition on paper. However, when we look a little closer at the different options available, getting to Kyoto from Tokyo isn't as challenging as it first seems.
Of course, if you choose to drive or take a low-speed train or bus, the journey can take anywhere from six to nine hours, which is just impossible for a day trip. However, by making use of Japan's high speed bullet trains or even flights from Tokyo to Kyoto, you can organize a dream Japanese day trip to this amazing historical city.
Getting to Kyoto from Tokyo by Train
The best way to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto for your day trip is, without a doubt, the shinkansen (bullet train). Japan is famous for its super high speed bullet trains all over the world, and while they do tend to cost a little more than regular trains, the shinkansen are able to get you across the country at superhuman speeds and record times.
There are actually multiple types of bullet train, however, so you need to be careful when booking your ticket and ensure you catch the right type of train. Many visitors to Japan will invest in the Japan Rail Pass. This is a highly cost-efficient addition to your trip that can make it very easy to get around the country for various day trips. With the Japan Rail Pass, you're allowed to ride the Hikari bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.
This journey takes around two and a half hours in total. You can catch the bullet train direct from either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station. The train will go all the way through to Kyoto Station. You can buy tickets for the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto online, and you don't usually need to reserve your seat, unless you're traveling at a particularly busy time. The bullet trains start running from 6 in the morning and continue into the evening.
Getting to Kyoto from Tokyo by Plane
Taking the bullet train is by far the best option for anyone planning a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, you do also have the option of catching a plane. Kyoto doesn't actually have an airport, but you can fly direct from either Narita or Haneda Airport into Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and then you can catch a connecting train or bus to get to Kyoto.
The flights can be booked very cheaply with budget airlines like Peach, so this can be quite a good choice for travelers on a budget. The flight to Osaka takes about 90 minutes, and then you'll need to add another hour onto the journey to get from Osaka to Kyoto. However, you also have to factor in the time needed to get to and from the airports, so when you add up all the times, the train clearly is the more efficient option.
Important Information and Things to Do at Kyoto
- Best Time to Visit Kyoto - You can visit Kyoto at any time of year and have a wonderful experience. The weather doesn't actually change too much from one season to the next, but, as with almost any location, the summer months do get more sunshine and warmer temperatures than in winter. Summer, however, is the busiest time for tourists in Kyoto, so if you'd like to get decent weather and avoid the crowds, try visiting in early fall or late spring.
- Getting Around - Kyoto isn't Tokyo. It's much, much smaller and a lot easier to get around on foot, but you may want to make use of public transport too or even rent a bike and cycle around the city. The public transport system in Kyoto is made up of buses and subways. It's a really simple and reliable system, with only two subway lines and a lot of different buses to get you wherever you need to go. The subway is the best option for visitors planning a day trip to Kyoto. This can get you to the main sights with ease and you can walk the rest of the way.
- Things to Do - Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is a very historical city wiht a lot of temples, gardens, palaces, and historic sites. It's a beautiful place and a real contrast to the skyscrapers and modern neon lights of Tokyo, so it's a wonderful place to visit to see a totally different side of Japanese life and culture. Some of the top spots to visit are the Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera temples. You can also take a walk through the breathtaking Arashiyama forest, stop off at Nijo Castle or the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and take a walk around the Gion geisha district for some of the best restaurants in the area. Those looking to do some shopping should check out the Nishiki Market too.