The Western area of Japan known as Kansai is home to the aesthetically stunning city of Osaka, brimming with culture and peppered with unmissable sites and experiences.
From ancient feudal castles surrounded by cherry blossoms to gorgeous temples, Japan’s second largest city has an incredible amount to offer the intrepid traveller.
The Kansai region, however, is known for its vastly different atmosphere to Tokyo, and the unique scenery, culture and cuisine sees people flocking West to experience the numerous islands, lakes and coastal cities found there.
The best thing about the breathtaking sights in Kansai is that they are all easily reachable in a day from Osaka thanks to the shinkansen bullet train system and the ferry network combined.
Read this quick handy guide to discover the best day trips from Osaka.
Positively bursting with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the ancient capital of Kyoto was once the most important city in the Japanese empire and as such is home to a wealth of fascinating cultural destinations.
Among the numerous beautiful attractions, the Ryōan-ji rock gardens stand out as being particularly picturesque.
Another unmissable visit is the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, complete with 10,000 shrine gates and the majestic Omokaru Stones.
With so many temples and shrines populating the former capital, you’ll have no trouble finding a slice of Buddhist culture.
Kyoto is also incredibly easy to reach from Osaka; a mere 15 minutes on the bullet train.
Older still than the ancient capital of Kyoto, Nara is a harmonious collection of nature, spirituality and historical sites that will tempt you to stay for longer than a single day.
For a taste of nature, take a stroll through the beautiful Nara Park where you’ll come face to face with the friendly deer that roam there.
Of all the temples and shrines found in Nara, there are a couple that you simply can’t miss: the Todaiji Temple is home to the largest Buddha statue in Japan, which is no small feat and made more impressive by also being the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.
Kasuga Taisha is also an incredibly important Shinto temple that can’t be missed when in Nara.
A world away from large city life is the quaint town of Kurashiki, full of gorgeous canals, bridges and tree-lined shores that make for the perfect break from Osaka.
The town once held great commercial significance in the Edo period and the results of the wealth passing through are still apparent.
The ornate architecture and painstakingly carved opulent bridges all convey imperial wealth.
There’s also a lot to keep you busy thanks to the converted historic warehouses all around town.
These have been converted to boutique shops, galleries and museums that will keep visitors intrigued all day long.
4. Shirahama Beach
Unless people are willing to undertake a long journey, it’s hard to find any white sandy beaches close to the city of Osaka.
The ever-pragmatic Japanese, however, have circumvented this by importing beautiful white sand from Australia to the hot-spring resort town of Shirahama.
The beach there is a taste of paradise and has open-air hot springs for visitors to enjoy as well as fireworks displays during the summer.
These summer months see crowds of people arriving to make the most of the sunny coastal environment, so expect it to get a little busy.
Shirahama is easily reachable by train in around two hours from JR Shin-Osaka.
Home to world famous beef, buzzing sake districts and an incredibly developed Chinatown, the port city of Kobe is without question a destination not to be missed if you’re in Osaka.
A mere 30 minutes away, you’ll find a friendly, international atmosphere here with enough to keep you distracted for a week, let alone a day.
For history, head to the various museums and memorials dedicated to the Great Hanshin Earthquake, amongst other things.
For food, wagyu beef is unmatched in its quality here, and for something to drink, go and explore the Nada area which is jostling with sake breweries.
6. Himeji Castle
The surreally beautiful Himeji Castle, also known as Shirasagi, is widely recognised as one of the most attractive castles in the country and is without a doubt a national treasure.
The network of towers built in traditional Japanese feudal fashion is truly stunning, and the building is reminiscent of a Japanese version of a fairytale castle.
The complex is vast, comprised of over 80 buildings and many acres of wooded parkland encircling it.
Here you’ll find gorgeously manicured gardens and ponds, which you can explore at your own leisure.
Known for its tranquillity and serenity as a conscious response to the events of World War II, Hiroshima is a must-see city if you’re in Osaka.
Known as the peace capital of the world, here you can learn about its history at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where you’ll find not only fascinating historical memorials but also a gorgeous park with incredible annual cherry blossom displays.
You can also find fantastic local cuisine in Hiroshima, which is a rarely known characteristic of the city.
After a delicious meal, head over to the Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima to enjoy the breathtaking views.
8. Naoshima Island
Venturing out to the Seto Inland Sea near Honshu, you’ll find the small island of Naoshima, which is an intriguing mix of avant-garde modern art and nature.
The harmonious combination comes as a result of architects and artists turning the island into their haven and erecting not only installations all over Naoshima, but also museums, art buildings and more.
It’s the perfect day trip for art lovers and curious travellers alike and has enough to keep visitors entertained for a whole day if not more.
Be sure to leave Osaka early to have enough time to explore fully before heading back to the city.
9. Lake Biwa
Japan’s largest freshwater lake is a veritable wonderland of nature and culture, with a wealth of things to see and do around its shores.
Lake Biwa is only 40 minutes from Osaka and can be reached by bullet train, making it a perfect, convenient getaway from the city.
You’ll find castle towns, cruise boats and numerous cycling routes around the scenic areas circling the lake.
Also worth a visit is Chikbushima Island, found in the northern part of the lake and housing stunning temples and shrines that date back as early as the 5th Century.
10. Ise Grand Shrine
Widely known as the most culturally important shrine in the whole of Japan, the Ise Grand Shrine is a popular destination with curious travellers and locals on more meaningful pilgrimages.
The shrine itself was built in the 3rd Century, also making it one of the oldest in the country.
Though the inner sanctums aren’t open to the public, you can still explore the exterior and the beautiful forests that surround it.
11. Mount Koya
Another incredibly holy site in Japan is the gorgeous Mount Koya: the final resting place of the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
You’ll find him at the Okunoin Cemetery, not only a culturally significant destination but a beautiful place to visit, surrounded by leafy paths and cherry blossoms.
Also open to the public is Torodo Hall, which houses over 1000 lanterns and Kongobuji Temple.
Here you’ll find a stunning Buddhist temple with contains Japan’s largest rock garden.
12. Echizen Washi Village
In the rural landscape that is Echizen, you’ll find the Echizen Washi Village which is the traditional home of paper making in Japan.
Considering how long the country has been making use of paper made by traditional methods, it’s a fascinating day trip to take, made better by the fact that you can take part in workshops to make your own paper products.
At a time during the height of the Edo period, Kanazawa was one of the biggest, most powerful and wealthiest settlements in Japan, and the evidence of this is still apparent today.
Its time as both a temple town and a castle town has left a cultural mark on the area, and among the fascinating attractions found today are geisha and samurai districts, artisan shops and gardens.
The most stunning garden is without a doubt Kenrokuen, named the third best garden in the whole of Japan.
14. Awaji Island
You can find Awaji Island around 40 minutes away from Osaka, nestled between Honshu and Shikoku and connected to Akashi City by the longest suspension bridge on the planet.
This is also worth spending a couple of hours exploring, considering what an incredible feat of engineering it is.
Once on Awaji, head to the main city of Sumoto where you’ll be spoilt for choice with sightseeing options.
From natural hot springs to the famous and majestic Sumoto Castle, there’s easily a few days worth of attractions to see.
One of the most attractive is the Awaji Yumebutai, a collection of gardens including the largest.
15. Wakayama City
Much of Wakayama City is built in traditional feudal Japanese style, and as such, makes for a captivating destination to explore, full of towers and ornate bridges.
Head over to Oda Park to get your fill of temple and shrine sightseeing before making your way down to Kuroshio Market to catch one of Japan’s famed tuna displays.
Wakayama is also famous for having a high number of bathhouses dotted around the city and a visit to one after a long day of walking is the perfect way to end the day trip.