Best Day Trips from Kyoto
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Osaka, 3rd largest city in Japan, can be reached by train in less than 1 hour from Kyoto. I have visited Osaka 3times and these were my absolute highlights: Osaka Castle, Dotonbori area (crazy nightlife, best food in town), Umeda Sky Building (enjoy the view from the observation platform) and America Mura (great shopping district).
Nara, Nara Prefecture
Nara can be reached within 70min from Kyoto by train. It is together with Kyoto my must-see recommendation for you in this part of Japan. The former capital of Japan (710 to 784) offers great sightseeing spots including 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. My personal highlight, if I have to pick one, was the Todaiji Temple (largest wooden building in the world).
Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture
Many people call Kobe one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. I can totally agree with that. It takes appr. 1,5hrs by train from Kyoto. One of the three Chinatowns in Japan (Yokohama, Nagasaki, Kobe) is located here. Enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. For good food and shopping possiblities explore the Kobe Harborland area.
Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture
Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can be reached by train within 100min from Kyoto. It is the most beautiful and most visited castle in Japan. The whole structure is undamaged for over 400 years. This makes it to one of the last remaining original castles in Japan. My visit there, during the cherry blossom season, was an unforgettable experience for me.
Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture
The train ride from Kyoto to Otsu takes appr. 30min. Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. The scenery with high mountains in the background is really beautiful. Take a boats tour to refresh your mind and do not miss the major attraction Hikone Castle.
Mount Koya (Koya-san), Wakayama Prefecture
Koya-san is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site - Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. It takes appr. 3,5hrs from Kyoto to Mt. Koya. You should definitely plan an overnight stay there in one the famous Ryokans. More than 100 temples are located in this area and waiting for your visit.
Yoshino, Nara Prefecture
Mount Yoshino is is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site - Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. It is the most popular cherry blossom spot in Japan. The scenery is amazing and you will find there many great ancient temple areas like Kimpusen-ji, Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine, Yoshino-jingu Shrine and Yoshino Mikumari Shrine.