In Travel

The Most Outstanding Day Trips To Take From Osaka

Nicknamed ‘the nation’s kitchen’, Osaka is best known for its moreish street food, pulsing markets and superlative restaurants. But the Japanese city has another appealing feature to it too: it can serve as an excellent base for those looking to explore the rest of the country.

In other words, Osaka’s easy accessibility and endless accommodation options make it an ideal city to overnight between day trips to the enormous Kansai region. And from the ancient cities of Samurai to some of the country’s most pristine natural landscapes, there’s a lot to gain from planning these short journeys from Osaka.

Here are five specific destinations that are easily reached via Japan’s extensive rail system, each with something unique and enriching to offer.

Nagoya

Image: Shutterstock

Although it’s the fourth largest city in Japan and offers a great range of things to do, the best reason to take the just-over-two-hour Kintetsu Railway trip from Osaka to Nagoya is food.

Start the day at the immense Nagoya Castle, a landmark fortress imbued with four centuries of history. Nearby, the relatively new Kinshachi Yokocho is a modern precinct of 19 vendors showcasing the flavours of Nagoya, including local delicacies like miso katsu, deep-fried chicken wingtips known as Tebasaki, and hitsumabushi, a highly prized dish of grilled eel on rice.

For something a bit more up-market, head on over to Midland Square. The tallest building in the city hosts a spread of world-class shopping and fine dining “Sky Restaurants” offering the best view of Nagoya. Or you can hide away at Senya-Ichiya Meiekiyonchometen, a famous bar that serves all-you-can-drink sake from all over the country.

Note that Kintetsu Railway plan to introduce a new limited express train, named Hinotori, early 2020 to make the trip even faster and more comfortable.

Kanazawa

Even though Kanazawa deserves a good few days of exploration, it is possible to view the ancient city as a day trip from Osaka. The capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, noted for its great natural beauty and rich history, is just under three hours from Osaka station on the limited express JR Thunderbird.

Much like Kyoto, this stunning city is built on tradition and artisanal crafts, but is distinguished from Japan’s former capital thanks to its indelible Samurai culture. As such, your first stop should be the eye-opening Nagamachi Bukeyashiki district, just off the main area of Kanazawa with immaculately preserved middle and low-ranking Samurai houses.

Explore the quaint teahouses, local crafts, gold leaf culture and be on the lookout for Geishas in the Higashi Chaya district, where machiya wooden houses hide all kinds of secrets. Afterwards, grab something to eat at Omi-cho market before ending your visit with Kanazawa castle and Kenrouk-en, known as one of Japan’s “great three” gardens and often considered the most beautiful.

Kyoto

osaka day trips

Image: JNTO

The most obvious day trip from Osaka would be to the ancient capital of Japan, only 30 minutes by train. Eternally charming, Kyoto boasts some of the country’s most remarkable attractions, with no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a strong sense of identity.

Start the day at Nishiki Market, a five block shopping street dubbed “Kyoto’s Pantry”. Here you’ll find artisans selling their crafts and a few sit-down restaurants and bars, although the main draw is the narrow rows of traditional ingredients like local vegetables, fresh tofu, just-caught seafood and Japanese sweets.

A whistle-stop tour of Kyoto’s unforgettable sights should at least take you to essentials like the famed Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, the great Kiyomizu-dera, and monumental Fushimi Inari Shrine.

You’ll be tired after all that walking, so take some time to explore the world renowned Geisha district of Gion, and maybe even catch an authentic Geiko performance before sitting down to a high-end dinner at the likes of two Michelin star restaurant and haute favourite Hassun.

Kobe

osaka day trips

Image: Kobe Tourism Bureau

While there is more to Kobe than its famous and incredibly rare namesake beef, its main drawcard is in fact the chance to taste that meat.

A shinkansen (bullet train) from Shin-Osaka to Shin-Kobe station takes just 13 minutes in total, leaving you with plenty of time to explore Japan’s sixth largest city. If you’re looking for street food and shopping, head straight for Nankinmachi, known as Kobe’s Chinatown, or browse the traditional covered shopping streets, known as Shotengai, near Sannomiya station.

If nature is what you’re after, a 10-minute cable car up Mount Rokko, just under two hours from central Kobe, will bring you to expansive views taking in Osaka Bay. Or take a 46 minute train to Arima onsen, an ancient hot spring resort said to be one of the top three in all of Japan.

As for where to find top-grade (A5) Kobe beef: try it with ramen at Yazawa, in beef bowls at local favourite Hiroshige, or in its most powerful form at Kobe Steak Propeller.

Nara

osaka day trips

Image: JNTO

Much like Kyoto, Nara is another former capital city of Japan, but rivals its more famous neighbour with spacious natural landscapes and breathtaking hiking trails.

Around 40 minutes on the train from Osaka to Nara City will bring you to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Todai-ji Temple, the quintessential first stop also known for the hundreds of tame deer that roam freely on the grounds, bowing to whomever chooses to feed them.

Ancient structures aren’t all there is to see in Nara. Mount Yoshino is a nature lover’s paradise, known as the country’s favourite cherry blossom viewing spot where the appropriate season (anywhere from mid-March to mid-April) greets hikers with more than 30,000 of the colourful sakura flowers.

The walkable mountain, accessible via ropeway or bus, is also lined with hidden heritage-listed shrines and temples, as well as traditional ryokans equipped with mineral-rich hot springs.

(Lead image: Kanazawa Castle /  Ishikawa Prefecture)

Published 22 January, 2020