If you’re anything like me, you’ll arrive in Japan with a bucket list as long as your arm and only a fraction of time to squeeze it all into. There’s just so much to see and do in Japan, and it’s kind of overwhelming if you’re visiting for the first time.
The good news is Japan is one of the easiest countries to travel around, mostly thanks to the bullet train. The shinkansen makes it possible to travel hundreds of kilometres in just a few hours, so nothing is really off limits and you can roam as far as your dreams take you.
Unlike other countries, where you’ll have to prioritise one or two areas to explore, it’s possible to choose a base in Japan and cover a lot of ground in a short space of time – and Tokyo is the perfect base for that. Nearly all of Japan’s bullet trains pass through Tokyo, so you can even spend your entire Japan trip there and leave your suitcase behind during the day.
If you only have a short time in Japan, you might be amazed at how many of Japan’s attractions are within the city or just a short trip from Tokyo (even if it doesn’t look like it on the map!). There are plenty of fun and unique things to do in Tokyo if you choose to stay in the city, but it’s worth getting out and exploring more of Japan for at least a day or two since many of the best things to do outside Tokyo can be done in one day trip.
The bad news is there will still be more to see and do than you can fit in – even if, like me, you’re there for a whole month – but planning ahead will help you see as much as possible. Here are some of the best day trips from Tokyo and how to get there.
the best day trips from Tokyo by bullet train
Even if you only have one week in Tokyo, it’s worth investing in a one week JR pass (£189 for adults). With it, you’ll be able to visit almost all of these places near Tokyo for free, or very close to it.
Here are five places you can travel to from Tokyo with a one-week JR pass:
Is it possible to see Kyoto in one day? If you’re short on time – definitely!
A Kyoto day trip from Tokyo is easier than the map would make you think, meaning you don’t have to choose between Japan’s two most popular tourist cities. The trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes just 2 hours and 40 minutes on the Shinkansen Hikari. It takes 20 minutes less on the Shinkansen Nozomi, the fastest bullet train of all, but it’s not covered by the JR pass. That means if you leave Tokyo on the 8am bullet train, you can be in Kyoto before 10:40am.
Kyoto is a large city, so head to the Hokanji Temple and surrounding area if you’re only there for the day. You’ll get a great feel of Japan’s former capital city and may even spot a geisha.
Nara was one of the places I was most excited to visit in Japan. We’d heard that the deer in Nara Park, in the most Japanese way possible, bow to park-goers to ask for food. And let’s face it, who could resist the idea of bowing deer?
What we didn’t hear about was how amazing the park itself is! Whether bowing deer pull at your heartstrings or not, Nara is a beautiful park well worth visiting on a day trip. It’s going to be a long day trip from Tokyo, but you could combine it with a quick stop in Kyoto if you’re short on time.
If you want to explore as much as possible, it would be worth booking a hotel in Kyoto for one night (see below).
Have you heard about the Japanese monkeys in hot springs? Seeing the bathing snow monkeys was one of my highlights of our month in Japan and nearly always the first thing I mention when people ask. So of course I’m going to recommend a trip to see them!
Even though the snow monkeys live just outside the remote town of Shibu Onsen, taking a day trip from Tokyo to see the snow monkeys is easier than you might think (do you see a theme here?).
The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano takes less than two hours and runs very frequently with several trains per hour. And hey, that also means it’s super easy to take a Nagano day trip from Tokyo if the monkeys aren’t your kind of thing.
If you can time it well, the express bus from Nagano station will take you directly to the monkey park in less than an hour. If time isn’t on your side, however, you can hop on the Nagano Dentetsu express train to Yudanaka (40 minutes) and take a short 10-minute bus ride from there.
Alternatively, you can leave the planning to someone else and take a Jigokudanai Monkey Park tour from Tokyo. You won’t get to see Nagano at all and it you definitely won’t become a Japan Rail pro, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t…
Of all the places on this list, Hitachi Seaside Park is one of the easiest day trips from Tokyo. That means it’s perfect if you’re looking for an easygoing day out of the city or want to spend most of your time (and energy!) soaking up everything Tokyo has to offer.
Hitachi Seaside Park changes with the seasons. By that, I mean the flowers in the iconic flower hill change with the seasons. Every month or so, a new colour paints its lawn as a different type of flower comes into bloom. That means it’s the kind of place you could go back to time and time again, and have a different view every single time (and a good reason to go back to Japan?).
To get to Hitachi Seaside Park from Tokyo, simply take the JR Joban Line directly to Katsuta station, then hop on a bus when you leave the station. The bus stop is right outside the station and the journey takes 10-15 minutes down a completely straight road, so there’s very little room for error!
Of course, you don’t just have to take a day trip from Tokyo. Lots of places are well worth spending at least a night or two if you have the time, even if it’s not essential. If you travel out of Tokyo one day and back the following, you’ll still be getting great value for money with the JR pass. Here are just a couple of my favourite overnight trips from Toyko to consider:
An overnight trip to Kyoto
If you want to see as much of Kyoto and the surrounding attractions as possible but don’t have much time on your hands, one night in Kyoto will be a worthwhile investment. Hotels in Kyoto aren’t cheap, but you’ll be able to fit in some extra things you wouldn’t see otherwise.
Watch the sun set over Toji temple after exploring all day, then wake up early the following morning to see the sun rise at the Arashiyama bamboo forest. It’s a magical experience that you can only get if you stay close by. You’ll still have time to take the bullet train to Himeji Castle, another one of my favourite places in Japan (above), before hopping on another Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
Stay in a traditional Japanese house
Even if you only do it for one night, take any chance you get to stay in a traditional Japanese house. Sleeping on a thin floor mattress doesn’t sound like the making of a great night’s sleep but I promise you’ll have the sweetest of dreams.
Kanazawa is a traditional Japanese town that’s a lot more affordable than Kyoto, and it’s where we spent two nights. You’ll also be able to visit the UNESCO village in the morning if you do.
If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo and have any questions, feel free to get in touch! Check out my Japan video playlists for guides to Tokyo and some of the day trips from Tokyo in the post.
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