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Japan Itinerary Inspiration: Kyoto, Osaka and Nara

May 5, 2020

If Japan is on your bucket-list, then I can guess that visiting Tokyo and travelling on a bullet train is up there too. But how do you navigate the madness of Japan and all there is to see without missing out on anything else? Yes, there is already so much to experience in just Tokyo, but I would recommend dedicating some time outside of the capital city and  experiencing more of the amazing country. In this piece I hope to draw some inspiration as to how to schedule your Japanese trip and introduce you to a little more of Japan too. 

Personally, when I spent a fortnight in Japan, I devoted the first week solely to exploring Tokyo, and then spent the next week in Kyoto. Staying in Kyoto gave me the chance to see all the amazing sights of the city but also seamlessly visit other cities and tourist attractions around Japan. The reason Kyoto is a great base is because a lot of downtown Kyoto is essentially centred around the huge main station; with hotels, and a vast selection of restaurants and shops all under one 15 story roof. If you book a hotel within the station, you can travel the many parts of Kyoto and other places around Japan with ease.

Of course, this is all thanks to the Shinkansen (AKA the Bullet Trains) and the JR Rail pass. A JR Rail Pass for 7 consecutive days is 29,650 yen (about £220) and is specifically for tourists. It includes unlimited travel on almost all JR trains nationwide (please check the routes though, sometimes you will have to take a train with a few more stops) including not only bullet trains but limited express trains, local trains and some JR buses. Also, the JR ferry to Miyajima if you are in that direction.

In this guide, I’ve summed up the three cities I travelled between: Kyoto, Osaka and Nara and explained why you should dedicate some time to exploring them.

Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera temple and view of Kyoto | Picture credit: @nicoledeslandes

Other than being the perfect base to travel around/ from,the city is beautiful. If you didn’t know, the entire city of Kyoto is a UNESCO world heritage site. So, naturally, the city is packed full of picturesque scenery and culture; with stunning Buddhist temples tucked away amongst the trees that promise amazing views of the city, geishas wondering around the old town and a vibrant city downtown, there is plenty to do here and plenty of cultural experiences to fill your boots.

Check out our Kyoto Pocket Guide here.

Osaka

Osaka canals | Picture credit: @nicoledeslandes

Osaka is Japans third largest city and is also known as the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ for their amazing array of restaurants and street food.  It is worth saving your spending money on clothing and souvenirs for Osaka as it is cheaper than Kyoto and Tokyo, plus they have all the vintage, luxury and designer stores you need.

Spend a day, or just plan to take a trip here for an evening of dinner and drinks. It's worth sticking round for some post-dinner drinks as this city comes alive in the evening; with plenty of fun bars and clubs to choose from. The neon lights that adorn shops and restaurants reflect off the canal that runs through the main streets, making for some pretty spectacular and unique photo opportunities that you simply cannot get anywhere else.

See: Osaka food and drinks guide

Nara

Deer in Nara | Picture credit:  @nicoledeslandes

45 minutes on the express train from Kyoto, Nara is best for seeing some Japanese countryside. Walk up the hill from the station and you are greeted by, the locals. The locals being: many hungry and welcoming deer. Grab some deer food from the stalls that are dotted around and have some fun getting up close and personal with these friendly wild animals. Grab a matcha ice cream and after, head on over The Great Buddha of the Todai-ji Temple for a little more culture.

This itinerary aims to give you some inspiration on how to experience the Japanese Bullet Trains and to give you a little bit of knowledge on what other cities in Japan are worth visiting. Find more about each city and where to eat, drink and what to do in my Kyoto, Osaka and Nara guides.

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