If you’re a fan of Japanese castles, you must visit Himeji, which is only 45 minutes from Kyoto Station by bullet train. Make the most of your time with our Himeji Day Trip Itinerary.
Himeji Castle on a clear day. – image © Florentyna Leow
Kyoto is a great base for day trips – neighbouring towns and cities like Nara, Osaka, and Kobe can all be visited in a day. But if you’d like to venture somewhere a little less well-known, Himeji City is a fun choice. Not only is it home to the magnificent and historically-significant Himeji Castle, it’s also home to Mt. Shosha, where parts of the Last Samurai were filmed.
This itinerary contains the following sections:
- Notes Before You Go To Himeji
- The Full Himeji Day Trip Itinerary
- Himeji Day Trip Map
- Recommended Accommodation in Kyoto and Himeji
Local residents dressed up as samurai at Himeji Castle. – image © Florentyna Leow
Notes Before You Go To Himeji
- This itinerary is a guideline. Add or subtract places as you like.
- Itinerary timings are approximate. It is meant to be done at a rather leisurely pace, so you can spend as little or as much time as you like at each place. Adjust the timings to suit your schedule.
- If you wish, you could also switch up the order of places: visit Himeji Castle and Koko-en Garden in the morning, and head to Mt. Shosha after lunch. Something to take into consideration is that Mt. Shosha has fewer visitors earlier in the morning than in the afternoon.
- If possible, do this itinerary on a weekday, as weekends will be much busier due to additional domestic tourism.
- This is a walking itinerary. There will be some uneven ground on Mt. Shosha, and we strongly suggest comfortable sneakers or suitable hiking shoes. You may want to consider shoes that will be easy to slip on and off too, as you will need to do this several times while visiting the temple and the castle.
- Put a comfortable pair of walking shoes on and give it a shot!
Central exit of Kyoto Station. – image © Florentyna Leow
The Full Himeji Day Trip Itinerary
7:45am Start at Kyoto Station
If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, the first thing you’ll need to buy bullet train tickets to Himeji Station. For day trips, ask for a return ticket (往復きっぷ・ oofuku kippu) at the counter. This will cost approximately JPY9,680 if you’re purchasing free-seating tickets.
Top and bottom left are tickets for the journey to Himeji; the other two are for your return trip.- image © Florentyna Leow
You should receive two pairs of two tickets as pictured above. For the journey there, you’ll insert one set of tickets into the machine; and for your return journey, you do the same with the other set.
Take the Hikari trains bound for Hiroshima. – image © Florentyna Leow
Direct bullet trains to Himeji Station run twice an hour. You’ll need to board the Hikari bullet train bound for Hiroshima on the Tokaido・Sanyo line, in the direction of Shin-Kobe Station. Check train times before you go, but there is usually an 8:00am departure. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes.
If you haven’t managed to make the direct train, the other option is to take a bullet train to Shin-Kobe Station, and change there for the Hikari bound for Hiroshima. But, it is much easier to catch the direct bullet train from Kyoto Station.
A view of the Maniden at Engyo-ji Temple on Mt. Shosha. – image © Florentyna Leow
8:45am Arrive Himeji Station
The first place you’ll visit after arriving at Himeji Station is Mt. Shosha. This mountain is home to Engyo-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex built in 966. Internationally, it’s most famous for having had some movie scenes from “The Last Samurai” filmed here. Besides that, it’s a remarkable place to visit. With gorgeously verdant surroundings and many impressive wooden structures still intact, it’s a great escape from hectic urban settings.
The Shoshazan Ropeway combination ticket. – image © Florentyna Leow
Heading here involves a return bus and cable car ride. Rather than pay separately for all these tickets, it’s handy to have a single ticket. There’s a “Shoshazan Ropeway” combination ticket that includes a roundtrip ticket from Himeji Station to the ropeway, and then one for the cable car for just JPY1420. There are four tickets attached to a single ticket – you just tear them off from the bottom for each journey.
This is where you buy the combo ticket. – image © Florentyna Leow
This is easily purchased at the Shinki Bus Terminal in front of Himeji Station.
The bus terminal is just outside the north exit. – image © Florentyna Leow
Just follow the signs to the north exit where the bus terminal is. Then, take the escalator pictured above. Walk across and take the stairs down. You’ll see the information center where you can buy the ticket.
Stop #10 is right outside the bus information desk. – image © Florentyna Leow
Next, it’s time to head to Mt. Shosha. You’ll take the #8 bus bound for Mt. Shosha Ropeway at Stop #10. If you’re not using the combination ticket, it will cost JPY270 one-way. If you are, just show the bus driver. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes, with buses departing every 20 minutes or so. We took the 9:15am bus. Alight at the last stop – “Mount Shosha Ropeway” (書写山ロープウェイ).
The view going up in the ropeway cable car. – image © Florentyna Leow
9:45am Mt. Shosha
Take the ropeway cable car up to Mt. Shosha. These depart every 15 minutes, and bus arrival times are typically timed to coincide with the next available cable car. If you’re not using the combination ticket, it’s JPY600 for a one-way journey. Alternatively, if you’re feeling extremely energetic, you could hike up the mountain in an hour or less.
CAPTION – image © Florentyna Leow
At the top, you’ll have to pay JPY500 for entry to the temple. At the same time, you also have the option of taking a 3-minute bus ride directly to the entrance of the temple, or walking 20 minutes up. If you do take the bus, it will cost JPY1000 for the return journey, which includes entry to the temple. They’ll give you a sticker as proof, which you should keep somewhere handy and/or visible.
The bus is a useful option to consider if you’ve chosen to visit Mt. Shosha in the afternoon, as the last cable car down is at 5:00pm. Catching the last bus at 4:45pm will save you from having to walk down the mountain if you’ve missed the last cable car.
CAPTION – image © Florentyna Leow
Once you’re at the temple, there’s plenty to see and explore, as you can see from the map pictured above. Maps like this are located here and there throughout the complex. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the temple complex. There are enough signposts that you won’t really get lost, and there are usually other visitors wandering around.
Entrance to the Maniden is located up a steep flight of stairs. Luckily, the stairs are not particularly long. – image © Florentyna Leow
The Maniden (Main Temple of Kannon Worship) is one of the first buildings you’ll encounter. This is a 1933 reconstruction of the original building, which burned down in 1921. The view from the verandah is gorgeous, overlooking plenty of lush canopies and flowering trees (in the right season).
Buddhist statues here and there on the grounds. – image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll see statues, graves, and shrines dotted around the complex. It’s really rather beautiful just to see them sitting in the open, partially shaded by trees.
One of the paths on Mt. Shosha. – image © Florentyna Leow
You will want to consider sneakers or some form of comfortable footwear for exploring the temple complex. Some visitors come here in full hiking gear just to walk up the mountain!
Where some of “The Last Samurai” scenes were filmed. – image © Florentyna Leow
This is the Jiki-do, equivalent to a student dormitory today. It’s where the priests in training studied, ate, and slept. What you see in front of you dates back to the 15th century.
A giant demon tile several centuries old. – image © Florentyna Leow
The displays inside are impressive, even if the labels are only available in Japanese. There are some ginormous onigawara (demon tiles) and 11th century wooden statues that look like they’re melting.
Looking out to the Seto Inland Sea on a sunny day. – image © Florentyna Leow
Don’t forget to make your way to the observation deck, located somewhere higher in the temple complex. This isn’t a formally paved deck; just a lookout point where you can see parts of the Seto Inland Sea and its islands.
Departure times for the bus heading to the ropeway station. They leave 3 times an hour: 5, 22, and 45. The last bus leaves at 4:45pm. – image © Florentyna Leow
11:45am Head back to Himeji Station
Walk back to the ropeway station, or take the bus if you have a return sticker. After you take the cable car down, hop on the next available bus back to Himeji Station.
A cheap and cheerful fried chicken lunch set. – image © Florentyna Leow
12:30pm Lunch around Himeji Station
The majority of convenient eating options are concentrated inside the station and the surrounding shopping streets. There are plenty of options in the area – ramen, gyoza, tonkatsu, and sushi are just a few. Pictured above is a cheap and cheerful fried chicken lunch set at a canteen inside Miyuki Shopping Street. We’ve also marked a few recommended restaurants on the Google Map linked at the end of this article.
A view of Himeji Castle. – image © Florentyna Leow
1:30pm Himeji Castle
After lunch, it’s time to visit the city’s pride and joy – Himeji Castle. Also known as the White Heron Castle, it dates back to 1333, and has survived natural disasters, WWII bombing, and sheer wear and tear. In 2015, it underwent restoration works, which helped return its facade to a brilliant white.
Getting to Himeji Castle from the station is easy – you literally can’t miss it. From the north exit, just walk towards the castle in the distance. If you want, you could take a short taxi ride or the Himeji Castle Loop Bus, which will drop you off in front of the castle. It costs JPY100 per ride.
A combination ticket for the castle and the garden. It’s a 20% discount! – image © Florentyna Leow
Tickets can be purchased inside the castle grounds. Since you’ll be visiting Koko-en Garden after this, be sure to pick up a combination ticket for both castle and garden at the ticket office. It costs JPY1050. Don’t lose the ticket, as you’ll need it to enter both places.
Fantastic stone walls. – image © Florentyna Leow
There are two main sections to the castle grounds: the main keep and the west bailey, also known as ‘Nishi-no-maru.’ The ascent to the main keep is on a slightly uneven, zig-zagging path, and you’ll pass by some magnificent stone walls on your way there. We suggest visiting the main keep before the west bailey.
Geometric shapes cut into the ramparts. – image © Florentyna Leow
If you have the time and inclination, there are usually volunteer guides on hand who will be delighted to show you around Himeji Castle. They are typically Japanese retirees looking to practice their English, and are well-versed in the history of the castle. You’ll discover, for instance, what the interesting geometric shapes cut into the ramparts are!
Inside Himeji Castle. – image © Florentyna Leow
The main keep itself is six stories tall. While the castle facade is a brilliant white, with gorgeous tilework on the roof, the inside is dark and unfurnished. There are no lifts inside either – you will be climbing narrow, steep staircases up to the sixth floor. It may be a little hard on the knees, but it’s very manageable when you take things slow.
The framework of Himeji Castle. – image © Florentyna Leow
We won’t spoil what awaits inside the castle, or indeed the view at the top. But on the way down you’ll see a fantastically elaborate 1/20 scale replica of the structural framework of Himeji Castle. Don’t forget to take a close look at this!
Inside the house in the west bailey. – image © Florentyna Leow
The house in the west bailey is a palace built in 1618 for the son of the lord of Himeji Castle. It’s nearly 300 meters long, with many small rooms along the corridor where the ladies-in-waiting who worked there were believed to have lived. There are a few exhibits inside worth looking at, too.
Stunning at any time of the year, but especially so during autumn leaves season. – image © Florentyna Leow
3:00pm Koko-en Garden
After exploring Himeji Castle, it’s time to visit Koko-en Garden. This is located just 5 minutes away from Himeji Castle. It’s very clearly signposted. Just exit the castle grounds, and turn right after crossing the bridge. You’ll see the garden on your right after a short walk.
One of nine walled gardens. – image © Florentyna Leow
Built in 1992, Koko-en Garden is a relatively new garden, but no less interesting or important for that. It’s not just one garden; rather, Koko-en Garden consists of nine separate walled gardens across a sprawling nine acres, each with a different theme. They were designed according to various styles prevalent during the Edo Period (1603-1868).
This is one of the first gardens you’ll see in Koko-en. – image © Florentyna Leow
These gardens were designed to have a different view at every turn – so much so that every few steps or at every corner, you seem to have entered another garden altogether.
There are many streams running through the garden – perfect for contemplating or relaxing. – image © Florentyna Leow
You could very easily spend an hour or two here, getting a little lost and wandering around the many walled gardens. We especially love the ponds and bubbling brooks inside them.
Not a tea house, but a hut for you to rest your feet. – image © Florentyna Leow
At some stage, you’ll even stumble across a teahouse where you have the option to have tea and sweets while gazing upon another beautiful garden. If you can spare the time, it’s a great way to relax on your day out in Himeji.
Inside one of the shopping streets near Himeji Station. – image © Florentyna Leow
4:00pm Explore shopping streets
Head back towards Himeji Station via Miyuki or Omizosuji Shopping Streets, which are covered shopping arcades housing small shops and boutiques. These are located east of the main boulevard linking Himeji Station and Himeji Castle. This is a great time to pick up some souvenirs.
Local Himeji residents selling stuff. – image © Florentyna Leow
If you’re in Himeji on a Sunday, you might run into the ‘free’ market in front of the castle, with stalls selling secondhand goods. They’re mostly junk ala garage sale, but you might stumble on the occasional gem.
The verandah at the Maniden on Mt. Shosha. – image © Florentyna Leow
5:00pm Return to Kyoto
When you want to head back to Kyoto, just walk back to Himeji Station and take the next bullet train available. If there isn’t a direct one, you can always change at Shin-Kobe Station if you prefer.
Himeji Day Trip Map
View the full size version of our Himeji day trip map which has each of the places discussed above marked on it.
Recommended Accommodation in Kyoto and Himeji
For day trips, we suggest staying near Kyoto Station to minimize travel time between the station and other destinations. While this is a day trip itinerary, if you really want to spend some time in Himeji that’s possible too; one night is likely enough for most travelers. We’ve included some accommodation suggestions below.
Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae – image © Booking.com
Less than five minutes walk from Kyoto Station, the Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae is one of Kyoto’s best hotel values. It’s sort of an upscale version of a classic Japanese business hotel (a moderately priced hotel favored by Japanese business travelers). While the rooms are small, the amenities like free breakfast and late-night noodles, as well as the rooftop bath (all rooms also have en suite baths) elevate this hotel to a higher level. It’s a great choice for those who want to stay near Kyoto Station.
Hotel Granvia Kyoto – image © Booking.com
Some of the upper floors of the Kyoto Station Building are occupied by the Hotel Granvia, a five-star Western-style hotel that claims the most convenient location in town for those who want to be near a variety of transport options. The rooms are fairly spacious and well maintained, and there are some good on-site restaurants and bars. The lobby is elegant and some rooms have good views over the city.
22 Pieces – image © Booking.com
22 Pieces is a chic boutique hotel-cum-serviced apartment with spacious, fully-equipped studio-style rooms large enough for 2 – 5 guests per room. Each one is beautifully designed and outfitted, and great for relaxing in at the end of the day. Think of this place as a classy home away from home. The beds deserve a special mention for being relatively large and comfortable, and the Dyson hairdryer is a blast to use. All studios are ensuite, but they also have adjoining, fully-stocked kitchens. If you love cooking on holiday, or have special dietary requirements that necessitate meal prep every day, this is the perfect space for you.
Hotel Nikko Himeji – image © Booking.com
If you’ve stayed at a Nikko hotel before, you know what to expect. Service is pleasant and efficient, the rooms and bathrooms are clean, and the Japanese-style buffet spread in the mornings is usually delicious. Location-wise, the Nikko in Himeji can’t be beat – it’s just one minute from the station and the surrounding shopping arcades and restaurants. Ask for rooms on the upper floors with castle views. They will cost a little more, but it’s great waking up to views of Himeji Castle!
While the rooms here have comfortable beds, and are on the spacious side for Japan, be warned that some of the furnishings can feel a little dated. Also, if you’re booking so that you can use the gym and pool, know that you’ll have to pay an additional fee to use these facilities, which is not uncommon in Japan. Overall, Hotel Nikko Himeji is good for a short visit or an overnight stopover.
Hotel Monterey Himeji – image © Booking.com
Hotel Monterey Himeji is another well-located hotel for visiting Himeji – right next to the station and the two shopping malls. Rooms aren’t palatial, and about the size you’d expect for Japanese hotels. However, beds are very comfortable and softer than your average Japanese hotel bed, and the king-sized beds are huge. Plus the room comes with a smartphone for guests to use during their stay. These “handy phones” are provided free of charge, and allow you to make free domestic calls, browse the internet and find your way around town. Breakfast is decent, with enough choices to satisfy most people, but what makes it great in our book is the view of Himeji Castle on the 15th floor.
Daiwa Roynet Hotel Himeji – image © Booking.com
Located just 5 minutes away from Himeji Station, Daiwa Roynet Hotel Himeji has clean, modern en-suite rooms with almost everything you want from a hotel stay: air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, a desk (trust us – you notice when there isn’t one), a shower with high water pressure, free WiFi, a wardrobe. There’s even a small fitness center. Beds are on the firm side, which is typical for Japanese hotels. While they don’t provide complimentary bottled water, just think of it as being eco-friendly.
Breakfast at the hotel is decent. Guests can choose from continental, European, or Japanese food. Since you’re coming all the way to Himeji, it’s worth asking for rooms on the higher floors with a castle view. Few things are better on holiday than seeing a castle from your hotel room window!
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- Get travel insurance for Japan - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)