Himeji Castle, Japan

How Long Should You Spend in Kansai?

Most people plan to visit Osaka and Kyoto, whether they spend one month or two weeks in Japan, but few consider Kansai—that is, the central-western part of Japan’s Honshu island—beyond its two most famous cities.

They’re doing themselves a huge disservice: Kansai is by far the most exciting region of Japan to discover. Whether you’re on the hunt for world-class hiking, picturesque castles or cities most foreigners miss, here’s how to decide where to go in Kansai, and for how long.

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Kyoto

Two Days in Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Japan
 

There’s so much Kyoto sightseeing to do, from temples like Kiyomizu-dera and Ginkaku-ji, to natural attractions like Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, to the mesmerizing Fushimi Inari Shrine, that the minimum you will want to spend in Kyoto is two full days.

READ MORE: Two Days in Kyoto

Three Days in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, Japan
 

A three-day Kyoto trip can take two forms. Either three full days in the city-proper, during which you can explore more of its historical sights and dynamic districts. Or, a day trip to Nara, where you can frolic with tame urban deer, and explore some of the world’s oldest wooden structures.

READ MORE: Three Days in Kyoto

Osaka

Osaka Day Trip from Kyoto

Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan
 

It’s technically possible to do an Osaka Japan tour in just one day, provided you stick to the basics: Morning at Osaka Castle, afternoon in Shinsekai, sunset from the Umeda Sky building and night along Dotonbori pedestrian street.

Two Days in Osaka

Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan
 

As is the case with Kyoto, however, the quantity of Osaka sightseeing really demands at least two full days in the city. In addition to the attractions I’ve mentioned above, spend your Osaka two-day itinerary discovering street food like takoyaki octopus fritters and gyoza dumplings.

Three Days in Osaka

Dotonbori Starbucks in Osaka, Japan
 

A three-day visit to Osaka could entail three full days in the city (add a visit to the stunning Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan to the suggestions above), or any number of day trips from Osaka—Nara, as described above, or the other places I will list below.

Other Kansai Destinations

Nara

Deer in Nara, Japan
 

Whether inbound from Kyoto or Osaka to Nara, it’s a worthy day trip destination. Deer notwithstanding, visit Todai-ji and its massive wooden Buddha, the Kofuku-ji five-tiered Pagoda and picturesque Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Himeji

Castle in Himeji, Japan
 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Himeji Castle is the most photographed one in all of Japan, though it’s up to your personal preference whether it’s your favorite. It’s certainly up there for me, particularly on the occasions I’ve seen it flanked by cherry blossoms. Himeji is about an hour from Osaka by Shinkansen.

Kobe

Beef in Kobe, Japan
 

Kobe is most globally famous for its beef, and while you can enjoy this delicious meat teppanyaki style at any number of the city’s restaurants, Kobe sightseeing is also quite unique, from the city’s emblematic Kobe Port Tower, to Nankin-Machi Chinatown, to the Western-style houses of Kitano-cho.

Wakayama

Mt. Koya along the Kumano Kodo, Japan
 

Wakayama city isn’t much to write home about, but the prefecture is home to two of Japan’s most scenic treks: holy Koyasan mountain and the Kumano Kodo, which have been pilgrimage routes since ancient times. Wakayama is the most time-consuming excursion from Kyoto and Osaka, but also the most rewarding.

The Bottom Line

It’s ideal to spend approximately one week in Kansai, particularly if you have one month in Japan or longer, but tailor your time here according to your schedule and your interests. Whether you stick to Osaka and Kyoto, add in day trips to Nara and Himeji or round out your Kansai trip with excursions to underrated Kobe and wild Wakayama, Kansai is one of the most rewarding regions in Japan.