ITINERARIES The Kansai Trio—Kyoto, Nara and Osaka Three exceptional cities in the Kansai region offer history, culture and culinary delights
Immerse yourself in the refined atmosphere of Japan’s former capital, feed sacred deer and come face-to-face with the largest Buddha statue in Japan, and eat until you drop in Osaka, the city of merchants
- Beautiful gardens throughout Kyoto
- Deer bowing for their treats in Nara Park
- Panoramic views of the city atop Osaka Castle
How to Get There
A must-visit on any traveler's itinerary, Kyoto's monuments, National Treasures and World Heritage sites attract thousands of visitors each year. Take your time to explore Kyoto and consider extending your trip here a few more days.
Built as a family residence in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, take in the gorgeous structure of the Ninomaru Palace and wall paintings. In the springtime, the garden has over 200 cherry trees, which are lit up when in bloom.
Another beautiful World Heritage site, the temple is flanked by beautiful gardens. The sight of the Golden Pavilion reflecting in the pond that surrounds it is lovely, especially on a clear day.
Thought to be built in 656, this shrine is referred to as "Gion-san" by locals. Once at the shrine, visit the main building and surrounding smaller shrines around the outside. During the Gion Festival , it becomes especially lively.
Walk through Maruyama Park on the way to the temple from Yasaka-jinja Shrine , and pass through the largest wooden gate in Japan. Chionin Temple is the head temple of the Jodo Sect of Japanese Buddhism and includes numerous garden areas to explore. While you're there, take a look at the largest temple bell, which requires a team of 25 to ring.
After visiting Chioin Temple , walk up the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka slopes and enjoy a view of what traditional Kyoto would have looked like as you head towards one of the iconic sights of Kyoto, Yasaka-no-to Pagoda. If you're interested, a small admission fee will allow you inside to look at the architecture, statues, and paintings.
Tour the temple grounds, enjoy the cliff-side view from in front of the main hall, and exploring the temple grounds. Head down to the Otowa Waterfall, and drink from the streams that promise longevity, success in school, and a happy love life. Just don't be greedy and drink from all three.
Take a break from traditional Kyoto in the most popular entertainment district. Takashimaya and Kyoto Marui, two of the finest department stores, can be found on opposite sides of the intersection from each other.
Starting as a fish market in the 14th century, this is now known as the kitchen of Kyoto. The 400-meter shopping street is lined with over 100 shops and restaurants. Anything food related, from knives to fresh seafood, can be found here. Shop and snack your way through.
View Japan's second tallest pagoda and enjoy the temple grounds at Kofukuji Temple . For lovers of Buddhist art, a visit to the National Treasure Museum is a must, particularly to see the 1,300-year-old, three-faced, six-armed Ashura statue.
Enjoy a 20-minute stroll over to Nara Park , and see the many wild deer. Be careful if carrying any plastic bags, as they are unafraid of people and will gladly go through your bags looking for "shika senbei," the snack many tourists feed to them. Buy some from a local shop, and try your hand at having the deer bow for their treats.
Nara's most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha Shrine was established at the same time as the city. View hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns that have been donated by worshipers. Take in the distinct style of the main hall, Honden. Finally, enjoy whatever season you visit with hundreds of varieties of plants in the Botanical Gardens.
Todaiji Temple is widely considered the pinnacle of Buddhist culture. Inside, view numerous Buddha statues before coming face-to-face with the Great Buddha, the largest in Japan. Try squeezing through the hole in a pillar, which is the size of the Great Buddha's nostril.
A 10-minute walk from Todaiji is the Nara National Museum , established in 1889. many Buddhist art masterpieces are exhibited in permanent exhibits. If your feet are getting tired, take a short break in the restaurant.
Another 20-minute walk will take you to Gangoji Temple . The best-preserved part of the temple houses three National Treasures; the Hondo, the Zen room, and the miniature pagoda.
In the city center is the Tenshukaku (castle keep) of Osaka Castle . The inside of the castle has been made into a museum, and there is even a corner where you can try on a warlord costume. From the eighth-floor observation deck enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
From the castle, head to the harbor and take an hour-long "Aqua Liner" cruise. Osaka is criss-crossed by rivers, and what better way to enjoy this history than cruising along the canals and taking in the waterfront from a boat.
After disembarking from the cruise, head towards Nipponbashi Electric Town, known as Denden Town and Sennichimae Doguyasuji. Lined with electronics stores, Nipponbashi Electric Town is similar to Tokyo's Akihabara . Sennichimae Doguyasuji is a 150-meter shopping arcade filled with every cooking utensil you need to make a five-course meal.
Located along a small river, the neon lights of the surrounding buildings falling on Dotonbori make it a great place to visit at dusk. At this famous street, stop for some grilled crab, take a photo on the bridge in front of the famous Glico Man, buy some takoyaki (octopus filled dumplings) and fulfill the city motto of kuidaore, "eating yourself bankrupt."