If you only have time for one day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, make it Himeji Castle, renowned as Japan’s most beautiful historic citadel. Also known as White Heron Castle, the UNESCO-listed hilltop structure was built in 1580 and features a five-story central tower with surrounding moats, walls, and pagodas.
Take an organized tour to learn about the Himeji Castle’s history and many nuances, such as the numerous openings in the defensive walls that were used for pouring boiling oil onto intruders. Many tours of the castle—available from both Osaka and Kyoto—also include a stop at Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. The castle grounds are flanked by the ponds and tea rooms of Koko-en Gardens, a welcome retreat for a stroll or lunchtime stop.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The castle is a must-see for history buffs and first-time visitors.
- Visit the site on a day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka.
- Slopes and steep, narrow stairs make the castle inaccessible to wheelchairs.
- Drone photography is not permitted.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking over uneven surfaces.
How to Get There
Himeji is about 31 miles (50 kilometers) west of Kyoto. To get here, either take an organized tour or jump on a shinkansen bullet train (under an hour) or slower JR Tokaido train (a bit more than 90 minutes) to Himeji City. Himeji Station is a short walk from the castle along Otemae-dori Street.
When to Get There
Expect lines to enter the main keep during Kyoto’s high seasons, particularly the spring cherry blossom season, Golden Week, and the summer months. Tickets to the main keep are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s a good idea to show up first thing in the morning before the ticket office opens to buy your numbered tickets.
Other Attractions in Himeji
If you’re visiting Himeji independently, the region has a few other attractions worth checking out while you’re in the area. The beautiful, walled Kokoen Garden sits adjacent to Himeji Castle and makes a nice place for a stroll. Engyo-ji temple, located about 30 minutes outside Himeji City, was a filming location for the movie Last Samurai.