Japan is so much bigger than it looks, and the number of places you'll want to visit will most likely be endless. Thats definitely how I felt anyways. When I started planning my trip to Japan, I wanted to see everything in the two weeks I was there but quickly realised that was pretty much impossible. When trying to figure out where you want to go, prioritisation is key. So, I wanted to write a post about the more essential places I think everyone should explore during their first visit. There will be other places you might want to go depending on what you're into, in which case I would definitely check out Big Boy Travel's list as well as Boutique Japan's list!
My list will essentially focus on places that are easier to get to from Kyoto rather than Tokyo, as it is a better starting point for many different areas. Another top tip is that if you do plan on visiting different places during your stay and you're doing it in a relatively short period of time then I would definitely invest in a Japan Rail Pass (JPR) which is a much cheaper and quicker way to get around; everything you want to know about the JPR can be found here.
One of the top day trips is Osaka which takes around 30 minutes to get to by train. This buzzing city is a great contrast to the cultural Kyoto where the shopping is unreal and the food is even better. Start at Dotonbori and explore the different shops and restaurants which can be found along the river. If you're missing some of the cultural aspects of Japan then a visit to Osaka castle is a must, it was a stunning structure found between the trees and skyscrapers.
Top Tip: Make sure to try the local street food such as takoyaki (octopus covered in batter)!
2. Hiroshima & Miyajima Island
Slightly further away (around 2 hours) is the city of Hiroshima best known for the Peace memorial parks that were created after the atomic bombings in 1945 to honour its victims. It is a powerful and painful reminder of the historical events that have occurred.
Another option is to travel to Miyajimaguchi station and catch the ferry (covered by the JPR pass) to Miyajima Island and see the 'floating shrine'. Despite the fact that it was absolutely pouring it down with rain when I went, I would still say it was one of the highlights of the trip. The shrine itself is magical but the town itself is also charming in its own right.
Top Tip: You could do both places in a day if you're a fast paced traveller! The rain meant that I was too cold and wet to do both unfortunately.
Nara is fairly close to Kyoto as it is just on its outskirts, so super easy to get too! Nara itself isn't the most interesting I have to admit. But Nara is famous for its wandering deer that freely explore the area. You can buy cheap biscuits to feed the deer from street venders. Its an experience that shouldn't be missed!
Top Tip: Be warned that the deer can get a little aggressive when they clock into the fact that you've got food!
Uji is more of an unconventional day trip which you won't see on many 'top lists'. I definitely didn't and didn't actually know it existed until I was on the train riding to Nara when I looked out of the window and saw the most beautiful river and little town. I got off at the next stop and wandered into what I would soon find out was Uji. It is known to be the first town to introduce tea cultivation and is thus famous for its green tea. The Byodein Temple is also a must see in the town! Uji is the perfect place for a little relaxing break from the hustle and bustle that even Kyoto can sometimes encompass.