Although Himeji pulls in the tourist crowds for one reason – the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Himeji Castle – it is not a one-trick pony.
To make the most of your time in this charming city in Hyogo Prefecture, here are the best things to do in Himeji in one day. If you have extra time here, I’ve included some additional options that you might want to check out.
This article also includes information on how to get to Himeji, how to get around, hotel recommendations, where to eat and recommended reading.
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A Brief History Of Himeji
Himeji was originally the capital of the Harima Province, established in the 7th Century. Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, one of the most important battles in Japanese feudal history, Ikeda Terumasa was given the Harima Province.
The so-called “Shogun of Western Japan” established the Himeji Domain and expanded Himeji Castle, dating from the 14th century, and developed its castle town.
The modern city of Himeji was established in 1889.
Although Himeji incurred heavy damage from Allied bombing raids during World War II, Himeji Castle survived intact, despite a direct hit from one bomb. To this day, some believe that Himeji Castle is divinely protected.
Finding your way around central Himeji couldn’t be easier.
If you are arriving in Himeji by train, Himeji Castle is clearly visible from the north exit of the railway station. From here, it’s an easy 15-minute walk along Otemae-dori Street to the castle.
Many of Himeji’s attractions are clustered in the castle area.
Mount Shosha, which lies north of the city centre, is the site of Engyo-ji Temple.
Tegarayama, in the southwest of the city, is home to the city’s aquarium and botanical garden.
How to Get to Himeji: Day Trips by Train
As its main attractions can be seen in one day, Himeji is a popular day trip from Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Hiroshima. Whilst it is also feasible to take a day trip to Himeji from Tokyo, this involves considerable travelling time.
If you are spending just one day in Himeji, travel by train to maximise your time there, as this is the quickest way to reach the city.
|City of origin||Minimum one-way journey time to Himeji by train|
Day Trip to Himeji from Kyoto
To visit Himeji on a day trip from Kyoto, take the Hikari shinkansen (bullet train). This will get you there in just under an hour.
Although the Nozomi shinkansen also plies this route, Nozomi trains are not included in the Japan Rail (JR) Pass.
It is considerably cheaper to buy your JR Pass before leaving home.
Day Trip to Himeji from Osaka
Himeji is also an easy day trip from Osaka. From Shin Osaka station, the Hikari shinkansen will get you there in around 40 minutes.
As before, avoid the Nozomi shinkansen if you are a JR Pass holder.
Day Trip to Himeji from Kobe
To spend a day in Himeji from Kobe, take the JR Special Rapid Service from Sannomiya station. The journey will take around 40 minutes.
Day Trip to Himeji from Hiroshima
To visit Himeji on a day trip from Hiroshima, jump on the Sakura shinkansen. The journey will take around one hour.
Once again, avoid the Nozomi shinkansen if you are a JR Pass holder.
Day Trip to Himeji from Tokyo
To visit Himeji from Tokyo, take the Hikari shinkansen.
As this is close on a four-hour one-way journey, I don’t recommend visiting Himeji as a day trip from Tokyo. Do yourself a favour and stay overnight instead.
How to get around Himeji
If you are just visiting Himeji Castle and attractions in the castle area, you are unlikely to need to use public transport. However, if you are planning to visit city attractions which are further afield, here are your transport options.
Using trains to get around Himeji
There are three JR lines operating in Himeji, all of which depart from Himeji Station:
- Kishin Line – for the Sakurayama Hills area
- Bantan Line – for Himeji Central Park
- Sanyo Honsen – the main Line serving Himeji
Sanyo Electric Railway
Also known as the “Seaside Express”, the Sanyo Electric Railway runs parallel to the coast, linking Himeji with Kobe and Osaka. It is useful for reaching Tegarayama.
Trains leave from Sanyo-Himeji Station, a short walk northwest of JR Himeji Station. The entrance and platforms are on the second floor of the Sanyo Department Store.
Using buses to get around Himeji
The two-tone orange Shinki buses provide a service across the city.
Himeji city buses are boarded from the rear and exited from the front. Take a numbered ticket from the dispenser when you enter the bus.
When you are approaching your stop, press the button to let the driver know that you want to disembark. The screen at the front of the bus will show your number and fare.
Pay the driver the exact amount as you exit the bus. If you don’t have the exact fare, there is a change machine at the front of the bus
For convenience, the ten major prepaid IC cards or the local Nicopa card can be used to pay the fare on Himeji’s buses.
A Himeji Castle Loop one-day bus ticket is also available from the Shinki Bus Information Centre in front of Himeji Station. This allows you to take the bus from Himeji Station and hop on and hop off an unlimited number of times at the stops in the castle area.
However, as Himeji Castle is a short walk from the station, I question the value of this day pass. It costs 400 yen (2022 price). Pass holders also receive a 20% discount on admission to Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden and the City Museum of Art.
Getting around Himeji by bicycle
If you’re feeling fit and the weather is good, why not rent a bike from the Himeji City Tourist Information Centre for free?
When Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Himeji?
You can spend the day in Himeji year-round.
Visit in springtime for temperate weather and to welcome the cherry blossom (sakura). Himeji Castle makes a magnificent backdrop for those coveted sakura shots.
Another great time of year to visit Himeji is autumn when the castle appears to float above the kaleidoscopic display of fall foliage. As with sakura, the timing is a bit of a gamble, but you can check out the fall foliage forecasts here.
If you are visiting Himeji in spring or autumn, expect to do battle with the crowds.
Visit in winter for the chance to see Himeji Castle in the snow.
How Should You Plan A Day in Himeji?
One day in Himeji gives you enough time to visit Mount Shosha, Himeji Castle and Koko-en Garden, and sample locally brewed sake.
Start your day by taking the bus to Mount Shosha and Engyoji Temple. In the afternoon, visit Himeji Castle and Koko-en Garden, before hitting the sake.
Reckon on spending around three hours visiting Mount Shosha (including transportation), two hours in Himeji Castle and one hour in Koko-en Garden.
And drinking sake? That’s entirely up to you.
For maps and information, stop by the Himeji City Tourist Information Centre at the train station.
Save money getting to Mount Shosha by purchasing a Shoshazan Ropeway Combination Ticket (1,420 yen in 2022). This ticket includes a round trip journey by bus between Himeji Station and the Mount Shosha Ropeway Station plus a round trip ride on the ropeway between the base station and summit.
Buy your ticket at the Shinki Bus Information Centre near Bus Stop 7 in front of Himeji Station.
The Best Things To Do in Himeji in One Day
Visit Mount Shosha and Engyo-ji
Mount Shosha, on the northern fringes of Himeji, is home to Engyo-ji.
This is a Tendai Buddhist complex built in 966. Visiting Engyo-ji’s buildings, scattered over a densely forested area on the mountain top, is one of the best things to do in Himeji in one day.
Once you’ve bought your Shoshazan Ropeway Combination Ticket, take bus #8 from stop #10 at the bus station at Himeji JR Station, bound for Shoshazan Ropeway. This journey will take you around half an hour and buses leave approximately every 20 minutes.
Alight at the last stop (Mount Shosha Ropeway) and take the ropeway (cable car) up to Mt. Shosha. The bus arrival times are timed to coincide with the cable car timetable (cars depart every 15 minutes).
Alternatively, if you’re feeling very energetic, you could hike to the summit in around an hour.
At the summit, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee to visit the temple.
If you choose to take the three-minute minibus ride to the temple entrance, this will increase the ticket cost. This includes the return bus journey.
Otherwise, it’s a 10-15-minute uphill walk up to the Niomon Gate at the temple’s entrance.
A further 10-15 minutes walk from the Niomon Gate brings you to the Maniden (Main Temple of Kannon Worship). Although the original building burned down in 1921, this sympathetic reconstruction is a beautiful wooden building, constructed on pillars up a steep slope.
A short walk along forest trails brings you to the mitsunodo, an enormous temple hall. Resembling Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-Dera, this is divided into three parts: the Daikodo (great lecture hall), Jikido (lodging and dining hall) and Jogyodo (gymnasium).
DID YOU KNOW? The mitsunodo was used as a filming location for the movie The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise, as well Japanese historical dramas.
Visit Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is considered to be Japan’s most magnificent castle. Unlike Osaka Castle, this is the real deal.
As well as having a defensive function, Japanese castles were home to the feudal lords and a symbol of their authority and power. They evolved from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries to the graceful architecture typified by Himeji Castle.
However, only 12 Japanese castles retain their original castle keep. The rest only have original outlying buildings, often with a reconstructed keep (like Osaka Castle), or are in ruins. As a so-called “original construction” castle, Himeji Castle is the cream of the crop.
History of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle started life as a wooden fort in 1333, constructed by Akamatsu Norimura, a samurai and the governor of Harima province. In 1581, Hashiba Hideyoshi, a politician of the late Sengoku period (1467 – 1615) and the second “Great Unifier” of Japan, developed the fort into a three-storied keep.
30 years later, Ikeda Terumasa was given control of the castle and began work on the current Himeji Castle, with its five-storied keep and triple moat.
DID YOU KNOW? From the outside, the Himeji Castle’s keep appears to have five floors. However, appearances can be deceptive as the second and third floors from the top appear to be a single floor. It actually has six floors plus a basement.
The castle then passed hands between a number of families until its abandonment at the start of the Meji period (1868 – 1912). Since then, Himeji Castle has undergone two restorations, most recently between 2009 and 2015 at a cost of 2.4 billion yen.
Design of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle owes its nickname “White Heron Castle” (Hakuro-jo) to its gleaming white exterior, which is thought to resemble a white heron in flight.
But this is beauty with a purpose.
Although the castle never saw battle, Himeji-jo incorporates the most cutting-edge defensive mechanisms of the time.
Himeji Castle was surrounded by a grand total of three moats, two of which you can see today (the outer moat is buried). If would-be invaders made it across the moat, they faced further security features.
Designed to confuse enemies, the castle grounds were a maze of paths, spiralling their way to the keep. There were also 84 gates to contend with, 21 of which remain intact.
If the enemy made it through the gates, they would find themselves under attack by castle guards throwing large stones from the many platforms by the windows.
Alternatively, guns or arrows could be fired through one of the 997 loophole openings in the walls and towers called Sama. There were four shapes of Sama: oblong for bows and round, triangular and square for guns.
Visiting Himeji Castle
You enter Himeji Castle via the Otemon Gate into the admission-free third bailey (Sannomaru). This is a popular spot for taking photographs of the castle and for viewing cherry blossoms.
Head to the ticket booth at the far end of the Sannomaru to buy your ticket, and then enter the paid area through the Hishi Gate. There are two main sections to the castle’s grounds: the main keep and the West Bailey (Nishi-no-maru Bailey).
From the Hishi Gate, walk along walled paths and through multiple gates and baileys to the main keep. After exiting the keep, retrace your steps to explore the West Bailey, which served as the residence of Princess Sen.
Stroll Around Koko-en Garden
Adjacent to Himeji Castle, Koko-en Garden comprises nine separate walled gardens set across almost nine acres, each with a different theme. This modern reimagining (est. 1992) of an Edo period (1603–1868) samurai residence is a delight.
It’s hard to pick a highlight. The pond of the garden of the Lord’s residence, the first (and largest) garden in Kok-en, is home to around 250 colourful carp.
BONUS TIP! One of the best views of Himeji Castle is from the first garden of Koko-en, where the castle is perfectly reflected on the garden’s pond.
There’s the Souju-an tea ceremony house where you can enjoy a cup of matcha whilst looking out onto Himeji Castle (additional fee applies). Other highlights are a pine tree garden, a bamboo garden and a flower garden.
I spent around an hour here but could have lingered longer.
Go Sake Tasting in Himeji
Don’t leave town without trying some local sake (nihonshu). Sake is one of the things for which Japan is famous, and trying the local brew is one of the very best things to do in Himeji.
Harima province has a long and proud history of sake (rice wine) production. Himeji and its surroundings are home to around twenty of the region’s oldest breweries, producing some of the best sake on the planet.
If I had more time in Himeji, I would have joined a sake brewery tour, but there is a fantastic alternative that I know you’ll love.
Head downtown to Kokoromi, a stylish standing bar that serves over 270 varieties of local sake. To order your chosen nectar, make your selection by taste, price, grade and origin (search West Harima for Himeji) from a touchscreen. Your 65ml pour is accompanied by a card with a description of the sake and a picture of the bottle for future reference.
Now that’s my type of Himeji souvenir!
Kokoromi is at 125 Minamiekimaecho Vierra Himeji, Himeji 670-0926.
If You Have More Than One Day in Himeji ….
Perhaps you are lucky enough to be able to spend more time in this lovely city and are looking for more things to do in Himeji?
If so, here are a few suggestions for other tourist attractions in Himeji.
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Hyogo Prefecture and Himeji Castle, visit the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History, close to Himeji Castle.
Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012
Opening hours: 10 am-5 pm, Closed Mondays
Admission fee applies
Himeji City Museum of Art
If art is more your thing, check out the Himeji City Museum of Art, housed within a red brick building just south of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History. It has an impressive collection of over 3,700 works of art, with works by both local and international artists.
Address: 68-25 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012
Opening hours: 10 am-5 pm. Closed Mondays
Admission fee applies
Himeji City Museum of Literature
Visit the Himeji City Museum of Literature for its cutting-edge design by the world-renowned architect Ando Tadao, blending manmade materials with nature. On the museum’s grounds, there is a manor named Bokeitei, built in a classic Japanese style, as well as a Japanese garden and teahouse.
Address: 84 Hyogo, Himeji, Yamanoicho 670-0021
Opening hours: 10 am – 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays and December 25 – January 5
Admission fee applies
Shosha Art & Craft Museum
Housed in a striking building set amongst bamboo groves, the Shosha Art & Craft Museum features a collection of traditional and contemporary crafts, including historical Japanese folk toys and traditional Buddhist art. The museum focuses on the works of Shimizu Kosho (1911-1999), the Himeji-born former head priest of Todaiji Temple in Nara.
On weekends and national holidays, craftspeople who work in the museum offer visitors the opportunity to make their very own souvenirs to take away. Whether it’s paper making, leather goods, and woodturning you’re interested in, this makes a very special souvenir.
Address: 1223 Shosha, Himeji, Hyogo 671-2201, Japan
Opening hours: 10 am-5 pm; last entry at 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays, the day after all national holidays and over the New Year period.
Admission fee applies
Miyuki Street Shopping District (Miyukidori)
I confess that I’m not the most enthusiastic shopper on the planet, but even I liked Himeji’s Miyuki Street, a pedestrianised covered shopping arcade linking Himeji Station and Himeji Castle. Home to small shops and cafes, it’s a lot less busy than many other shopping streets in Japan and a good place to pick up essentials or gifts for those back home.
Himeji City Aquarium
Located in the Tegarayama hills to the southwest of the city, the small Himeji City Aquarium exhibits all manner of aquatic life, from penguins to turtles. It also features a touch pool to allow visitors to make contact with hermit crabs, starfish and so on.
Address: 440 Nishinobusue Tegarayama Chuo Park, Himeji 670-0971, Japan
Opening hours: 9 am-5 pm; last entry at 4:30 pm. Closed on Tuesdays
Admission fee applies
Is Himeji Safe for Solo Travellers?
Japan is one of the safest solo travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is a country that takes pride in its safety, uniformity and order, and has a very low crime rate.
Whilst you shouldn’t be complacent, you don’t have to be concerned about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries.
If you use your common sense, watch your belongings, drink alcohol in moderation – be careful with that sake! – and share your itinerary with someone back home, you should have a trouble-free day in Himeji.
Where To Eat In Himeji
One of my abiding memories of Himeji is that 1950s music was playing in most of the cafes I visited during my short time there. Here is one place that I can highly recommend.
This cosy, traditional café on the way to Himeji Castle serves excellent coffee in a convivial environment. An excellent choice for breakfast as they serve free toast and boiled egg with every hot drink. Make sure that you order extra almond butter toast.
The cake and toasted sandwiches are also very good.
Address: 49 Nikaimachi, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening hours: 7 am-6 pm. Closed on Thursdays.
Where to Stay in Himeji
Whilst this article focuses on seeking out the best things to do in Himeji in one day, there’s a lot to be said for staying overnight. Himeji is a relatively chilled and friendly Japanese city, it’s the cheapest place that I have stayed in Japan and an overnight stay will allow you to linger over the sake.
If you plan to stay the night in Himeji here are my recommendations. As you should be able to get a room in a 4-star hotel for well under 50 GBP, this is not the city to save a few yen on budget accommodation.
Daiwa Roynet Hotel
I stayed at this new, business-style hotel, which is a five-minute walk from the train station towards the castle. The location cannot be beaten, and it also features a comfortable room, a walk-in shower and an all-important self-service laundry.
I liked that the in-room TV tells you not only which machine machines are free and how far through the cycle the ones in use are, but also how busy the breakfast buffet is.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR RATES & TO BOOK
If the Daiwa Roynet is full, here’s an alternative choice of a centrally located Himeji hotel:
Dormy Inn Himeji Natural Hot Spring
A three-minute walk south of Himeji station, this 3-star hotel is slightly further from Himeji Castle but can be cheaper than the Daiwa Roynet.
It also has a coin-launderette and features a rooftop onsen.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR RATES & TO BOOK
>>> Neither of these hotels take your fancy? Search for other accommodation choices in Himeji here.
Japan: Suggested Reading
Do you want to learn a little bit more about Japan? Here’s my pick of books to read either before travelling to Japan or whilst you are there.
One of my favourite books ever, Hiromi Kawakami’s gentle novel sets three national obsessions – dining out at izakaya, hanami (flower viewing) parties during cherry blossom season and discussing baseball – against the growing relationship between a thirtysomething woman and a much older man.
The literary equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket.
Ever since reading The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has been one of my favourite authors. This excellent novel set in post-war Japan features an artist who uses his skills to promote the military government’s imperialist ambitions.
There had to be at least one Murakami book on this list and this is my current favourite. In this tale of love, friendship, and loss, the main protagonist tries to make sense of being abandoned by his closest friends. Unforgettable and heartbreaking.
Sayaka Murata’s offbeat but wonderful novel delivers a message of non-conformity wrapped up in a great read. Keiko Furukura doesn’t really ‘fit’ anywhere until she finds purpose and happiness working at a convenience store.
Packing a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Japan, and explore the country whilst you are there, is a wise move. I recommend the Rough Guide to Japan, which includes a free e-book that you can load onto your phone for information on the go.
Why Himeji Deserves More Than One day
If things had gone to plan, I never would have visited Himeji. The looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic forced me to put a red marker through a planned journey across Kyushu, teaching me some valuable travel lessons at the same time.
But, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.
Himeji appears on many a Japan itinerary as a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto. It is close to both cities and many of its attractions, particularly its feudal castle, can be seen in one day. However, as compelling as these reasons may be, this city deserves more than a fleeting visit.
Himeji has a laid-back vibe, its people are amongst the friendliest that I have encountered in Japan and its accommodation is inexpensive compared with other popular cities.
Just a few reasons why Himeji is the perfect place to briefly hit pause during what often be a hectic Japan itinerary.