Known for its majestic 17th-century castle, Himeji offers a unique glimpse into Japan’s rich history and culture. In this article, we present the perfect itinerary for those who have just one day to explore Himeji. From a visit to the famous castle to strolling through the beautiful Koko-en Garden [Official website, Google Maps location] and exploring the serene Engyo-ji Temple [Google Maps location], we’ll take you to all the must-sees for first-time visitors to this enchanting city.
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Is Himeji worth visiting?
Short answer: Absolutely. Especially if you’re a first-time visitor to Japan.
Himeji Castle [Official website, Google Maps location] was hands-down our favourite castle in the whole of Japan. Not only is it one of the few still originally preserved castles of the 17th century. It has a majestic presence – as if sitting on clouds above the city (you can see it in the distance as soon as you exit the train station). Exploring the castle and castle grounds gives you a good sense of the way defences worked during the feudal period. The views from the different levels of the castle are incredible too.
Most first-timers spend two or three weeks in Japan. And if you’re wondering whether and how to include Himeji in your itinerary: The city makes for a great day or overnight trip from Kyoto or Osaka. And if you happen to travel further west, you can easily make it a stopover destination and break up your journey between Kyoto/Osaka and Hiroshima. You could even combine it with a visit to Kobe along the way.
Recommended Points of Interest, Eateries and Accommodation
Below is the map of the recommended points of interest, eateries and accommodation mentioned in this article.
When is the best time to visit Himeji?
We visited Himeji at the end of February. Yes, we missed out on seeing Himeji Castle surrounded by blooming cherry trees, but we also experienced it with few other tourists around. And we happened to be there when the plum trees started to bloom (there was even a special exhibition of bonsai plums at Koko-en Garden), an experience just as special as Sakura. And while still chilly at night, it was beautifully sunny during the day, with maximum temperatures in the high teens (Celsius) and bright blue skies.
Based on our experience and knowing how crowded it can get during the Cherry Blossom season, during Golden Week and in the Summer, we recommend visiting Himeji
- during February to early March (the latter part coinciding with plum blossom season),
- in May (after Golden Week and before it gets too hot and humid) or
- in the second half of November (to experience the foliage changing colour).
How to get to Himeji?
Getting to Himeji is easy and convenient thanks to its location on the Sanyo Shinkansen route:
- From Shin-Kobe and Shin-Osaka, the bullet train takes 15 and 30 minutes, respectively.
- From Kyoto or Hiroshima, the journey takes just under an hour.
- If you’re coming from Tokyo, the Shinkansen takes around three hours.
If you don’t have a JR Pass, there is a cheaper way to travel to Himeji than the Shinkansen: The Tokaido-Sanyo Special Rapid Himeji train takes approximately 40 minutes from Kobe-Sannomiya, 1 hour from Osaka Station and approximately 1.5 hours from Kyoto Station.
How to get around Himeji?
The centre of Himeji is super flat, making it ideal to explore on foot. Himeji Castle and Koko-en Garden are within walking distance from the Himeji train station [Google Maps location], so you can easily stroll there.
Alternatively, there are also buses from the Himeji train station to the Himeji Castle, including a very convenient loop bus service. If you prefer that option, veer left as you exit the station, head to the large bus station across the road and follow the instructions in this brochure.
How best to experience Himeji in a day?
Take an early train to Himeji. Himeji Castle opens at 0900h, so try to arrive right when it opens. The Castle is a flat 1.5 kilometre / 15-minute walk away from the Himeji Train station, and you can conveniently leave your luggage in a coin locker at the Station.
Himeji-jo (also known as the White Heron Castle) is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Japan’s most iconic castles. Built in 1601, its main keep is one of the oldest remaining Keeps in Japan. The Castle also miraculously survived the bombing that turned the city into rubble in World War Two.
Marvel at the intricate wooden architecture and learn about the Castle’s rich history as you wander through its various levels and rooms.
Take in the panoramic views from the different levels and spend some time exploring the Castle grounds. Even 007 (in You only live twice) couldn’t miss out on landing his helicopter in the Castle’s San-no-maru Square.
Spending the morning exploring Himeji Castle, you will have worked up an appetite. For lunch, venture away from the castle to look for an authentic local dining experience. Our recommendations are:
Koko-en Garden is a beautifully landscaped garden spanning over three hectares and featuring nine separate gardens that represent different traditional Japanese garden styles. Take a leisurely stroll through the garden and enjoy its peaceful atmosphere.
From there, explore the Engyo-ji temple complex [Official website] (entry JPY500 per person) – built in 966 and one of the temples on the Saigoku 33 Pilgrimage Route – and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views over the city and towards the sea. You can easily spend two to three hours strolling around Mt Shosha and the temple grounds.
Film buffs might recognise Engyo-ji as one of the filming locations of The Last Samurai.
After exploring Engyo-ji and enjoying the serenity of Mt Shosha, take the ropeway and bus back to Himeji Train Station. Alternatively, walk back down (it’s approximately 1 kilometre or 30 minutes from the top station) and take the bus from Highway 545 back to Himeji Station.
Pick up your luggage and, if you’re planning to stay in Himeji for the night, make your way to your overnight accommodation.
Have you been to Himeji?
When did you visit, and what was your favourite experience? Please let us know.