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.
Map of Recommended Accommodations, Points of Interest, Eateries, and Transport
Below is the map of the accommodation, points of interest, eateries. and transport terminals/stops 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.
What are IC cards?
In Japan, you will come across the term IC card a lot (IC stands for Integrated Circuit). IC cards are essentially plastic cards that can be topped up and the amount stored on the card is used for transportation - simply by tapping on/off at the card reader - and more and more at convenience stores and other places.
Each region issues their own version of the IC card, for example
- If you enter via Tokyo Narita or Haneda Airports, you would buy the Suica Card or PASMO card.
- If you enter via Osaka Kansai Airport, you will find the ICOCA card for sale.
Fortunately, 10 of the most common IC cards (including the two above) can be used across regions (and likely more will be added over time). Some regions (including Nagano and Okinawa prefectures) only allow their own IC card (at this stage) or cash.
- Cards (including any stored funds) will expire after 10 years of non-use, which means you can reuse the card if you return to Japan within that timeframe.
- You can return it (and get a refund of the money on the card plus the deposit you paid for the card itself) - as long as it's in the region you bought it.
- You can load the IC card onto your smartphone - via Apple Pay or Google Pay - but you won't be able to get a refund of your deposit or any funds stored when you leave the country.
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.
The general admission fee for Himeji Castle is JPY1,000 for adults. There is a combined ticket for Himeji Castle and the Kōko-en Garden which costs JPY1,050. We opted for the combined ticket and it was well worth it. Two hours inside the castle should be suffiicient to see everything, but you’ll want to wonder around the grounds so allow another hour.
Himeji Castle offers guided tours in English twice a day at 1000h and 1300h (each tour lasts for 1 hour and 45 minutes) on a first-come-first-served basis for up to 10 people. Participants need to pay an extra fee of JPY1,000.
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.
Where to stay in Himeji?
Our accommodation recommendations for Himeji are all within walking distance from the Himeji Train Station and the sights on this itinerary:
- Daiwa Roynet Hotel Himeji is only 1.7km from Himeji Castle. It has city views, free Wi-Fi, a fitness centre, private parking and a restaurant where you can enjoy either a continental or an Asian breakfast. Staff speak English, Japanese and Korean at the 24-hour front desk.
- Hotel Monterey Himeji is even closer to Himeji Castle – only 1.2 km away. With free WiFi, on-site restaurant and ever room comes with a private bathroom fitted with a bath.
- Richmond Hotel Himeji, a 3-star accommodation, is situated 3.1 km from Himeji Castle. A restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi throughout the property is available.
Alternative options are below.
When did you visit Himej and what was your favourite experience?
I wrote this Himeji itinerary and guide based on my own experience. If you have been to Himeji and you have something to add, please feel free to contact me. If you liked my article and tips and found them helpful, I would appreciate it if you could share them with your friends and family via the Share buttons below. Even better, link to the page from your personal blog or social media platforms.