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A day trip to Himeji Castle from Kyoto is 100% worth it. Here's why:
Himeji Castle - Day Trip From Kyoto
One of the oldest castles in Japan, Himeji Castle, or the White Heron Castle is a world heritage site. The current main keep dates from 1601, but before that a fort/fortress was built on the same hill around 1300. It went through some periods of restoration, the most recent one being between 2009 and 2015. It is known as 'The White Heron Castle' due to its white walls and a somewhat resemblance to a heron about to take flight. I'll be honest, I didn't really look at the castle and immediately think of a bird flying, but I somehow get the idea.
Himeji Castle is open every day from 9 am until 4 pm. The entry for the main keep is 1000 Yen for adults and 300 Yen for Children. You can buy a ticket just for Himeji Castle or a combined ticket with Kokoen Garden as well for 1050 Yen. A ticket for the Garden only is 310 Yen.
Entry to Sannomaru (the third bailey) is free, and a very popular spot during Sakura Season since it has a decent amount of cherry trees.
How to get to Himeji Castle
From Kyoto, on the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen, it takes 50 minutes and costs 5170 Yen one way. If you have a Japan Rail Pass then you don't need to pay anything extra.
If you want to pay less but still want to get there by train, you can opt for the Tokaido Sanyo Line which takes 1 hour and 33 minutes and costs 2310 Yen.
From Himeji Station there it is an 18-minute walk to the castle. You can take a taxi or bus to get there as well, I just prefer walking.
If you're arriving at the Castle from the train station, you will enter through the Otemon Gate (the front gate), you will walk along Sannomaru - a beautiful green space with lots of cherry trees and after a few minutes walk you will reach the main keep for which you do need an entry ticket.
The Guided Tour
I opted for a guided tour which I highly recommend. You buy the tour separately from the admission ticket from a small building to the left of the ticket counter. There are 2 tours every day, one at 10 am and one at 1 pm. The tour costs 1000 yen and lasts approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. The tour guide I had was a wonderful woman that made that visit better than I could have hoped. Super funny, highly knowledgeable and genuinely friendly.
If you don't want a guided tour or there are no spaces left (only 10 participants allowed per tour), you can still download an audio guide if you follow the steps on the Concierge Book you receive as you enter the Castle.
Visiting Himeji Castle
The central keep is 45 metres tall, one of the tallest ever built in Japan. The inside of the main keep has wooden floors and you are not allowed to wear your shoes inside. Before you get there, make sure you wear thick comfortable socks and you pack a shoe bag (if you don't have one, one is provided).
I couldn't take too many photos inside as it was very busy and I didn't want to miss any explanations offered on the tour. On top of that, the stairs you must climb to get to all the levels are both narrow and quite steep. Apart from a few signs giving details about the material used for the castle or how it used to be defended, it is unfurnished so not much to take pictures of anyway.
It felt surreal to be inside a 400-year-old Japanese Castle and the view from the top floor is amazing. Inside, there are 6 levels and a basement although from the outside it seems that the castle only has five levels. This was done on purpose, in order to trick potential enemies.
After exiting the keep the tour will end but you can still visit Nishinomaru - the West Bailey, you can enjoy the beautiful Sakura outside the main keep or, as you leave the castle grounds you can turn right and see Kokoen Garden.
I ended up not having enough time to visit Kokoen Garden since I wanted to go to Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha. I didn't know how much they both had to offer so I ended up rushing a bit more than I wanted to. Looking back now, I should have allocated a day each for the Himeji Castle and Mount Shosha.
If you're planning on only visiting the castle and the garden you will have plenty of time to enjoy both as well as the amazing food Himeji has to offer.
Have you ever been to Himeji Castle? If so, let me know how it went.
If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below.
I hope life is treating you well