I have received inquiries about the trip to Kansai area many times. So I make a basic itinerary that includes Kansai area, such as Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara only. This is 7 days itinerary. But you can shorten or extend as you can.
Now I would like to tell you the best route and most economical deals about this trip.
Day 1 – Kansai airport (KIX) to Kyoto
ICOCA and Haruka round trip ticket at 4060 yen.
Stay at hotel around JR Kyoto station
If you arrive in Kyoto early, you can visit Fushimi Inari or Uji. Especially Fushimi Inari is only 5 minutes away from Kyoto station. That is very accessible and very popular spot. You can use ICOCA to get there
Kyoto – Inari 140 yen / 5 mins by local
Inari – Uji 240 yen / 25 mins by local
Kyoto – Uji 240 yen / 20 mins by Rapid, 30 mins by local
In this itinerary, I include the trip to Fushimi Inari shrine.
Round trip to Inari 280 yen.
ICOCA remaining 1220 yen.
You may use one way ICOCA and Haruka if you stay near subway or non JR stations in Osaka.
Day 2 – Sightseeing in Kyoto
Visit Nijo castle, Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion) and Arashiyama
Use Kyoto City Sightseeing Card 2 days pass at 2000 yen.
Day 3 – Sightseeing in Kyoto
Visit temples and shrines in Gion and Higashiyama area, such as Yasaka shrine, Kiyomizu-dera temple, Gion-Shijo area, Ginkaku-ji temple,
You can use Kyoto City Sightseeing Card 2 days again.
*You may be able to use All Day Bus Pass at 500 yen per day. You can save 1000 yen for day 2 and 3. But subway is much faster to visit attractions than bus. Especially in peak season, traffic is very heavy in Kyoto. Subway is more accurate and smooth. Please see the post, Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots? to get the details about rail system in Kyoto.
Day 4 – Trip to Nara and transfer to Namba, Osaka
Visit Nara on the way to Namba, Osaka from Kyoto.
Kyoto to Nara 710 yen
Nara to JR-Namba 560 yen
Total 1230 yen
You have to pay 10 yen to exit station because you have only 1220 yen in your ICOCA. There is a fare adjustment vending machine near ticket gate. You can slot your ICOCA and add 10 yen, you will receive a ticket to exit station. You will receive empty ICOCA. If you return this empty ICOCA, you will receive 500 yen deposit.
If you intend to come back to Japan or keep it as souvenir, you can keep it if you are okay with giving up 500 yen deposit.
Day 5 – Trip to Kobe and Himeji from Osaka
Day trip to Kobe and World Heritage Himeji castle.
Use JR Kansai Area Pass one day at 2060 yen.
You can purchase this pass at JR-Namba station. There is other trains to Kobe and Himeji, like Hanshin railway. But JR is the fastest to get Himeji. Please see the post, How to access to Himeji and Kobe from Osaka to get the details.
If you intend to visit Kobe only, single fare by Hanshi Railway to Sannomiya is 410 yen for one way. This is the cheapest option.
Day 6 – Sightseeing in Osaka
If you intend to visit many attractions in one day, Osaka Amazing Pass gives you a great value.
If you visit Universal Studio Japan, you will spend all day there and single fare, 180 yen one way for JR-Namba to Universal city, is the cheapest.
But if you intend to visit Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium, Osaka Kaiyu Ticket is recommended.
Day 7 – Namba, Osaka to Kansai airport (KIX)
You have Haruka ticket that is included in ICOCA and Haruka deal. You cannot take Limited Express Haruka at JR-Namba. But you can use Haruka ticket to get local train to Tennoji from JR-Namba. And then you can transfer to Limited Express Haruka at Tennoji.
If you purchase one way ICOCA and Haruka to Kyoto, you can use Nankai railway deal, Rapi:t Tokuwari Ticket.
Nankai railway Rapi:t Tokuwari
You also can take direct ordinary Nankai railway train. Single fare is only 920 yen.
If you have lots of time before departure, you may think about Enjoy ECO Card or Osaka Amazing Pass before you leave.
This sample itinerary is 7 days. But you can shorten to 5 days. If your flight depart late, you can visit the attractions in Osaka on departure day. You also can skip one of 2 days in Kyoto. Of course I recommend you to stay in Kyoto longer. But it is not impossible.
ICOCA and Haruka round trip ticket 4060 yen
Kyoto City Sightseeing Card 2 days 2000 yen
Additional charge 10 yen
Refund for returning ICOCA -500 yen
Kansai Area Pass one day 2060 yen
Enjoy Eco Card 800 yen (or Amazing Pass 2300 yen)
Total fares 8430 yen
The fares and schedule are based on August, 2014. But you can use this amount for your estimation of your trip.