Without a doubt, Kyoto has become one of tourists’s favorite cities in Japan because of its intact and well preserved cultural heritage sites. The city contains numerous shrines and temples, and it’s surrounded by beautiful nature that turns into vibrant shades of red in autumn or delicate blooms of white and pink in spring.
There are a lot of places to visit in Kyoto, whether you want to find inner tranquility with nature or an intimate experience with Japanese culture. Either way, the deciding factor would be how much time you have to explore this beautiful place. If you only have a limited time, I strongly recommend that you don’t miss spending a day in the Arashiyama area.
Arashiyama is a district in the far western outskirts of Kyoto. It derived its name from the mountain across the Oi River, which creates a beautiful backdrop to a seemingly old-fashioned bridge that brings you to a place of wonders. Yes! Arashiyama is designated as a national historic site and a place of scenic beauty.
From Kyoto Station, we boarded the Hankyu-Arashiyama Line and got off at Arashiyama Station. From there, we walked about 5 minutes to Togetsukyo Bridge, which is Arashiyama’s central landmark. Of course, the best thing to do is walk across the famous bridge, breathe the fresh air from the mountains, and listen to the relaxing sound of the river’s running water. Doing so can provide you with the perfect start of the day.
From the bridge, we walked to the Sagano Bamboo Forest. This is one of the most iconic spots in Kyoto, so it’s better to arrive as early as possible to avoid the huge crowds. Near the entrance to the Bamboo Forest, there are lots of food stalls, so feeling hungry along the way should not be a problem.
Unsurprisingly, nature is always amazing, and can bring smiles to every face. This was something I immediately felt as I walked along this beautiful path of towering green bamboo trees. While enjoying the whole walk, I could see genuine smiles from the people I met along the way; and one of the most beautiful sights was a father and a son, running along the span of the whole path while holding each other’s hands. It was a good reminder of how the appreciation of nature can bring people together.
Along the bamboo path is the entrance to one of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryu-ji Temple. It is designated as a World Heritage Site with a wonderful view of Arashiyama Mountain and a gorgeous garden inside. We were lucky to come here when the leaves were on their way to showcase their beautiful autumn colors. The entrance fee was only 500 yen.
Most of the tourists gather in the main hall and spend a lot of time there. But it’s best to go to the spots that people don’t go to. Here you will be able to take beautiful pictures of the place’s natural beauty while avoiding huge crowds.
After exploring the beautiful temple grounds, we headed to Okochi Sanso Villa right at the end of the Bamboo Forest. The villa is a former home and garden of the Japanese period film actor Denjiro Okochi, which is now open to the public.
This place has instantly become one of my favorite places in Arashiyama as it has fewer crowds than other places in the area. A lot of tourists back out due to its higher admission fee of 1,000 yen, but once you enter the premises, you’ll understand why the admission fee is that high.
Matcha and Japanese sweets at one of the villa’s tea houses are included in the admission ticket, meaning that this is a great chance to experience the Japanese tradition of drinking matcha, which has been labeled as a super food due to its many health benefits and antioxidants. To be honest, I’m not a fan of matcha because of how bitter it is, but perhaps I should drink it more since Japanese people live longer. Perhaps matcha plays a role in this.
The garden around the villa is just stunning, you can’t help but make a lot of stops along the way. It is especially gorgeous during fall, when autumn leaves paint the surroundings in a striking red hue.
There are still a lot of other places to explore in this beautiful area so, if you have time to spare, you can spend a day strolling around and discovering hidden gems away from the most touristy parts of Arashiyama.
If you don’t have a whole day to stroll around Arashiyama, then stopping by the famous Kinkakuji Temple should be in your itinerary. Fortunately, Kinkakuji, which is also called the Golden Pavilion, is easy to access from the Arashiyama area. From Saga-Arashiyama Station, we boarded the San-In Line and got off at Emmachi Station. From there, we took a bus that took us directly to the entrance of Kinkakuji.
Kinkakuji is recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. It is a Zen Temple in Northern Kyoto and is very famous for its unique exterior with walls that are completely covered in gold leaf. It is situated in the midst of a large pond with a backdrop of beautiful lush green thanks to the surrounding garden.
However, you should be prepared for the hordes of tourists and locals visiting this temple. Though the areas surrounding the pond tends to get very crowded, people just have to wait their turn to appreciate this temple’s beauty. It is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the admission fee is 400 yen.
From Kinkakuji, we boarded the bus back to Kyoto Station and concluded the day with a delicious dinner. There are various of Japanese food options at the station’s 11th and 12th floors, which can help people leaving Kyoto end the day in full Japanese style.