Sitting snuggly on the western outskirts of Kyoto surrounded by mountains, Arashiyama is perfect for a day-trip transition from crowded city life to scenic mother nature. The efficiency of the Japanese transport system allows you to visit this picturesque landscape within the hour, making Arashiyama the perfect place for a day trip from Kyoto.
The area is serviced by several buses as well as three large train stations on either side, Keifuku Arashiyama Station, Hankyu Arashiyama Station and JR Saga-Sarashiyama Station both of which are within walking distance of the central area. It’s a beautifully expansive area so here’s a run down of the most unmissable things to cover off in your 24 hours in Arashiyama.
If you alight from Hankyu Arashiyama Station, you’ll first encounter the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, which was named during the Heian period by Emperor Kameyama because of the way the moon appeared to cross over it, reflecting off the surface of the Oi River.
The structure is a favourite (and romantic) viewing platform for visitors to admire the landscape views of the surrounding mountains as well as the cherry blossoms. If you’re lucky, the stretch leading up to the bridge has some local stores set-up selling okonomiyaki (Japanese-styled pizza), yakisoba (fried noodles) and takoyaki (octopus balls) which will have you geared up for exploration!
Before you cross the bridge, head towards Mount Arashiyama where you can climb up around 150 steps to reach the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The 30 minute ascent brings you closer to almost 130 of our furry cousins up close, letting you feed them but the real treat is the unrivalled panoramic views of Kyoto’s city sprawl.
Make your way across the bridge and along the main road flanked on either side by shops, which sell a variety of local sweets and snacks as well as handicraft. Most places offer sample tasting before you buy which is great if you need a few souvenirs for those not as lucky as yourselves.
But don’t stop yet. You’ll have time to explore the street while you wait for a table for lunch, which usually takes upwards of 30 minutes on a quiet day. Head further down until you see Hirokawa, a restaurant into a two-storey traditional wooden house which specialises in freshly sourced eel from farms all over Japan, offering a selection of set lunches and a la carte dishes that will make your wait well worth it.
After a delectable lunch, cross the street and enter the UNESCO heritage site and iconic temple Tenryu-ji. The temple itself and its buildings has since been rebuilt and restored multiple times since it was first erected originally as a palace in 1339 but the Zen garden still retains much of its former magnificence.
If you skipped the Iwatayama Monkey Park earlier, you can still spot a few monkeys on the way up to Kameyama Park, which sits behind Tenryu-ji. Up here, you’ll see Zhou Enlai’s “Arashiyama in the Rain” stone monument as well as a bronze statue further along of Tsuzaki Muraok-no-Tsubone, a court lady-in-waiting. Continue upwards for a breathtaking view of the Hozugawa River, which flows into the Oi River.
Otherwise, head further up north along the main road where you’ll reach the path leading to Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves. The winding path is a 200-metre stretch of green serenity and the perfect way to slow down and feel embraced by nature away from the rest of the world.
You’ll be charmed by the elegance of Arashiyama but make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with a jam packed itinerary – take your time and breathe in your tranquil surroundings.
For more recommendations, read our guide to 10 things that we love about Kyoto.
This post was originally published on Lady Iron Chef, 24 Hours in Arashiyama, Kyoto on 18th June, 2014