Just outside Kyoto, you will find this pleasant district, a popular tourist destination since the Heian Period (10th century). The district, with its many temples and shrines, with the beautiful river along which runs the railroad, is extremely popular among locals, especially during the cherry blossom and the fall color season.
Some of its most famous landmarks are the Togetsukyo Bridge, the Tenryuji Temple and the unique bamboo groves. The district is small, and a full-day tour is more than enough to explore it.
- Without any doubt, the landmark representing Arashiyama is the Moon Crossing Bridge, or Togetsukyo Bridge, built eight centuries ago.
- The bamboo groves create a unique setting for a leisure stroll.
- Don’t forget to visit one of the many temples inside the district.
- Take a train or a boat and explore the surroundings of the Hozugawa River.
- Our full-day tour is the perfect way to see what Arashiyama has to offer.
Even though Arashiyama is not too big, it offers many places of interest. The highlights of the district are the many temples, such as Tenryuji, Daikakuji and Jojakkoji. Of course, a visit to Arashiyama cannot be complete without the Togetsukyo Bridge and Monkey Park, two of the most famous landmarks of the district.
The “Moon Crossing Bridge”, built during the Heian Period (8th to 12th century), is the most famous spot of the district. The bridge and the mountain in the background create a unique scenery that you will hardly forget, and just a few steps away from the bridge you will find a lovely park with dozens of cherry trees.
In Arashiyama you will find one of the most suggestive places of Japan: a bamboo forest. You will walk on the silent path that cuts through the middle of it. When the day is slightly windy, the green stems will sway back and forth, creating a unique setting that, we are sure, you will love. It’s a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most useful materials of all Asia.
Okochi Sanso Villa
The famous actor, Okochi Denjiro, who died in 1962, used to come here for holidays. The villa comprises many gardens and buildings, such as private quarters and tea houses. You cannot visit the inside of the buildings; but, on the bright side, the admission fee includes a cup of matcha and a snack.
Ternyuji Temple is seen as one of the best Zen temples of the region, and it is the biggest temple in Arashiyama. It was founded about 800 years ago and nowadays is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Moreover, the temple is surrounded by lovely gardens, where you can wander freely and relax.
In the past, this was the residence of the emperor, and later it was converted into a temple (around the 9th century), with many members of the imperial family serving as the head priests. It is used by the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.
This temple, located on the side of a mountain, was founded at the end of the 16th century. It has many small, beautiful buildings and gates, and its overall atmosphere is incredibly quiet and discreet. The paths surrounding it are lined with dozens of maple trees and, if you find the right spot, you can enjoy a view over the city of Tokyo.
The park is located on the mountains of Arashiyama, and its entrance is literally a few minutes away from the Togetsukyo Bridge, in the south. After entering the park, you will hike uphill for about ten minutes and then you will find an open area with more than a hundred monkeys that wander freely. Be careful when interacting with the monkeys, respect them and follow some simple rules to avoid problems.
Scenic Railway and River Boat Experience
The Hozugawa River, extremely important in the past, and today a beautiful setting for tourists, can be explored in two ways: You either take a ride on the railway running along the riverside and admire it from above, or you can take a river boat and slowly drift down the river.
Saga Scenic Railway
This railway runs along the Hozugawa River, and you can take a train for a leisurely ride among the mountains. The trains – quite nostalgic, with their wooden benches – slowly go along the tracks, allowing you to admire the colors in autumn, when the ride is particularly popular.
To take the train, you have to reserve a ticket (unless you don’t mind standing). The train does not operate during the winter months.
Hozu River Boat
This traditional-style cruise, guided with oars and bamboo poles, takes about two hours to wind its way down the river and the undeveloped ravine. You can take the train all year round, unless it is raining heavily or the water level changes too much.
In the past, the river was used to transport logs, and the operations stopped only when train and trucks made them outdated. Nowadays, the boats are only used as a tourist attraction, and we strongly recommend you try this ride.
Local Food and Recommended Restaurants
There are many places you can choose from for an exquisite meal and to enjoy the local cuisine. On the tourist route, Komichi is for sure the best restaurant/café you will find, perfect for a light meal. Hiranoya, on the other hand, is a fascinating teahouse that operates also as a restaurant.
If you want to try some excellent Arashiyama Buddhist specialties, especially yudo (chunks of tofu simmered in broth), we recommend you try Yodufu Sagano. For more traditional Buddhist cuisine, try Shigetsu, located inside the ground of Tenryuji Temple.
Last but not least, we need to mention Unagi Hirokawa, a famous Michelin-starred restaurant, which specializes in grilled eel. Booking a table in advance is crucial, if you don’t want to wait for hours.
Full-Day Arashiyama Highlights Tour
If you have a day to spend in Arashiyama, you can try our full-day tour that starts with the famous Okochi Mountain Villa, where you will enjoy some matcha green tea. After that, you will stroll through the suggestive bamboo groves. Then it is time to visit the Nonomiya Shrine, a Shinto shrine used by imperial princesses to purify themselves.
The visit to the Tenryuji Temple is a chance to admire one of the most impressive temples of the district. Then, in a traditional building located on the temple grounds, you will enjoy a delicious vegetarian lunch, made following the traditional Buddhist cuisine, called shojin-ryori.
After lunch, the tour will lead you to the Monkey Park, and the end of your day will be on the Sagan Scenic Railway, also known as the Romantic Train, for a 25-minute train ride immersed in nature.
The tour operates from March 1st to December 29th (except on Wednesdays). It starts at 9 a.m. and lasts 8 hours (please notice that the Monkey Park is closed on Mondays).
How to Get to Arashiyama
There are many ways to get to Arashiyama, but without doubt the fastest one is to take one of the trains of the JR Sagan Line from Kyoto Station. It takes only 15 minutes and costs 240 yen. Once you get to the station, you will have to walk less than 10 minutes to reach the center of the district.
Cheaper options are provided by Keifuku Railways (20 mins for 210 yen, and you will directly reach the heart of the city) and Hankyu Railways (220 yen).
You can also opt for a bus or a car, but there is always the risk of getting stuck in a traffic jam. If you wish to take the bus, you need to take Kyoto City Bus #28 and get off at Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae. The ride takes about half an hour.