Kyoto is well-loved as one of the cultural hubs of Japan. With its abundance of temples and shrines along with its significant impact on the history of Japan, it is no surprise that Kyoto regularly tops lists of recommended places to visit in Japan. However, as beautiful as the locations within Kyoto city are, a great way to really further your experience of Kyoto is to engage in some day trips to the surrounding areas. The city of Kyoto is surrounded by mountains and so is able to provide a multitude of beautiful, tranquil and often secluded places to visit.
Arashiyama is one of the most popular parts of Kyoto prefecture to visit outside of the main city. It is located on the western edges of the city at just a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto station. It is perhaps most famous for the bamboo groves at the base of the mountain. The bamboo is incredibly tall and provides a dappled, green shade over the grove. This is a lovely, relaxing walk which often leads to the monkey park at the top of the mountain. The monkey park is approximately a 30-minute walk from the entrance to the bamboo groves. There are around 120 Japanese macaque monkeys which roam free through the park grounds. However, Arashiyama is not limited to just this. Rather, there are also a number of small forest temples which are often overlooked. One of the more popular ones is Tenryuji temple, which is located between the bamboo groves and the monkey park and is one of the top Zen temples in the area. There are also a number of other temples located further off the beaten track in Arashiyama. This is a lovely traditional area which is easy to incorporate into a day in Kyoto.
Kibune is a small forest town in the northern mountains of Kyoto. It is a 30-minute train journey from Kyoto station but feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The town of Kibune is home to Kifune shrine, a shrine dedicated to the god of water and rain. Surrounded by the beautiful mountain forests, Kifune shrine provides a unique experience. For example, their omikuji, or fortune slips, are written on a paper that only becomes visible after being put in water. The town is also famous for waterside dining. There are a number of traditional Japanese inns and restaurants located next to the rivers running through the area and so provide an amazing view to customers. The small town of Kibune with its associated shrine is a beautiful forest getaway trip from Kyoto.
3. Mt. Hiei
For a more active day trip around Kyoto, there is Mt. Hiei in the eastern part of Kyoto prefecture. Standing at 850m tall, it is a wonderful day hike which can allow you to experience some of the beautiful nature Japan has to offer. It is located around a 15-minute train ride from Kyoto station. The early part of the hike is considered quite difficult, but don’t let that deter you as there is also a cable car available. At the summit of the mountain there are fields of azaleas and beautiful flowers. It is also popular in autumn as the leaves burst into colour with the fall foliage. The top of the mountain has some beautiful views over both Kyoto and Lake Biwa. It is also home to Enryakuji Temple, one of the original temples of Tendai sect of Buddhism. The seclusion of this temple creates a completely different air to some of the more commonly-visited temples of Kyoto city. Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji Temple have created a beautiful combination of nature and culture that can make for a truly unique day trip.
Amanohashidate is something a little different from most recommended spots in Kyoto. With ocean views and a seaside feel, it is a much lesser-visited area of Kyoto, but just as beautiful as the more popular spots. It is approximately a 2-hour train ride from Kyoto station but is well worth the journey. Amanohashidate is home to a natural land bridge spanning Miyazu Bay and is considered to be one of the top 3 sights in Japan. It is said that the bridge resembles a bridge to heaven when viewed upside-down, between your legs. In fact, the name, Amanohashidate, means ‘bridge to the heavens’. Along this ‘bridge’ there are many small beaches which are wonderful to enjoy during the summer. There are also a number of small, rarely-visited, interesting shrines. These include Amanohashidate Shrine and the nearby Nariaiji Temple. There is also a mini-theme park which has a cable car for more views of the bay and has a charming, ‘retro Japan’ style. Amanohashidate is one of the most unique experiences you can have in Kyoto.
Kyoto is one of the most popular and most highly-recommended areas of Japan and for good reason. There are many culturally significant locations, a range of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and beautiful traditional surroundings. However, a great way to make your Kyoto trip stand out and be different from the standard is to take day trips to some of the surrounding areas. Here we have covered some of the best day trips in the Kyoto prefecture area by JR train to make your next trip the best yet.