Usually when people think of Kyoto they see a bustling city filled with traditional machiya, beautiful temples and geisha roaming the streets. It is of course, but it’s also so much more. Completely surrounded by mountains, Kyoto has stunning countryside on its doorstep and a personal favourite place to explore is Arashiyama. 

In the western mountains of Kyoto, Arashiyama is the ideal way to while away a day. So easily accessible from central Kyoto (you can take a JR line train from Kyoto Station or the Hankyu-Arashiyama line on the subway) and reach this tranquil treasure in around 15-20mins from the city centre. I love Arashiyama. Not just for the tourist trap bamboo path and monkey park, (which are both definitely worth visiting but be prepared for them to be busy!) but also for the myriad temples and the utterly breathtaking scenery.

I love to walk the Main Street of Arashiyama. Filled with goodies and ‘tat’ (and God knows I love a bit of tat….) the shops and restaurants are bustling with tourists interspersed with local school children, pristinely dressed, hand-in-hand being herded from one temple to the next. It’s always busy, but not in a busy way. Not like Tokyo-busy but definitely touristy-busy. Which is fine for a while, but I’m soon itching to find the more secluded and off-the-beaten-path sights where I can really appreciate some Zen Buddhism vibes.

Cue Gio-ji. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love a moss garden. And this might just be the prettiest moss garden I’ve seen. Finding Gio-ji means meandering through a quaint little residential stretch, around a 25min walk from the main station, up into the mountain. The temple itself is so tiny but it’s surrounded by a canopy and carpet of emerald green that glow from the few rays of sun managing to push their way through the thick leaves. The air is thick and still which just adds to the calming atmosphere. Gio-ji just oozes tranquility. 

Just before arriving at Gio-ji on the walk from Arashiyama’s main street, there’s a hive of temple complexes that are, like Gio-ji, much quieter and less touristy than those in the main town. Nison-in is another favourite. The grounds are huge and past the main temple buildings, including the sacred bell (which you can in fact ring, something that I took much delight in partaking in), there’s an ancient cemetery that is home to the graves of former emperors and philoshophers. Very humbling…

My absolute favourite thing to do in Arashiyama, is the hozugawa kudari. An hour and a half-long riverboat ride from the tiny town of Kameoka in the mountains, down a rapid-ridden stretch of the Hozugawa, finishing at the Togetsukyo Bridge in the main town. The views of the towering mountains and the soothing sound of the water make this probably one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done in Kyoto, or maybe even anywhere. I stumbled across the details to this completely accidentally whilst I was researching things to do in Arashiyama. We took the JR Line train from Arashiyama station, not the romantic railway as we didn’t want to see the views on the way up and spoil the surprise. I’m so glad we did, it was breathtaking floating down the river to new and more beautiful scenes after every bend. The sun was shining, the cool breeze and spray meant that we were never too hot, even though it was a good 33C that day…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jasmin says:

    Amazing tips.. Leaving for Japan on Thursday for 2.5 weeks and will definitely add your advice into our itinerary! A BIG thank you.


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