People flock to the area of Arashiyama Kyoto to see the oft-photographed bamboo forest. But there’s much more to see in this beautiful area. If you’re in the central part of Kyoto, take a train ride from Kyoto station, and prepare to spend a full day here.
Note: The route I took was actually in reverse, as I walked to Otagi Nembutsu-ji directly from the train station (about a 2.7 km walk), and then backtracked. This is my “do-over” route, and how I’d try to do it next time. However, it wasn’t so bad finishing my day at the Monkey Park, looking over Kyoto from the mountain top.
If you’re ending with the temple and are thinking of going back by bus to save time and energy, be aware of the bus timetables.
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On the map
…are the places I visited during my day in the Sagano Arashiyama area, and a suggested itinerary, as well as a couple of bike rental places to visit the further-out locations in case you want to ride a bike instead of walking or taking the bus.
Of course, there are many other things to do in Arashiyama Kyoto. At the bottom of the post, there are some additional temples and places you might want to consider visiting if you have more time.
Note: This post was written before we had to make some major changes on this website. Formerly, there was a map here of the various places I mention. At some point, I’ll re-create the map.
If you want to skip to a specific part of the post, here are some links: 1. Saga Arashiyama Station 2. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama 3. Riverboats 4. Togetsu Cafe 5. Arashiyama Park Nakanoshima 6. Togetsu-kyo Bridge 7. The Kimono Forest 8. Miffy Sakura Bakery 9. Tenryu-ji Temple 10. Rilakkuma Tea House 11. Bamboo Forest 12. Sagano Toriimoto Preserved Street 13. Otagi Nembutsu-ji Temple. At the bottom of the post there’s a blurb about a few other things to do if time allows: Daikaku-ji Temple, Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple, Giouji Temple, and the Sagano Romantic Train.
1. Saga Arashiyama Station: The Start of Our Journey
You’re likely coming from the central part of Kyoto. If so, your journey will take you from Kyoto Station on the JR San-in line to Saga Arashiyama station. (Click here for Google timetables or here for the JR West timetables.)
The good news is that the ride isn’t too long — about 20 minutes — and that your IC card will work for this trip, including the Pasmo or Suica card you might have bought if you traveled to Tokyo before going on to Kyoto.
The bad news is that the train is likely to be crowded with other visitors eager to visit the bamboo groves, especially during prime hours.
It’s about a 15-20 minute walk to the (base of the) monkey park — there’s a station closer, but getting there from Kyoto station involves taking a bus as well…I found it easier just to walk the route. This path will be starting at the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, with the assumption that you’re getting there early and then backtracking.
However, you can do these things in any order you’d like. If you want to get to the bamboo grove during a less crowded time, you might want to go there early, for instance. Early morning bike tours of the bamboo forest and the Arashiyama Kyoto area sound enticing and, if I ever get back, would be something I would consider doing.
2. Kyoto Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Arashiyama Monkey Park opens at 9:00 AM and closed at 4 or 4:30 PM depending on the season, so if you’re starting your day here, prepare to get here at opening time to allow yourself to spend a full day in the area.
It’s also an excellent place to start your day as you’ll likely have more energy then — it’s a climb as the park is situated on a mountaintop where the many macaques roam freely. Visitors are reminded not to get too close, but if you want to feed the monkeys, you may do so from inside a building with a safety screen – making you feel that, perhaps, YOU are the one being watched here.
Anyway, human behavior is, to me, more interesting than monkey behavior. This is your chance to watch simian antics of all sorts!
Certainly, it’s fascinating to watch the baby monkeys put their little hands through the screen to grab food out of visitors’ hands.
The top of the mountain here offers expansive views of Kyoto and the Katsura river, so when you’re done watching monkeys (and humans) sit on one of the benches and look at the landscape.
Photos from Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
3. Take A River Boat
After descending the mountain, you’ll see riverboats leaving from both sides of the Katsura river. I didn’t have time in my day to allow for a boat ride, but it seems that you can rent a boat from several places along the river. There’s also a riverboat lunch cruise that you can book in advance.
4. Stop For a Quick Bite
Mountains and rivers! If you’re tired, maybe it’s time to take a break. There are plenty of choices by the river, including many udon noodle places– too many to sample in one day. I stopped at the Togetsu cafe, which you’ll notice on the left after you cross the first part of the bridge onto the island in the river.
It’s a coffee shop with counter service, but an excellent place to stop and sit for a bit, get a matcha latte, and a quick bite of tempura and edamame.
5. Arashiyama Park Nakanoshima
After (or, perhaps, before) getting a snack, stop at the large, lovely, park area on the island in the river. On a spring day, it was full of families with children on little bikes, people walking by the river, and cherry blossoms.
6. The Bridge
After having a bite to eat and enjoying the park, take a walk on the Togetsu-kyo bridge over the Katsura River and stop to appreciate the view of hillsides, riverboats, and water flowing over a small dam in the river.
When you get to the other side, you might want to stroll along the banks and look in a few shops. If you didn’t find a riverboat rental on the south side of the river, there are boat rentals on the Northside of the river.
When I arrived in Arashiyama Kyoto, I had a vague plan in mind but didn’t even realize that the main town here is Nonomiya — a busy, bustling area that includes many shops, restaurants, as well as a large temple complex and the famous bamboo groves.
There’s plenty to do here — plan to allow some time to just wander around in shops, find a restaurant, sample some street food, or sample a couple of kawaii (cute) desserts (see below).
And Owl/Cat cafes are not confined to Tokyo! The Arashiyama Forest of Owls and Leopard Cats has both. I didn’t visit because I’d had my owl cafe fix in Tokyo.
Photos from Nonomiya
Many of these photos are the same as I’ve used other places in this post, but as I was revising the site, this gallery needed a place to “live” so here it is.