At Kyoto’s western border, a small but scenic Hozu river separates the city from pure, forest-coated hills of Arashiyama which also gave their name to the nearby Kyoto outskirt. The area is a great choice to visit on a sunny day as it offers a variety of outdoor activities such as forest or river walks, monkey park and a cruise down the river with a traditional boat.
It’s not surprising that Arashiyama experiences a huge inflow of tourists to its best assets. It will take careful planning and willingness to wake up at dawn to avoid the crowds, secure all the tickets and get the most out of your visit to this place.
The Bamboo Grove
Majestic, secluded, pure, peaceful… these are words I would NOT use to describe Arashiyama Bamboo Grove =( One of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks, it turned out to be almost as disappointing as Fushimi Inari Shrine. Our bitter experience at the shrine helped a bit: since we set our feet into the grove before 8am, it was still quite empty…
Although the main alley (the spot that appears in all Instagram posts about the grove) was already being explored by quite a few early bird visitors.
It was also sad to realize there’s nothing to see in the park except for this single alley of barbarically damaged by tourists bamboo stems. Boring…
But if you still want to check this box on your list, it’s worth to make an effort and wake up with the first sunbeams to be at the park by 7am. An obvious advantage of an empty grove is accompanied by warm and gentle light of the dawn, so your photos will also benefit. Otherwise, you risk remembering Arashiyama like this:
Iwatayama Monkey Park
Leave the bamboo grove behind and set your way to the opposite side of Hozu river. Walking along the bridge, stop for a second and admire the river in front of picturesque green hills.
On the other side, turn right to find yourself in front of the local Monkey Park entrance. Unlike Mt Takao where a few dozen of animals have to share a tiny pen, Iwatayama park is basically the entire hill. Path to the hill’s summit will take 20 minutes of walking, and in theory you could meet monkeys anywhere on the way.
But in practice most of them prefer the platform on the hilltop because that is also where they get food 😀 The macaques are friendly to people (unless you try to bully them) and photogenic like supermodels:
It’s possible to feed monkeys with peanuts sold on the spot, but don’t overdo it as some of them already look like they could use a diet. For safety reasons, feeding is only possible from the inside of a net-covered booth.
Another good thing about the park is a view of Kyoto outskirts:
Plan about 1-2 hours to visit this place.
Hozu river nature
A common way to experience Arashiyama nature is to take a cute old train to the neighboring Kameoka and return back to Kyoto with a traditional boat cruise. The combo is so popular that tickets to the train and the boat are sold right next to each other, on the same station the train departs from.
The full route will take at least 3 hours (half an hour of train ride + transfer to the cruise start point + wait + 2 hour cruise) so it makes sense to plan the trip for afternoon. During tourist seasons the tickets are hot: even if you are planning for a later option you might want to drop by the ticket office right when it opens. If you took my advice above and went to the bamboo grove at sunrise, you should be easily back to the station by 8am. Having bought the tickets, you don’t need to worry about that anymore when you explore the monkey park and enjoy your lunch before getting on the train.
The so-called “Romantic train” has open windows and slowly crawls along the river – one bank, then the other. Therefore, every passenger will get their chance to imprint the scene in their memory and their cameras =)
The boat starting point is located at a solid distance from the train terminal, and you will be offered to choose between a taxi, a bus, and a horse-driven carriage when buying the cruise tickets. Because I’m always scared for the well-being of horses, this time we went with a taxi, though I managed to spot some carriages on the way, and the horses looked alright, so maybe this would also be a valid option. In any case, the ride will take you through a rural town of Kameoka which might be interesting on its own as an example of Japanese countryside.
After about half an hour of waiting and maybe a little snack, it’s time to board the boat. It takes three boatmen to make sure that the passengers are safe amid river rapids and sharp rocks sticking out of the water. Relax and enjoy the fresh river air and forested hills around. In two hours you are back to Arashiyama bridge from the morning.
And, if all the oxygen made you hungry, don’t miss your chance to grab a snack from this original food
This pleasant and undervisited park finds itself right in front of the boat exit. Unlike the bamboo grove, the place is actually peaceful and silent, not to mention a miraculous view of the Hozu river canyon.
If you still have some energy left, you can try to find Okochi Sanso villa which used to belong to a famous Japanese actor. With good planning, it should be no problem to fit the visit into the plan although we decided to skip it when our tired bodies demanded a dinner (but also the description didn’t sound so exciting). Go and see for yourself and then tell me what exactly I have missed 😉
This one day Arashiyama itinerary is full of interesting impressions and activies, but at the same time it takes slow pace and is focused on stress-free nature admiration. I can recommend to come here somewhere in the middle of your stay in Kyoto, because Arashiyama is definitely a great place to have some rest and restore the energy needed for your usual sightseeing race =)