Often included in lists of the most beautiful places in the world, this is definitely a special place. It is also noted for not just the view but the soundscape of the bamboo rustling in the wind. But if you get here any later than 8am, you might only hear the sound of cameras snapping pics and tour guides guiding busloads of noisy tourists. If you are an early bird, come even earlier. It is open to the public 24hrs.
(departs 9:07, 10:07, ...)
You might want to purchase the tickets earlier in the day if it is a weekend or peak season, but it is easy to do if you arrive at JR Saga-Arashiyama in the morning, which is right next door, before you go to the bamboo grove. This train costs 620yen per person but is a journey you won't forget. Winding through river gorges and forest clad mountains you can take some great pics to last a lifetime.
This is one of the most beautiful temple gardens in Japan and it's definitely worth the 500 yen entry (100 yen plus to wander inside the temple itself) and it is unique in that you can sit on the tatami floors and look out at the amazing pond. The history is interesting too as it was built by a shogun to placate the angry spirit of an Emperor whom he had double crossed. Breathtaking views and a peaceful place when you arrive before the crowds do (opens 8:30am). But move fast because you have a train to catch!
Thrill seekers will definitely enjoy this wild ride through river gorges and marvel at the skill of the people who guide you through these rough waters. Just a 10 min walk from the last stop of the train (Kameoka), you can board small boats and get ready for the adventure. It's a two hour ride till you peacefully slide in the calm waters near Arashiyama town and dock at the riverside. Tickets are 4100 yen per adult and can be purchased right next to the counter selling train tickets before you board the Romantic Train.
Visit the the grand Shinto shrine Kitano-Tenmangu
This place is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto dating back to the Heian Period. One famous court noble named Sugiwara no Michizane was wrongly accused of treason and exiled to the south of Japan. After his death, many calamities afflicted the capital including the Imperial Palace being struck by lightning. A young lady of the court had a dream that this was the workings of the wronged spirit of Michizane and thus the emperor built this shrine to appease his spirit deifying him as a "God of Lightning". Nowadays exam takers flock to this shrine as the scholarly Michizane has become somewhat of the "God of Study" as well.
Walk or take a cab to the spectacular Golden Pavilion "Kinkaku-Ji"
If you read my post about the East side of Kyoto you have read about the Silver Pavilion "Ginkaku-Ji" and it's rustic simplicity. Here you have the polar opposite. Kinkaku-Ji dazzles the eyes as it sparkles in the sunshine. The setting is absolutely beautiful too. Nestled in the low hills and surrounded by a huge pond, if lucky enough to get a wind free day you can see a full reflection in the pond of the impressive building which is entirely covered in real gold leaf. This place also has an interesting story to it. The villa of a retired shogun, this building survived centuries of warfare and was spared from bombing in World War II, only to be burnt down by a young deranged monk in 1950. The current building is a replica of the original but still worth a visit and you will see many agree by the number of daily visitors.
Visit a hidden gem "Genko-An" Temple
This temple is a little out of the way but only a 30min walk through a pleasant neighbourhood or a 600-700 yen taxi ride from Kinkakuji and a wonderful place to feel the quiet calm of a real Zen temple. This place is well known amongst Japanese for it's fall foliage so it does get crowded then but otherwise it's a nice change from the main tourist "top hits". A highlight of this temple is the two windows looking out to the garden one square and one round. The square circle represents "confusion" and the round one "completeness and enlightenment". Take time to look out both windows and contemplate those two concepts. The second highlight is the blood stained ceilings. These ceiling panels were originally floorboards of the Fushimi Castle and were used by the builder of this temple to honour the spirits of the dead. Looking up it's kind of eerie to see even foot prints and kimono cloth prints in darkened blood stains but there are few other places like it.
YOU MADE IT!
This would definitely be an action packed day for those who like to travel fast, so if you have more than a few days in Kyoto I would break it up into two days, one day in Arashiyama and one day to explore the west side of the city. Temples are normally open from 8-9am until 4-5pm so please check before hand to make sure you can get in. I hope you have a great time.
Have you been to any of these places before? Have any other suggestions for fun things to do and great places to check out? Please write in the comments below and safe travels!