When coming to Kyoto for the first time, you probably have three places in mind that you just have to see, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple, and the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. We already took a look at Kiyomizu Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine here, so in this itinerary, we’ll take a look at Arashiyama. Arashiyama is easy to get to from central Kyoto, but it’s also easy to get to from Osaka, which is why it’s also a popular destination for a one day trip to this ancient capital of Japan.
You should aim to get to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station by 9 a.m. You can also start from Hankyu Arashiyama Station, but then I recommend getting there by 8:30. The reason for this is in what we’re going to have for lunch. (Take the south exit when you see this gate at Saga-Arashiyama Station.)
Just a 4-minute walk away from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station you can find the wagyu beef restaurant Steak Otsuka that offers delicious Japanese beef at reasonable prices. The restaurant is in the middle of a residential area so remember to check the location online before going. The restaurant is only open for lunch and there’s always a line, but there’s a way you can beat those lines.
Just write your name on this board, which is brought out at 9 a.m. So now you can see why you need to get here early. The restaurant itself opens at 11 a.m. so you have time to go sightseeing after writing your name on the list.
Tenryu-ji Temple is a very nice temple, but the main part here has to be the huge garden. You get to see every wonder of Japanese gardening, from stone gardens to pond gardens, and there are so many flowers and plants at the garden it’s hard to keep track.
Also of note is the nice view of Kyoto you get if you climb up the hill of the garden. You should have time to see both the temple buildings and the garden, but take note of the time, as you need to be back at Steak Otsuka by 11 a.m., otherwise, you lose your reservation. The walk from Tenryu-ji Temple to Steak Otsuka takes about 10 minutes (as long as you don’t get lost).
Just make sure you’re at Steak Otsuka by 11 a.m.! The best steak you can get here is a sirloin cut of Murasawa beef, a steak sometimes called as the “steak of dreams” as it’s so rare. The juiciness of the meat is so incredible that you’re never going to forget your lunch experience here. While the 150-gram Murasawa sirloin steak is 6,200 yen, they also have cheaper options starting from 1,200 yen.
The service at Steak Otsuka is really fast, so you should be in and out in no time. Unless you order your steak with a bottle of red as a side. But after that, you should head for the Bamboo Grove.
The Bamboo Grove is always crowded, but seeing the tall bamboos reaching for the skies is an experience you won’t soon forget. Also, a great place to have your picture taken, or to take one of yourself with a selfie stick.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
When you have walked through the Bamboo Grove, you’ll get to the entrance of Okochi Sanso Villa, which used to be the summer-retreat of a famous actor, Okochi Denjiro. The entrance fee is 1,000 yen, but you get a cup of hot matcha tea, a traditional Japanese sweet, and even a postcard for it.
The garden is beautiful all year round, but the way it’s gardening is done deserves a special mention. The cleanliness of this garden rivals many of the more famous ones in Kyoto, plus the view of the mountains you get from the villa’s garden is spectacular.
Okochi Sanso Villa
This is one of the most famous and beautiful bridges in Kyoto, and it’s one that you have to cross so that we can get to our next destination. This bridge is also a nice place to have your picture taken if it’s not too crowded.
Arashiyama Togetsukyo Bridge
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is located close to the south end of the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, so it’s also close from Hankyu Arashiyama Station. The monkey park is actually located on top of a mountain, and it takes around 15-20 minutes to get to the top, so going to Arashiyama Monkey Park is also good exercise. In the picture, you can see the entrance to the park, from where the hike begins.
The monkeys are cute, and you even get to feed them from inside a rest hut. It’s really rare to get to see monkeys this close, so if in Arashiyama, remember to take the chance and hike up the mountain to Arashiyama Monkey Park.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
After you hike back down from Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, it’s probably going to be around 4 p.m. so it’s a nice time to head back. Taking Hankyu is the easiest way to get back to Kyoto from the Arashiyama Monkey Park, and it’s also an easy way to get to Gion if you want to see some nightlife in Kyoto. (As you can probably already guess, Arashiyama is not an area famous for its nightlife.)
Kyoto is the home ground of the style of Japanese haute cuisine called kaiseki, so if you only have one nice dinner in Kyoto, make it kaiseki. Gion Moriwaki is one of the finest kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto, and its dinner courses start at the quite reasonable 7,000 yen. Gion Moriwaki only fits 10 people at a time so a reservation is highly recommended.
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