Nine daylong itineraries exploring Kyoto and nearby areas of the Kansai region.
Southeastern Hills and Station Area
The temples of Kyoto's southeastern hills are impressive in breadth and scale. And they're accessible from the similarly impressive Kyoto station 京都駅, making them good visits upon arrival or departure.
Higashiyama 東山, the eastern hills, are home to some of Kyoto's most important and yet most rustic Buddhist temples and gardens. Many are located along the Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 that runs north-south through the these hills. Stroll up the path and hike into the mountains for stellar views of the city.
Northwestern Hills and City Center
Some of Kyoto's most iconic destinations are clustered in the northwestern hills at the base of Mt. Taku 沢山. Come in the early morning to avoid crowds, and leave plenty of time for an afternoon of shopping or cultural events in the city center.
Northern Areas: Mt. Hiei and Ohara
Kyoto's quietest districts are the mountains and valleys to the north. A morning expedition to unsettling Enryaku-ji 延暦寺 at the top of Mt. Hiei 比叡山 is well-paired with the welcoming and quaint countryside village of Ohara 大原.
Southern Areas: Inari, Uji and Wazuka
Take a quick train to Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 and hike the hill through 30,000 red torii gates. Then continue south to Uji 宇治, Japan's tea capital, and home to the country's oldest operating shrine Shinto shrine. Ambitious tea lovers can further immerse themselves in a sea of green in the Wazuka 和束 tea plantations farther south.
Western Areas: Katsura and Arashiyama
Head west in the early morning to enjoy a tranquil walk through the famous bamboo groves of Arashiyama 嵐山. On the way back, don't miss the thoroughly modern architecture and landscape design of 17th-century Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa 桂離宮.
Kurama 鞍馬 valley north of Kyoto makes for a triumphant bike trip from the city center. Enjoy the suburban and mountain views along the way, and a meal, temple and long bath at the summit.
Eight buildings and ruins remain from the eighth century, when Nara 奈良 was Japan's capital. Check out the ancient architecture, large Buddha statue and reveered free-roaming deer.
Osaka and Kobe
Two hip cities by the bay are just a quick and cheap train-ride away. Come to Osaka 大阪 for the seafood and fried dishes, buildings new and old, and generally laid-back vibe. Then see Kobe's 神戸 earthquake memorial and port.