There’s so much to see in Kyoto itself that most people don’t explore the surrounding area. First priority should probably go to Arashiyama, to the west side of Kyoto, which is famous for its gardens and temples, as well as the Hozu-gawa gorge boat ride and the monkey park. Uji, to the south of Kyoto, is another quiet pocket of history and home to the magnificent Byōdō-in, whose graceful Phoenix Hall is a masterpiece of Japanese architecture, as well as the tea fields which support Kyoto’s cultural traditions. In the northeast of Kyoto is Hiei-zan, atop a mountain overlooking the city, where age-old cedars shelter the venerable temples of Enryaku-ji. Below Hiei-zan, Ōhara contains a scattering of beguiling temples in an attractive valley.
Slightly further afield, but definitely worth the effort, are Amanohashidate, the “Bridge to Heaven”, on the northern coast of Kyoto prefecture and one of the trio of top scenic views in Japan; the attractive castle town of Hikone on Biwa-ko, Japan’s largest lake; and the architecturally stunning Miho Museum, nestled in the Shigaraki mountains.