Western Kyoto ends in the pleasant, leafy suburb of Arashiyama (嵐山). Set beside the Hozu-gawa, Arashiyama was originally a place for imperial relaxation, away from the main court in central Kyoto, where aristocrats indulged in pursuits such as poetry-writing and hunting, but the palaces were later converted into Buddhist temples and monasteries. The most famous of these is Tenryū-ji, noted for its garden, while the smaller, quieter temples have a more intimate appeal. In contrast with Tenryū-ji’s somewhat introspective garden, that of Ōkōchi Sansō – the home of a 1920s movie actor – is by turns secretive and dramatic, with winding paths and sudden views over Kyoto. For a break from temples and gardens, take the Torokko train up the scenic Hozu valley to Kameoka, from where boats ferry you back down the fairly gentle Hozu rapids.
A good way to explore the area is to rent a bike and spend a day pottering around the lanes and through magnificent bamboo forests; alternatively, it is possible to see some of the main sights by jinrikisha. If you’re pushed for time, you could consider combining Arashiyama with the sights of western Kyoto.
Three train lines and several bus routes connect Arashiyama with central Kyoto. Unless you’ve got a bus or JR rail pass, the quickest and most pleasant way to get here is to take a train on the private Keifuku Electric Railway from Kyoto’s Shijō-Ōmiya Station (every 10min; 20min; ¥200). This brings you into the main Arashiyama Station in the centre of town – pick up a free bilingual map of the town at the station. Keifuku offers a one-day pass (¥650) covering unlimited travel on this Arashiyama line and also the Keifuku Kitano line, which connects with Kitano-Hakubai-chō Station in northwest Kyoto. Alternatively, the JR Sagano line runs from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station (every 20min; 15min; ¥230), which is handy for the Torokko trains, but it’s roughly fifteen minutes’ walk to central Arashiyama from here; make sure you get on a local JR train from Kyoto and not the express, which shoots straight through. Finally, there’s the less convenient Hankyū Electric Railway; from central Kyoto you have to change at Katsura Station, and you end up in the Hankyū Arashiyama Station on the south side of the river.
Buses are slightly more expensive and take longer, especially when the traffic’s bad. However, Arashiyama is on the main Kyoto bus network and falls within the limits for the combined bus and subway pass. City Bus routes #11, #28 and #93, and Kyoto Bus routes #61, #71, #72, #73 and #83, all pass through central Arashiyama. If you plan to do more than just the central sights, it’s worth considering bike rental. There are rental outlets at each of the train stations (¥500–1000 per day).
Most people visit Arashiyama from their Kyoto lodgings but there is some accommodation available in the area, though it is very expensive and difficult to make reservations during peak tourist seasons. Check with the tourist office at Kyoto Station if you are keen to stay overnight.
Arashiyama is famous for its Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, shōjin-ryōri, and particularly for yūdōfu (simmered tofu), which is closely associated with the Zen tradition. Some of the top-end places are very pricey but Arashiyama also has plenty of cheaper places to eat, mostly clustered around the main station.