There’s much more to Kyoto than shrines and temples.
Kyoto makes for a great jumping-off point for day trips. Mountains and historic towns border the city, and hitting the coast and back to downtown in a day is a breeze. Unfortunately, since the city of Kyoto is such a popular destination, many of its attractions and nearby towns are often overlooked.
It’s time to escape the tourist hotspots and see just what you’re missing.
Nestled on the northern side of Mount Rokko and surrounded by pristine forests is Arima Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest and most lush onsen towns. Its climate was ideal for natural hot spring cultivation due to its location between heavily urbanized Osaka and the mountain’s untamed volcanic region.
Arima Onsen is brimming with history. Its origins can be traced to the Nihon Shoki, Japan’s second-oldest book of ancient records. In the 12th century, monks on pilgrimages soaked in the mineral-rich springs to soothe their travel-weary muscles. Today, Arima Onsen is essentially a hidden spa resort, home to tourist-friendly amenities such as food stalls, gift stores, restaurants, and onsen baths—both modest and luxurious. Some baths are even tattoo-friendly!
One of Kyoto’s best-kept secrets is the charmingly old, laid-back fishing town of Ine. Practically untouched by significant commercial development, this waterfront town gives Kyoto’s capital a run for its money for scenic views. Ine’s most iconic symbol is its boathouses, known locally as “funaya.” Funaya look a lot like machiya, or traditional Japanese houses you find in Kyoto, but with spectacular views of the sea. They also typically have space underneath for the homeowner’s fishing boats. While many of the machiya are private homes, there are a few that double as guesthouses, allowing visitors to explore what life is like in the storybook seaside town.
The picturesque Tamba-Sasayama is a former castle town with tons of traditional Kyoto architecture but without the swarming tourists. Formerly known as Sasayama, Tamba-Sasayama was founded in 1999 when it merged with nearby Konda, Nishiki, and Tannan. The town has mostly ignored any significant industrial development, which has allowed it to retain much of its Edo era aesthetic.
Tamba-Sasayama’s former samurai quarter still maintains a large merchant district with old storehouses and shops—some of which date back hundreds of years. While Tamba-Sasayama is slowly getting on tourist’s radars, the Kansai region knows it well thanks to its delicious mountain yam, chestnuts, and azuki beans, not to mention wild game such as wild boar and venison.
For the more adventurous types who want to venture out even further, the mysterious Awaji Island is a Kyoto day trip that feels worlds away. Located in the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and Honshu, the island boasts unique architecture by Tadao Ando, an anime park, picture-perfect beaches, mysterious whirlpools, and the world’s longest suspension bridge.
Goshiki Beach is one of the best places to take in the Seto Inland Sea, and the strangely beautiful Naruto Whirlpools are not to be missed. If you have time, add a detour to Awaji’s Water Temple and Yumebutai International Conference Center. Both are impressive structures built by the iconic Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
If you foster a fondness for matcha (green tea) or tea in general, then Uji is a must-visit. Just between Nara and Kyoto, this secluded town is the home of Japan’s best quality green tea in all its forms. It’s a reputation Uji has been building for over 1,000 years and just one of the small city’s impressive credentials.
For a deep-dive into the city’s culinary culture, head to Omotesando, the main road that feeds Byodoin Temple traffic. There, you’ll find many stores selling unique and meticulously crafted teas, Japanese sweets, and matcha flavored treats. You can’t go wrong with slightly bitter but refreshing matcha soft cream. An easy day trip, it’s a Gaijinpot favorite and a worthy contender for your next city escape.
If you make it out to one of these locations, tag us on Instagram with #GaijinPot Travel for your chance to get reposted!