With more shrines than skyscrapers, Japan’s ancient capital is the idyllic traditional city. But when the heat rolls in, these cooling summer day trips from Kyoto will tempt you to leave it all behind.

If you’ve based yourself in Kyoto for a few days longer than needed to see all its sights, a day trip can breathe fresh air into your city stay, especially in the summer heat. There are plenty of spots to escape to, with mountain hikes, beaches and canal towns to explore. While there are famous options which take a little more travel time (like Mount Koya or Miyajima, for example), there are some great spots closer by too.

1. Amanohashidate: A bridge to heaven

Photo by iStock.com/bee32

Pretty much the ideal summer getaway, Amanohashidate is a land bridge stretching across the Miyazu Bay. With sandy beaches, hidden shrines and a mini theme park, it’s no wonder this is one of the top summer destinations in Kansai.

Suggested Activity
Brunch at Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Start your day the right way -- with a delicious brunch in "Kyoto's kitchen", also known as Nishiki Market. The market has a long history, going back more than 400 years. ...

Considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful sights”, it is undeniably beautiful, and apparently resembles a bridge to heaven—if viewed with your head between your legs. You can make a wish at Nariaiji Temple, relax on the beach, and even rent a bicycle to explore the pine-covered sand bar. Further on, the small fishing village of Ine is accessible by bus (one hour, ¥400) and offers a chance to see the unusual funaya houses (boat homes) perched on the bay.

Getting there

Train: Catch the Hashidate Limited Express from Kyoto Station to Amanohashidate. It costs ¥4,790 (if you select unreserved seat fee) and takes just over 2 hours (the fastest option).

Bus: You can catch the Tankai Kaisoku bus, which runs 3–4 times a day, costs ¥2,800 and takes 2 hours and 20 minutes. There are also full-day bus tours that include a visit to Amanohashidate, Ine no Funaya fishing village and Miyama thatched village, plus an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

2. Hikes on Mt. Hiei to see Enryakuji

Daikoudou of Enryakuji 
Photo by iStock.com/tuskiusagi

The perfect mountain retreat, Enryakuji is a stunning temple complex and monastery on the cedar-covered slopes of Mt. Hiei. It’s been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is the founding temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. It is far quieter than similarly important locations such as Mt. Koya. Known in history for the warrior monks, the temple was burned to the ground to avenge attacks on Kyoto, but was rebuilt and is now home to the marathon monks who endure years of running-based training and sleep deprivation.

Lake Biwa seen from Mt. Hiei Observatory | Photo by iStock.com/shinichi nakano

Depending on whether the idea of a mountain marathon entices or horrifies you, you can choose to hike up the mountain or catch the Kyoto-side Eizan ropeway and cablecar combination. From the top you can explore the temples, enjoy views of Lake Biwa and let the fresh air blow away the cobwebs!

Getting there

Train: From Kyoto Station, catch the JR train to Hieizansakamoto (15 minutes, ¥330). From there you can hike or catch the cablecar/ropeway route which is a 15-minute walk away. The cablecar costs ¥900 one way and runs every half hour.(Please note: The cablecar service is currently suspended.)

Bus: Alternatively, you can catch a bus from Kyoto Station to Enryakuji for ¥770 which takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.

3. Lunch and boat rides in Kameoka

When they say the journey is more important than the destination, few places are better suited than Kameoka. A small castle town rarely visited, it has no real castle remains, but a homely small-town feel that can be refreshing after a city stay. There are local restaurants offering seasonal cooling dishes and a bakery that’s over 100 years old, which is perfect for snacks.

The reason you’re here, though? Well…if you take a 10-minute walk (or short bus ride) from Kameoka Station, you’ll be able to ride a traditional wooden boat all the way back to Arashiyama (Kyoto’s famous bamboo forest district). The journey takes 2.5 hours and is mostly smooth, with a few exhilarating patches to keep you awake. The river is cooling, you can listen to the summer frogs and admire azaleas—what more could you want from an afternoon?

Boat rides cost ¥4,100 and tickets must be bought at the ticket office on the day. (If it’s a bit steep, you can always rent a rowboat in Arashiyama instead).

Getting there

Train: From Kyoto Station, catch the JR Sagano Line for Kameoka (or Sonobe)—you’ll be there is under 30 minutes with a ticket price of ¥420.

4. Hiking and dining on the decks in Kibune

summer food japan
Photo by iStock.com/show999

Only 30 minutes from central Kyoto, the cedar-covered hills of Kibune will whisk you away from the summer heat in no time. Famed for the local restaurants which serve the traditional summer noodle dish of nagashi somen along decks perched on the flowing river, it’s summer dining done right.

Kibune, Kyoto in summer
Photo by iStock.com/show999

After you’ve filled up and cooled down, you can begin the hike to Kurama, which takes you past impressive cedar roots, shrines, temples and a museum. The route takes 2–3 hours and is reasonably easy, with a few tough spots along the way. It finishes close to Kurama Onsen, where you can soak your weary muscles before catching the free shuttle bus back to Kurama Station.

Getting there

Train: Not far from the center, your final destination is Kibuneguchi Station. It is 30 minutes from Demachiyanagi Station or 55 minutes from Kyoto Station. From Kibuneguchi Station, there are occasional buses to the town, but it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk otherwise.

5. Visiting Japan’s Venice in Omihachiman

Omihachiman canal view in summer
Photo by iStock.com/linegold

A canal town close to Lake Biwa, Omihachiman is an underrated gem with plenty to see. Originally a transport hub thanks to its waterways, the castle town was divided by the main canal with samurai on one side and common people on the other.

Today, the town has a whole host of well-preserved spots to visit, including merchant houses, the old quarter and museums dedicated to the town’s history—and even one for tiles. You can take a relaxing ride along the canals, stroll through the streets and visit the Himure Hachiman Shrine which was moved from the mountainside centuries ago. There is a cablecar that can whisk you up to a hilltop for views of Lake Biwa (and even more breeze) before you head home.

Getting there

Train: From Kyoto Station, catch the JR Special Rapid service toward Nagahama and get off at Omihachiman Station. It takes 35 minutes and costs ¥680 one way.

6. Getting back to nature at Mt. Takao

Mt. Takao Hike in Kyoto
Photo by iStock.com/sangaku

Not to be confused with Tokyo’s Mt. Takao, this is a stunning mountain area dotted with temples and a perfect shady escape. There are three main temples: Kozanji, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jingoji and Saimyoji—all in the forested valley. The area is most popular during autumn as it has some amazing color changes, but in summer you can take advantage of the shady forests and avoid the crowds too. After exploring the three temple complexes you can enjoy a river walk along the base of Mt. Atago, with plenty of swimming spots along the way.

Getting there

Bus: You can catch one of the JR buses from Kyoto Station to Takao, which leave every 30 minutes and cost ¥530 each way. When you finish your walk, head to Kiyotaki bus stop and catch the 64 or 94 bus towards Arashiyama.

While we do our best to ensure accuracy, details may vary. Post first published in July 2018. Last updated in May 2020.

Get the best Japan Cheapo hacks direct to your inbox