With more shrines than skyscrapers, Japan’s ancient capital is the idyllic traditional city. But when the summer heat rolls in, these cooling summer day trips Kyoto will tempt you to leave it all behind.
If you’ve based yourself in Kyoto for a few days longer than you need to see the 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 Koya-san or Miyajima, for example), there are some great spots closer by too.
1. Amanohashidate: A bridge to heaven
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.
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 Nariaji Temple, relax on the beach and even rent a bicycle to explore the pine-covered sand bar. The small fishing village of Ine is accessible by bus (1 hour, ¥400) and offers a chance to see the unusual funaya houses (boat homes) perched on the bay.
Access: Catch the Hashidate Limited Express which costs ¥3,880 (if you select unreserved seat fee) and takes just over two hours. Alternatively you can catch the Tankai Kaisoku bus, which runs four times a day, costs ¥2,800 and takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.
2. Hike Mount Hiei to see Enryakuji
The perfect mountain retreat, Enryakuji is a stunning temple complex and monastery on the cedar-covered slopes of Mount 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 Mount 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.
Depending on whether the idea of a mountain marathon entices or horrifies you, you can choose to hike up the mountain or catch the ropeway (¥1,570 return). From the top you can explore the temples, enjoy views of Lake Biwa and let the fresh air blow away the cobwebs!
Access: Catch the JR train to Hieizansakamoto (15 minutes, ¥320) if you would like to hike or catch the cable-car which is a 15-minute walk away. This takes another 15 minutes, costs ¥1,520 return and runs every half hour. 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. The journey takes two and a half 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 ¥4,300 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).
Access: Catch the JR Sagano Line for Kameoka (or Sonobe)—you’ll be there is under 30 minutes with a ticket price of ¥410.
4. Hiking and dining on the decks in Kibune
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 nagashi-somen along decks perched on the flowing river, it’s summer dining done right.
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.
Access: Not far from the center of Kyoto at all, but slightly annoying from Kyoto Station, Kibuneguchi Station is 30 minutes from Demachiyanagi, which is a few stops from Gion Shijo on the Keihan main line. If you’re leaving from Kyoto Station, you can catch a local bus to Demachiyanagi or do a few train hops to get there. From Kibune-guchi Station, there are occasional buses to the town, but it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk otherwise.
5. Visit Japan’s Venice in Omihachiman
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 one 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 cable car which can whisk you up to a hilltop for views of Lake Biwa (and even more breeze) before you head home.
Access: Catch the Jr Special Rapid service to Nagahama and get off at Omihachiman, it takes 35 minutes and costs ¥670 one way.
6. Get back to nature at Mount Takao
Not to be confused with Tokyo’s 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 Mount Atago, with plenty of swimming spots along the way.
Access: You can catch one of the JR buses from Kyoto Station to Takao, which leaves every 30 minutes and costs ¥520 each way. When you finish your walk, head to Kiyotaki bus stop and catch the 64 or 94 bus towards Arashiyama.