Is Arashiyama Worth Visiting?

Arashiyama river with boat

Whenever I write these ‘Is it worth visiting’ type of articles, my decision usually lines up with what most people think. However, this wildly popular district in Western Kyoto makes things a little more difficult. So, is Arashiyama worth visiting?

In my opinion, Arashiyama is worth visiting, but not for the Bamboo forest or monkey park. The area is prone to becoming overcrowded in the popular seasons and just visiting the two most popular attractions there isn’t going to be the most beneficial use of your time.

As someone who’s been to Arashiyama 4 times, I’ve figured out some of the best places to go and the best things to see that’ll make your trip to Arashiyama worth it!

How to get to Arashiyama

I would advise planning your trip to Arashiyama for when/if you’re based in Kyoto. The trip from surrounding areas like Nara and Osaka (Osaka Umeda station) takes around 2 hours which isn’t ideal.

The train journeys themselves aren’t too complicated, but when you’ve got a limited timeframe, 4 hours is a lot of time to spend just traveling.

In contrast, taking the train from Kyoto Station to Arashiyama Station takes under half an hour.

Where to stay in Arashiyama

Even though I’ve visited Arashiyama on 4 separate occasions (and in three different seasons), I’ve never stayed here. While the area does have some beautiful places to call home for the night (including Hoshinoya Kyoto – legitimately my dream hotel), it’s always seemed more cost-effective to stay somewhere else.

The first time, that meant staying in Osaka which, overall, has vastly cheaper accommodation than Kyoto. The subsequent times we chose Kyoto so we could make the most of our time and spend less on trains.

Spend some time analyzing your itinerary and see what the best option for you would be. If most of your activities are in Kyoto but you’re on a tight budget, it could be worth staying in Osaka instead.

In that case, if you do end up deciding to travel to Arashiyama, just try to enjoy the trip. Read a book, relax, and keep a positive mindset (despite the long train journey).

Things to do in Arashiyama

The first two things on this list are things that you can do in Arashiyama but are not things I’m 100% suggesting you do. In fact, if you chose not to do the first one, you really won’t have missed much.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Bamboo Grove is probably the main reason you’re coming to Arashiyama and easily the most popular attraction in the area. Believe it or not, this is the one attraction that I think really isn’t worth visiting Arashiyama for.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll practically never have this place to yourself. If you arrive past 8 or 9 in the morning, it’ll be packed. Try to visit at midday and you’ll barely be able to walk through it without bumping into people.

We found this out the hard way the first time, and when showing family members (who wanted to see the area), we got there at 7 in the morning. The photo above was taken at that time, and while there were still a number of people, it was as close to a comfortable experience as you’re going to get.

Where to go instead: Adashino Nenbutsuji – a temple that closes at 15:30 and is a little further away than the main bamboo forest. I’m not saying this place will be empty (it won’t be), but far fewer people know about it (and can be bothered to walk), so you might be able to see bamboo in a little more comfort if you want to.

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Iwatayama Monkey Park

I prefer Monkey Park to the Bamboo Forest, it’s easily a better experience. However, you will have to walk 10 minutes or so up to them which means it isn’t suitable for people with accessibility issues.

Unlike a lot of animal experiences, Iwatayama Monkey Park makes you the one behind the cage while the animals roam free. You can tell they’re used to human interaction by how docile they are, but it’s still a really interesting experience if you’ve never seen animals up close like this.

Arashiyama view of kyoto

If you’re not a fan of animals then you could still walk up to appreciate the view over Kyoto. It’s definitely one of the best in the area although I’ve done this particular experience 3 times, and twice it was cloudy.

Fingers crossed for a clear day if you go!

Walk across Togetsukyo Bridge

arashiyama bridge

This is something you’ll have to do anyway when you walk into the town from the train station. It’ll provide you with some nice views across the river and up into the mountains.

If you can get here during sunrise or sunset, you’ll have some pretty nice shots!

One problem you might have been able to guess by looking at the photo is that this bridge gets really busy. The middle area is for cars with pedestrians able to walk on either side.

Unfortunately, there are no clear signs to dedicate one side or the other to walking a certain way which means unless you’re here early, you’ll be bumping into everyone along the way. It’s perhaps the most unorganized I’ve felt since living in Japan, where are the orderly lines, queues, and rules!?

Japan has changed me!

Giōji Temple

gioji moss garden arashiyama

Giōji Temple is BY FAR my favorite thing to do in Arashiyama and a trip to this temple would make the answer to the question ‘Is it worth visiting Arashiyama’ a resounding YES! Even if this is the only thing you end up doing!

I’ve wanted to visit a moss garden for as long as I can remember but most of them seemed too expensive, too popular, or as you’ll see in a minute, had ‘unreasonable’ entry requirements. Giōji temple, somewhere we stumbled upon by accident, was perfect.

It’s small, out of the way enough for people not to bother visiting, and genuinely one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in Japan. I’m not sure if the moss lasts all year, but the picture I took above was in Spring.

I’m planning to do an entire post on this temple, it’s honestly one of the best reasons to come to Arashiyama and something I really recommend doing.

Jōjakkōji Temple

Jōjakkōji Temple

Jōjakkōji Temple is a temple I found on our most recent trip to Arashiyama. It’s just after the Bamboo Grove, and only a few minutes from the moss gardens we talked about above.

It’s not one of the best temples I’ve been to in Japan, but it gives you a nice view of the district and is still very beautiful. To be honest, all of Japan is photogenic, so I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a ‘bad’ temple to visit.

Go for a walk

Arashiyama country walk

I suggest this all the time to people that email me, and in practically every travel guide I’ve ever written. Walking just a little bit further than you have to in Japan is the best way to find hidden gems, cute anime-like scenes, and to really get a sense of the place you’re exploring.

It’s how we found Gioji temple and figured out the best way to see the deer in Nara. So if you can, walk a little bit further than the rest of the people, you really should!

Saihō-ji Temple

When I got properly addicted to searching for a moss garden to visit, this was my original choice in Arashiyama. Also known as Kokedera (Moss Temple), Saihōji Temple requires you to book your slot in advance by sending over a written letter with your available days (for either a 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. visit).

If they have space, they’ll send you back a postcard (to an address in Japan) to inform you which dates you’ve been given (if any). As you can tell, this isn’t going to work for everyone, but damn is it a cool way to do things!

According to the research I’ve done, in 1977 the temple grounds were completely overrun with tourists so the monks at the time designed this system to ensure the longevity, tranquillity, and peacefulness of the gardens.

When you arrive you’ll hand over your postcard, purchase a calligraphy pen (or bring your own), and then trace a sutra or prayer on a bit of paper. Then you present it to a statue in the temple, throw in some coins, and then you’ll have 2 hours to walk among the grounds until you hear a gong.

Does it get any better than that? Please let me know if you’ve done or plan to do this, I’d love to hear how it went!


This is the temple I originally avoided on my trips to Arashiyama because it’s so popular (and likely crowded), but looking at the photos on Google, it seems like there is enough space for people to disperse freely.

The surrounding trees here look beyond spectacular in Autumn, and you’ll definitely get your ‘zen’ experience no matter what time you visit. There’s an area out the back where you’ll sit down and view the zen garden in front of you, a great way to relax during your trip to Japan.

It’s a different kind of garden to the one in Osaka called Keitakuen, but no less beautiful.


arashiyama shops

The one place you’ll see in Arashiyama that’s PACKED with people pretty much all day is the shopping street. I still think it’s worth having a little look because there’s a load of food stalls, a snoopy shop (deffo worth a visit), and plenty of authentic stores selling gifts.

Of course, it’s a touristy area so these prices will be inflated but the actual items on sale all seem pretty decent. It reminds me a little bit of the street in Oshino Hakai, only much bigger.

Secret tip: If you’re after more hand-crafted pieces, follow the road around to the right (just after you get to the top of the bamboo forest), and you’ll walk past a load of houses selling things out in their front gardens. It’s mainly pottery, but it’s all been made by a number of households in Kyoto – pretty cool!

How long should you spend in Arashiyama?

Temple door in arashiyama

Despite all these things I’ve mentioned that you can do, I think 1 day is plenty for most people. You’ll be able to fit in a number of these activities if you’re up early enough, and won’t feel like you’ve missed out.

Kyoto is a really big place and you’ve probably got a lot more planned in the area, so don’t feel bad about not giving yourself any more time here. In fact, for some people who just want to see the bamboo forest and the monkeys, you could literally be done before midday

The 3rd time we came here, that’s pretty much exactly what we did. We were done before midday with the main attractions so we sat down beside the river, stupidly got a bit burnt from the sun, and then relaxed and read one of these books set in Japan for the afternoon.

Honestly, those few hours were some of my favorite on that holiday. Remember to relax when you need to!

When should you visit Arashiyama?

sitting under cherry blossom in Japan

Spring is definitely my preferred choice for visiting Arashiyama. Unfortunately, as you’ve probably guessed already, this is a time when crowds in Japan are at their most common as well.

That said, as the region is surrounded by mountains, and more importantly trees, it’s very popular in the Autumn (just like Nikko). Places like Jōjakkōji Temple show the area in its full beauty during that time and are well worth making time for.

Is visiting Arashiyama worth it?

Arashiyama is somewhere that people often venture to in the hopes of seeing the bamboo grove. I know that it’s a very popular attraction that’s on practically everyone’s first-time itinerary, but I would not recommend visiting Arashiyama for that reason alone.

In case you’ve planned to do one or more of the things on the to-do list I’ve written above, I think Arashiyama is 100% worth visiting. It’s a big place that has a lot to offer, far more than the 2-3 attractions everyone seems to rave about.

Jonny Gleason

Jonny is the founder of A Day of Zen and has an unhealthy obsession with Japan. In 2022 he moved to Japan on a mission to give his audience the best possible information. He's helped over 300,000 plan their trip so far, and is eager to make that number much bigger!

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