07 Jun Kinkakuji and Arashiyama
Our plan for the day was to first visit Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and then head to Arashiyama to explore this beautiful area of Kyoto.
Read our entire itinerary from this Japan trip here.
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Getting a bus to Kinkakuji
From our Kyoto hotel, Citadines Karasuma-Gojo, we took a bus to Kinkakuji. We waited at the bus stop listed on google maps for a while. After seeing two buses with Kinkakuji as the destination, drive past without stopping, we realised we needed to be further down the road.
On the way, the announcement system said the bus would be stopping at Nijo Castle. If I had known it was on the same route, I could have planned to visit on the same day. The buses to the main tourist attractions have announcements that tell you which stop to get off at as well as information about each place. After riding on the bus for just over half an hour, we got off at the stop closest to Kinkakuji. A short walk brought us to the entrance.
TIP: grab a bus map from the tourist info centre at Kyoto Station.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
Often shown in photographs during each season, Kinkakuji is a very famous site of Japan and for good reason, it’s Gold! Known in English as The Golden Pavilion, it is a zen Buddhist temple containing relics of Buddha. The first floor is made of wood and white plaster while the two upper floors are covered in gold leaf. A shining phoenix stands on the roof.
The first view of The Golden Pavilion you see is from across the pond. When we entered, there was someone ushering people the right way. You can stand in front of the fence to take a photo with the iconic temple in the background. During our visit at the end of October, the gardens of Kinkakuji were shaded green. I adore the photo’s of the gold standing out amongst white snow in winter but the lush gardens were beautiful too.
After viewing the temple from across the pond, you follow the path and walk behind it to get a close-up view. The path then winds through the gardens and leads to the exit. Kinkakuji is a very popular tourist site but it didn’t feel overcrowded and I think this is due to the system they have in place to encourage people to move along after viewing the temple from the first spot. This keeps the crowds flowing rather than gathering in one area. With Magical Trip’s Kyoto Historical Cycling Tour, you can bike around Kyoto, visit Kinkakuji and other sights and enjoy a Kyoto lunch.
These vending machines were at the exit of Kinkakuji. They had hot and cold drinks, drinks with ice, instant cup noodles and ice-cream.
Getting from Kinkakuji to Arashiyama
From Kinkakuji, we walked 1.7 km to Kitanohakubaicho Station and purchased tickets to Arashiyama from the machine outside. We got on the retro-looking purple tram and had to make a transfer at Katabiranotsuji Station. It was here we made a mistake. The transfer time was a quick 2 mins and after we stepped off the tram, we stepped onto another one that had pulled up. On the other track. Opposite to the one we had just travelled on.
The problem was we were meant to get off the first tram and wait for another to come along the same tracks. The one we got on was heading towards central Kyoto. We didn’t know that at the time, we just knew we were going the wrong way. After realising the first stop wasn’t right, we got off at the second one and corrected our mistake and were back on our way to Arashiyama.
We soon arrived at Arashiyama Station, which had a lovely feeling as soon as we stepped off the tram. The path leading from the electric railway into the station was lined with light cylinders in all different designs. Inside the station was covered with bamboo, clearly a nod to the areas famous bamboo grove.
Lunch in Arashiyama
Upon exiting the station, we were in a street lined with traditional style restaurants. We took the opportunity to have lunch before hiking uphill to the monkey park. We chose one place as they had window displays of their food so we knew what they served. I also peeked inside to check the seating. Often small eateries in Japan weren’t suitable for a toddler as the seats would be high counter style.
We entered and a little lady gave us a big friendly smile and lead us to one of the tables along the wall. She gave us the menus and brought us hot green tea and a glass of water for Fletcher. We both ordered beef udon by pointing to the menu. In no time at all the lady brought over two steaming bowls of beef udon, along with a small bowl and fork for Fletcher. How thoughtful! I’d planned on sharing with him and this made it much easier.
The broth was so delicious and the beef tender. It was a wonderful family meal and excellent value. We all left full and ready for the next part of our day.
We crossed over the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, which is known for being picturesque with the Arashiyama mountains as its backdrop. It’s particularly beautiful when the autumn colours peak giving the mountains bursts of reds, orange and yellow. You can enjoy a Kyoto-style lunch with a view of the bridge, see the bamboo groves and visit Tenryuji temple as part of an Arashiyama Insider Walking Tour.
Iwatayama Monkey Park
The monkeys at Iwatayama are Japanese Macaque’s and the park is home to over 120 of them. All the monkeys are wild but they are fed by staff at the feeding site during the day.
Entrance to Arashiyama’s Monkey Park
After crossing the Togetsukyo Bridge, you will see the steps for the monkey park entrance. We went up the steps to the ticket booth where we paid for our admission. We were given a little card with a photograph of a cute baby monkey and instructions not to look the monkeys in the eye or feed them on the way.
Iwatayama Monkey Park walk
Iwatayama Monkey Park is located on a mountain summit. It’s a designated path but would be too rough for a stroller, we used our baby carrier. We began the uphill walk and came across these signs soon after. That zig-zag on the map was concerning me but it was a pleasant hike along the mountain trail. We could hear monkeys scurrying around the forested area, and at one point some ran out of the bushes fighting.
Iwatayama Monkey Park hut
At the top of the mountain is a hut with caged windows. Inside you can purchase food to feed the monkeys through the windows. We chose a bag of apple slices and handed them to the monkeys that had gathered on the outside of the window.
Outside areas of Iwatayama Monkey park
The Outside area of the park has a flat ground around the hut where staff place food for the monkeys. The summit offers a great viewpoint over Kyoto. A staff member placed some nuts on the ground so that a monkey would join our family photo.
There is also a grass area on a level up from the hut, reached by a set of steps. There were monkeys relaxing on the grass and some running around on the hut’s roof.
I couldn’t read Japanese on the sign and wasn’t sure what the English meant. John commented below that it reads “keep your hands on your bags at all times”. I think it was meant to say don’t take a load off.
Baby monkeys in Arashiyama
While inside the hut we saw a baby monkey approach the window with its Mum. Outside we turned around to find two little cheeky monkeys playing with each other. I watched them for ages acting like any other children, playing, teasing and fighting. Walking back down from the top-level I spotted a baby cuddled up with its Mum in a tree.
We walked back past the station to visit Tenryuji, a zen temple complex established in 1339 and now a UNESCO world heritage site. Tenryuji’s buildings were destroyed several times by both war and fire, meaning all the buildings are reconstructions, some as recent as the 1900s. During our visit, we were only able to enter the garden which remains in its original form. It was designed as a strolling garden featuring a large pond with rocks around the edge.
Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
Once you have walked around Tenryuji’s garden, you can exit through the north gate. This will bring you to Arashiyama’s famous Bamboo Grove. A walking path leads through a forest of tall green bamboo. We didn’t walk the entire path, we turned around and walked to Saga-Arashiyama Station and took a train to Kyoto Station.
Kinkakuji & Arashiyama in one day
This is a great way to spend a full day in Kyoto. Even with our transport mistakes, it was easy to get between places. We had a wonderful day exploring both Kinkakuji and Arashiyama.