Everyone talks about the old neighborhoods, temples, shrines and gardens in Kyoto, but when you arrive at the train station, it is easy to wonder where these historical places are. The station is large and modern, and so is just about everything you can see from there. To experience a bit of old Kyoto, you will have to venture beyond the main drag.
Away from the city center, yet easily accessible by train, the Arashiyama neighborhood in the northwest corner of Kyoto has plenty of charm and plenty to offer. Getting here is easy with your JR pass; just take the JR Sagano line to Saga-Arashiyama station. For a scenic stroll, approach the area from the south starting at Saihoji Temple. From there, It is about 2 mile walk north from the temple to the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge) that crosses the Katsura river. The bridge that stands here today dates from the 1930s, but there has been a bridge here for more than a thousand years. The park and pavilion on the southern shore offer a perfect place to have a picnic lunch and take in the wonderful river and mountain views. After a rest, cross the bridge and get a good look at the both sides of the river and the mountains and think that people have been crossing here for a very long time.
On the north side of the bridge is the shopping area where plenty of sweet treats and handicrafts can be found. Grab a snack or some souvenirs before continuing on to the Tenryuji Temple gardens. The temple was founded in the 1300s, though the buildings have been replaces and rebuilt, the gardens have remained more or less intact. These gardens have earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and with good reason. They are nothing short of spectacular.
The Togetsukyo Bridge, Tenryuji Temple and bamboo grove are all on the same street. The gardens cost 500 yen, and plan to spend an hour here. The bridge and bamboo grove are free and do not take very long to see.
This area is often overlooked by visitors to Kyoto, but it is well worth the ride out to Arashiyama to see the gardens, bridge and bamboo grove.