Want to escape the crowds of central Kyoto? This 1-day Kurama, Kibune, and Northern Kyoto itinerary is a great option for weekends, peak season, fall colors season, hot summer days, during festivals or special events…or really any random day. It includes some of our absolute favorite temples & shrines in Japan, including a couple you’re unlikely to see mentioned in any major Kyoto planning resources.
Despite having 3,483 itineraries for Japan (slight exaggeration), which is approximately 3,482 more than any of you will ever read, we continue to test new touring plans each time we’re in Kyoto. Why? I’m not totally sure. Probably a cross between being creatures of habit and because I find an odd joy in maximizing efficiency.
Frankly, this is a source of constant headaches for me. I discover new routes and tweaks I’d like to make, leading to edits of existing Kyoto itineraries…which are probably overkill to begin with. As I’ve noted before, one of my absolute favorite plans is our 1-Day Northern “Cool” Kyoto Itinerary, which already focused on Kurama and Kibune.
My first impulse was to massively edit that one day plan, as what follows here covers a lot of the same ground. However, it’s also substantially different, allowing for this to be something of a “variant” itinerary for Northern Kyoto. Or rather, for that one to be a variant, as I now prefer this itinerary.
As with the Cool Kyoto Itinerary, you’re going to want to start by purchasing Eizan Railway 1-Day Unlimited Pass. It costs ¥1000, which might seem steep, but it’s very much worth the money. This is especially true during fall colors season thanks to the Momiji Leaf Tunnel Illumination.
Eizan Railway is unquestionably the best rail line in Kyoto (and one of the top 10 in all of Japan) and you’ll get a ton of use out of it as this plan involves a ton of backtracking on the railway. Savor your experiences riding the rails of this great line and remember: the journey is part of the destination.
With that said, let’s get started with this Kurama, Kibune, and Kyoto 1-Day Itinerary…
Rurikoin Temple – I already spent 1,695 words weighing the pros & cons of visiting this temple and whether it’s worth the money and effort, so please read our full post about Rurikoin Temple if you need help making that decision. If you can’t be bothered to do that, the “pro” is the view above. The “con” is that it costs 2,000 yen and often has a long line.
If that photo carries the day, you’ll want to get plan far ahead in order to arrive at Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station at least 45 minutes before this temple opens for the day. If cost and hassle win out, consider instead starting your morning by visiting Shugakuin Imperial Villa (mentioned later in this itinerary), Sekizan Zen-in Temple, Former Retreat of Iwakura Tomomi, and maybe Jisso-in Temple–but not Enkoji Temple–as laid out in our aforementioned Cool Kyoto Itinerary.
Rengeji Temple – Walk 10 minutes downstream from Rurikoin (literally, you’ll cross the river) and you’ll arrive at Rengeji Temple, which is so tucked away and nondescript that you might question whether you’ve arrived at the right place. I’d hazard a guess that this is a common reaction, as Rengeji Temple is totally under the radar.
We love Rengeji Temple, in large part because it’s frequently devoid of other people. It also has a shockingly tranquil setting, and the contrast of crisp green moss with warm autumn foliage overhead, all with the morning sunlight flittering through, makes this a sublime setting for sitting–or strolling–through. Don’t let the (lack of) reviews or coverage fool you, Rengeji Temple is a hidden gem.
Sanmyoin Temple – Don’t actually go to this temple; it’s nothing special. Rather, navigate to Hachiman-Mae Station and keep your eyes peeled as you walk for this pagoda rising to the right as you’re walking towards the station. You could head up for a closer view if you’re so inclined, but the pagoda is the unequivocal highlight and the best perspective here is actually from a distance.
After this, catch the Eizan Line heading to Kurama. (From here, I’m going to gloss over transportation steps–just dial this all in to Google Maps and eliminate buses as an option. It’ll either route you via walking or the Eizan Line as appropriate.)
Kuramadera Temple – This is the #2 temple on our Top 100 Temples & Shrines in Kyoto, Japan List. Here are all of the reasons it ranks so highly for us; you could truly spend all day here hiking and just exploring the place. Out of all the mountainside temples in Kyoto, this is the most expansive and naturally beautiful.
Normally, we’d hike over the Kibune from the summit of Mt. Kurama. Consider doing that if you’re doing this itinerary in the summer or really any time of year when Kifune Shrine is not having a nighttime illumination or festival. These occur sporadically for matsuri and tanabata, plus pretty much the entire month of November for fall colors season. Be sure to consult a schedule of events (via the Kyoto Tourist Info Center) before you plan around this.
Shugakuin Imperial Villa (Optional/NOT RECOMMENDED) – I had to offer that all caps disclaimer because this stop is really going to be pushing your luck, but if you do the 3 pm tour here, you should finish with just enough time to rush over to Enkoji Temple and arrive before admission concludes for the day.
The problem with this is that it requires good timing and not getting lost on the side streets between the two. It’s absolutely possible, but it really is pressing your luck. Shugakuin Imperial Villa is really cool to see–especially in fall–but it’s a far lower priority than Enkoji, which is a must-do.
Enkoji Temple – Basically, the goal is to get here just before admission ends for the day, and linger for as long as you can, working your way back and up to the hillside that offers one of the absolute best views in Kyoto. During fall colors season, you’ll be able to watch the sunset from up here, and that alone makes it worth the backtracking.
This is one of our favorite temples in Kyoto, and one we revisit with regularity. You can read why in our full post about Enkoji Temple–more importantly, you can see why, with numerous sunset and fall colors shots.
Momiji Leaf Tunnel Illumination (SEASONAL) – If you’re visiting during autumn, you’ll want to take the Eizan Line all the way back north to Kibuneguchi Station. Do not be discouraged by this long commute.
In fall, this train ride is literally the destination itself for many Kyotoites, as the Momiji Leaf Tunnel Illumination along the Eizan Line is spectacular.
Kibune Festival (SEASONAL) – Upon arrival in Kibune, we recommend catching the bus to Kifune Shrine (we usually bus up and walk back). This is a relatively straightforward and small shrine, but it’s stunning when the lanterns are lit or when it’s having a festival or nighttime illumination (most notably, throughout November).
Spend some time there basking in the glow of the lanterns as they illuminate the autumn foliage. Following that, grab dinner at one of the many wonderful, waterfront restaurants in Kibune. It’ll be a long day filled with a ton of commuting, but this is one of the most enjoyable times you can have in Kyoto, and it has the potential to be a surprisingly relaxing time during what can otherwise be a chaotic time in Japan.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Kurama and Kibune? Think these are worth the side trip from Kyoto? Any thoughts on this itinerary’s stops or its zigzagging nature? If you haven’t been to any of these stops, are you looking forward to visiting? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does visiting this spot in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!