Secret Gems of Kyoto: Exclusive Tourist Spots Revealed by Locals


Kyoto by the Sea Woodland Kyoto Kyoto Tea Country Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove

For the culturally curious traveler, your journey to Kyoto isn’t complete until you’ve ventured beyond the pages of guidebooks to discover hidden gems and unforgettable landscapes. This quest might lead you from the picturesque seaside in the north of the prefecture to its most southern reaches, where you can immerse yourself in the corners of Kyoto cherished by the locals themselves. We’ve talked to residents who know these local nooks inside out. These key figures have shared their most treasured spots with us.

(Main image courtesy of Kameoka City Tourism Association / Wakamiya Shrine, Kameoka City)

Kyoto by the Sea (northern Kyoto)

Our Insider: Shinji Inomoto
Originally from Fukuchiyama City. He has been involved in tourism promotion for many years as an employee of Miyazu City and has been serving as Promotion Strategy Manager at the Sea of Kyoto DMO since 2022.


◆Escape to a Hot Spring Inn with a Blissful Ocean View

Picture courtesy of Sumihei

Among the beautiful coastal areas of northern Kyoto Prefecture, a yet undiscovered gem by international visitors is the charm of the northern Tango Peninsula. Along its rugged coastline are 15 beaches, with seas that stretch out in shades of emerald green and sapphire blue, reminiscent of resort destinations overseas. The abundance of hot springs adds to the allure, with about 40 sources located in the area – a great place to rejuvenate body and mind by soaking in a hot spring while gazing at the sea.

There are also many luxury hot spring inns available, including Ujo Soan at Yuhigaura beach, known for its sunset views, where each guest room is a separate building complete with an open-air bath. Sumihei in Taiza offers rooms with ocean views. There’s also the joy of exploring six different private open-air baths, each with a unique charm.

Picture courtesy of Nishi-iru

The fresh seafood caught at the local fishing port is one of Tango’s signature culinary delights. Savoring this abundance through sushi creates an unmatched travel experience. My favorite spot is Nishi-iru, currently a hot destination in Amanohashidate, a locale popular with visitors. Here, a Portuguese chef trained across various regions of Japan offers courses based on sushi and Japanese cuisine. For the sushi rice, he uses rice and rice vinegar produced by local vinegar maker Iio Jozo Vinegar Brewery — cultivated without pesticides — to fully enhance the flavor of the seasonal toppings. The restaurant, refurbished from a 130-year-old warehouse, also has a charming atmosphere.


◆Beautiful Crafts in Harmony with Nature

Northern Kyoto has long been a region thriving with a rich tradition of artisanal skills. Home to traditions that are centuries old that encompass silk, hand-made washi Japanese paper, lacquerware, and more, all of which are sourced from the rich natural environment of this land.

As a base for your travels, the inn Hishiya in the old castle town of Fukuchiyama City comes highly recommended. Born from a desire to preserve traditional crafts and artisan skills for future generations, this beautiful modern inn is a renovated century-old folk house, undertaken in collaboration with young artisans. It extensively uses local cypress, stone, lacquer, and washi, allowing guests to fully experience local craftsmanship. On the first day, explore the castle town, or try your hand at making washi or lacquerware. The next day, embark on a trek to Mt. Oe in the north of the city, and immerse yourself in nature.

On the theme of unique experiences, about a 15-minute drive from Amanohashidate, you can partake in the ancient Japanese spiritual practice of waterfall meditation at Kanabiki Waterfall, available only from October to March. Being struck by the cold flow of the waterfall, this practice is believed to cleanse the spirit and purify the mind of worldly desires, making it perfect for mental refreshment. As a reward for completing the training, you can warm up in a portable sauna tent.

Woodland Kyoto (central Kyoto)

Our Insiders:
Staff members of the Woodland Kyoto DMO, from left: Yoshiro Kanda, Genta Kigami, and Mizuki Asada. They are active in the discovery of regional sites and the promotion of tourism in the central part of Kyoto Prefecture and are all well-versed in local lore.


◆Hidden Gems of Miyama and Kyotamba

Picture courtesy of Kyoto Miyama Tourism Association

Known affectionately as “Woodland Kyoto,” the central region of Kyoto Prefecture is a verdant area with forests covering 80% of the land. Miyama presents a tranquil rural setting steeped in nostalgia, and the region recently welcomed the addition of Nipponia, a renovated traditional farmhouse that now serves as a unique lodging option. Guests can reserve the entire place for an immersive overnight experience.

If you’re traveling to Miyama by public transportation, you’ll switch to a bus at JR Hiyoshi Station. The Sonobe area along the way hides some lesser-known temples and shrines worth exploring. Ikimi Tenmangu Shrine, famous for plum viewing, and Ryuon-ji Temple, known for its beautiful autumn leaves, are our top recommendations.

Kyotamba Town is nestled within the vast expanse of the Tamba Highlands, dominated by lush forests and pristine waters, cradled by two major rivers at their source. Despite its seemingly remote location, the Wachi area along the Yura River is eminently reachable by train. A journey from JR Kyoto Station to Wachi Station takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Upon arrival, renting an electric bicycle at the Roadside Station Nagomi and setting off on a cycling adventure is highly recommended. For those with a penchant for gastronomy, the culinary inn Kadoya stands out as a must-visit, famous for its seasonal delights. Summer brings the freshness of ayu sweetfish while winter offers a taste of the wild with specialties such as wild boar and bear. Venturing into the realm of traditional Japanese sake, Choro Sake Brewery, with its 130-year legacy, welcomes visitors for tours by appointment, offering an intimate glimpse into the craft of sake brewing.


◆Discover Rustic Bliss: Farmhouse Retreats and Inviting Hot Springs

Left: A peaceful trek through the trails of Oku-Kanbayashi.
Right: The cozy charm of Chabu Dining, a countryside retreat.

In Ayabe City, located north of Kyotamba Town, farm stays are now the trend. Visitors have the opportunity to lodge with farm-owning families, partake in agricultural work, and wander through nature. Dining on meals crafted from locally grown produce offers a healthy and leisurely way to experience country life. And for a deep dive into nature, a trip to the secluded Oku-kanbayashi, set in the mountainous east of the city, is essential. Here, tours are offered for trekking through virgin forests and river trekking up the streams to the source of the Yura River. Bookings can be made through Niou no Sumika. Take this chance for an adventure into the heart of nature.

Wakamiya Shrine, Kameoka City(picture courtesy of Kameoka City Tourism Association)

Kameoka City is only a 10-minute train ride away from Arashiyama, Kyoto City’s western suburb, and sits just over a gentle mountain range. An attractively accessible destination, the area unfolds into a classic basin landscape. From autumn to early winter, mornings here are transformed as a blanket of fog envelops the landscape, creating an ethereal scene. Observing this from The Fog Terrace, a high vantage point, is a favored experience. The hot springs of Kameoka are also renowned, with the mountainous western part of Kameoka home to Yunohana Onsen, a hot spring village steeped in history. Legends tell of ancient warriors healing their battle wounds in these waters. The area offers both overnight stays and the option for a day visit to the hot springs.

Kyoto Tea Country (southern Kyoto)

Our Insider:
Toshiya Nakabo, based in Ide Town, is at the forefront of promoting Uji tea and spearheading its international business endeavors from Maiko-no-cha Honpo in Kyotanabe City. A certified Japanese tea instructor, Nakabo stands out in his signature hakama, earning him the moniker Chamurai, a portmanteau of cha (tea) and samurai. His mission is to spread the charm of Uji tea across the globe.


◆Kyotanabe City’s Pride: Japan’s Finest Gyokuro

Kyoto Prefecture is synonymous with exquisite Uji tea, notably its matcha and sencha (steeped green tea) varieties. What might come as a surprise is that Kyotanabe City, located in the prefecture’s southwest, is at the forefront of producing gyokuro, Japan’s premium grade of tea. This prestigious tea has clinched the top prize at national competitions multiple times, celebrated for its deep sweetness, richness, and umami. It’s an exquisite taste experience not to be missed.

For those interested in diving deeper into the world of gyokuro, the Kyotanabe Gyokuro-an section at the Kyotanabe City tourist information office is a great starting point. Here, visitors can learn how to brew gyokuro and savor its distinctive flavor in a welcoming environment. Just around the corner, you’ll find the Maiko Tea Boutique, a café run by my employer, offering desserts made with matcha and hojicha, as well as tea soba noodles featuring gyokuro leaves.

One of the reasons tea from Kyotanabe tastes so exquisite is its rich natural environment. Flanked by the Kizu River to the east and mountains to the west, this area was for centuries a crucial transport hub, sprinkled with historic temples. A must-visit is the Omido Kannon-ji Temple, boasting a history of 1300 years. Its principal deity, a National Treasure, is the eleven-faced Kannon statue, a symbol of compassion. In spring, the fields below burst into a vibrant display of blooming canola flowers. Another notable site is Ikyu-ji, a renowned Zen Buddhist temple. Here, a serene and dignified atmosphere prevails, offering a sense of purification to those who wander its grounds.


◆Enjoy local interactions in Ide Town

My home is actually located in Ide Town, right next to Kyotanabe City. Although it’s a small town with a population of about 7,000, its history runs deep, known since the Nara period (710-793) for the villas and temples built by nobles. The Tama River, flowing through the south, has been a scenic beauty spot celebrated in many ancient poems. In spring, the riverside comes alive with the blooming of 500 cherry trees, creating a breathtaking tunnel of blossoms that attracts visitors and locals alike to revel in its beauty.

Picture courtesy of Meiboku café Shiki

Ide Town is brimming with local pride, and townsfolk are eager to share their traditions and history with visitors. A visit to Ide is an opportunity to immerse yourself in this close-knit community by visiting a popular café and mingling with the locals. Highly recommended are Teoterasu Ide, a farm produce market and café located on the ground floor of the town hall, and Musubiya Café, which is housed in a beautifully renovated 100-year-old traditional house. Another favorite spot is Meiboku Café Shiki, run by a venerable timber merchant which is over 130 years old, located right in front of JR Tamamizu Station, the gateway to Ide Town. It’s especially lively every Friday when the night market takes place, drawing crowds and creating a bustling atmosphere. They also operate an Airbnb, welcoming guests from around the world.

Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove (western Kyoto)

Our Insider:
Chiaki Okamoto works at Tradi Inc., a company dedicated to providing unique experience-based content for visitors to Japan. She specializes in creating and managing one-of-a-kind tours that offer an exclusive glimpse into Japanese culture. For bookings and to explore the range of experiences on offer, visit their website at


◆Bamboo crafts experience with artisans

Picture courtesy of Tradi Inc.

The Otokuni area, located southwest of Kyoto city, is celebrated for its stunning bamboo groves and as a prime source of high-quality bamboo shoots. While Arashiyama’s bamboo forest is famously crowded, Otokuni boasts numerous secluded bamboo groves untouched by the hustle and bustle. One such place is the Bamboo Path in Muko City, stretching approximately 1.8 km. Tended to daily by bamboo farmers and bamboo craft artisans, these groves are meticulously maintained, offering a serene and beautifully preserved environment. Wrapped in serene silence, it’s the perfect setting for a meditative stroll. To get to the path, it’s recommended to rent an electric bicycle from Hello Cycling at Hankyu Higashi-Muko Station.

Picture courtesy of Tradi Inc.

In Japan, bamboo has been a vital material for centuries, used to create utensils such as chopsticks and dishes, baskets, and various tools essential to traditional culture like tea ceremony and Japanese gardens. To offer a taste of this deep connection between bamboo and Japanese life, Tradi Inc., where I work, provides a couple of bamboo craft experiences. These include learning from artisans how to make tea scoops and flower vases, as well as workshops where you can build bamboo fences intended as temple dedications alongside craftsmen from local renowned bamboo shops.


◆Unique Gourmet Experience Programs

Picture courtesy of Tradi Inc.

Bamboo isn’t just beautiful to look at; it’s also delicious to eat. The tender and juicy bamboo shoots that sprout in early spring are a quintessential taste of Kyoto’s spring. Kinsuitei, a traditional Japanese restaurant in Nagaokakyo City with a 140-year history, is renowned for its dishes crafted from freshly picked spring bamboo shoots. The lavish architecture of the building is equally impressive, and they offer a kaiseki (multi-course meal) experience that includes an architectural tour. Nagaokakyo is famous for its traditional sweets, with Kikuharu the most renowned for its bamboo shoot-shape monaka, a wafer filled with sweet bean paste. Visitors often jump at the chance to learn the art of making these classic Japanese confections directly from the owner of this celebrated shop.

Nestled at the foot of the lush Nishiyama mountain range, the Otokuni area is dotted with numerous spots famous for their autumn foliage. While Komyo-ji Temple, Yokoku-ji Temple, and Nagaoka Tenmagu Shrine are well-known, my personal favorites are the hidden gems: Muko Shrine, established in 718 and located in Muko City, and Kannon-ji Temple (Yamazaki Shoten) in Oyamazaki Town. Kannon-ji is situated at the base of Mt. Tennōzan, the mountain that divides Osaka and Kyoto, and is renowned for its breathtaking scenery of vibrant red maple trees and a carpet of golden ginkgo leaves. The area also boasts a delightful bakery and a coffee roaster, making it a perfect combined visit for those seeking both natural beauty and culinary treats.