10 Scenic Onsen in Kyoto that You Will Want to Visit Again and Again

The allure of Kyoto seems to draw on people universally, and once people set foot in the city, they often find themselves unable to resist a return visit or two. This is an introduction to some of the best hot springs in the area. Kyoto is replete with a huge selection of extremely distinguished and notable sightseeing venues, from Kinkaku-ji Temple, Nijo Castle, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple, to other culturally rich scenic venues, all of which contribute to a ceaseless stream of visitors, not only from Japan, but from all around the world. After a full day of sightseeing, strolling, or even trekking around on a little culinary excursion, kick back with a soak in the steamy waters of a hot spring.

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1. Arashiyama Onsen Kadensho

After checking in at Arashiyama Onsen Kadensho, located right by Arashiyama Station, you'll immediately set foot in the traditional Japanese ambience of the ryokan (Japanese inn) while crossing the tatami hallway to get to your room. There are 3 different styles of rooms available between the "Kyoto Machi-ya (old town Kyoto)" "Kyoto Japanese", and "Modern Kyoto" rooms, each of which gives you a different feel of Kyoto-style furnishings. You can also choose from 5 different reserved springs, each which has its own unique appeal. The indoor stone baths allow you to fully immerse yourself in the blissful, steamy waters of the Arashiyama hot springs. The low alkalinity of the simple spring offers a number of beneficial health effects, such as easing nerve and muscle pain, aiding in recovery from fatigue, and improving cold sensitivity. Additionally, the skin care qualities of the water are especially popular among women.  

One of the factors responsible for Kadensha's popularity is that there are 5 bathhouses that can be reserved free of charge by couples and families. The 5 baths consist of a steamy, sauna-like barrel bath; the woody, fragrant cedar bath; the fancy, brick-layered radium bath; the carbonated bath surrounded by a bamboo thicket; and a bath immersed in steam called the Fog Bath. Meals are served at Gourmet Street Kitayama Yusui, a highly acclaimed restaurant comprised of private dining rooms, where the luxurious and aesthetically appealing original Japanese buffet dishes can be custom ordered.

2. Kurama Onsen

Kurama Onsen is nestled in a small mountain village in the bosom of Kyoto, where you can lose yourself in the hot spring while listening to the gentle sounds of the running current in the nearby pristine waters of the Kurama River. Both day visits and overnight stays are possible at this onsen, and it serves as an apt resting spot if you're looking to go for a stroll in lush, vibrant greenery of Kyoto's nature. From the outdoor bath of Kurama Onsen, you can catch the scenic beauty of the distinctive seasons, between the snowy blanket that covers the winter landscape, the crimson leaves of fall, and the fresh verdure of the mountains in the summer.

The water of the onsen is drawn from the hot spring source, a simple hydrogen sulfide spring whose water is abundant in minerals. The water is known for is beneficial effects for conditions such as nerve pain, rheumatism, diabetes, and for its positive effects in maintaining healthy skin. Sightseeing in the nearby Kurama area is also an attractive option after a stop at the spring. Kurama Onsen is located a short ways from Kurama Mountain, and hiking around Kifune Shrine and Kurama Station vicinity is highly recommended. The area is well-known as a nature retreat ideal for finding some rest and relaxation.

3. Ohara Sansou

Ohara Sanso is a guest house nestled in a valley in Ohara, Kyoto, where the view of the misty peaks after a spell of rain is nothing short of mystical. The secluded guest house is a sanctuary in the quietude of nature, perfect for couples looking to spend some time in a place where you can forget the bustling city and the crowds of other tourists. Furthermore, the building also houses a foot bath, a restaurant, and an opportunity to experience trying your hand at crafting some Raku wares (hand-molded lead-glazed earthenware originally from Kyoto), in addition to the hot spring. The guest house offers the kind of homely, relaxed atmosphere that you can't find at a typical high-end ryokan or hotel.       

The warmth of sitting around a lively table has an easygoing, home-like feeling, and the food, while simple, is all made with great care. The dishes are cooked with Kyoto vegetables, and many of the dishes frequently feature boiled tofu. You'll find that you can lose yourself in the steamy warmth of the hot spring, enjoy the delicious, homemade meals, and take in the picturesque scenery of rural Kyoto. Between the new greenery of spring, the red tinted shrubbery of fall, and the snow-covered mountains of winter, you will find yourself greeted by a different face of nature's seasonal complexions whenever you choose to visit.     

4. Sagano Onsen Tenzan no Yu

Tenzan no Yu is a natural hot spring in Sagano, Tokyo, where the groundwater rises from a depth of 1,200 meters underground. The onsen is a free-flowing spring with water comprised of sodium and calcium chloride, and the emulsifying properties of the spring are known to contribute to moist, smooth skin. The foot bath, which also uses water from the spring, is a relaxing intermediary option to soak your feet in betwixt baths in the spring. You can also try out the pioneering, far-infrared therapeutic effects of the special ceramic balls in the ceramic baths. The far-infrared heat gradually permeates throughout your body, which has detoxification effects and can prevent cold sensitivity and swelling.  

A carbonized bath is available every weekend, which improves blood circulation in the skin, thereby stabilizing the autonomic nervous system. There are many positive health effects in addition to the sheer relaxation of soaking in the spring. Not only is the hotel stocked with facilities like a restaurant and foot bath fish therapy (pedicure), but services like relaxation, body scrubbing, and an esthetician will keep you occupied throughout the entire day.   

5. Rurikei Onsen Kobushiso Hanaakari

Rurikei Onsen is a hot spring located in Sonobecho Okawauchi of Nantan, Kyoto. In fact, the hot spring has two natural spring sources in the Rurikei Kogen Onsen and the Rurikei Flower Onsen. Out of the two, the Rurikei Kogen Onsen has been designated a People's Recreation Spa by the Japanese government. The interior of the resort is furnished in traditional Japanese design, and offers a relaxed ambience. The hot spring is known for its plentiful selection of different options to choose from, such as an onsen pool, a bath you can lie down in, and a jacuzzi, in addition to a main public bath and an open-air bath.

There's also an air bath equipped with negative air ionizers, an event bath with a different fragrance every week, a bedrock bath, an oxygen bath, an herb tent, and a popular reserved bath that can be enjoyed as a couple or with your family that is exclusive to overnight guests. However, the hot spring isn't the only attraction of Rui Kei Onsen. There are countless leisure activities in the vicinity, which include a park and Kabutomushi (Japanese rhinoceros beetle) Square, a golf course, a walking course by the nearby mountain stream, a train trolley, and green patches of rice paddies sewn across the area.   

6. Sumiya Kihoan

Sumiya Kihoan is situated in a glen in the outskirts of Kyoto, optimal for trekking around Mt. Arashiyama with activities like cruising downstream the Hozu River and riding a retro train. Inside of the facilities, they offer an oil treatment, as well as the services of an esthetician, and the restaurant is reputed for its delicious food. The ryokan embodies the rustic feel of Kyoto's rich cultural roots, from the horigotatsu (sunken kotatsu table) in the guest rooms with spectacular mountain views, an outdoor bath in a free-flowing spring, and the relaxing fragrance of the Koyamaki (Japanese umbrella pine trees) baths. The view of the place from the outside is both ornate and dignified, and upon entering the thatched gate, you'll be welcomed by the sight of the unostentatious but luxurious ryokan.

Additionally, the resort offers a reserved outdoor bath where you can hear the tittering of birds amidst the serenity of the nearby wilderness. Of the many springs available, the outdoor bath is especially recommended, and the women's only outdoor bath provides a special experience in a bath made of cherry blossom trees aged 1,000 years. The men's outdoor bath has been built to make it possible to lie down in the water on the wood of cherry blossom trees. Stones known as Shikoku Aoishi (blue stone) give off an blue-emerald glow throughout the bath. During the springtime, if take a look up from the steamy waters of the spring, you may find the unforgettable sight of a gentle, swirling storm of cherry blossom petals. 

7. Togetsutei

Togetsutei is a longstanding traditional Japanese restaurant and ryokan situated right by the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, where the clear streams of the Oi River run along the vicinity of Mt. Arashiyama. There, you can find the Sagano Walk, an atmospheric and serene trail encompassed by bamboo thickets. You are sure to enjoy a leisurely break amidst the surreal, timeless nature in a place that seems to reflect the transience of the seasons. 

The rooms, some of which even have their own private outdoor baths, have fantastic views. From the gentle, orange hues of the sunset on Mt. Arashiyama, to mist laden visages of the mountain in the early morning, each view has its own particular and unique beauty. The simple hot spring is slightly alkalized and hypotonic, which can ease nerve pain, stiff shoulders, cold sensitivity, fatigue, as well as provide a general improvement of overall health. Additionally, the restaurant ensures that your stomach is just as fulfilled as the rest of your body. Ingredients such as bean curd and tofu are used as ingredients to prepare the Kaiseki Ryori (traditional Japanese course meal), and the Healthy Lunch is a popular option among women. 

8. Hanaikada Ryokan

At Hanaikada, you have a vantage point from which you can see a wealth of scenic spots like the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, Mt. Ogura, and Mt. Atago from the numerous outdoor baths of a ryokan in Mt. Arashiyama. The private outdoor baths can be used upon prior reservation, and the hot springs are accessible regardless of whether you choose to stay overnight, or just for a day visit to use the springs. The Oi River Bath and the Katsura River bath have especially nice seasonal scenic views. The hot spring is slightly alkalized and hypotonic, which is effective in easing shoulder stiffness, muscle pain, nerve pain, and problems with the digestive tract, and also contributes to skin care. 

The ryokan prides itself on its variety of different kinds of baths, offering a detached indoor open-air bath, a scenic open-air bath, as well a reserved bath, making it the perfect place to stop by for a day visit and try out whichever catches your interest. The indirect lighting in the lounge is a seamless transition from a relaxing time in the bath, where the traditional Kyoto furnishings complement the entirety of the experience. 

9. Amanohashidate Onsen

Amanohashidate Onsen is a hot spring located in Miyazu, Kyoto, which is a relatively recent addition to a city known for its various ryokan. The hot spring is situated in Amanohashidate, known as one of the Nihon Sankei (Japan's Three Most Scenic Places). The spring source is just by Amanohashidate Station, which is frequented year round as one of the premier sightseeing areas in Japan. The outdoor baths offer stunning views of the nearby area. The water of the spring comes directly from the source and acclimates nicely on the skin, while the outdoor bath is endowed with stunningly beautiful scenery. The spring has beneficial effects for nerve and muscle pain, stiff shoulders, bruises, cold sensitivity, fatigue, cuts, burns, as well as chronic skin diseases.   

There is also a resting area where you can decompress after you come out of the spring. There, during the evenings, they offer a Japanese dessert known as hiyashi shiruko (a chilled variant of a sweet porridge made by boiling and crushing azuki beans) as a complementary service. The beautiful restaurant offers firestone cuisine made with seasonal ingredients from the Tanba area of Kyoto, made in the restaurant's custom firestone pot. There are plenty of historic sites in the vicinity of the Amanohashidate area, and it is definitely worthwhile to consider a leisurely stroll after a relaxing soak in the spring.

10. Fushimi Chikara no Yu

Fushimi Chikara no Yu is a day visit exclusive onsen offering a total of 11 spacious hot spring baths with spring water transported from Nose Art Lake Onsen. Although the spring water is slightly alkalized, the water has a slightly viscous quality about it, and the authentic spring is a comfortably warm body temperature. As is the case with hypotonic springs of low alkalinity, there are various positive health effects. From the open-air bath you can look up to find the starry ceiling of the skies for a lavish experience at minimal expense. 

The silk bath is equipped with a means to artificially produce micro foam, which has a hydrating effect on the skin that is popular among women. There are also baths which have medicinal herbs and fruit essences, day-visit baths like the beauty bath, as well as a spacious sauna and open-air bath. The facility itself is stocked to respond to anyone's hankerings, between a restaurant with dishes prepared using local Kyoto vegetables, to a Korean esthetic treatment option.

Enjoy a Cathartic Retreat to a Beautiful Hot Spring in Kyoto

This has been an introduction to a number of different hot springs to consider visiting while in the Kyoto area. From free-flowing springs, to spring in beautiful scenic spots, to hot springs with luxurious restaurants and hotels, Kyoto has plenty to offer in terms of its variety of springs you can try. If visiting Kyoto, please consider staying at any of these stellar springs for an unparalleled experience in an onsen rife with elements of Kyoto's traditions. The surreal nature of the atmosphere is sure to to ease the tensions that build up in a cycle of daily routine.

Translated and republished with permission from: SPIRA (formerly known as Relux Magazine)
By the way, you can book a hotel through Relux (run by SPIRA) by clicking here!

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Header Image: Thomas Morris / Shutterstock

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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