Hey there, my fellow travel junkies!
Grab a cup of your favorite brew because today, I’m about to spill some hot details on my latest escapade: Onsen Kyoto, the ultimate hot spring adventure in Japan. You know those postcard-perfect pictures of steamy baths, set amidst nature with people looking like they’ve just discovered nirvana?
Well, that’s exactly where I’ve been, and let me tell you, it was everything I’d imagined and more!
Ah, Kyoto! The land of ancient temples, mesmerizing geishas, and the heart of Japanese culture, it’s a place where tradition mingles with modernity in a timeless dance. But do you know what the hidden gem of this fascinating city is? It’s Kyoto Onsen, my friends.
These traditional hot spring baths, nestled within quaint ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), are an experience unlike any other.
They whisk you away from the hustle and bustle of city life and into a tranquil world where time seems to pause.
Now, imagine having a top 10 list of the best of these experiences. Exciting, right?
Onsens are not just about bathing; they are a deep dive (quite literally!) into Japanese culture, a pathway to absolute relaxation, and, believe it or not, a journey to holistic healing.
So, stick around as I take you on a virtual tour of the best Onsen Kyoto offers.
Get ready to dip your toes into the warmth and let the magic of these steamy baths wash over you.
Can’t wait to share more! Buckle up; the adventure has just begun… And if you are looking for the best things to do in Japan, make sure to check out my post here!
Getting to Kyoto
So, picture this. There I was, backpack loaded with all the essentials (you’d be surprised how much you need for a hot spring adventure), standing on the bustling platform of the Kyoto Station.
To soak in every outdoor bath and ryokan, I could find and immerse myself in the age-old tradition of Onsen. As I boarded the train, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like to sink into those steamy baths, surrounded by nature’s serenity. Just thinking about it was making me all warm and fuzzy inside!
Hours later, the train eased into Kyoto, and I stepped out into the fresh air. I was greeted by the captivating mix of the old and the new, a city where skyscrapers loomed in harmony with traditional wooden houses.
My initial impressions? Kyoto was a city that took your breath away with its understated elegance, an artist’s dream, with every corner offering a picturesque view.
And so, my journey began.
From the busy streets of Kyoto, brimming with the daily life of locals, to the promise of a peaceful retreat in the heart of this bustling city, I was ready for my adventure.
if you need help surviving Japan, you can read my article with the top tips for a new traveler!
The Magic of Onsen
These natural hot springs are more than just a spot for a refreshing dip.
In fact, in Japan, it’s a cultural thing, a kind of social glue that brings people together, and they have been like this for centuries.
Think about it: where else would bathing with strangers seem not just normal but oddly comforting?
But what sets Onsen apart from the rest? For starters, the location is to die for. Picture this: soaking in an open-air bath, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Kyoto’s mountains and forests. The tranquillity of the scene alone could take years off your stress levels!
There are many different Onsen. From public onsens where locals and tourists mingle to private onsens attached to luxurious ryokans, there’s a hot spring bath to suit every mood and preference. Want to bathe under the stars with only the rustling leaves as your company? Or perhaps you fancy a bath with a view of a Zen garden? In Kyoto, you’ll find them all.
But it’s not just the physical bathing experience that makes this worthwhile. It’s the whole package: the reverence for nature, the emphasis on mindfulness, and the tradition of relaxation. It’s like taking a bath in history and culture, and who wouldn’t want that?
By now, I hope you’re starting to see the magic of this journey. It’s not just about the bath; it’s about the journey—the journey of self-discovery, relaxation, and connection with nature and culture. But enough of the talk; let’s dive right into the waters of this enchanting world!
And if you are looking for the best traveling guide for Japan, you can read my last article here!
Top Onsen Spots in Kyoto
Alright, folks, now we’re getting into the good stuff – the top two, the crème de la crème of hot springs.
Get ready because these are not just any ordinary spots; they’re little pockets of paradise right in the heart of Japan.
My first pick brings us to Tenzan-no-yu Onsen, right in the heart of downtown Kyoto.
Tenzan-no-yu is a large-scale onsen facility that provides a range of baths – from open-air baths and saunas to even a restaurant. There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching the sky change colors as you sit back in an open-air bath.
I particularly enjoyed the unique ‘Silk Bath,’ a microbubble bath that felt as soft as, you guessed it, silk! It was like being cocooned in a warm, gentle cloud, and coming out, I felt my skin had never been softer.
A handy tip for this Onsen: Do not rush. This place is meant to be savored slowly. Enjoy the baths, relax in the lounging area, and indulge in some local delicacies at the restaurant. Make a day out of it!
Next on our hot spring hop around Kyoto is the incredible Funaoka. This little gem is tucked away in a charming corner of the city and is actually Kyoto’s oldest public bathhouse!
Now, Funaoka isn’t your regular hot spring spot; it’s got personality and history in spades. Picture an eclectic mix of traditional Japanese woodwork and modern art installations. Yes, you heard that right. Art installations in a bathhouse. The ornate wooden sculptures and colorful murals give this place an eccentric and artistic touch that sets it apart.
One of the highlights for me was the variety of baths on offer. They’ve got everything from electric baths (a tingling experience, to say the least), medicinal baths, and even a beautiful open-air Rotenburo. And if you’re up for it, there’s also a sauna and a cold plunge pool for that invigorating contrast bath experience.
Soaking in Funaoka’s hot spring waters as I admired the quirky artwork was an unforgettable experience. I remember thinking, “This is not just a bath; it’s a cultural immersion!”
A tip for Funaoka visitors: Be ready to embrace the local customs. This is a traditional bathhouse with rules to respect. It’s all part of the authentic experience!
Arima Onsen (Outside Kyoto)
I couldn’t exclude the legendary Arima Onsen.
Now, what makes the Arima special, you might wonder? It’s the “Gold and Silver” springs, of course! The ‘Gold’ spring, known as the Kinsen, is a rare hot spring type with a high iron content, known for its distinctive brown water. Meanwhile, the ‘Silver’ spring or Ginseng is a carbonated spring famous for its clear water and refreshing feel. Trust me, immersing yourself in these healing waters is like giving your body a luxury spa treatment.
On my visit, I remember being enveloped by the steam, the warm water soothing my tired muscles as the crisp air refreshed my senses. And the setting? Pure bliss. Nestled amidst lush greenery, Arima was a slice of tranquillity amidst the otherwise bustling life of Japan.
The Ultimate Onsen Experience
The first thing to note about Kurama Onsen is its stunning location.
It’s located in Kurama, a small town known for its serene mountainous landscape and the famous Kurama-dera temple. Trust me, the journey there through the scenic Arashiyama region is an experience in itself.
As you walk into Kurama Onsen, the tranquil ambiance washes over you. You’re not just entering a public bath; you’re stepping into a relaxation retreat.
What really makes this experience special, though, is the way it seamlessly blends luxury and tradition. You can experience the age-old Japanese onsen culture while enjoying modern comforts.
Need to cool down? Step into their cold plunge pool. Fancy a quick bite? Check out their restaurant for some delightful local cuisine.
The standout feature for me, however, was the option to rent private baths.
If you’re in Kyoto, a dip in the Kurama Onsen is not just recommended, it’s essential!
So go ahead, let the hot spring waters of Kurama soothe your soul and replenish your spirits.
What to Know Before You Go
Embarking on this adventure in Kyoto (or anywhere in Japan, really) is a bucket-list-worthy experience.
Here’s a list of things you should keep in mind!
Onsen Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts
First things first, let’s talk etiquette.
Japanese onsens are steeped in tradition, and there are certain rules to follow. When you enter, make sure to rinse off in the washing area before you hop into the bath. It’s a communal space, so keeping it clean is a must! And remember, no swimwear or towels in the water; onsens are enjoyed in the nude.
Packing List: What to Bring
Most onsens, especially the best ryokans in Kyoto, provide everything you need: towels, toiletries, and even yukatas (traditional Japanese robes) to lounge in. However, bringing a change of clothes and your own toiletries can never hurt. And don’t forget a water bottle to stay hydrated!
Timing Your Visit: When to Go
Honestly, there’s no bad time to enjoy an onsen. That said, each season offers a unique experience. Winter, especially, is magical. There’s something special about soaking in a hot outdoor bath while snowflakes fall around you.
But if you’re someone who enjoys vibrant landscapes, autumn in Kyoto is a sight to behold.
And if you are traveling to Japan during August, you can read my guide here!
If you are looking to get to Kyoto from Tokyo, I Wrote an article about that!
I hope my experiences and stories have warmed your spirit (and toes!) as much as these Japanese hot springs warmed mine.
From the serene mountain vistas at Kurama to the historic charm of Funaokaand the luxury of Arima, each spot offered its unique magic. Whether it was a lavish soak in the best ryokan or a delightful dip in a popular onsen, each experience brought me closer to the heart and soul of Japan.
What a journey…
So, what are you waiting for? Get that suitcase out, pack your bags, and immerse yourself in the warmth of Kyoto’s onsens.
I would love to hear about your own onsen adventures, too! Have you visited any of these spots? Or maybe you have a few hidden gems to share?
Happy bathing, everyone!