Unlike other parts of Japan, Kyoto is not rich in onsen (natural hot spring baths), but there are a few in the city. Here, we introduce the best onsen in and around Kyoto.
Kurama Onsen Outdoor Bath © gbsk
In a hurry? Scroll down to read our Kyoto onsen picks. Otherwise, read the following introduction to Kyoto onsen.
Soaking in a natural hot spring bath (onsen) is the quintessential Japanese experience and there is no better way to relax after a day of sightseeing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much geothermal activity right under the city, so there are few true onsen in the city. Those that do exist have to pump up the water from deep underground, or heat lukewarm springs to bring it to bathing temperature. Still, when you’re soaking in a tub of steaming hot spring water, it doesn’t really matter where the water comes from. Here are the two best onsen in Kyoto and some recommended onsen within easy travel distance of Kyoto.
And if you’re a serious fan of the Japanese bath, be sure to also check out our Kyoto’s Best Sentos – Japanese Public Baths page.
Kyoto’s Best Onsen
Located in the quaint mountain village of Kurama, an easy 30-minute train ride out of Kyoto, this fine onsen has both indoor and outdoor baths. It’s a great way to relax after hiking up to Kurama-dera Mountain Temple. For details, visit our Kurama Onsen page.
An actual onsen (natural hot spring), this enormous bath and spa complex near Arashiyama is well worth the trek. The baths and saunas are great and the restaurant is amazingly good. For details, see our Tenzan-no-yu Onsen page.
Onsen Near Kyoto
About 2.5 hours north of Kyoto by express train, the village of Kinosaki is home to seven public onsen, all of which are great. It makes the perfect overnight trip out of Kyoto, especially in winter, when all the ryokan in the village serve the local specialty: fresh caught crab from the Japan Sea.
About 3 hours south of Kyoto, on the Pacific coast of Wakayama Prefecture, this beach resort is also home to some excellent onsen, including one built right into the rocks of the shore. The town is crowded in summer and almost deserted during the rest of the year.
About 1 hour and 45 minutes from Kyoto by train (less if you take the shinkansen), this onsen is located in the mountains just northeast of Kobe. Like many popular Japanese onsen, it’s been overdeveloped with lots of concrete hotel buildings. But, there are some nice baths here and the hot spring water is great.
Onsen Guide for Beginners
If you’re never been in a Japanese hot spring bath (onsen) you might be a little nervous. The first thing to do is RELAX. That’s the whole point of an onsen, and people really won’t be watching you to see if you screw up. As long as you wash before getting into the tubs, you can’t go too far wrong. So just keep one thing in mind: the water in the tubs is for soaking in, not for washing in.
Here’s the basic routine:
- Pay at the door (or buy a ticket from the vending machine if there is one). If you don’t have a hand towel, you can rent one from the counter. Take off your shoes, put them in a locker and enter the correct changing room (man: 男; woman: 女).
- Once in the changing room, take a basket from the stack and put your clothes into it. The basket goes into a locker. You can put the key around your wrist or ankle with the elastic strap. Bring your small hand towel and toiletries into the bathing area (which you enter naked – no bathing suits!).
- In the bathing area, grab a stool and a bucket and wash yourself. If there isn’t a proper washing area, just grab a bucket, squat down next to the tubs, and pour several buckets of water over yourself, and making sure to rinse your butt, your groin, your armpits and your feet very well. After washing or rinsing yourself, enter the tub of your choice. When you’re done, towel off at the sinks before going back into the changing room.
That’s all there is to it! Enjoy!
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)