Onsen (hot springs) can be found in Japan’s countryside, in natural surrounds ideal for outdoor bathing and with direct access to geothermally heated springs.
Be careful not to confuse onsen with the more widespread city-based public bathhouses (sento) where baths are filled with heated tap water and therefore contain none of the natural minerals and their associated healing benefits.
The best onsen in Kyoto (and near the city) include:
Arashiyama Hot Springs, Arashiyama
Home to the world heritage Tenryuji temple and a serene bamboo forest, Arashiyama has a lovely natural setting and several onsen. You can also enjoy a foot spa in the Kyofuku Arashiyama train station, which uses water drawn from the hot springs.
Funaoka Onsen, Kyoto
This onsen is not technically an onsen (in the true sense of the word), as the water is not pumped from a natural spring. However, it is centrally located and historic, with beautiful carvings in the changing rooms.
Kurama Onsen, Kurama
Kurama, approximately one hour north of Kyoto, is known for its Buddhist temple and its hot spring resort, and is a popular getaway for stressed out locals. Follow a nature trail along the river from Kurama train station and avail yourself of several outdoor and indoor bathing options.
Yunohana Onsen, Kameoka City
Yunohana Onsen is about 7 kilometers west of Kyoto. You can enjoy bathing in an indoor or outdoor pool, or reserve a spot in the ‘secret open-air bath’ hidden in the mountains.
Serious onsen addicts may wish to try:
Arima Onsen, Mt. Rokko, Kita-ku, Kobe
Two and a half hours by train from Kyoto, Arima Onsen takes some dedication to get to! It is one of Japan’s oldest spa areas, dating back to at least the 8th century. There are two types of springs here set in beautiful natural surrounds, and many nearby hotels and ryokans should you wish to stay overnight.