One more entry from the recent “Kyoto series” and this one is for families. Kyoto is both a great and a difficult city for families. There are lots of open spaces and parks for kids to explore, but few tourist-oriented play centers or theme parks or hands-on museums.
The Sagano Scenic Railway is a good option for families seeking a bit of a break from the standard circuit of temples and shrines. The train runs from March until the foliage season from the western suburb of Arashiyama. This neighborhood is more known for its lovely bamboo grove and riverside strolls but not many tourists venture beyond that. However, from March until the early weeks of December, an old-time steam engine chugs along a scenic track that closely follows the Hozu River. In sakura season and again when the leaves turn, this half hour trip would be a stunning one. I was a tad early for the spring blooms, but the scenery along the river is beautiful nonetheless.
Kids will probably be more excited by the masked performers that join the train halfway, the singing conductor that wanders through the cars or the train-themed bento boxes available for purchase back at the Arashiyama station.
Once the train reaches its terminus in Kameoka, families have two options to return to Arashiyama. One is to take the regular JR train back to Arashiyama, which follows a different track but with similar views. The other option is a serene boat trip down the Hozu River with an entertaining crew of oarsmen. While they advertise “thrilling rapids”, the journey is quite staid and my boat even had a three year old in the back. It IS however a two hour jaunt to the boat launch just beside Arashiyama’s famous Togetsukyo Brdige. If your kids are not the patient type, opt for the train!
You can find more information on tickets and schedules here.