I think that our day exploring Arashiyama was one of my favourites from the entire trip. There is so much to do in such a small town. You're able to get immersed in the culture or go hard with the tourist activities. There are two main things to do in Arashiyama, the Bamboo Forest and the Monkey Park. Both are amazing. Both include lots of walking so I would recommend to use a baby carrier instead of a pram, there are areas in both that are not pram friendly (if you have small children). There are the most spectacular gardens that are a part of the bamboo forest, you will get to walk around them (on the path!) as well as stop at a tea house along the way for macha. This place is a photographer's dream!
I had been to the bamboo forest while I was pregnant so didn't go this time with my daughter. If you are following google maps to get to the monkey park, don't! Google maps leads you totally the wrong direction- I learned this the hard way!
The hike up to see the monkeys is decent, I did it with my 4 year old on my back for most of it so be prepared!
At the top of the mountain, there is a rare playground which the kids will love. There isn't much play equipment just a long, steep slide, swings and a flying fox. The view of Arashiyama from the monkey area is breathtaking. It was so cool to be able to see these monkeys up close and without barriers. Be careful though, they can be a little aggressive if provoked so you will need to keep an eye on your kids! There are plenty of signs telling you what you should and should not do when you are around them. Make sure you read the signs and follow the instructions.
Once we had hiked the mountain and hung out with the monkeys for a while, we went on a little boat ride. This was my daughter's idea and it was the best possible thing to do after going on a hike. My legs were so tired after carrying my 20kg child up and down the mountain!
It was a relaxing way to see more of Arashiyama from a different angle. There was even a little boat that came up to ours to sell fresh seafood (delicious squid and other goodness cooked on a little bbq on their boat).
Once the boat ride had finished, we got out and walked through the town a little. It was quite busy there as there are a lot of shops aimed at the tourists. Great for buying presents for your friends and family back home.
When we were planning our trip, I had mentioned to my daughter that there are Cat and Owl Cafes in Japan. Initially I was sceptical about the treatment of the animals and wasn't sure whether we would go to one. My daughter and I are total animal lovers and I didn't want to spend money at an establishment that wasn't treating the animals there with love and respect. However, we did see signs for a Cat Cafe that was also linked to an Owl Cafe. I was more excited to see the owls. I decided to go to have a look. If I was unhappy with the environment or the way the animals were displayed then we would leave straight away without committing to pay. So we walked in and there was a play room for all the cats that included a huge tree for them to climb, toys etc. It was quite a big room and there were about 8 cats in there who all seemed to be in good health and well looked after. We were the only ones in the room aside from the staff member who worked there. My daughter was in heaven playing with all the cats. There was a vending machine there where we were able to get a beverage. The vending machines were cause of much excitement from my daughter throughout our entire trip. We spent about 45 minutes playing with all the cats, chilling on the floor and allowing them to come to us when they were comfortable. I did wonder what would happen if there were a lot of people wanting to be there or whether the staff member would step in if people weren't respecting the animals.
Once we had our play with the cats, we walked through into the other room to check out the owls. There were probably about a dozen owls of different breeds. I am a total bird person, I have consistently had a pet bird since I was about 11/12. My current bird (Leroy) is a Superb Parrot and is 10 years old! So, needless to say, I was super excited about seeing the owls but I was also very wary. Knowing that birds have a lot of personality and need a lot of love and care. As we walked in, there was a path way that we were to follow. There were signs saying that the owls were tame and happy to be pet although I wanted to show them respect and didn't force my hands into their personal space seeing as they didn't know us. It made me sad to think that these beautiful birds were forced to have strangers pet them during the day when they would normally be sleeping. They also had little anklets on that were chaining them to their perch. I do hope that they were given the opportunity to fly once the sun went down and the cafe closed. Whilst it was absolutely amazing to see these beautiful birds up close and personal, I probably wouldn't go to an owl cafe again. I just have too much respect for them. The cats were able to roam freely, it was a totally different situation for both animals.
If you are only in Kyoto for 2 days, I would totally recommend you putting Arashiyama on your list of things to do. If you're in Kyoto for longer, then you will have more time to spend there :) it isn't too far from Kyoto and is a totally unique place to visit. I have been there both times I went to Japan and still left wanting to see more.