There are 17 world heritage sites in Kyoto and Enryaku-ji Temple is one of them. It is located on Mt. Hiei and situated right on the border straddling Kyoto and Shiga prefectures. Mt. Hiei demarcates the two prefectures. Strictly speaking, the temple is on the Shiga side. Enryaku-ji is about 25km from JR Kyoto. So, depending on the season, tourists may be few.
There are two cable cars from both Kyoto and Shiga sides, taking you up near the temple. But, it costs about 1,400 yen one-way and plus an entrance fee of 550 yen. Considering the cost, to go near the cable station, the total amount would exceed 3,000 yen which may be one reason that deters tourists.
So, I suggest a great way to get around this financial issue plus with a little exercise, “hiking.” From JR Kyoto station, take the JR Kosei line to Hieizan Sakamoto Station which takes about 15-20 minutes. Get off the train, out the wickets, and walk toward the mountain, not the lake.
You will pass through a torii gate and continue and see the second torii gate and go through it too. At that time you are already near the mountain and it must be 10 or 15 minute walk from the station. Continue walking toward the mountain, and you will see a red torii gate on your right, which is the gate to the famous Hiyoshi Taisha, headquarters of Hiyoshi and Hieda school shrines all over Japan. (I will write about it and the area in another article.)
Just beside the red torii, there are stone staircases leading up to the mountain. You climb it until you reach the top. At the end of the stairs, there is a board on your right showing the distance to spots including Enryaku-ji Temple. Enryaku-ji Temple has three areas, Toutou, Saitou and Yokawa. Toutou is the main area you can’t miss and the cable car stations are close.
The sign says 3 km. From the sign board, the road is straight up. Just above, there is Nanzen-bo temple where you can observe a beautiful view of Lake Biwa. Pass by the temple and continue walking. It takes about one hour only and a pleasant walk. Instead of paying 840 yen to take the Sakamoto Cable Car (incidentally, the longest cable car in Japan a little over 2,000 meters), you can enjoy a little exercise in the fresh air.
At the end of the hike, you will see the modern building Enryaku-ji Kaikan and Hotel d'Hiei. The main temple, which is registered as a national treasure, is called Konpon Chudo and was reputedly built by the 3rd shogunate of the Tokugawa clan in Edo period in the 17th century. The fire has been kept burning for over 1,200 years, orignally lit by the founder, a priest named Saicho in 807.
The mountain path leads to the backside of the temple allowing you inside without passing the ticket stand. The truth is if you are a hiker you are exempt from paying the fee. On the way back, you can go down the Kyoto side and enjoy further explorations in Kyoto.