The beauty of the Otsu area, including Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji Temple, has inspired legends and tall tales for centuries.
Otsu is easily accessible from Kyoto.
The Otsu area can be explored on the JR Tokaido and Kosei lines as well as the private Keihan line from Kyoto.
Mt. Hiei is the home of numerous gods and demons in Shinto lore. It's also the home of Miidera Temple, in whose water Japan's newborn emperors are bathed. On the same mountain is Enryakuji Temple, whose monks use extreme physical exercise as a means to approach enlightenment. Enryakuji is also the place where, in 1004, Lady Murasaki began writing "The Tale of Genji," Japan's first novel, and the oldest extant novel in the world. To get there, take a ride on the Sakamoto Cable Car, the longest funicular in Japan.
If you visit in autumn, make sure to attend the Otsu Festival. In this 400-year-old tradition, revelers celebrate the prosperity of the city by carrying mikoshi portable shrines through the town. Join the locals in donning a tanuki mask. Even if you don't know what a tanuki is, you'll likely see a statue of one outside an izakaya. It's the odd-looking raccoon dog with a big belly and bottle of sake, inviting passersby in for a drink.
Spring in Otsu means cherry blossoms and the Hiyoshi-Taisha Sanno Festival. Related events start in March, culminating in mid-April. Hiyoshi Taisha itself is an extremely important Shinto shrine that houses Sanno Gongen, the guardian deity of Mt. Hiei. Among other ceremonies, the festival involves taking mikoshi portable shrines across Lake Biwa and back.
If you're in the mood for art, take a look inside the Shiga Kenritsu Kindai Bijutsukan (the Prefectural Museum of Modern Art). The museum focuses on modern Japanese paintings, works connected to Shiga, and postwar American and Japanese art. After you've had your fill of the galleries, consider having a nice long soak in the hot spring baths of Ogoto Onsen.