Kyoto Autumn: Our Top Locations for Catching Fall Foliage

Sep

18

Autumn in Kyoto, Japan is nothing short of magical. The city, already known for its iconic temples and stunning natural landscapes, takes on an added layer of magic as the leaves change to vibrant shades of gold and red. We spent a month in Kyoto last fall, exploring some of the best spots to witness this seasonal spectacle, and we’re excited to share them with you. From the famous Kyomizu Dera to the lesser known Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, each location offered a unique experience on Kyoto’s autumn beauty.

Kyoto Autumn foliage spots

Is it worth going to Japan in Autumn?

In our opinion Kyotos vibrant autumn colours rivals that of the famed cherry blossom season. The weather in November is cool and perfect for exploring around. Its by far one of the best times to visit Japan.

When should I go to Kyoto in Autumn?

Peak colours are usually from mid November. But the time that the leaves turn golden and red actually varies greatly from year to year depending on the weather. If you are planning a trip specifically to see the autumn colours, check Kyoto city website for its autumn foliage prediction calendar. It gives approximate dates with the colour changes for certain locations around town. We spent a month in Kyoto and were surprised how even different temples and parks turned colours at different times depending on the type of trees and even microclimates.

Kyoto Autumn foliage spots

Things to know for Autumn in Kyoto

  • The symbol of autumn in Japan is the vibrant red maple leaf and it’s called Momiji. You’ll see this word around a lot during the fall months. Its an annual tradition in Japan to go out autumn leaf hunting (Momijigari)
  • Crowds can get pretty busy in Kyoto during peak foliage season (mid November) so be prepared for lining up at some of the more popular temples in Arashiyama and Higashiyama districts.
  • Most temples have an entrance fee and a lot of them only take cash so make sure you have enough change. They’re mostly around 500yen (USD$3) per adult.
  • Weekends get busy with travellers and Momiji hunters from Osaka and Tokyo so accomodation can get booked quickly

Where to stay in Kyoto (hotels)

Mid Range

Luxury

Our favourite Kyoto Autumn colour locations

Daigo-Ji Temple (red Bridge)

This beautiful temple and its surrounding gardens are about 30 mins by train from Kyoto Central. But well worth the trip. The highlights of this large temple complex are the gardens and red bridge around Bentendo Temple and also the Sanboin zen garden. While there you can get a traditional Udon noodle soup at Ajariryo Juan restaurant near the red bridge.

Daigo-Ji Temple Autumn colours

Arashiyama

Arashiyama is easily one of the most famous and beautiful autumn foliage destinations in Kyoto. The hills around the Katsura river turn all shades of red and gold. The surrounding area also has many options for hotels and restaurants with temples and Japanese gardens full of beautiful fall colours. We’ve listed our 4 favourite spots below.

Arashiyama Kyoto Japan Autumn Fall foliage

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Hokyo-In Temple

This temple and its gardens might be small but they are one of the most spectacular when in full colour. The central pathway in Hokyo-In temple is framed by vibrant shades of red and gold. And viewing the gardens from inside the temple adds a beautiful frame.

Hogon-In Temple

The gardens of Hogon-In are stunning to walk through and they are one of the best temples in Kyoto for night illumination.

Somekobo Yumeyusai Inc

This location is actually a fabric dying gallery but it has become famous for its traditional shaped windows and reflections looking out into the autumn colours. Its goes viral on social media during peak seasons so you can expect lines and there is a time limit. Still a unique and interesting view nonetheless.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji (1000 faces temple)

This Temple is about 15 minuted out of Kyoto up into the hills. You can access it by bus from Arashiyama main station. The Temple is home to over 1000 unique face statues. Its a little of the main track so its usually very quiet but worth the visit.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji 1000 faces temple kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera & Higashiyama district

This UNESCO World Heritage Buddhist temple is easily the centre piece of Kyoto and one of the most famous in Japan. Kiyomizu dera’s huge wooden balcony hangs out over the hillside with stunning views over Kyoto and the vibrant autumn foliage Maple trees below. You can walk up to the temple from the bottom of Higashiyama neighbourhood taking you though beautiful traditional streets.

Kyomizu dera Kyoto Japan Autumn Fall foliage,

Higashiyama

One of our favourite districts in Kyoto with its beautiful traditional building and lanes. While in Higashiyama stop in for a coffee or hot matcha at %Arabica cafe along the way on Hoshinocho st. Also don’t miss the beautiful Hōkan-ji Temple Pagoda and Sannenzaka street full of Japanese houses, restaurants, teahouses and stores.

Nanzen-ji Temple complex

On the easter side of Kyoto nestled beneath the mountains is Nansen-ji, one of the largest and most important Zen Buddhist temple complexes in Japan. It’s free to enter the main grounds and there are many different gardens and smaller temples within the main complex that you can pay a fee to enter.

Ichiwa & Kazariya (Aburi mochi tea houses)

If you’re after some Japanese tea and grilled motchi (sweet glutinous rice dumplings) in a 1000 year old tea house. head up to Ichiwa & Kazariya tea houses in northern Kyoto. These two beautiful spots next door to Imamiya shrine both specialises in Aburi Motchi. Doey rice dumplings on skewers grilled over hot coals then topped with sweet miso paste. The Imamiya shrine may be small but it also has some beautiful autumn colours so a perfect combined outing.

Ichiwa & Kazariya (Aburi mochi tea house Kyoto Japan
Imamiya shrine Kyoto Japan autumn colours

Kyoto Autumn Colours

There you have it, our personal recommendations to experiencing the beauty of Kyoto, Japan, in autumn. Each location we visited captivated us in its own way, making the trip an unforgettable adventure. If you’re planning to visit Kyoto during this spectacular season, we hope our insights inspire your own colourful journey. Happy Momiji hunting 🙂

While you are here you might like our other blog 10 Unique Things to do in Tokyo

All photos on this blog are edited with our Lightroom Presets available for you to download here

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