10 Best Places to See Autumn Leaves in Kyoto
Japan’s former capital and most historic city attracts visitors from all over the world. Home to many of the country’s most important temples and shrines, Kyoto is blessed with some truly beautiful autumn colours in the gardens surrounding many of those historic attractions. On this page you will find the following information:
When listing the best spots to enjoy the leaves while in Kyoto, there are simply too many destinations including numerous temples and shrines at which you can find outstanding colours. The list below introduces some of the city’s best known spots before moving onto our tips for going a little further and enjoying the best autumn leaves in our home region of Central Japan. Within easy reach of Kyoto by train, the autumn leaves start earlier and last longer here thanks to the huge variation in elevation across the region and cooler climate. The list is not intended to be a ranking of the very best down but instead serves as a guide as to where and when you can find some fantastic autumn leaves in the Kyoto. Now let’s get into it!
BEST AUTUMN LEAVES IN KYOTO
As Japan’s most historically important city, Kyoto is one of the best destinations in the country to enjoy the beautiful autumn leaves. The city is home to numerous temples and shrines at which you can enjoy the colours in surrounding landscaped gardens. Most require visitors to pay an admission free but believe us when we say that it’s worth it. The list below starts with a temple outside the central city which typically experiences autumn colours a little earlier before moving back into the city with some of its most famous and popular temples. We have provided a typical ‘best time’ of year to see the leaves in each location but please note, this can vary between years and is only intended as a guide. Now let’s jump in with our suggestion of the fifteen best spots to enjoy the leaves:
1 / SANZEN-IN TEMPLE / best time: mid-November
Our first recommendation is actually outside of the central city and for that reason, the colours are at their best a little earlier. Heading out of Kyoto but still within the boundaries of the city, Ohara is a picturesque rural area approximately 60-minutes to the north of Kyoto Station. This picturesque area is often missed by international visitors but is home of one of Kyoto’s most impressive temples, Sanzen-in. Founded by Saicho – a 9th century monk who brought the Tendai school of Buddhism to Japan from China – the temple is set within beautiful gardens, at its most spectacular each autumn. The temple is open daily from 08:30 to 17:30 during autumn with last entry at 17:00. Admission is JPY700.
2 / TOFUKU-JI TEMPLE / best time: mid to late November
Founded in 1236, Tofuku-ji is located in the south-east of Kyoto and one of the city’s most famous temples for enjoying the autumn leaves. The temple boasts a 2000m² garden with many ‘momiji’ with the most famous view from the Tsutenkyo Bridge that connects the temples two main halls. The temple is open from 09:00 to 16:30 in October and 08:30 to 16:30 in November and December, with last entry 40 minutes before close.
3 / ENKO-JI TEMPLE / best time: mid. to late November
Located in the north of the city, Enko-ji is another temple famous for its fantastic autumn leaves. Beautiful ‘momiji’ surround the temple, the views of which can be enjoyed while viewing the garden from inside the temple. The temple itself was founded in 1601 and belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect of Buddhism. Enko-ji is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00, with last entry at 16:30. Admission is JPY500.
4 / DAIGO-JI TEMPLE / best time: mid. to late November
Belonging to the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, Daigo-ji is located in the southeast of the city and is a World Heritage site. Multiple buildings make-up the temple including the Bentendo Hall and Kami Daigo. This area of the temple has some spectacular autumn colours that are illuminated at night. The temple is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00 with last entry at 16:30 through autumn. Admission is JPY1500.
5 / RURIKO-IN TEMPLE / best time: mid. to late November
Ruriko-in is located in the north of Kyoto, near Mt Hiei. One of the city’s most attractive temples, it is also one of the hardest to get to and least visited thanks to its restricted days of access which are limited to two periods each year. Open to public in only spring and autumn, the temple gardens put on a spectacular display each autumn as the surrounding trees turn in colour – a sight best enjoyed form the second floor of the temple’s Sho-in building. In autumn, Ruriko-in is open daily from October 1 until December 10 from 10:00 to 17:00 admission is JPY2000.
6 / KODAI-JI TEMPLE / best time: late Nov. to early December
Located nearby the more famous Kiyomizudera, Kodai-ji is well-known for its beautiful autumn leaves. Illuminated at night, the light and colour reflects on the temple pond, a particularly photogenic sight that attracts many visitors. The temple itself was established in 1606 and belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and includes a large rock garden. The temple is open daily from 09:00 to 17:30 with last entry at 17:00. Admission is JPY600.
7 / KIYOMIZUDERA / best time: late Nov. to early December
Perhaps Kyoto’s most famous temple, Kiyomizudera has World Heritage-listing and is one of the city’s most popular destinations at all times of year. But no season is better than autumn, when the mature ‘momiji’ surrounding the temple’s large balcony turn bright red. The temple is open daily from 06:00 to 18:00. Admission is JPY400.
8 / EIKANDO TEMPLE / best time: late Nov. to early December
Another of Kyoto’s most famous temples for autumn colours, Eikando belongs to the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism. The buildings making-up the temple complex and connected by wooden corridors and surrounding by a large garden. In autumn, many trees are illuminated at night making it one of Kyoto’s most impressive autumn destinations. Eikando is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00 with last entry at 16:00. During autumn, admission to the temple during the day is JPY1000 and JPY600 at night.
9 / ARASHIYAMA / best time: late Nov. to early December
Located in the north of Kyoto, Arashiyama is famous for the Togetsu-kyo Bridge and Sagano Bamboo Grove – an area known for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring followed by autumn leaves. Unlike the other spots on this list, Arashiyama isn’t a temple – although the area is home to multiple temples – offering a nice alternative for enjoying the leaves. The forested mountains of the area are typically at their best in the second half of November and the area can be accessed free of charge.
10 / NANZEN-JI TEMPLE / best time: late Nov. to early December
Located at the base of the Higashiyama mountains, Nanzen-ji lies on the eastern outskirts of the city. One of the most important Rinzai sect temples in Japan – an important school of Zen – the temple complex is large and includes multiple historic buildings, stunning gardens and unique brick aqueduct that runs through the grounds. Many trees surrounding the two sub-temples making-up the complex are illuminated at night, an especially beautiful sight.
BEST AUTUMN LEAVES IN CENTRAL JAPAN
Captivating and beautiful, you’ll find some fantastic autumn leaves surrounding the temples of Kyoto. As a stop on the Limited Express ‘Thunderbird’ service running from Osaka to Kanazawa, Kyoto is a convenient point from where to head into Central Japan – a region we call home and one blessed with some of the country’s best autumn leaves.
As you head toward Kanazawa and further into Central Japan, you are entering the country’s mountainous heartland. Thanks to the higher elevation – which ascends to well-over 3000 metres – and the cooler climate of the region, autumn leaves appear earlier than in Kyoto and last longer. In higher areas such as Shiga Kogen, Hakuba, Kamikochi, Tateyama-Kurobe (pictured above) and other spots rising over 2500 metres, the leaves can turn as early as mid-September while lower areas will be at their best as late as mid-November. This allows plenty of time and options when seeking-out the best autumn leaves.
Our ’20 Best Places To See Autumn Leaves In & Around Nagano’ page lists our suggestion of some of the best spots in the region, most of which can be easily reached using trains or other public transport. Running all the way to Kanazawa to Tokyo, the Hokuriku Shinkansen line opens-up Central Japan and some of Japan’s best autumn leaves destinations including the Togakushi and its forested pilgrimage trails (pictured above) the World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (pictured below).
Starting earlier and lasting longer than in Kyoto thanks to the region’s huge elevation range and cooler climate, Nagano and Central Japan is the perfect destination to enjoy some of the best autumn leaves in the country – a spectacular adventure into the mountainous heartland of Japan.
AUTUMN LEAVES IN JAPAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Occurring anytime between mid-September and mid-December depending on the region of the country, the autumn leaves are eagerly anticipated every year in Japan. Our ‘Autumn Leaves’ main page has everything you need to know including this year’s autumn leaves forecast, where to find them and our range of group and private tours in Nagano and Central Japan.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING KYOTO
As Japan’s most historic city, Kyoto attracts millions of visitor each year. As such, it is no surprise that there is plenty of accommodation of choose from, ranging from high-end hotels and traditional guesthouses, to mid-range and budget options dotted in and around the city. Our ‘Where to Stay in Kyoto & Nara’ page listed the best areas including accommodation listings.
HOW TO GET TO KYOTO & NARA
As a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen line running from Tokyo to Osaka, and the Limited Express Thunderbird service running to Fukui and Kanazawa, Kyoto is quick and easy to reach. Our ‘How to Get to Kyoto’ page has everything you need to know including the best train services to reach the city from many popular starting points.
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