Kyoto in autumn is a magical time of year, with a spectacular display of leaves changing color. In 2021, the best time to see fall foliage in Kyoto is from November 26 to December 8, when the Japanese maples turn red and ginkgo shift to gold.
During this time, the fall foliage and the distinctly Japanese backdrops of the city’s temples and shrines converge to create unforgettable memories.
Here are ten excellent spots where you can fully enjoy Kyoto in autumn and take in the city’s elegant atmosphere.
- Table of Contents
- What is the best time to see fall colors in Kyoto?
- 1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple: This is the true meaning of Kyoto in autumn!
- 2. Tofukuji: A sea of maple leaves right before your eyes
- 3. Nijo Castle: Harmony of Kyoto autumn leaves and Honmaru Garden
- 4. The Philosopher’s Path: Take a stroll along the river
- 5. Eikando Zenrinji: An enchanting view of 3,000 Japanese maple trees
- 6. Bishamondo: A carpet of fallen red leaves
- 7. Ryoanji: Maple autumn leaves complement the Japanese rock garden
- 8. Arashiyama: Enjoy the natural gradation of colors
- 9. Kyoto Botanical Gardens: Trees from around the world light up the night
- 10. Kifune Shrine: A landscape of lanterns and autumn leaves
- Enjoy the uniqueness of Kyoto in autumn!
What is the best time to see fall colors in Kyoto?
Even if you're not comfortable calling yourself a leaf peeper, you won't want to miss the gorgeous fall foliage in Kyoto. The best time to see fall colors in Kyoto is from late November to early December.
As Kyoto is so popular for the fall foliage, be sure to book a hotel at least two months in advance.
Also, since the average temperature in Kyoto in autumn is around 7.8℃/46.04℉, it can be fairly chilly, so be sure to bring warm clothes.
1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple: This is the true meaning of Kyoto in autumn!
Kiyomizu-dera Temple overlooks the Higashiyama area and is perfect for getting the feeling of ancient Kyoto. The nearest station is Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Railway, and from there, it’s about a 25-minute walk east to the temple. A top tourist draw, the temple is also close to other attractive sites like Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka.
The Kyoto autumn colors are in full view from Kiyomizu-dera’s hilltop main hall, also called the “Kiyomizu Stage.” The carpet of autumn colors spreading across the Kin-un-kyo Gorge below is breathtaking, and feeling the refreshing air while taking in the view from the main hall is the epitome of “Autumn in Japan.”
The best time to experience this inspiring scene of Kyoto autumn leaves is from late November to early December.
When viewed from the Koyasu Pagoda, the stage itself stands out tastefully among the autumn colors. From November 18 - 30, 2021, there will be special evening hours so visitors can see the illuminated autumn leaves.
2. Tofukuji: A sea of maple leaves right before your eyes
Tofukuji is the main temple of the Tofukuji School of the Rinzai sect and boasts the largest temple hall in Kyoto. The name “Tofukuji” is a combination of the names of Nara’s Todaiji and Kofukuji temples. Many cultural properties have been preserved on the site, including the country’s oldest temple gate.
Maples begin to turn red in mid-November, and are at their best from late November to early December. Seen from Tofukuji’s Tsutenkyo Bridge, they look like a sea of red clouds, giving viewers a heavenly perspective.
Since it’s very crowded in autumn, photography may be prohibited on Tsutenkyo. However, if you go down to the Sengyokukan Gorge, you’ll have the opportunity to take some spectacular pictures. From Keihan Tofukuji Station or JR Tofukuji Station, it’s an easy 10-minute walk to the temple.
3. Nijo Castle: Harmony of Kyoto autumn leaves and Honmaru Garden
Nijo Castle is home to several important cultural properties, including the national treasure Ninomaru Goten, the main East Gate, and the corner Southeast Watchtower along the outer moat. Easily accessible via Kyoto Municipal Subway’s Nijojoumae Station, the palace and its three gardens are a major tourist attraction.
Nijo Castle leaves a variety of impressions throughout the four seasons and is even more attractive during the fall foliage season (normally mid-November to early December).
Maple and ginkgo planted along the moat turn bright red and yellow, further inspiring a walk through the castle grounds. The contrast between the complex’s southeast corner and the maples is also beautiful, with a very “Japanese” feel.
The Ninomaru garden is designated as a special scenic site, and Seiryuen Garden is transformed in autumn. Viewers will find a passion for the fascinating imagery of Nijo Castle amidst the serenity.
4. The Philosopher’s Path: Take a stroll along the river
The Philosopher's Path is so named because the philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who served as a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, and his students would walk in thought along the path. Now, modern walkers come here to enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, and autumn colors in fall.
The path is built along a canal, making a stroll along the path is pleasing to both the ears and the eyes with the sound of flowing water and the red leaves. There are many unique shops along the way, and it’s fun to stop into a few while enjoying the maple trees outside.
The best viewing is from mid to late November. Getting off at the Ginkakuji-michi bus stop via the Kyoto City Bus is recommended to visit Ginkakuji Temple.
Kyoto Prefecture Kyoto City Sakyo Ward Jodo Temple Ishibashi Town-Wakaoji Town, 606-8406
Kyoto Station （JR Tokaido Line / JR Biwako Line / JR Tokaido Shinkansen / JR Kyoto Line / JR Sagano Line / JR San-in Line / JR Nara Line / Karasuma Line / Kintetsu-kyoto Line）
40 minutes by bus
- Phone Number 075-761-3863
- Address Kyoto Prefecture Kyoto City Sakyo Ward Jodo Temple Ishibashi Town-Wakaoji Town, 606-8406
5. Eikando Zenrinji: An enchanting view of 3,000 Japanese maple trees
Eikando Zenrinji Temple, seen as you go south along the Philosopher’s Path, is so well known for its beautiful autumn colors it has been called “Momiji Eikando” (momiji being the word for Japanese maples) since ancient times. The temple’s Tahoto Pagoda and the 3,000 maple trees surrounding it form a breathtaking scene that has inspired many a poet to celebrate its beauty.
Tahoto is situated atop the highest point on the grounds making it possible to look out over Kyoto with the striking autumn leaves in the foreground. During the peak leaf viewing weeks (usually from November to early December), lights make Eikando Zenrinji a dramatic nocturnal sight.
6. Bishamondo: A carpet of fallen red leaves
Bishamondo derives its name from Bishamonten, one of the seven deities of good fortune said to bring in good luck for the New Year and to whom the temple is dedicated. Known for its autumn leaves, the grounds become aglow with maple leaves. Fallen leaves turn the approach to the main hall into a red carpet, and slowly ascending the stone steps is an exceptional experience.
Additionally, the area around Bishamondo is also dense with autumn colors, creating an amazing atmosphere.
The best time to visit is from mid-November to early December. Get off at JR/Kyoto Municipal Subway/Keihan Yamashina Station and walk about 20 minutes to arrive at Bishamondo.
7. Ryoanji: Maple autumn leaves complement the Japanese rock garden
Ryoanji Temple is famous for its rock garden - a dry landscape where fifteen large and small stones are arranged in white gravel. Depending on their imagination, viewers often see the stones as islands and waves, rivers and rocks, and more.
In the Kyoto autumn leaf viewing season (usually from late November to early December), you can see colorful red and yellow maples peeking over the rock garden wall. The leaves complement the garden to form a unique landscape seen only during this brief period.
The red maples surrounding Kyoyochi Pond make a walk around the large pond even more enjoyable. The closest station is Ryoanji Station on the Keifuku Electric Railway. Also, if you walk east on the road in front of Ryoanji, you’ll reach Kinkakuji Temple and its famous golden shrine in about 20 minutes.
8. Arashiyama: Enjoy the natural gradation of colors
Arashiyama is in the Nishiyama area of Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward. Centered around the Togetsukyo Bridge that spans the Katsura River, it is one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto and hosts countless visitors from Japan and abroad.
From mid-November, Arashiyama’s maple trees are dyed red and yellow, creating a picturesque landscape in striking contrast with the fresh green months. Pictures with the colorful mountains in the background and the bridge in front are frequently subjects of social media posts.
To reach Togetsukyo Bridge, get off at JR Saga-Arashiyama Station or Hankyu Arashiyama Station and walk for about 15 minutes. There are plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops in the area to enrich your visit.
9. Kyoto Botanical Gardens: Trees from around the world light up the night
Kyoto Botanical Gardens are Japan's oldest public botanical garden. It is located right next to Kitayama Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway, giving it easy access.
The southern half of the park features a large flower bed and a symmetrical Western-style rose garden. Conversely, the northern half is home to the natural Naragi-no-Mori forest. Botanical beauty can be appreciated throughout the entire garden, including the Plant Ecology Garden, where flora from all over Japan are planted in conditions close to their natural environment.
In autumn, the area around the forest is uniquely beautiful when species such as Japanese maple (momiji), metasequoia, ginkgo, and Formosan gum change color. From mid-November to late November, the garden is lit up at night, and the beauty of the trees and the colorful leaves is intoxicating.
10. Kifune Shrine: A landscape of lanterns and autumn leaves
Although its construction date is unknown, Kifune Shrine is known to be extremely old. About an hour from Kyoto Station by train or bus, it's a little far, but you’ll be able to witness the unspoiled natural beauty of the mountains and a different atmosphere than that of the central areas.
The torii gates at Kifuneguchi (the shrine’s entrance) and vermillion lanterns that line the steps between the two are truly impressive. When the autumn colors arrive in early November, and with the lanterns alight, the scene becomes even more moving. Every year, the leaves themselves are also illuminated in the evening and take on an air of fantasy.
Enjoy the uniqueness of Kyoto in autumn!
Kyoto’s famous shrines and temples, which are typically calm, quiet places, become more lustrous in autumn, with some lighting up their fall foliage to add to the fascinating atmosphere. Be sure to visit Kyoto during this special season!
*The above article is based on information from June 2020
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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