Where to go in Kyoto for this Autumn!
If you think Spring is the best season in Japan – well Autumn has something to say about it! Kyoto commands the attention of locals, tourists and the world alike, for it’s not just cherry blossoms that make this prefecture famous. As the summer heat starts to dissipate and the cooler weather begins to settle in, the attractive Autumn season takes over Japan in a sea of reds, oranges and yellows.
The main period of fall and the best time to experience Kyoto painted by sunset colours is from mid-November to early-December – so start planning your adventures now. As a side note, if you’re a bit of a night owl, then make sure you venture out at night, where most of the leaves are lit up making them even more magical. To help you experience the best of this beautiful season, in no particular order here are the best places to see, snap and share this autumn.
Known as one of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto, Tofuku-ji not only holds the oldest zen main gate in Japan, but is also home to some of the finest autumn leaves. For the best view check out Tsutenkyo Bridge and get lost among the many maple trees. Bonus points for this temple is that most of the grounds are free (yay!) but as it is a prominent place for autumn leaves it can be pretty chaotic and crowded in peak season.
Another Temple with free entry to its grounds and gardens is Chion-in which is popular at night when the trees are illuminated, but take note final entry is at 9pm. The temple is also famous for having the largest wooden gate in Japan (24 metres tall, 50 meters wide).
A short skip and a jump from Chion-in is Shoren-in which is another temple popular for nighttime illuminations and unknowingly skipped by most tourists. Don’t make this mistake, and take the short stroll to enjoy this tranquil temple with attractive autumn leaves.
Probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, this popular world heritage spot also boasts breathtaking fall foliage. It’s photos of Kiyomizu-dera surrounded by red leaves in fall that are most prominently used as the perfect pictures promoting Japan tourism to the rest of the world.
If you visit Kiyomizu-dera, then add Kodaiji to the same itinerary as the two are pretty close together. There’s a bamboo grove, a rock garden and zen gardens but the standout features are the several ponds which reflect the incredible illuminated leaves.
This temple is extremely famous for their abundance of trees, which attracts visitors by the thousands. The temple is incredibly popular and you can expect to queue for nighttime illuminations, but even the view from the outside is outstanding – and it’s free!
Nanzen-ji is is pretty much next to Eikan-do so if you’re planning a walking temple tour of Kyoto then make sure you visit them both together. With sprawling gardens and lots of places to get the best photo of fall foliage, Nanzen-ji is a good place to go.
When Taylor Swift named her album ‘Red’ it HAS to be after Enrian. With red as far as the eye can see, the crimson leaves cover the entire ground leaving no other colour but red, which is both shocking and stunning.
Though it’s only open from 9am to 4pm, make time because Enrian is a definite must-visit.
If you hike the trails from Nanzen-ji temple, or alternatively take a train, you can reach Bishamondo. Although it’s a temple that is captivating year-round, Bishamondo is even more breathtaking in autumn. Covered with trees, you will feel transported to another time and place as you revel in the crimson colours.
Not so much the temple, but the road leading up to Kouetsu-ji makes for a picturesque photo of fall foliage. Inside there are gardens that allow the perfect view down over Kyoto.
Listed as a world heritage site, Daigo-ji is absolutely stunning in autumn. Located at the base of a mountainside, it is famous for the ‘Betendo Hall’ which is surrounded by autumnal trees overlooking a large pond.
Shinshogokuraku-ji (Shinnyo-do) – a local’s secret
Only a 15 minute walk from Ginkaku-ji temple, this temple is not popular with tourists and is an amazing place to go in autumn. With free entry, large grounds and an abundance of maples, the pagoda and main hall are beautifully contrasted with crimson and orange hues.
Not huge, but peaceful and completely photogenic, Enko-ji is another less-touristy temple (which is great in peak season) that allows you to sit inside on tatami and take in the beautiful views of autumn. If you make your way to the large hill behind the temple, which offers an sprawling and stunning view of the city.
Parks, Rivers & Mountains
Ooi River, Arashiyama
No autumn experience is complete without a visit to Arashiyama. One of the best ways to experience fall foliage is to take a ride on the Ooi river in between Kyoto’s Arashiyama mountains. Whilst in Arashiyama there are also a few temples that are accentuated with beautiful maples.
Situated on 65 hectares, Kyoto Gyoen surrounds the Kyoto Imperial Palace and is one huge park that provides perfect respite from the city life. From mid to late November there are numerous places to see pretty autumn leaves as well as enjoy a leisurely stroll amongst the maples.
The Hozugawa river in Hozu valley passes through Kameoka city and Kyoto. Popular river boat rides called “kawakudari” allow you to slowly drift down the river taking in the mountains that turn splendid scarlet and orange.
Famous for its cute deer, Nara park also provides panoramic views, that in Autumn area absorbs the colours of a sunset creating an unbelievable experience.
In the north of Kyoto is a forested valley called Takao which hosts various temples that provide an early glimpse of autumn colours before the main temples in Kyoto start to show. If you are looking to see autumn leaves earlier in November, then this is the place to go.
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