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Autumn Colors in Kyoto: 10 Best Leaf Peeping Spots

Visit Kyoto, Japan’s oldest city, to uncover the best of autumn and traditional Japanese architecture. Kyoto is home to a myriad of beautiful Buddhist shrines, Japanese-style gardens, and scenic mountains.

The ancient city has over 2,000 temples, which sets it apart from modern Tokyo and rugged Hokkaido. It’s your chance to bask in a serene atmosphere and forget all your worries.

We know it gets confusing with thousands of stops to choose from, including Arashiyama’s bamboo groves and Eikando Temple’s illuminated maple leaves. Luckily, we’re here to help! From green to gold and crimson, experience fall at its most vivid with our top 10 list of Kyoto autumn leaf spots.

What you should know before you visit Kyoto:

Best Time to Visit:

Kyoto’s fall season runs from mid-October to mid-December. We recommend visiting during mid-November, the peak of the fall foliage.

How to get around in Kyoto:

Map of Kyoto (Image via Google Maps)
Map of Kyoto (Image via Google Maps)

By Bus

The bus network is extensive and will get you to most of these spots easily. You will need to pay before you leave the bus. (Cost: ¥230 one-way)

By Train

Normally, you don’t need to travel by train within Kyoto. Only take the JR Train within Kyoto to reach other destinations near the city, such as Arashiyama. (Cost: ¥240 one-way)

By Taxi

You may also take taxis, which are easily found in most corners of the city. (Cost: ¥600 for the first 2 km)

Easy Options:

Travel easily by booking this private car service to Arashiyama and top temples across Kyoto or Osaka with KKday.

You may opt to take a bus tour to visit Kiyomizudera Temple and other temples here

Or take the scenic route and grab Sagano Scenic Railway Tickets to Arashiyama before they sell out!

Here are the top 10 must-visit autumn leaf spots in Kyoto:

Early Season (Late October to Mid-November):

1. Mt. Takao

Mt. Takao (image via ajari, Flickr)
Mt. Takao (image via ajari, Flickr)

Enter the mountain village of Takao, the first in Kyoto to boast autumn foliage in the latter half of October. View warm-colored fall foliage covering the valley and bridges. Hike your way up to three historic temples, including Jingo-ji Temple and witness the nightly illumination of crimson maple trees. Purchase a clay disk with special inscriptions, make a wish, and throw it into the valley for luck!

2. Sanzenin Temple

(Sanzenin Temple image via m-louis .®, Flickr)
(Sanzenin Temple image via m-louis .®, Flickr)

Looking for a quiet place to be surrounded by the beauty of autumn leaves? Come to Sanzenin and meditate like the Buddhists and noblemen did decades ago. Here, you can enjoy the contrast between the evergreen moss and blazing gardens in shades of gold and deep red.

Main Season (Mid-November to December):

3. Arashiyama

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a must-visit destination whether it’s fall season or not. Walk through the lined path and be mesmerized by the unearthly green hue created by the bamboo stalks. Cross the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge to see the mountains tinged with fiery fall foliage.

4. Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple
Tenryu-ji Temple

Unwind in the famous temple with a sprawling Zen Buddhist garden. It uses a ‘borrowed scenery’ effect, inspired by the nearby mountains of Arashiyama, and incorporates the elements into the garden. See the fiery display of maple trees framing the ancient Sogenchi pond.

5. Eikando Temple

Eikando Temple
Eikando Temple

Eikan-do is one of Kyoto’s top leaf-peeping spots, founded in 853 by monk Kūkai’s disciple. Delight in the vivid maple and gingko trees adorning the temple grounds. Immerse yourself in the mysterious atmosphere, enhanced by charming rock formations and chanting priests.

6. Kitano Tenmagu Shrine

To add a lovely dose of purple to your camera roll, drop by Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Its plum trees compliment the maple red and orange leaves perfectly. Go here at night to glimpse hundreds of lit maple trees lining the garden’s river.

7. Komyoji Temple

Komyoji Temple (image via minior, Flickr)
Komyoji Temple (image via minior, Flickr)

Cherish the romantic sight of the “Temple of Maples”, known for the hundreds of maple trees that are centuries old. The red carpet of leaves, nicknamed, “The Maple Path”, covers the temple grounds completely. This sets Kyomyo-ji Temple apart from the rest and makes it utterly captivating to look at.

8. Kodai-ji Temple

Kodaiji Temple (image via Gordon Cheung, Flickr)
Kodaiji Temple (image via Gordon Cheung, Flickr)

Make a visit to this historic site dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most powerful politicians.  Enjoy the lavish interiors and rock gardens representing the vastness of the ocean. Don’t miss the nighttime illuminations – cherish the sight of the pine and maple trees gleaming in the pond’s reflection.

9. Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple is one or Japan’s oldest and most celebrated temples on Mount Otowa. Make your way to its wooden platform to relish sweeping views of Kyoto, encircled by a sea of red and orange maples.

Admire the temple gardens and lush hillsides bursting with a spectrum of fall colors. Browse the shops for handcrafted pottery and traditional Japanese confectionery.:

  • Note: Kiyomizudera’s main hall will be undergoing renovations from February 2017 to March 2020. Visitors can enter the main hall during renovations.

10. The Philosopher’s Walk

The Philosopher's Walk
The Philosopher’s Walk

This stretch was named after Kitaro Nishida, a famed philosopher who used to ponder deeply while walking here. Stroll the blazing path filled with weeping cherry trees and reflect on the ephemeral beauty of your surroundings.

On the way, you’ll see a lot of beautiful temples, such as Nyakuoji Shrine and Honen-in Temple, along with local shops.

Quick Tips:

  • Hate crowds? Go early on a weekday morning to avoid them
  • What to wear: Layers, layers, layers! Temperature drops to around 7˚C in October, so you need to wear a jacket, long sleeved shirt, thermal pants, hat, and gloves with running shoes
  • Charge your gadgets and bring a power bank! Whether you’ve got a smartphone or digital SLR, capture nature’s fleeting beauty and make those wonderful memories last

Now, you’re ready to hunt for all shades of stunning autumn colors with our list of autumn leaf spots in Kyoto. We hope you make a stop at each leaf-peeping spot and show KKday (use #travelwithKKday on IG) your best photos!

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