Japan’s cherry blossoms are famous the world over, but the fall foliage in Kyoto is perhaps even more beautiful. Here’s our guide on how to see the Autumn Colors in Kyoto at its best.
While the cherry blossoms at their peak are almost excessively lovely, even tawdry in their obvious appeal, the fall foliage is a more restrained beauty that grows on you the more you look at it. And, while catching the cherries in peak blossom takes incredible luck (because they only peak for a few days a year), the fall foliage lasts up to two months.
When Is The Fall Foliage In Kyoto?
The leaves start changing in Kyoto sometime in October. The peak of fall foliage usually comes in mid-November, and you can usually see colors on the trees until mid-December. Thus, in an average year, the foliage season in Kyoto lasts from 15 October to 15 December, with a peak around 15 November.
Keep in mind that you can travel a bit in or near Kyoto to find good colors if you miss the peak in the center of the city. If you arrive too early, you can head up into the Kitayama Mountains to find trees that are already wearing their fall colors. Likewise, if you come too late, you can head to the south, to Uji, or even Nara, to see trees at their peak color.
Sentō-gosho Garden © 10110263@N03
The Best Places In Kyoto To See Fall Foliage
Kyoto is awash with good foliage spots. Almost every temple, shrine and garden has a few maple trees and other colorful trees scattered about. But, if you want to see some really eye-scorching color, it pays to head to one of Kyoto’s famed fall foliage spots – just don’t think that you’ll have it to yourself, as the Japanese love the fall foliage as much as they love the cherry blossoms (go early on a weekday morning to avoid the crowds).
Tofuku-ji Temple: The ravine on the north side of the compound here, spanned by three different bridges, is carpeted with maples that turn bright crimson in November. The view from the Hojo Garden here is superb in autumn.
Nanzen-ji Temple: The bright maples near the San-mon gate look beautiful above a carpet of moss.
Ginkaku-ji Temple: This is one of Kyoto’s most beautiful gardens and there are plenty of maples here.
Honen-in Temple: The sight of the moss-covered thatched-roof gate here surrounded by crimson maple trees is one of Kyoto’s most iconic fall sights.
Takao: The mountain village of Takao has been one of Kyoto’s most famous foliage destinations for years and with good reason: the mountainsides are festooned with maples.
Okochi-Sanso Villa: This is one of Kyoto’s best gardens and it’s particularly lovely in autumn.
Sentō-gosho Garden, Kyoto © 10110263@N03
Places In Kyoto To See Fall Foliage Away From The Crowds
If you’d like to enjoy the colors without the crowds, try one of these spots:
Shinyodo Temple: The grounds of this superb temple contain several huge maple trees, as well as some fine gingko trees that turn bright yellow in October and November. Sure, some people come here, but not nearly as many as visit the nearby big-name temples.
The Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace Park): This place is huge, so no matter how many people show up to enjoy the colors, it won’t feel crowded.
Kurama-dera Temple: You can enjoy the fall colors from the train as you approach the mountain village of Kurama. Once there, you can walk through lovely forests to reach the mountainside temple. The colors here are usually lovely.
Daitoku-ji: The subtemples here have some wonderful maple trees within their walls and some of them do special openings to coincide with foliage season.
Sentō-gosho Garden, Kyoto © 10110263@N03
Accommodation In Kyoto During Fall Foliage Season
While it’s easier to get rooms in foliage season than it is in cherry blossom season, it’s still a good idea to book well in advance. Keep in mind that Japanese tourists are just as keen about foliage as they are about cherries, thus accommodation can be hard to get in October and November, particularly on weekends.
One thing to keep in mind is that all the main roads in the Higashiyama District (southern and northern) can become crowded during this season. Thus, you might consider staying someplace near Kyoto Station or in Downtown or Central Kyoto. A few good options for the fall foliage season include:
- Aoi Machiya Stay
- Granvia Hotel Kyoto
- Kyoto Brighton Hotel
- Kyoto Hotel Okura
- Hotel Kanra Kyoto
- Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto
- Best Western Hotel Kyoto
- Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae
If you can’t find accommodation in Kyoto itself, there are several other options available – see my Where To Stay If Kyoto Is Fully Booked page for full details.
Kyoto Fall Foliage Guide
- Autumn Colors In Kyoto
- Kyoto Fall Foliage Itinerary
- Kyoto Off-The-Beaten-Track Fall Foliage Itinerary
Tokyo And Osaka Fall Foliage
If you’re going to be in Tokyo or Osaka as well during fall foliage season, be sure to read Tokyo’s Best Fall Foliage Spots and Osaka Fall Foliage on InsideKyoto.com’s companion sites, TrulyTokyo.com and InsideOsaka.com
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings on CheapOAir.com
- If you're visiting more than one city, get your Japan Rail Pass
- Get travel insurance for your Japan trip - book online with World Nomads