The best way to avoid the crowds during cherry blossom season is to visit the famous cherry blossom spots in the evening. This evening cherry blossom itinerary is a great way to see some great cherry trees after the crowds have gone home.
Sannen-zaka in the evening in cherry blossom season: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
It seems like half the world comes to Kyoto in cherry blossom season (late March to early April). The most famous spots, like Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the Path of Philosophy, are mobbed with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds during the day at this time. So, you should do what the locals do: Visit the cherry blossom spots in the evening, when most visitors have gone back to their hotels.
Kiyomizu-dera in the evening in cherry blossom season: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Of course, this route can be done any time of year, but it’s best during cherry blossom season. And, of course, you can do this route in the daytime, but you can expect crowds in the day during spring and fall.
The route and the sites mentioned here are all shown on the map at the end of this article.
Maruyama-koen Park during cherry blossom season: littlesam / Shutterstock.com
Kyoto Evening Cherry Blossom Route
- start: Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line
- finish: Shijo-Kawabata intersection (near Gion-Shijo Keihan Station)
- distance: about 4km (two or three hours)
- highlights: Shoren-in Temple; Maruyama-koen Park; Nene-no-Michi Lane; Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka preserved districts; Kiyomizu-dera Temple; Gion Shirakawa
Start: Take the Subway to Higashiyama Station
In the early evening, take the Tozai subway line to Higashiyama Station. Come up to street level and walk east (toward the mountains) along Sanjo-dori and then take a right on Jingu-michi and walk uphill for about 100 meters to Shoren-in Temple.
Shoren-in during evening illumination: Rei Imagine / Shutterstock.com
Starting at 6:30pm in cherry blossom season there will be an evening light up at Shoren-in Temple. This temple is not really a cherry blossom destination, but it’s stunning and the bamboo grove is magical when illuminated in the evening.
Shoren-in during evening illumination: Vichy Deal / Shutterstock.com
Walk to Maruyama-koen Park
After exploring Shoren-in, take a left out of the temple and walk south along Jingu-michi. You’ll pass Gate of Chion-in Temple above you on your left. It is illuminated in cherry blossom season and it’s fantastic. If you want, you can pay to enter, but we suggest admiring it from street level. Just after Chion-in, you’ll come to the entrance to Maruyama-koen Park.
Chion-in Gate during cherry blossom season – image © Chris Rowthorn
This itinerary is all about avoiding crowds, but you can’t avoid them at Maruyama-koen. It’s Kyoto’s most popular place for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) and you should definitely check out the raucous atmosphere here. In the middle of the park is one large, famous cherry tree that is always surrounded by people taking pictures. Nearby you will see tables set up beneath cherry trees where you can order drinks and food.
The central cherry tree at Maruyama-koen in the evening: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Walk via Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
After sampling the scene at Maruyama-koen Park, walk uphill out of the south exit of the park and follow the road straight away from the park until you come to a T-junction. Then, take a right then a quick left. This attractive lane is called Nene-no-Michi. You’ll pass several temples including Kodai-ji and Entoku-in. At the end of Nene-no-Michi, you’ll go left (uphill) briefly and then take a right into the historic Ninen-zaka district. Walk through Ninen-zaka, climb the steps and then turn left onto Sannen-zaka, which brings you out to the road that leads up to the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera.
Sannen-zaka in the early evening: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Kiyomizu-dera is usually too crowded to enjoy during daytime in cherry blossom season, but it’s much less crowded in the evening (it’s open in the evening during cherry blossom season and fall foliage season). Sure, they’ll still be lots of people around but it’s worth dealing with a few crowds here. The entire temple will be illuminated in the evening during cherry blossom season. There are some great cherry trees scattered around the grounds and they look great against the backdrop of the temple buildings.
Kiyomizu-dera during cherry blossom light-up: lkunl / Shutterstock.com
Return to Your Hotel via Gion
If you’re tired, you can walk down the main street below the temple (Matsubara-dori) to the bus parking lot area where you will find plenty of taxis waiting. But, if you’ve got some energy left, we recommend returning back down Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka and then walking down into Gion. If you turn west (downhill) at the Yasui intersection, you will soon come to Kennin-ji Temple and Hanami-koji Street (see the map if you’re unsure of the way). By the time you reach Hanami-koji, the crowds should have mostly dispersed. From Hanami-koji, it’s a short walk to Keihan Gion-Shijo Station, Hankyu Kawaramachi Station and downtown. There are also plenty of taxis in this area.
Hanami-koji in the evening: 7maru / Shutterstock.com
Kyoto Evening Cherry Blossom Route Map
The entire route and all the major sites mentioned in this itinerary are shown on the following map:
View the full size version of our Evening Cherry Blossom map which has each of the places discussed above marked on it
Great Places to Stay in Kyoto
The Old Modern Garden Suite
More Cherry Blossom Information and Itineraries
- When Do Cherry Blossoms Bloom In Kyoto?
- Where Is The Best Place To See Cherry Blossoms In Kyoto?
- Where To Stay In Cherry Blossom Season In Kyoto
- Where To Stay If Kyoto Is Fully Booked
- Best Places To See Cherry Blossoms In Kyoto Away from The Crowds
- Best Places In Kyoto For a Blossoming Viewing Party (Hanami Party)
- Kyoto 2-Day Cherry Blossom Itinerary
- Kyoto One-Day Cherry Blossom Off-The-Beaten-Track Itinerary
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- 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.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy - here's how.
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)