Kyoto is absolutely gorgeous during foliage season, but you’ll have to plan carefully to see the best trees and avoid the worst crowds. This two-day itinerary allows you to make the most of this special season in Kyoto.
Eikan-do Temple in fall © Damien Douxchamps
How To Enjoy Fall Foliage Season In Kyoto
The leaves start changing color in Kyoto sometime in October. The peak of color usually comes in mid-November, and you can usually see colors on the trees until mid-December. For more information on the timing of the foliage in Kyoto, and some picks for the best places to see it, see our Autumn Colors in Kyoto page.
Kyoto is crowded during foliage season, but not as crowded as cherry blossom season, because cherry blossom season is shorter and everyone arrives at the same time to see it. Still, if you don’t like crowds, it’s still necessary to choose your sights carefully to avoid the masses. If you really want to avoid the crowds, see my Kyoto Off-the-Beaten-Track Fall Foliage Itinerary.
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Two-Day Kyoto Fall Foliage Itinerary
Kyoto Fall Foliage Itinerary Day 1
Ginkaku-ji with autumn leaves © Damien Douxchamps
Honen-in with autumn leaves © Damien Douxchamps
10am: Honen-in Temple
Just around the corner from Ginkaku-ji, Honen-in is a quiet temple that is home to some beautiful maples, especially those that frame the thatched-roof main gate. It’s free to enter the grounds here and it will likely be much less crowded than Ginkaku-ji.
Path of Philosophy in autumn © joevare
10:30am: Path of Philosophy
If you take a left out of Honen-in and walk a short way, you will pass the lovely front gate of Anraku-ji Temple, which is lined with lovely maple trees. It’s highly photogenic and you’ll see photographers gathered to snap pictures. After Anraku-ji, head downhill (west) to the Path of Philosophy and follow it south toward Nanzen-ji. After the end of the Path of Philosophy, you’ll walk downhill and then continue south. You’ll soon pass Eikan-do Temple, which is one of Kyoto’s most famous fall foliage spots. It’s usually quite crowded, so I recommend just entering the front gate a bit to see the trees and then leaving (ie, do not pay to enter the inner precincts).
Nanzen-ji Temple with maples © kuboki
11:30am: Nanzen-ji Temple
Nanzen-ji is one of Kyoto’s most famous fall foliage spots, and with good reason: the sight of the temple’s red maples rising above the moss-covered ground is magical. And, because the temple grounds are very spacious, it can absorb a lot of people before it starts to feel crowded. Here, I recommend exploring the main grounds and then checking out the fine subtemple of Tenju-an.
12:30pm: Downtown Lunch
The restaurants near Nanzen-ji will likely be packed, so I recommend heading downtown for lunch. Take the Tozai subway line from Keage Station to Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station and you’ll find plenty of good choices for lunch.
2pm: Tofuku-ji Temple
After lunch, walk to the nearest Keihan Line station, which will most likely be Sanjo-Keihan or Gion-Shijo. Take the Keihan Line south to Tofuku-ji Station (all trains except the limited express trains stop here). Then, walk southeast to reach Tofuku-ji Temple (you can usually just follow the crowds in foliage season). Tofuku-ji is one of Kyoto’s most popular foliage spots, and it will be packed during foliage season, but it’s worth battling the crowds to see the famous view of the temple’s bridges floating over a valley of crimson maple leaves. Consider paying to cross the temple’s bridge and definitely pay to enter the Hojo Garden.
4pm: Return to Hotel to Rest
After dealing with the crowds at Tofuku-ji, you’ll probably be in need of some down time, so head back to your lodgings for a brief nap. Of course, if you’re still feeling strong after Tofuku-ji, it’s only a short train or taxi ride south to the famous arcades of torii (Shinto shrine gates) at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha shrine.
6pm: Dinner Downtown
You’ll find the widest selection of restaurants clustered in the downtown Kyoto area. They might be crowded in foliage season, but you’ll usually be able to find a place with open tables.
Kiyomizu autumn light up © minoir
8pm: Southern Higashiyama Temple Illuminations
Several of the famous temples in the Southern Higashiyama District hold special evening light-ups during foliage season. The effect can be magical. These illuminations are usually held every evening in November. I suggest taking the Tozai subway line and walking south into the district along Jingu-michi Street. When approaching from Higashiyama Station, you’ll reach the illuminated temples in the following order: Shoren-in, Chion-in, Kodai-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera. Don’t try to hit them all; just choose one or two. You can always come back tomorrow.
Kyoto Fall Foliage Itinerary Day 2
Tenryu-ji Temple in autumn © chleong
9am: Arashiyama’s Tenryu-ji Temple
Today, you’ll head west to the Arashiyama sightseeing district. Start your day by visiting Tenryu-ji Temple, which has some lovely maples in its spacious garden. You’ll also be able to enjoy the colors on the surrounding hills when exploring the garden. Note that if you’re going to eat a picnic lunch later in Arashiyama, as we suggest, you might want to buy supplies before setting off for Arashiyama.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove © freakland
10am: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Exit the north gate of Tenryu-ji and turn left to reach the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Sure, this is not a foliage attraction, but it’s still well worth checking out.
Okochi-sanso Villa in autumn © discoverytourstv
11am: Okochi-Sanso Villa
At the top of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove you’ll see the small entrance booth for Okochi-Sanso Villa. This garden at this villa contains some magnificent maple trees and a visit is highly recommended!
Kameyama-koen Park © kimon
noon: Picnic Lunch in Kameyama-koen Park
Since the restaurants in Arashiyama will be packed in this season, it’s a good idea to have a picnic lunch in Kameyama-koen Park, which is a short walk south of Okochi-Sanso.
Daitoku-ji’s Koto-in subtemple in autumn © Damien Douxchamps
Afternoon Option A
1:30pm: Daitoku-ji Temple
After lunch in Arashiyama, consider taking a taxi over to Daitoku-ji Temple. The taxi will cost around Y2000 and it is really the only convenient way to get from Arashiyama to the temple. Daitoku-ji is actually a walled compound of several small Zen subtemples, many of which are open only during cherry and foliage season. In particular, Koto-in Subtemple here is lovely during foliage season. The stone walkway here is one of the most photographed in the city.
Myoshin-ji’s Taizo-in Subtemple in autumn © Damien Douxchamps
Afternoon Option B
1:30pm Myoshin-ji Temple
If you don’t want to spring for a taxi to Daitoku-ji, another good option for the afternoon is the walled temple complex of Myoshin-ji Temple, which can be reached by taking the JR Line from Saga-Arashiyama Station to Hanazono Station. The Taizo-in Subtemple here contains a truly beautiful garden. Be sure to walk around to see what other subtemples are holding special openings during foliage season.
4pm: Return to Hotel to Rest
After all that temple hopping, you’ll surely need a rest before dinner.
6pm: Dinner Downtown
Head out for dinner downtown before more sightseeing in the evening.
Kodai-ji Temple autumn illumination © skyseeker
8pm: Southern Higashiyama Temple Illuminations
On this evening, head back to Southern Higashiyama to visit the illuminated temples that you missed the previous evening. See Day 1 of this itinerary for more 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
Where Are These Places Located?See these places on our Kyoto Google map:
- Open the Kyoto map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
Other Inside Kyoto Pages Of Interest:
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 - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)