Kyoto’s Fall Foliage is incredible, but it can also get very busy at the most famous spots. Here’s my off-the-beaten track Fall Foliage itinerary to help you escape the crowds
Behind the hall of Shinyo-do Temple © Damien Douxchamps
Kyoto Off-the-Beaten-Track Fall Foliage Itinerary
This itinerary focuses on some relatively quiet temples in the Northern Higashiyama Sightseeing District. Of course, in this busy season, they’ll be more crowded than normal, but they won’t be nearly as crowded as the more famous temples further south. In the evening, we recommend visiting the illuminated temples in the Southern Higashiyama Sightseeing District. Yes, they’ll be crowded, but it’s worth dealing with the crowds to experience the magical of an illuminated temple garden in the evening.
If you want to see the autumn colors at the classic Kyoto sights, see my Kyoto Fall Foliage Itinerary.
9am: Shinyo-do Temple
Start the day by heading up to Shinyo-do Temple, up on Yoshida-yama. The main hall of this temple is surrounded by some fine maple trees, which turn crimson red in foliage season. Bus Nos. 5, 100, 203 and 204 all stop nearby. The closest stop is the Jodoji stop. It’s a little tricky to find from there (use our map to find the way). Of course, all buses will be packed during this season, so a taxi direct from your hotel is a very good idea and will save time and effort.
Honen-in Temple pond in autumn © 10110263@N03
11am: Honen-in Temple
From Shinyo-do, walk down the hill and east toward the Higashiyama Mountains, at the base of which you will find the lovely little secret temple known as Honen-in, which is famous for the sight of its thatched-roof gate framed by red maple leaves.
After exploring Honen-in, walk west back to Shirakawa-dori Street, where you will find supermarkets, convenience stores and several restaurants. Take your pick for lunch.
Manshu-in Temple in autumn © Damien Douxchamps
2pm: Manshu-in Temple
After lunch, take a taxi north to Manshu-in Temple, which has a fine garden that is particularly lovely in autumn. A taxi is a good idea since the temple is a little tricky to find (and the buses are crowded in this season and walking would be a bit much). From Manshu-in, you can walk south and downhill to reach two other fine temples that are great during foliage season: Enko-ji and Shisen-do.
Enko-ji Temple garden in autumn © Damien Douxchamps
2:30pm: Enko-ji Temple
Enko-ji is a rarely visited temple that contains a truly beautiful garden and some interesting halls.
Shisen-do Temple garden in autumn © Damien Douxchamps
3:30pm: Shinsen-do Temple
Just around the corner from Enko-ji, you’ll find another little gem of a temple called Shisen-do, which is great during foliage season.
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6pm: Dinner Downtown
Head to downtown Kyoto for dinner.
Shoren-in Temple night light up © skyseeker
8pm: Southern Higashiyama Temple Illuminations
Several of the famous temples in the Southern Higashiyama District hold special evening illuminations 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 all of them: just choose one or two.
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)