Kyoto’s cherry blossoms are naturally romantic. But crowds are not. Here’s a great way to enjoy the best of Kyoto’s cherry blossoms while avoiding the worst of the crowds.
Couple strolling under the cherries in Kyoto: Usa.Pin / Shutterstock.com
Cherry blossom season (late March and early April) is a great time to come to Kyoto with that special someone. Sitting together beneath a cloud of perfect white blossoms is pure romance. However, without a little inside knowledge, you’ll more likely find yourself surrounding of selfie stick-wielding tourists jockeying for position beneath the best trees.
Cycling under the cherries in Kyoto: weniliou / Shutterstock.com
Fortunately, despite Kyoto’s newfound popularity, it’s still perfectly possible to enjoy the cherry blossoms without the crowds. You just need to go to the right places at the right times. Perhaps more importantly, you need to know what places to avoid. Here’s the main thing: Avoid all of Southern Higashiyama during the day in cherry blossom season. In particular, avoid the section between Maruyama-koen Park and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. That whole section will be mobbed with people (but, in the evening, it will be beautiful and the crowds will have gone home).
Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the evening during cherry blossom season: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
The best way to get some quality time with the cherries and your loved one is to follow this romantic cherry blossom itinerary. Not only have we designed it to avoid the crowds, we’ve also tried to make the transport easy, because there are few things less romantic than standing on a crowded bus trying to figure out where to get off.
The route, sights and stations mentioned in this itinerary are all shown on our Romantic Cherry Blossom Itinerary Map at the end of this itinerary.
Romantic Cherry Blossom Itinerary
- Distance: About 5km on foot, plus two subway rides or taxi rides
- Time required: About six hours (four in the day, two in the evening)
- Sights: Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto Botanical Gardens, Shoren-in Temple, Maruyama-koen Park, Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Starting point: Imadegawa Station on the Karasuma subway line
- End Point: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple with cherries in full bloom: f11 photo / Shutterstock.com
Note: Restaurants tend to be full right through the day in many areas during cherry blossom season. Rather than stressing about where to eat and waiting on line for a table, why not pack a picnic lunch? For some great choices, head to the food floor of Daimaru or Takashimaya department stores and pick up some really nice food to take with you? Both stores open at 10am.
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park
Start in the mid-morning. Take the Karasuma subway line to Imadegawa Station. Get up to street level and walk to the southeast corner of the intersection. Continue south on Karasuma and enter the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park (Kyoto Gyoen) via the first gate you come to (the Innui-mon Gate; 犬居門). Walk straight east (toward the mountains). You will soon come to a path leading in to a playground. There are some great cherry trees here. Then, continue east toward a small pond. Here, you will find some huge shidare-zakura (weeping cherry trees). These are some of the best in town. There will be people about, but there is plenty of space here to spread out.
Weeping cherries at Kyoto Imperial Palace Park: zzz555zzz / Shutterstock.com
Walk or Subway to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens
After enjoying the cherries in the Imperial Palace Park, it’s now time to travel to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. If the weather is good, you can easily walk this section. It’s a three-kilometer walk that takes about an hour and you’ll see many beautiful cherry trees en route. Walk east along Imadegawa-dori Street for about 700 meters until you reach the Kamo-gawa River. At Demachiyanagi (where the Kamo-gawa and Katsura-gawa rivers meet), take a left and walk upstream along the Kamo-gawa (it’s the first river you come to). The river is lined on both sides with great cherry trees and you will surely see many hanami (flower viewing) parties in progress. After about two kilometers, you will come to the southern entrance to the Botanical Gardens above the east bank of the river. Climb the bank and follow the road that parallels the river to reach the entrance. If you choose to take the subway from the Imperial Palace Park, just return to Imadegawa Station and take it north three stops north to the Kitayama stop.
Cherries along the Kamo-gawa River: YUSHENG HSU / Shutterstock.com
Kyoto Botanical Gardens
If you’ve walked here, enter through the southern entrance. If you’ve taken the subway, you’ll enter through the north entrance. There are several cherry arbors here, mostly in the middle and north end of the gardens. You should be able to find a nice secluded tree to have all to yourselves.
Cherries in the Kyoto Botanical Gardens: weniliou / Shutterstock.com
Subway Downtown to Hotel and Rest
After a picnic lunch and a nap under a tree at the Botanical Gardens, make your way to Kitayama Station (at the north end of the gardens) and take the subway down to your hotel or ryokan to freshen up and take a rest. Eat dinner somewhere downtown (you might want to reserve a place through your hotel or ryokan).
Kyoto subway interior: Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Subway to Higashiyama Station
After dinner, take the Tozai subway line to Higashiyama Station. Walk along Sanjo-dori Street and take a right and walk up Jingu-michi Street.
Young lady on the Kyoto subway: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock.com
The first major sight for this evening is Shoren-in Temple, where a light up is held during cherry blossom season starting at 6.30pm. This temple isn’t really a cherry blossom destination, but it’s very beautiful and the bamboo grove here is magical. Best of all, it’s not usually crowded.
Shoren-in Temple during evening light up: MyPixelDiaries / Shutterstock.com
Walk from Shoren-in Maruyama-koen Park
Leave Shoren-in, take a left and walk south along Jingu-michi. You’ll soon see the incredible Gate of Chion-in Temple towering above you on your left. It will be illuminated in cherry blossom season. If you’re interested, you can pay to enter, but we usually just like to admire it from street level. Just past Chion-in, you’ll come to the entrance to Maruyama-koen Park.
Chion-in Gate during cherry blossom season – image © Chris Rowthorn
Okay, we said that you’d avoid the crowds on this route, but there’s no avoiding them here – and you shouldn’t – Maruyama-koen is the most popular place in Kyoto for nighttime hanami. The place is festive and fun. At the heart of the park is one large, famous cherry tree that looks like a frozen white explosion. Nearby you will see tables set up beneath cherry trees where you can order sake, beer and snacks.
Central cherry tree at Maruyama-koen Park in the evening: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
After enjoying the scene at Maruyama-koen Park, walk south (away from the central cherry tree), keeping the pond on your left and the Choraku-kan Hotel on your right. It’s a slight uphill. Keep going straight for about 100 meters until you come to a T-junction. Turn right (downhill) and then take your first left. This attractive lane is called Nene-no-Michi Lane. You’ll pass several temples including Kodai-ji and Entoku-in. At the end of this section, you’ll go left (uphill) briefly and then take a right into Ninen-zaka. Follow this, climb the steps and then work your way up Sannen-zaka, which brings you out to the road that leads up to the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera, which you will enter.
Sannen-zaka during evening in cherry blossom season: Travelerpix / Shutterstock.com
Kiyomizu-dera will be too crowded to enjoy during daytime in cherry blossom season, but it’s manageable in the evening. 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, including several superb cherry trees below the main hall and above the pond. Just follow the crowds and take it all it.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple lit up during cherry blossom season: Salawin Chanthapan / Shutterstock.com
Return to Your Hotel via Gion
If you’re in a hurry to get home to your hotel, you can walk down the main street below the temple (Matsubara-dori) to the bus parking lot area where you can catch a taxi. However, it’s much more pleasant to return back down Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka and then walk down into Gion. If you turn west (downhill) at the Yasui intersection, you will soon come to Kennin-ji Temple and Hanami-koji Street. By the time you reach here, the usual crowds should have mostly dispersed. From Hanami-koji, it’s a short walk to Gion-Shijo Station, Kawaramachi Station and downtown. Taxis are plentiful in this area.
Gion Shirakawa in the evening: leungchopan / Shutterstock.com
The Most Romantic Places to Stay in Kyoto
If you’re looking for a romantic place to stay with your special someone, check out our Most Romantic Hotels and Ryokan in Kyoto page.
Honeymoon in Kyoto
If you’re lucky enough to be spending your honeymoon in Kyoto during cherry blossom season, you can make the most of it with the tips in our Honeymoon in Kyoto page.
Romantic Cherry Blossom Itinerary Map
The sights and route described here are shown on our Romantic Cherry Blossom Itinerary Map:
View the full size version of our Romantic Cherry Blossom map which has each of the places discussed above marked on it
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 - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)