With its bamboo forests, elaborate temples and shrines, impeccably dressed geishas, and theatre performances, Kyoto reigns as the country’s cultural capital. Beautiful any time of the year, you can avoid the bigger crowds if you visit in the fall. You will marvel at the warm hues of red, orange, and yellow from the maple trees that perfectly match the colored temples.
Discover the ten best places to see in and around Kyoto. The fall colors are at their brightest from mid-November to early December. Within the borders of this easily-accessible city, you will learn about art, tea, Zen Buddhism, and other pillars of Japanese culture.
1 – Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine.
The gates straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings leading into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters or 764 feet.
Wander through the trails surrounding the network of ornate shrines and take in views of Kyoto halfway up the mountain. The Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine honors the Shinto god, Inari, known as the god of rice.
Not necessarily known for colors besides its torii gates, you have to go deeper into Fushimi Inari to truly experience the shrine’s serene side and see the beautiful autumn foliage.
2 – Kyoto Botanical Gardens.
Often overlooked, Japan’s oldest public botanical garden is a hidden gem and is a must-visit for both visitors and locals alike.
The park’s southern half features a large flower bed and a symmetrical Western-style rose garden, while the northern half is home to the natural Naragi-no-Mori forest. Flora from all over Japan enjoys conditions close to their natural environment in the Plant Ecology Garden.
Autumn makes the area around the forest uniquely beautiful as species such as Japanese maple, metasequoia, ginkgo, and Formosan gum change colors.
From mid-November to late November, the garden lights up at night, and the beauty of the trees and the colorful leaves is intoxicating.
3 – Kiyomizu-Dera Temple.
The temple dates back to 778, but its present buildings were constructed in 1633. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure that takes its name from the waterfall, which runs off the nearby hills.
Get the best views from Kiyomizu-Dera’s hilltop main hall, called the “Kiyomizu Stage.” The carpet of fall colors laying across the Kin-un-Kyo Gorge below is breathtaking.
The Otowa waterfall runs beneath the hall, and its three channels fall into a pond. The legend says that you will have a wish granted to you if you drink the water.
With over 1240 years of history, it is one of Kyoto’s World Heritage sites.
4 – Nijo Castle.
Nijo Castle is home to significant cultural properties, including the national treasure Ninomaru Goten, the main East Gate, and the corner Southeast Watchtower along the outer moat.
The palace has several gardens and groves of cherry and Japanese plum trees, even more, attractive during the fall because of their fiery foliage. Maple and ginkgo along the moat turn bright red and yellow. Nijo Castle and its gardens embody serenity.
The Ninomaru garden, designed by the landscape architect and tea master Kobori Enshū, is located between the two main rings of fortifications.
It has a large pond with three islands and is a very scenic site. The Seiryuen Garden combines Western and Japanese styles and has two teahouses.
The area transforms in autumn, taking on the warm color palette of the season.
5 – The Philosopher’s Path.
Philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who served as a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, is said to have meditated with his students along this path.
It is approximately two kilometers long and built along a canal lined with hundreds of trees. It is pleasing to both the ears and the eyes with the sound of flowing water and the bright colored leaves. Go early in the morning before it gets crowded.
The Philosopher’s Path is a pleasant stone pathway through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district and is a place of peace and meditation.
Along the path, you’ll find some smaller temples and shrines. A beautiful aqueduct, part of the canal, can be seen around Nanzenji Temple.
This aqueduct was built over 100 years ago to bring water to Kyoto from Lake Biwa and goes through the temple grounds.
6 – Kinkakuji Temple.
Meaning Temple of the Golden Pavilion, you will find one of Kyoto’s most famous buildings amidst a peaceful lake surrounded by trees. The Zen Temple is wrapped in gold leaf, with the top floor gilded both inside and out.
Early in the morning, you can see the sun glean off the temple. The original pavilion burned down, and the reconstruction, dated 1955, is a copy close to the original.
The Golden Pavilion is set in a Japanese strolling garden and extends over a pond that reflects the building. This was designed as a paradise garden in which to stroll and meditate, remembering that Buddha had lived and taught in a grove.
The reflection of the building in the lake view through the autumn leaves is a mesmerizing sight.
7 – Eikando Zenrinji Temple.
Eikando Zenrinji Temple is well known for its stunning fall colors. The temple’s Tahoto Pagoda and the 3,000 maple trees surrounding it form a breathtaking scene that has inspired many poets.
It is situated atop the highest point on the grounds making it possible to look out over Kyoto with the striking colored leaves in the foreground.
Illuminations during leaf viewing weeks make Eikando a dramatic nocturnal sight.
The temple has a long history, and visitors can explore its various structures and the traditional Japanese garden with a pond.
Walkways and staircases connect the temple complex’s multiple buildings and monuments. Eikando Temple has the most popular autumn nighttime illumination in Kyoto and, because of that, is also the most crowded.
8 – Arashiyama.
It’s the second-most important sightseeing district in Kyoto and is filled with temples and shrines. Centered around the Togetsukyo Bridge that spans the Katsura River, you will find one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto.
The maple trees are dyed red and yellow starting mid-November and create a picturesque landscape. A picture with the colorful mountains in the background and the bridge in front is definitely Instagram-worthy.
Although bamboo does not change color in the fall, one of the region’s favorite attractions is still the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and you should not miss it.
You can expect to experience a wonderous leisurely walk along the bamboo grove path.
9 – Bishamondo Temple.
Be prepared to be amazed. Bishamon-do Temple is a Tendai sect temple that officially dates back to the 8th century AD.
The temple is most stunning in November when its maple leaves turn a lovely crimson. Fallen leaves turn the path to the main hall into a red carpet, and slowly ascending the stone steps is an unforgettable experience.
Bishamondo derives its name from Bishamonten, one of the seven deities of good fortune said to bring in good luck for the New Year and to whom the temple is dedicated.
Additionally, the area around Bishamondo is also dense with fall colors, creating a fantastic atmosphere. This small temple is a beautiful building with great artwork and a gorgeous inner garden.
10 – Kifune Shrine.
Although its construction date is unknown, Kifune Shrine is extremely old. About an hour from Kyoto Station by train and bus, it’s a little far, but you’ll witness the unspoiled natural beauty of the mountains and a completely different atmosphere.
The wonder starts when passing through the “Momiji Leaf Tunnel,” where you see maple trees with their fiery leaves on both sides of the train.
The torii gates at the shrine’s entrance and vermillion lanterns that line the steps between the two are imposing.
The leaves themselves are illuminated during the fall evenings and take on an air of fantasy. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Kurama, it is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It is dedicated to the God of Water and is enveloped in natural beauty, exhibiting fascinating aesthetics.