The Best Time To Visit Kyoto
There’s no bad time of year to visit Kyoto. There are so many sites to see in the region, both natural and manmade, which draws plenty of tourists every year.
However, the way Kyoto transformed in the winter months is completely underrated, with all the attractions and naturally beautiful landscapes shining in a completely new way.
Kyoto is a destination on most people’s bucket lists, especially lovers of Japanese culture. There is so much rich history in the area, much of which has been preserved in truly special ways.
It’s not a prefecture often celebrated for how magical it becomes in the winter, but more tourists are seeing just how many ways there are to enjoy winter in Kyoto.
Kyoto also has numerous Unesco World Heritage Site locations to explore. It’s one of the best places in Japan to see plum trees in early spring. There are numerous natural hot spring baths and sentos (public hot baths) to visit.
Does It Snow In Kyoto?
Kyoto is somewhat unique in that it sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains, making it, so there are varied elevation levels in the prefecture.
As to be expected, the closer to a mountain you get, the colder it becomes; this also means you’re likely to see snow in those areas in the winter.
Kyoto does see some snow from time to time, not just in the mountainous region. In December, it tends to be too mild for snow to gain any traction, but temperatures drop low enough in January that you’ll likely see a flurry or two. February typically remains cold with chances of snow as well.
Kyoto In Winter
Once late November arrives, the temperatures in Kyoto start to get lower and lower as the winter months come. Because of where Kyoto Prefecture sits geographically, the city will see a variance in temperature and weather conditions from one side of the city to the next.
The city is also surrounded by mountains, which influences average temperatures on a somewhat daily basis no matter the season.
You’re likely to see a lot of visitors in Kyoto in January to celebrate the new year, but other than that, it’s not as common to see a big influx of tourists spending winters in Japan. It’s truly a shame, as Japan offers traditional winter vacation activities and so much more that you can’t experience anywhere else.
10 Incredible Reasons To Visit Kyoto In Winter
There truly is a lot in Kyoto to see, do, and explore all year round. However, there are some spots in Kyoto where they can only be enjoyed to their fullest extent when winter comes.
Since many people are still learning the magic of Kyoto in winter, you’re not going to have to battle big crowds of tourists to get to your chosen destination.
Below are 10 of the many reasons why visiting Kyoto in the winter should be part of your next Japanese itinerary, though it is by no means an exhaustive list of all Kyoto has to offer.
Onsen can be enjoyed all year, but there’s something about dipping into a hot spring bath after a day of sightseeing in Kyoto that is truly memorable.
Kurama Onsen is one of the top spots in Kyoto for hot spring baths, though it certainly isn’t the only one. You can stay at this spa, enjoying some yummy meals and soaking in a sulfur hot spring or open bath.
You not only get to warm up in a hot spring bath here, but you get a breathtaking view of the mountains. Hot spring baths aren’t just going to warm you up, but they are often touted as relieving aches and pains and helping people de-stress.
Furthermore, while there are private onsen baths around, sharing a public hot spring bath has been a social custom in Japan for centuries.
It’s one of the best ways you can learn about things to do in Kyoto that you may not learn elsewhere, especially if you get to chat with some locals.
The cherry blossoms in Japan are a famous sign that a new year is afoot, but Japanese plum blossoms are just as spectacular a sight to see. Known as ume, everything from the beautiful color range of the flowers to the way their scent flows through the air adds to the vitality of the region in the winter.
Typically, the Japanese plum blossom will start to sprout beautiful and lush flowers in January. You’ll be able to see these trees in their full glory all around Kyoto.
With a small sprinkling of snow on the trees, you’ll be blown away by the look of these trees. On February 25th, there’s an annual plum tree festival held at the Tenmangu Shrine.
Kinkaku-ji is likely the most well-known temple throughout Kyoto, also referred to as the Golden Pavilion. Not only is this temple of monumental importance to Japan in terms of its spiritual significance, but it’s also one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
While you can visit Kinkaku-ji any time, it’s a completely new experience seeing the Golden Pavilion with snow around it.
The pavilion that stands at the temple today was not the original one, as that one was lost to a fire. The previous pavilion was said to have a golden hue, however, so the present-day Golden Pavilion was modeled after the original as best as possible.
Surrounding the pavilion are some stunning strolling gardens which have their own unique glow when covered with a light dusting of snow.
Fushimi is a district in Kyoto known for its sake. When you visit during the winter months, you get the unique chance to try sake from freshly harvested rice during one of the many tastings offered by sake brewers in the area.
You can even do a sake crawl in Kyoto, or even just in Fushimi, with dozens of sake breweries in the city.
New Year’s In Kyoto
There’s a certain magic in the air in Kyoto in the winter, and that’s truly at full capacity when you ring in the new year in the city. In the first two weeks of the year, you can indulge in Hatsumode, where people will often visit nearby shrines and temples, enjoy delicious foods, and even dress up in kimono.
You’ll want to search out some freshly pounded mochi, a delicious and chewy rice treat enjoyed every single new year in Japan.
Since there are so many little festivals and celebrations you’ll likely stumble upon throughout Kyoto in January, it’s not hard to find some mochi and friendly locals who’ll love to share with you.
If you’re lucky, you may even be able to pound out some mochi on your own if you head to the Miyama Nature and Culture Village. This incredible village has the atmosphere of yesteryear in Japan perfectly encapsulated, and you’re able to pound some mochi when there for the new year.
Kyoto is famous for its contributions to Japanese cuisine, among many other things. This is especially true when it comes to nabe (hot pot), the quintessential winter comfort food.
While the components that makeup nabe seem simple at first glance, the enjoyment of nabe is an experience in and of itself, especially when enjoyed in an authentic way.
Nabe is like a hot pot, where you get a bunch of vegetables, tofu, and protein, as well as some hot broth. The main components of the nabe are cooked in a big pot, with other ingredients being added by an individual based on their personal tastes.
The dish is usually enjoyed amongst friends, with one person helping to cook the base nabe in the big pot.
Warm Winter Sustenance
Kyoto has some of the best comfort food to help warm the bones after a day exploring the city. Once you’ve had your fill of the prefecture’s signature nabe, there are a lot of other dishes that need to be tried.
Japanese cuisine is known for highlighting local fares and cooking for the season, so the options to warm up with some hearty meals are never-ending.
One such dish is mushi-zushi, which was created in Kyoto before spreading around Japan. It’s known as steamed sushi, and it smells as delicious as it tastes.
Another dish is kaburamushi, a hot dish featuring white fish, egg white, turnip, mushroom, and many more fragrant ingredients that warm the soul after a day in the snow.
Winter-Specific Activities In Kyoto
Japan is not likely the country that comes to mind when thinking about skiing in the winter. When you consider all the mountains at great heights in the country, it’s no surprise that these snowy destinations have some of the coolest resorts to stay at in the winter.
Kyoto is no exception, with a few popular resorts in the area.
Oeyama Ski Resort is one such destination in Miyazu in Kyoto for skilled skiers who want to rent some equipment and hit the slopes. Kyoto is also home to the Hirogawara ski resort, where one can either go skiing or snowboarding, even late at night.
If you’ve never gone skiing or snowboarding before, you’ll want to head to Swiss Ski Village Ski Resort in Ine and take lessons.
If you want to enjoy the weather and the scenery but aren’t into skiing, consider a boat ride on the Hozugawa River, where you’ll bask in the heat of the boat while looking out at the mountains and stunning water.
There is so much art and culture to experience in Kyoto, especially on days when it’s too frigid to be outdoors. The art of the Japanese tea ceremony is by far one of the most memorable experiences one can have when in Japan, and these can be enjoyed throughout Kyoto as well.
The tea ceremony consists of much more than just simply sipping on some warm tea, especially when enjoyed at the Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya. Here, you get to put on a kimono and sip on some delicious tea and eat traditional Japanese desserts.
There are also places around Kyoto that let you indulge in many other parts of Japanese culture, from learning the special art of calligraphy to creating your own origami art and so much more.
These cultural centers offer a great mixture of getting to engage in a traditional activity while learning the significance behind it.
Bringing a warm jacket is a must for winters in Kyoto, as you don’t want to miss a chance to see some bright lights around the city at night. There are some spots in particular that become illuminated with lanterns and artificial lights that, when reflected off the snow and the trees, magnify another perspective of the beauty of Kyoto winters.
Kayabuki-no Sato is a must-see anytime in Kyoto, including in winter. At night, you can see the snow lanterns lit up.
January is the best winter month to visit Kayabuki-no Sato because there are multiple events throughout the month held in the historic area where you can meet the locals and see the lights. Other illuminated spots to see are the Kifune Jinja Shrine and the Hanatouro Bridge.
Pro Tips For Visiting Kyoto In Winter
Bundling up and utilizing layers is the best way to navigate the chilly air of Kyoto winters. This is especially important at night when temperatures dip lower than daytime highs.
While it’s not common for temperatures to go below the freezing mark, it can happen. As mentioned, there are tons of things to do in Kyoto indoors should you need to get out of the cold.
Even if you’ve been to some of the temples and shrines in Kyoto on previous trips, it’s worth taking another venture in the winter, especially at night. The temples will often be illuminated for visitors to get a chance to see these special places in a new light.
January is the perfect time to explore temples in Kyoto with the locals and is part of some very important customs practiced every single year.
There’s a great mix of festivities along with some praying and setting of intentions for the new year as locals travel from temple to temple throughout Kyoto.
Most visitors arrive in Kyoto via Kyoto Station. It’s a great place to start your winter wonderland journey. One of Kyoto’s most famous attractions are the bamboo forests, and spending a small sum to enter one of the public baths (sento). Natural hot springs supply many of the setos with rich mineral water.
Kyoto’s rainy season is in spring, and winter does have its share of snowy days.
For first-time visitors finding one of the cities, many food stalls are a real treat. The average temperature in Kyoto during the winter ranges from the low 30s to mid-50s. In late winter and early spring, cherry blossom season will begin.
This usually occurs in late march. The beautiful cherry blossoms can be seen lining many streets and alleyways.
Many consider the golden temple or Kinkaku-ji temple to be one of Japan’s most beautiful temples. Its exterior is covered in gold leaf.
Checking its official website you can discover many special events held in winter. While visiting Kyoto’s temples and shrines, you can quietly meditate at one of the many zen rock garden locations found near many of them.
Kinkaku-ji Temple Via Tripadvisor
Kyoto has four distinct seasons, and even in winter, it has many sunny days. Family members of all ages will definitely have a great time, whether adults who want to visit the sake-brewing district that often offer sake tasting events and having fresh sake.
Kids will have a good time as well visiting the many small shops or seeing dance performances by the local geishas.
Early April, which is still winter in Kyoto, you can have a mystical experience walking the philosopher’s path, which dates back to the nara period and is often filled with foreign tourists attempting to get a photo of the sakura in full bloom.
The city streets are lined with traditional cafes and many tea houses. One of the city’s best sake breweries is said to be Matsui Sake Brewery. In winter, sake is often served warm, especially during the first week of January when temperatures are quite cold.
Nishiki market is also a must-see while in Kyoto. The market itself is about five blocks long and contains hundreds of shops and small eateries.
If you want to avoid Japan’s humid summers and extremely hot weather conditions, then seeing Kyoto in winter is a great idea.
The maximum temperatures rarely make it into the low 60s (F), and warm days are rare.
Visiting the ancient streets of Kyoto is definitely part of any Kyoto itinerary and is a great place for a leisurely stroll and a place to discover the hidden secrets of Kyoto.
The Higashiyama District is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist attractions, along with its snow-covered temples.
Winter is a great season to see Kyoto, and the winter months have mild periods as well. Kyoto, once the ancient capital of Japan, welcomes winter visitors with its neverending social activity and popular sites that are only a minute’s walk from almost any station or bus stop.
An important thing to remember is that after the autumn months are over, you need to be prepared by dressing warmly for the cold periods, especially from late December to the end of January.
Kyoto has many cold-day activities, and if you’re outdoors, you’ll get glimpses of the surrounding mountains and Kyotos unique regional geography.