Kyoto is one of the top destinations in Japan between March and April. This is because of its peak season for cherry blossom tree viewing, called Hanami.
Therefore, traveling to Japan during this time of year provides a unique opportunity for tourists to get a chance to experience a hanami or cherry blossom tree party.
While you can see these trees almost everywhere around the city of Kyoto, there are 10 spots that are most ideal. Some are very popular with large celebrations and plenty of people while others are a little more off the beaten path. Regardless, you’re sure to get a gorgeous view with an experience that will be near indescribable.
Some Notes about Sakura Season
Understand that cherry blossom season is one of the most crowded and populated times in Kyoto. People come from all over Japan and the world because of Kyoto’s iconic and historic trees. Some of these are centuries old. So, it’s important for newcomers to be wise about their schedules.
For instance, those who don’t like large crowds or groups of people should visit sites earlier in the morning. Alternatively, there are smaller and more quaint places to view cherry blossom trees that hardly have anyone there all day long.
Also, during larger hanami and similar festivals, people tend to get very lively. While this can be quite fun, it also opens up a host of possibilities for excessive crowds and everything that accompanies them. That said March through April is a magical time in Kyoto and one would be remiss not to catch a glimpse.
Kyoto Hanami Overview
- Arashiyama – 1,500 cherry blossom trees with a sweeping view of the Hozu River Valley
- Hirano Shrine – longest running sakura hanami in Kyoto with 50 different varieties of cherry blossom trees
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple – a spiritual and mystical experience amid 1,500 cherry blossom trees
- Maruyama Park – contains the famous single weeping willow cherry blossom tree of Gion
- Nijo Castle – 300 sakura trees provide a window into the past with a amazing experience
- Philosopher’s Path – a carpet of cherry blossom petals from 450 trees cover this classic and honored 2 kilometer (1¼ miles) pathway
- Shinnyodo Temple – 70 sakura trees are gorgeous against the appearance of the pagoda
- Takenaka Inari Shrine – white cherry blossoms highlight the gorgeous brightly colored torii gate
- To-ji Temple – a pathway lined with 200 cherry blossom tress lead the way to a five-story pagoda
- Yoshida-Jinga Shrine – a simple but absolutely enchanting tree adorns the entrace gateway
Nestled on the west side of Kyoto is Arashiyama. This section of the city divides into three parts: Nakanoshima, the Togetsu-kyō bridge, and Kameyama. The best time to visit is between early to mid-April and viewing opportunities are 24 hours a day because of nighttime illuminations.
Here there are over 1,500 sakura trees that splay the main shopping thoroughfare and have three varieties of cherry blossom trees: yamazakura, shidarezakura and somei yoshino. There are also a host of cherry blossom trees around the Togetsu-kyō bridge which are impressive in number.
Kameyama has an observation deck that provides a sweeping view of the Hozu River Valley. You can hop on the boats and take a breathtaking scenic route through the area.
But, the best way to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Arashiyama is via the Sagano Torokko or the Sagano Romantic Train. This passes through a tunnel of sakura trees.
2. Hirano Shrine
Hirano shrine has held an annual sakura festival since 985 AD, making it the longest-running in Kyoto.
They have some of the oldest and most beautiful varieties of 50 different cherry blossom trees, one of which is the sakigake. It blooms best in mid-March with the other species blooming well into April.
The vibrant torii gateway invites visitors to the shrine with a winding path lined with sakura trees.
At nighttime, this is a magical sight with the area illuminated in hundreds of lanterns. The hanami at Hirano Shrine occurs on the second Sunday each April.
The celebration starts off with a procession that begins in the morning. Then festivities continue throughout the day and into the night with food, beverages, live music, and performances.
People dance, socialize, and enjoy merriment beneath the cherry trees.
3. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Another great place to visit at night for cherry blossom tree viewing, is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It’s a charming spot and an amazing temple.
The place splays with natural beauty and other temple buildings. It does cost 400 yen (about $3.50) to enter but it’s well worth the price.
There are over 1,500 sakura trees that continually bloom throughout the spring months. They have two main varieties: somei yoshino and yamazakura.
The backdrop of the temple gives it a mystical and spiritual ambiance.
4. Maruyama Park
Sitting between the Higashiyama District and Gion is Maruyama Park which provides a nice, wide, and open space for hanami.
The crowning feature of this place is the single weeping cherry tree at the heart of the park. Even though there is some 680 sakura, at night, the illumination of the weeping cherry tree is a sight to behold.
Once the sun sets for the day, it becomes the “yozakura” or nighttime cherry tree. Sitting behind the small shrine resting in the park, it’s the second to reside in the same spot for some 200 years.
The second installment of the weeping cherry tree came in 1947 when the old one withered.
The surrounding area has some of the most classic and charming shops, restaurants, and tearooms. It’s ideal to grab a bite to eat right before sunset and then head on over to the park for a sublime and superb view of the trees.
5. Nijo Castle
For 600 yen (about $5.25), Nijo Castle is a very elegant and incredible experience for viewing sakura trees.
The blossoms are visible from late March through mid-April and hold many varieties. Some of which are somei yoshino, yamazakura and yaezakura.
Lanterns light up during peak season between 6 pm and 8:30 pm. There are a total of 300 trees and all of them are between 50 and 60 years old.
These trees split between two gardens of the castle and they offer food and drink stalls.
6. Philosopher’s Path
Oosimazakura, yaezakura, and weeping cherry varieties line the famous Philosopher’s Path.
Begun by Nishida Kitaro, Kyoto University professor, this was a road intended for people to contemplate life as they walk. It’s also one of the most popular cherry blossom hanami in all of Kyoto.
There are over 450 sakura trees that are about 90 years old. The 2 kilometers (1¼ miles) path covers in a pink carpet of cherry petals as they fall.
The temples and shrines along the way also have plentitudes of cherry blossom trees such as Nanzenji Temple and Ginkakuji Temple.
7. Shinnyodo Temple
The Temple complex at Shinnyodo has a huge main hall with a small pond adorned with cherry trees.
There are only 70 sakura trees but they are gorgeous against the view of the pagoda. It’s one of the lesser frequented places to view cherry blossoms which makes it desirable when wanting to avoid large crowds.
8. Takenaka Inari Shrine
The gorgeous red-orange torii gate before the Tankenaka Inari Shrine is a gorgeous sight when its cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Not nearly as popular as other spots around Kyoto, these are quite impressive. The cherry blossoms are white which look stunning against the bright colors of the shrine.
9. To-ji Temple
For an iconic view of sakura trees, To-ji Temple offers one of the more spiritual experiences (next to the Philosopher’s Path).
Two hundred cherry blossom trees line the pathway to the five-story pagoda, which blooms between late March and mid-April.
While there is a fabulous nighttime illumination, there is a ticket price for entry. It costs 1,000 yen ($8.70) for adults and 500 yen ($4.35) for children.
Paying for access to the interior buildings at this time provides a wonderful view of the pagoda reflected in the beauty of the pond.
10. Yoshida-Jinga Shrine
A small yet quaint spot for seeing a couple of enchanting cherry blossom trees is Yoshida-Jinga Shrine which is just on the other side of the hill to Takenaka Inari Shrine.
There’s a huge cherry tree next to the entrance’s torii gate as well as at its sub-temple, Saijōsho Daigengū.