Kyoto is incredible any time of the year. No two visits are ever the same, and there are endless places to explore. With its World Heritage temples and shrines, geisha district, traditional foods and ancient history, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular cities in the world. Even for Japanese people, no place rivals this city. Just about every school in the country organizes an annual school trip to Kyoto, usually combined with neighbouring Nara. I asked my students who went here recently what their favourite part of the trip was — a) going to Kiyomizudera and b) eating yatsuhashi sweets!
Last month, my brother was in the country and we travelled down to Kyoto for a weekend trip. Though it was only the beginning of autumn, there were already some beautiful colours here and there. It got me reminiscing about my very first autumn leaves experience (in my life!) in Kyoto a number of years ago, before I started this blog. The crowds were insane, traffic was slow going, and queues were long, but I didn’t care! I’d never seen anything like it and couldn’t get enough.
There are still many more places I’d love to go to, but here are 4 of my favourite Kyoto autumn spots so far.
Located just south of Kyoto Station, near the world-famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, Tofukuji is surprisingly one of the lesser known temples. I imagine people who have spent a lot of time in Kyoto are familiar with this place, but many Japanese people I’ve mentioned Tofukuji to either don’t know much about it or have never even heard of it. It really is their loss, as it has got to be the most spectacular displays of autumn foliage I’ve seen. The main vantage point is from the old wooden footbridge, looking out over a sea of red leaves. Go too early, and there’ll be too much of a green tinge from leaves that haven’t turned yet; likewise, go too late and it’ll look more brown than red.
2. Eikan-do Zenrin-ji
Eikando is most famous for its pond and the reflection you see of the garden around it, especially at nighttime. The temple itself is a wonderful place to explore. It’s one of those places in which you need to take your shoes off, and admittedly, it does feel a little strange walking around in socks! Admiring the gorgeous leaves while hearing the monks chanting prayers inside is a calming and spiritual experience. Once you’ve put your shoes back on, you can follow the path up to the pagoda that sits on the hill above the temple. From there, you get a beautiful view over Kyoto city. And if you’re lucky, you can watch the sun set over the distant mountains.
This temple has always been one of my favourite places in Kyoto, since my first visit to Japan many, many years ago. I love the moss hillside at the back, but the autumn leaves are also another great reason to come here. The vibrant momiji look stunning against the dark wooden temple building and pale-coloured stone garden. Gingakuji has THE perfect Japanese garden, in my opinion!
A classic autumn spot, as you’ll quickly discover after browsing a few tourism websites or magazines. Arashiyama is situated at the mountains to the west of Kyoto. No doubt every one who has even the slightest interest in Japan has seen pictures of the bamboo grove here, but did you know there’s a monkey park in the mountains, too? You can go hang out with these cute animals for 500 yen or so, and get an impressive view over the city as well.
Have you ever been to Kyoto? What did you enjoy the most there?