Kyoto Autumn – Top Things to Do in Kyoto in Autumn
If you're wondering what to do in Kyoto in Autumn, you've come to the right place. We've put together a great selection of things to do in autumn in Kyoto, so jump right in.
There are a great many things to do in Kyoto generally, but especially so in autumn. The season of colored leaves offers an impressive array of seasonal activities, including autumn leaf viewing, hiking and some onsen relaxation. No matter your preference, there’s plenty to entertain you in Kyoto, so have a look at our selection and let yourself be inspired by the city’s beauty.
Momiji/Koyo – Autumn Leaves
See the breathtaking colors of autumn at one of Kyoto’s temples or parks. While not an exhaustive list, we think we’ve selected the best from the countless options in the city. The best time to see the leaves is October and early November, so if you’re keen on having a look at the Momiji in Kyoto, pick a date around those times.
1. Kodaiji Temple 高台寺
A Rinzai Buddhist temple built in 1606, Kodaji has been deemed an important cultural heritage site by the Japanese state. It’s definitely worth a visit, even if it happens to be the wrong season for Momiji.
2. Daigoji 醍醐寺
This temple belongs to the Shingon school of Buddhism and was founded in 874 (Heian Period). The pretty red bridge over the pond and the artfully curved roofs of the various temple buildings make this a typically Japanese visual experience, only enhanced by the blood red maple leaves in autumn. A must-see.
3. Tenjuan 天授庵
Tenjuan is another temple of the Zen Buddhist variant. Originally built in 1337 but destroyed during the warring states era (Sengoku-jidai) and rebuilt toward the end of the 16th century, this temple has certainly seen some action over the years. The temple’s gardens incorporate traditional 14th Century design features; their glistening submerged stones contrasting nicely with the autumn foliage.
4. Tofukuji 東福寺
This picturesque temple of the Zen Buddhist Rinzai sect was built in 1236 and its main gate – the sanmon – is a national treasure as the oldest in Japan. A great temple to visit if you’re close to the center of Kyoto.
5. Kitano-Tenmangu Temple 北野天満宮
Built in 947, Kitano-Tenmangu is especially famous for its beautifully blossoming plum trees in March and the many maple trees which paint the surrounding park red in the autumn.
6. Kiyomizu-Dera 清水寺
This Buddhist temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Kyoto’s most recognizable landmarks. It’s name – Kiyomizu – is often translated as “clear water” or “pure water”, a nod to the impressive waterfall within its grounds. A must when in Kyoto.
7. Eikan-Do 永観堂
Founded in 863, this Buddhist temple was given great importance as a center of learning. The temple’s full name is Eikan-Do Zenrin-ji, which translates as “View of Eternity Hall.” Today, it is particularly famous for its illuminated fall foliage which surrounds the on-site lake.
8. Togetsu Bridge 渡月橋
Togetsu Bridge, or Togetsukyo, is a bridge that marks the border between the Hozu and Katsura rivers. It is worth a visit in the autumn when the surrounding hillside forests give off a wonderful display of color. Togetsukyo is on the outskirts of Kyoto closest to Arashiyama Station.
9. Hogonin 宝厳院
If you’re visiting Togetsukyo Bridge, you might also consider heading over to nearby Hogonin Temple. Head there after dark for one of the nightly light displays during the Koyo season. Perhaps combine the two visits (Togetsukyo and Hogonin) with a nice dinner somewhere close by or a nice stroll at the base of Arashiyama.
10. Shojiji 勝持寺
Shojiji temple is famous as the “Hana no Tera” (花の寺), the Temple of Flowers, due to its many cherry trees. It was established in 680 during the Heian period and is affiliated with the Tendai variety of Buddhism. Situated on the outskirts of Kyoto, at the base of Koshioyama, it might not be close to where you’re staying but it’s a great place for a day-trip.
If you’ve had your fill of autumn leaves, don’t fear, Kyoto’s got plenty more to offer. While many of the activities are, admittedly, available all year round, we feel autumn is the best time of year to check them out.
For a full round-up of things to do in Kyoto, check out our full guide:
1. Kyoto International Manga Museum
This museum opened its doors in 2006 as the first manga (Japanese comic books) museum in Japan. The Manga Museum has a collection of 300,000 mangas and is the perfect place to get some in-depth insight into the world of manga. There are three floors and most of the walls are lined with the ever-popular books. If you know nothing about manga and associate it mostly with children’s books, fret not: manga is for all ages and very much an artform. Most of the collection is in Japanese but there are a few offerings in foreign languages with plans for more in the future.
Entrance fee: 800 yen
Access: 2-minute walk from Karasuma-Oike Subway Station
2. Kyoto Theater
Kyoto’s theater is situated right beside the main JR train station and offers a range of international and Japanese musical and theatrical performances, plus, regular adaptations of popular manga or anime stories. Alternatively, for traditional Japanese theater, head to Minami-za, which, unfortunately, only opens irregularly for Kabuki or other special performances. Both options are a good way to beat the autumn showers.
Address: Kyoto Station Building,
Price: 4,000 – 10,000 yen ~
Minami-za (only Japanese)
Kamogawa Odori (only Japanese)
3. Jidai Matsuri – October
Every October, an elaborate parade celebrating traditional Japanese culture takes over the city’s streets. The evolution of clothing styles and arts is depicted chronologically, with each era in Japan’s long history represented. It’s quite a spectacle, especially for those with a special interest in Japanese history.
4. Kyoto Akari Workshop (traditional Kyoto paper light craft)
Fancy trying your hand at some traditional Kyoto craft? Here’s your chance. Create a traditional paper lamp filled with momiji at one of the workshops around Kyoto offering classes. Just keep in mind that if you’re planning to take it home as a souvenir, you might want to create a rather small one.
Price: around 5,000 yen
5. Kyoto Oiran Taiken (courtesan photography experience)
Recently, the courtesan or “maiko” (apprentice geisha) photography experience has gained a lot of popularity. Choose your outfit, have your makeup applied and get snapped in all your glory. Certainly an interesting, original souvenir option. It is generally only for women, however, if you’d like to try this as a man, there’s no harm in inquiring.
Price: starts at 5,000 yen (with the full make-up, clothes and photo edit)
6. Shoren-in Lights Display
Don’t miss the Shoren-in Temple light display. Head over just before sunset to catch the transition from day to night and see the lights spring to life. Long exposure cameras are the best for this one as the delicate lights may be too subtle for mobile phones.
7. Kashogama Pottery Class
Another hands-on Kyoto experience: pottery. In tune with the season, earthy browns, reds and yellows add life to the delicate cups, plates and vases you’re given the opportunity to create. A calming autumn pastime should you need one.
Price: 1,800 – 3,500 yen (depending on size)
Kyoto is famous as the home of some of the best Japanese sweets (Wagashi 和菓子), great green tea (Matcha) and tea-infused products. You might be asking yourself why restaurants and cafés should be any different in Autumn. Well, they aren’t really. The ones below, however, are chosen for their views and surroundings which make the most of the season’s beauty.
1. Mo-an – Tea, Café, Restaurant
This beautiful little pearl of a restaurant is atop a small mountain on the outskirts of Kyoto. Within a traditional Japanese wooden building, it is the perfect place from which to observe some nature whilst tucking into some great food. Combine with a hike in the surrounding hills for a fantastic day out.
2. Kyoto Fushimi Sake Tasting
Ever wondered which sake you like best? A great way to find out is to go for a sake tasting session and have a sip of a variety of different kinds. Different regions have their own brands, so you should definitely use the opportunity to try some Kyoto brews while you’re there. Drinking alcohol in Japan is allowed out in the open (as opposed to smoking), so why not buy a bottle and have a nice little picnic with a cup or two to warm you up. There are several breweries across Kyoto, but Fushimi (link below) comes particularly recommended by us.
3. Tea Ceremony at Shorenin
Enjoy the beauty of momiji season and sip some tea at the same time with a tea ceremony at Shorenin Temple. Ceremonies are available all November, but be sure to contact the temple about exact ceremony times beforehand. The temple itself has been restored to its original Edo period glory and is the perfect setting for “sado” (茶道 “the way of the tea”).
Price: 1,000 yen
More tea ceremony locations
4. Iyemon – modern and traditional Japanese tea and food
A fusion of old and new can be found at Iyemon, a minimalist, modern restaurant that serves traditional Japanese food and matcha (ground green tea) dishes alongside tea, coffee and more. It’s a very popular spot in central Kyoto for its fashionable environment and great food to boot.
5. Issen Yoshoku – Kyoto-style Okonomiyaki
If you’re down for some Kyoto street food, head to a Issen Yoshoku restaurant and get a Kyoto style Okonomiyaki to go. Okonomiyaki is a savory omelette with all sorts of ingredients, from veggies to seafood. Definitely a must try when in Kyoto and exploring the beautiful temples and parks. Exploring on an empty stomach isn’t fun anyhow, right?
Autumn, with its temperate weather and reddening leaves, is the perfect season for hiking. Choose any one of Kyoto’s many surrounding mountains and trails, all offering beautiful views, hidden temples and shrines and – best of all – onsens, nestled into the hillsides. We’ve got some top recommendations for you, all boating natural spring water rich in health giving qualities.
1. Kurama Onsen
Wind down after a brisk hike at Kurama Onsen. Only 45 minutes away from Kyoto by train, this is quite a popular spot. The train ride is an experience in itself, passing through a tunnel of maple trees which are spectacularly lit up at night. The train even slows to allow passengers to fully appreciate it.
2. Mount Ponpon
Because of its surrounding mountains, hiking has become quite a popular past time in Kyoto. In fact, there are so many trails and different hiking tours to choose from that we couldn’t possibly list them all if we wanted to. We have, however, selected two of the best.
A nice little hike up Mount Ponpon will have you marveling at Kyoto’s nature in no time. The trail takes roughly 3.5 hours to hike and is suited for beginners, but goes high enough to for some excellent views.
Time: 3h 25min
Effort: medium (beginner)
Leave from: Yoshimine Temple Bus Stop (Hankyu Oharano Bus N°66)
Arrive back: Yoshimine Temple Bus Stop (Hankyu Oharano Bus N°66)
3. Mount Atago
Another great hiking trail to try out is Mount Atago, north of Kyoto. In Autumn, the views from some of the the loftier plateaus are simply beautiful. Do make sure you bring enough water and food as there are little to no possibilities to buy supplies along the way.
Time: 4h 50min
Effort: upper medium (beginner)
Leave from: Kiyotaki Bus Stop (Kyoto Bus N°64)
Arrive back: Kiyotaki Bus Stop (Kyoto Bus N°64)
4. Funaoka Onsen
Tired and sore after your hike? Not to worry, this popular onsen will fix you right up. Funaoka Onsen is a traditional onsen in style, with beautiful remnants of the original bathhouse still being lovingly maintained. Complete immersion in the spring water and old-world Kyoto guarenteed.
5. Sagano Onsen (Tenzan no Yu)
Situated close to the base of Mount Atago, Sagano Onsen is a beautifully designed spa with all you need for hours of relaxation. Massages, food and more is available, including towels, should you have forgotten yours. Round off a perfect autumn day and rejuvinate yourself for the next one.