Best Autumn Leaves Spots In Kyoto – The autumn koyo (changing of autumn leaves) period in Japan is one that brings spectacular sights to both the city and countryside of Japan. It’s a time when the entire country is awash with the sunburnt colours of red, orange and yellow from the treetops to the carpeted foot paths as the momiji (red leaves) fall.
Capturing this scenery during the golden hours of the day is something that’s particularly beautiful, and is an image that is chased by avid photographers during this period.
In Kyoto, you will find that the autumn koyo period is particularly scenic. Due to the many historical monuments and landmarks in this area, you will be spoilt for choice when looking for a place to visit to capture the koyo.
There is nothing quite like capturing the beauty of the momiji framing a stunning traditional castle, with you dressed up in a kimono. This is all a perfectly viable experience in Kyoto.
The Best Autumn Leaves Spots In Kyoto
Below we’ve listed the top 10 best autumn leaves spots in Kyoto for you to check out!
- Shorenin Temple
- Shugakuin Imperial Villa
If you are wondering when is the best time to visit Kyoto during Autumn, check out this blog post: Autumn Foliage Forecast 2021 Japan.
Throughout the year, Tofuku-ji Temple is a phenomenal attraction to visit whilst in Kyoto. Its massive expanse of land and gardens is interconnected by a gorgeous network of bridges that takes you on a mini journey through historic Japan.
It’s a popular area to don a kimono and take stunning pictures. In autumn, it is especially popular due to the maple garden that displays an incredible show of momoji, which stretches across an entire valley.
With the golden sunset colours of the leaves in the background, you’ll be sure to capture some great photos. We recommend heading there during the second half of November as that’s when the koyo is at its peak. If you manage to get a spot at the Tsutenkyo Bridge during sunset, that is the prime position.
- Address: 778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the train to Tofukuji Station (2-minutes, 150 yen). It is a 10-minute walk from the station.
When people think of autumn foliage, they automatically think of shooting gorgeous momoji with the bright blue sky in the background, but what they don’t consider is that sometimes it’s during dusk and onwards that the beauty of the autumn leaves really shine.
At Kodai-ji temple there is a very popular evening illumination which happens annually and is looked forward to by crowds of people. The sight of the extensive number of maple trees and surrounding bamboo grove lit up in the evening is gorgeous, especially with their sparkling reflections in the surrounding ponds.
- Address: 526 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0825, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the train to Higashiyama Station (15-minutes, 260 yen). From there, it is a 5-minute walk. Otherwise, from Kyoto take bus #100 or #206 and alight at Higashiyama Yasui bus stop. It is a 5-10-minute walk from there.
Daikaku-ji is a temple located in northern Kyoto. It was originally built as a detached temple for Emperor Saga in the 800s, but after his death, it was converted into a temple and has retained its grandeur since. It’s made up of several buildings, all connected by wooden walkways.
During spring and autumn, they open up the Reihokan, a small museum which displays the temple’s treasures for the public to see. The most popular spots to take in the autumn foliage here would be next to Osawa Pond, which is a 1200-year-old artificial body of water, and of the vermillion-red pagoda which sits next to the pond.
- Address: 4 Sagaosawacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8411, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the San-In line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. It will take 17-minutes and costs 240 yen. It is a 15-minute walk from the station.
Rather than being a singular temple ground, this is actually a mountainous area located north of Kyoto. Here, you will be able to visit three historic temples next to each other along its forested valley. Jingoji Temple is probably considered the most popular of Takao’s Temples.
After climbing a beautiful set of stone steps to the top, you will be rewarded with impressive entrance gates, multiple halls, and various observation points, all of which are incredibly aesthetic during the autumn koyo season.
Kozanji Temple is a World Heritage Site that dates all the way back to the 700s. Here, visitors can witness what was considered as Japan’s first form of manga. Lastly, Saimyoji Temple was originally built as a detached function of Jingoji, but now sits separately. It’s most popular spot for views is on the bright red Shigetsukyo Bridge, leading over a river to the temple entrance. The leaves here naturally change colour a few days before the event hits the main Kyoto area.
- Address: 5 Umegahata Takaocho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8292, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the JR Bus to Takao. It takes 50-minutes, costs 530 yen, and buses leave every 20-30 minutes. Alight at Takao bus stop, which is the most convenient for visiting Jingoji and Saimyoji. Alight at Toganoo bus stop for Kozanji.
Listed as one of the most popular spots in all of Japan for momiji, this is the temple you’d want on your list if you’re after that superb traditional Japanese structural aesthetic framed by millions of golden leaves. The temple ground itself is full of interesting areas to visit, such as the Shakado, Miedo, and Amidado, all of which hold information and artifacts of historical importance.
However, during the autumn koyo period, one of the places to be at is the Tahoto Pagoda, which is a stunning two-storied Pagoda that is nestled in the trees on the hillside. Its prime position means that visitors can walk up to the top of the pagoda and view the rest of the temple grounds and the sparkling city of Kyoto framed by the autumn leaves.
Another popular momiji viewing spot is near Hojo Pond and the nearby garden. There are small bodies of water which run through the temple grounds into this pond, making it quite a unique attraction. The star of the show, though, has to be the popular illumination event which happens in the evening during peak autumn period.
- Address: 48 Eikandocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8445, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the train to Keage Station (20-minutes, 260 yen). It is a 15-20 minute walk from there.
Kiyomizu-dera is arguably one of the most popular temples across the entirety of Japan. Translating to “Pure Water Temple”, it gets its name from the nearby Otowa Waterfall’s pure water. The most visited area of Kiyomizudera is a wide wooden platform which extends out from its main hall, providing visitors with an opportunity to quietly and peacefully take in the surrounding views 13m above the hillside it’s situated on.
It is on this platform that most visitors vie for a spot during the cherry blossoms and autumn koyo period, as you can witness a sea of colourful foliage blanketing the ground around you with Kyoto city in the distance. This temple is one that opens relatively early compared to others (6:00am), so that might be something to keep in mind. During the peak of autumn in the second half of November, Kiyomizu-dera hosts a fantastic nighttime illumination event.
- Address: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the bus #100 or #206 and alight at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop (15-minutes, 230 yen). It is a 10-minute walk uphill from there. Otherwise, catch the train to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, and walk 20-minutes from there.
For those looking for a quieter, less crowded alternatives to viewing the autumn leaves, then Shinnyo-do temple is a location off-the-beaten-track of Kyoto that boasts impressive views yet does not draw impressive tourist crowds (which is a good thing!). It’s like a well-kept secret of the locals.
The actual original temple itself was destroyed during the 1400s, and after a bit of relocation, it was rebuilt where it stands today. It encompasses large grounds with multiple buildings, including a beautiful three-story pagoda. It is in and around this pagoda that majority of visitors like to take photos, as the red leaves from the massive maple trees and nearby yellow gingko trees which frame the buildings create a real historic Japanese vibe.
- Address: Jodoji Shinnyocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8414, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, catch the Kyoto City Bus #5, and alight at Shinnyodo-mae bus stop (35-minutes, 230 yen). The temple is a 5-minute walk from there.
8. Shorenin Temple
This temple is located at the bottom of the Higashiyama mountains. It’s one of the city’s few mozeki temples, meaning it originally hosted head priests who were members of the imperial family. The temple itself is filled with interesting buildings and halls to explore, however, during the autumn koyo period, it is the gardens of Shorenin Temple that is the major attraction.
There are trails that cut through gardens, shrines, and the bamboo grove that can be taken to admire the beauty of the momiji. Every spring during the cherry blossom season as well as peak autumn season, the temple opens during special evening hours to show off its incredible night display of lights, specifically a dry garden decorated with hundreds of LED lights.
- Address: 69-1 Awadaguchi Sanjobocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0035, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the train to Higashiyama Station (15-minutes, 260 yen). From there, it is a 5-minute walk.
Daigo-ji is listed as a world heritage site, and is a hidden gem, one that we particularly find spectacular during the autumn koyo period. The images you can capture here are limitless, as its photogenic at pretty much every corner. However, please note that the Sanboin and its garden, an area which produces gorgeous views, has a no-camera policy in place. Guess you can just feast your eyes and not be distracted by your camera here!
Here, there is a maple tree tunnel which you will walk under as you approach the temple – this is already quite scenic and will probably shave some time off your itinerary! Inside the temple grounds, the red-trimmed Bentendo hall which sits next to the pond’s edge is another great spot to take photos.
- Address: 22 Daigohigashiojicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 601-1325, Japan
- Access: From Kyoto Station, take the train to Yamashina Station (5-minutes, 190yen), and transfer to the Tozai Subway Line (8-minutes, 260 yen) to alight at Daigo Station. Daigoji Temple is a 15-minute walk from the station.
10. Shugakuin Imperial Villa
Lastly, one of the best spots to view the autumn koyo in Kyoto would be at the exclusive Shugakuin Imperial Villa. This place is absolutely impressive, with its massive well-maintained grounds and views of the surrounding mountains. It consists of Upper, Middle, and Lower Villa areas, each featuring their own unique gardens and buildings.
During the autumn koyo season, everywhere you look and walk you will see momiji as canopies over your head or blanketing the view of the ground below you.
This village, unlike all the aforementioned suggestions, is only accessible to the public through prior-booked guided tours. These tours are free though, so you just need to ensure you book ahead of time and rock up. Although not every single property will be open for viewing, the majority are, and the tour will take you through all three villas and allow you to freely enter certain buildings.
To book a tour, you will need to apply with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency’s office in Kyoto Imperial Park. Alternatively, you can book online but this method tends to be booked out well in advance so please ensure you plan this trip properly and look at all methods.
- Address: Shugakuin Yabusoe, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8052, Japan
- Access (to Shugakuin Imperial Villa): From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station (3-minutes), and then transfer to the Keihan Line to Demachiyanagi Station (10-minutes). From there, take the Eizan Railway to Shugakuin Station (7-minutes). The trip will cost 630 yen and take 40-minutes.
Imperial Household Agency
- Address: Japan, 〒602-0881 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:15pm (no tours on Mondays)
Whilst the natural phenomenon that is the autumn koyo which occurs in Japan happens across the entire country and you’ll be able to spot them anywhere during the peak, there will definitely be areas more favourable than others.
Whilst in areas like Tokyo, you’ll be witnessing the awesome leaves with a background of stunning high-rise towers, out here in Kyoto, you can bet you’ll be in amongst lakes and pagodas, framed with gorgeous maple leaves and experiencing an ethereal beauty that’s equally unique and humbling.
If you want to visit more beautiful places during Koyo season in Japan, make sure you also check out our Top 10 Autumn Spots in Tokyo and our 10 best autumn leaves spots in Japan. But if you go to Kyoto during spring, don’t miss out these places: Top 10 Sakura Spots Kyoto.
And for more tips about Kyoto, you can also visit this page: Kyoto Travel Blog.