The viewing of autumn leaves in Kansai typically starts around mid-November and can last until early December. It’s a great time to head to western Japan and check out those beautiful leaves amid gorgeous scenery. Don’t know where to start? This guide to fall foliage in Kyoto and beyond will give you some pointers.

7 Recommended Kyoto autumn leaves viewing spots

Kyoto is one of Japan’s top spots to see autumn leaves. Our picks are just a few of Kyoto’s beautiful foliage viewing spots. It’s no exaggeration that there are many (many, many) places in Kyoto to soak in the autumn colors. However, this is also one of the most popular times to visit Kyoto, so expect crowds and peak-season pricing.

If you’re planning to go, better start making reservations already! Departing from Tokyo? Here are the fastest and cheapest ways to get to Kyoto.

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

kyoto autumn illuminations at Kiyomizudera
Autumn illuminations at Kiyomiza-dera. | Photo by iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Arguably Kyoto’s most popular temple, Kiyomizu-dera sees loads of tourists each day, and you can expect even more of them in fall. This huge, sprawling complex is the temple for those who are pressed for time and can’t visit too many places in the city. It’s in central Kyoto, and is covered by several bus routes.

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Kiyomizu-dera has a very impressive view from the balcony in autumn. And if seeing the leaves during the day isn’t enough, hang around until nightfall for the special seasonal illuminations.

Pro tip: If you’re based in Osaka and want to combine sights like Kiyomizu-dera and Arashiyama (another spot on our list; see below) in one go, then try this half-day tour.

Autumn opening hours: 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.)
General admission: ¥400 for adults, ¥200 for junior high school students and children

2. Tōfuku-ji Temple

autumn leaves at Tofukuji Temple
Tōfuku-ji. | Photo by iStock.com/FotoGraphik

Tōfuku-ji is Japan’s largest and oldest Zen temple. It has gained national recognition for its Sanmon, Japan’s oldest Zen main gate (designated as a National Treasure). It’s also known for Honbō Garden, which has the honor of being a National Site of Scenic Beauty. See the beauty of Tōfuku-ji for yourself this autumn; the temple grounds are home to several maple trees.

Tōfuku-ji is a 10-minute walk from the JR or Keihan Railway’s Tōfukuji Station, but it’s also accessible by bus.

November & December opening hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Autumn special admission: ¥1,000 for the temple + ¥500 for the garden

3. Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine

Autumn leaves lit up at night. | Photo by iStock.com/shirosuna-m

This long-standing Shintō shrine, built in honor of Sugawara no Michizane (the god of wisdom and learning), has a garden that’s only open a few times a year for seasonal attractions such as plum blossoms and autumn scenery.

The garden at Kitano Tenman-gū has about 250 maple trees that are around 300–400 years old. You can enjoy them not only in their natural splendor during the day, but also lit up at night. As Michizane’s birth and death both fell on the 25th (of June and February respectively), a small festival is held each month, making it a bonus day to aim for.

Autumn opening hours for the garden: Oct. 28 to Dec. 10; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last entry 3:40 p.m.)
Illuminations: Nov. 11 to Dec. 10; Sunset to 8 p.m.
Illuminations special admission: Garden entry ¥1,200 for adults and ¥600 for children (general admission to the temple is free)

4. Kōdai-ji Temple

Kodaiji autumn
Autumn at Kōdai-ji Temple. | Photo by iStock.com/Torsakarin

Kōdai-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple where warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his wife, Nene, who happened to be co-founder of the temple, are enshrined. Aside from its main hall, which used to be decorated with lacquer and gold before it burned down (several times over), the temple has some gardens, a bamboo grove, and a museum (admission already included in the ¥600 fee). For ¥900, you can get a combo ticket for Kōdai-ji, the museum, and the Entoku-in sub-temple.

Autumn opening hours: Oct. 21 to Dec. 10; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Illuminations: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 9:30 p.m.)
General admission: ¥600

5. Chion-in Temple

Chion-in autumn leaves
Autumn leaves at Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. | Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

Chion-in is the head temple of the Jōdo (Pure Land) Buddhist sect. As such, its founder Hōnen is honored here. The temple grounds are extremely spacious. In fact, its Sanmon (main gate) is one of the largest in Japan. It has two gardens, one of which — Hōjō Garden — goes back all the way to the early-Edo era and has been designated as a Famous Scenic Spot of Kyoto.

The other garden, Yūzen-en, has two teahouses. It also happens to be one of three sites within the temple grounds that is illuminated nightly through most of November. The other two sites are the Amida-dō (Amitabha Hall), which houses a 2.5m-tall statue of the Buddha; and Kuromon, the Black Gate.

Autumn opening hours: Nov. 16 to Dec. 2; 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Illuminations: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.)
Illuminations special admission: ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children (general admission to the temple is free)

6. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama in Kyoto. | Photo by Tiffany Lim

This is not a temple, shrine, or garden — it’s an entire area in western Kyoto. With temples, shrines, a world-renowned bamboo forest, and more, it’s a very popular tourist attraction. However, it’s noticeably more rural than central Kyoto (i.e. the part of Kyoto where most of the tourist spots are clustered), so you can feel closer to nature here.

The view of the mountainside — with its trees a vivid crimson — from Arashiyama’s famous bridge, Togetsukyō, is extremely popular. For something fun, book a rickshaw ride around the area.

Pro tip: If you happen to be there in mid-November, be sure to check out the Arashiyama Momiji Festival!

Getting there: You can get to Arashiyama by bus or train (Saga-Arashiyama Station via JR; Keifuku Arashiyama via Keifuku Railways; or Hankyu Arashiyama via Hankyu Railways).

You can also enjoy Arashiyama’s breathtaking landscape by taking a scenic train, aptly called the Sagano Romantic Train, from Torokko Saga Station (which is very near JR Saga-Arashiyama Station) to Torokko Kameoka Station for ¥880 one way. The journey lasts 25 minutes and books up quickly during autumn.

7. Rurikō-in Temple

Rurikoin temple
Autumn leaves at Rurikō-in Temple. | Photo by iStock.com/seaonweb

Rurikō-in isn’t located in a touristy part of Kyoto, so it’s trickier to get to, and significantly more expensive than the other viewing spots. But it’s a photographer’s dream come true, so it’s well worth the visit. Also, it’s not always open to the public due to structural concerns, so autumn is a unique chance to see this elusive temple.

Rurikō-in has three beautiful gardens and a tea room, so you can enjoy the autumn leaves in relative tranquility. It’s a 5-minute walk from Yase-Hieizanguchi Station on the Eizan Main Line, nearly an hour away from central Kyoto.

In 2023, you can visit Rurikō-in Temple in Kyoto between October 1 and December 11, but reservations will be required between November 1 and December 3. You can reserve a spot via this link, with online payment required.

Autumn opening times: Oct. 1 to Dec. 11; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m.)
Special reservation period: Nov. 1 to Dec. 3
Autumn admission: ¥2,000 for adults, ¥1,000 for students, and free for elementary school children.

Autumn leaves in Kansai: 4 Day trips from Kyoto

For fewer crowds and some stunning views, consider a day trip from the ancient capital. The timing of the peak colors will vary a little depending on how far from Kyoto you travel and elevation, so keep that in mind.

1. Lake Biwa (Shiga Prefecture)

Autumn at Lake Biwa. | Photo by iStock.com/kentaro

Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake and is often alluded to in ancient Japanese literature. Within the vicinity of the lake, there are some attractions, listed below, which are known for their autumn leaves.

Keisoku-ji Temple

Keisoku-ji, a temple on a mountain north of Lake Biwa, is one of the most stunning fall spots in the region. Ancient steps are carpeted with vermillion leaves in scenes that could be cut straight from a film.

Just to add to the forgotten vibe, the temple was actually abandoned at the end of the Edo period (1603–1868), but has been dutifully maintained by locals. Around 200 maple trees line the picturesque approach, with peak viewing season from mid- to late November.

Autumn 2023 peak: Mid- to late November
Autumn opening times: Nov. 10 to 30; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Autumn admission: Entry costs ¥500 during autumn opening times, with money going to the upkeep of the temple and grounds.
Getting there: Keisoku-ji is 15 minutes from the Kobashi bus stop, which in turn can be reached by bus from JR Kinomoto Station in about 10 minutes.

Hikone Castle

genkyuen and hikone castle
Autumn illumintations at Hikone Castle. | Photo by Hikone Sightseeing Association

The beautiful national treasure that is Hikone Castle has a garden called Genkyū-en, which is illuminated at night during a special viewing season.

You can even take part in a tea ceremony in the garden for an extra ¥500. This includes a cup of matcha tea and a sweet. Advance reservation isn’t required, but it is first-come, first-serve so we recommend arrriving early.

Autumn opening times: Nov. 18 to Dec. 3; 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Illuminations: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (last entry at 8:30 p.m.)
Illuminations admission: ¥700 for adults, ¥350 for children
Getting there: The castle and its garden are a 10-minute walk from JR Hikone Station.

Ishiyama-dera Temple

The autumn moon at Ishiyama-dera, where Lady Murasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji, is traditionally considered to be one of the Eight Views of Omi (the ancient name for Shiga Prefecture). Head on over to see for yourself if it deserves the recognition.

Autumn opening times: Nov. 10 to 26; 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Illuminations: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (last entry at 8:30 p.m.)
Illuminations admission: ¥800 for adults, ¥350 for children
Getting there: 10 minutes from Keihan Ishiyamadera Station

Mt. Hiei

Lastly, there’s Mt. Hiei, on the southwestern side of the lake, which stands on the border of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures. One of the holiest sites in the country, Mt. Hiei is home to Enryaku-ji Temple, which was the first base of the Buddhist Tendai sect. Founded in 788, it has an impressive complex of ancient and renovated buildings, all surrounded by stunning autumnal leaves from mid October to late November.

Autumn 2023 peak: Early November
General admission: Mountain is free; Enryaku-ji requires a ¥1,000 fee for the East and West Pagodas and Yokokawa.

2. Mt. Kōya (Wakayama Prefecture)

mt. koya forest autumn leaves
Autumn at Mt. Kōya. | Photo by iStock.com/smshoot

Mt. Kōya, or Kōyasan in Japanese (-san is the suffix for “mountain”), is holy ground for Shingon Buddhists as their founder Kūkai (aka Kōbō Daishi) established a monastery there. It’s both a pilgrimage and tourist spot, although a quieter and more tranquil tourist spot than most. With temples making up most of its tourist attractions, the sacred aura of the place is palpable, so it’s a good destination for a spiritual day trip from Kyoto).

If you’re not the spiritual type, Mt. Kōya still offers a place to clear your mind. It also happens to be a very scenic place throughout the four seasons. It might be more crowded than usual during autumn, but it’s still relatively quieter than most other viewing spots.

Pro tip: If you fancy an organised day trip, try this Mt. Kōya tour to see all the sights with a guide of your very own.

Autumn 2023 peak: Early to mid-November
Getting there: It takes about 2 to 3 hours to reach Kōyasan from Kyoto, read more here.

3. Mt. Yoshino (Nara Prefecture)

Mt. Yoshino autumn leaves in Nara
Autumn leaves at Mt. Yoshino. | Photo by iStock.com/meikyou

Mt. Yoshino is better known for its cherry blossoms (in fact, it’s said to be Japan’s best viewing site for cherry blossoms), but this World Heritage Site also has a view to offer in autumn. Parts of the mountain are even lit up at night.

There’s a ropeway that can take you up the mountain for ¥450 one way or ¥800 round trip. There are also buses to take you to town. Alternatively, you can go on a relatively easy hike up Mt. Yoshino.

Autumn 2023 peak: Mid- to late November
Admission: Free
Getting there: Yoshino Station can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 2 hours, give or take, via Kintetsu Railways’ limited express (¥2,590) or express (¥1,250) trains.

4. Nara Park (Nara Prefecture)

Nara Park autumn morning with deer
Deer and fall foliage. | Photo by iStock.com/gyro

This vast green expanse is where most of Nara’s main tourist attractions — like Tōdai-ji, the famous temple with one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues; and Kofuku-ji, the temple with an iconic pagoda — can be found. There are several maple trees around the park, and their beauty is complemented by temples, shrines, ponds, stone lanterns, and so on. Read about Nara Park.

Autumn 2023 peak: Mid-November to early December
Access: Nara is a half-hour train ride from both Osaka and Kyoto on the Kintetsu Line.

Also read:

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published on November 19, 2015. Last updated in September 2023 by Maria Danuco.

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