Cherry Blossom in Kyoto: The 15 Best Sakura Spots

Lily Crossley-Baxter

The only way to make one of the most beautiful places in Japan even more stunning: these are all the best places to see the cherry blossom in Kyoto.

Kyoto cherry blossoms
Photo by Ryosuke Yagi used under CC

Expected to start blooming at the end of March in Kyoto, the cherry blossom will continue on into early April and so will the crowds—but it’s worth it. Simply wandering the streets of Gion will be impressive enough, but to really get your sakura fix, you might want to head to one of these top spots for some intense blossom action. We’ve divided it into areas so you can plan your sightseeing accordingly. If you’re in Kyoto for a couple of days and want to make the most of it, we have a 2-day plan covering the west side on day one, and the east on day two. Be sure to keep an eye on updated forecasts, as things do change a little, but we’ve listed the predicted peak-bloom times for each spot, depending on the tree variety. Needless to say, Kyoto will be busy as hell during this season, but for good reason, so embrace the crowds, enjoy the yukata-wearers and take a deep breath (just don’t inhale any petals).

West: Bamboo groves and river walks

A mere train journey away, the west side of Kyoto is usually associated with bamboo and monkeys, but the river running through the area means there is plenty of stunning cherry blossom too!

Arashiyama  |  Early April

Arashiyama Blossom
Photo by Tetsuji Sakakibara used under CC

Feeling like a different world entirely, Arashiyama is as well known among locals for the cherry blossom as it is the bamboo. The Katsura River is lined with blossoming trees and you can take a rowboat out to enjoy it from the water. Most of the top spots are places you would have on your list anyway, including Tenryuji and Togetsukyo Bridge, along with small parks like Katsuragawa Ryokuchi. The area will be full of festivities and food stalls so you can try seasonal treats and a true hanami experience.

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North: Botanical gardens and temples

With a little more space to stretch out in, the main spots in the north of Tokyo have a little more of a natural feel to them. While they may be a little further than you originally planned on venturing, they are likely to be a little less crowded than the central areas (but only a little).

Ninna-ji Temple  |  Early to Mid-April  |  ¥600

Ninna-ji Temple Kyoto
Photo by Kyoto Picture used under CC

Great for late blossoming varieties, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ninnaji Temple is more than picturesque when surrounded by flowering blossoms. The temple has open grounds, which are usually free to enter but during cherry blossom season, will be ¥600 to enter. The blossoms should stretch into mid-April this year, while most other areas will finish in early April. This area is easily accessed from Arashiyama as it is a short walk from the train station which connects the two, it is also on the bus route from the city to the Golden Pavilion.

Kyoto Botanical Gardens  |  Early April  |  ¥200

Kyoto Botanical Garden
Photo by Kimon Berlin used under CC

A little further north than you might have been planning to go, the Botanical Gardens are a great spot for all sorts of flora, but cherry blossom especially. They have over 500 trees, and the highlights include the weeping cherry tree forest and the somei-yoshino type which are best for picnicking beneath. They have illuminations in the evenings between March 25th and April 8th until 9pm, but you must enter before 8pm. It costs ¥200 to enter and you can walk from Kitayama Station

Haradani-en Garden  |  Early to Mid-April  |  ¥1,200¥1,500

Haradani-en garden Kyoto
Photo by Kyoto Picture used under CC

One of the slightly lesser-known spots and always a little quieter as it is harder to reach, this garden is often nicknamed Kyoto’s Eden. A private garden with 24 different sakura varieties, this is a good spot if you really want to avoid the crowds. You will most likely require a taxi though and there’s an entrance fee of between ¥1,200 and ¥1,500 depending on the day of the week and blossom peak, so that puts off a few people. (A taxi from Kinkaku-ji is under ¥1,000. There is an M1 bus which gets you much closer, although there are only a few each day.




Central: Kyoto Castle, palace and riverside

Nijo-jo Castle  |  Late March to Mid-April | ¥600

Nijo Castle Kyoto Blossom
Photo by Luca Mascaro used under CC

With a great combination of both early and late-blooming trees here, it’s a great option if you’re avoiding peak season. Thanks to some serious replanting efforts in the 60s and 70s, they now have over 500 trees and 50 different species to admire. The park has evening illuminations during peak season which use LED lights to create stunning yozakura displays in a grand setting.

Kyoto Gyoen National Garden  | Late March to Mid-April  | Free

Kyoto Gyoen Blossom
Photo by ddio used under CC

Kyoto Gyoen surrounds the Imperial Palace and the Sento Imperial Palace, with over 1,000 cherry trees to wander through, all free of charge. They have both early- and late-blooming trees and a real variety of mature examples to enjoy, including weeping trees famed from legends. According to ancient tales, the trees were so beautiful, a passing Edo emperor ordered his carriage to turn and go past them again. Now nicknamed the Goshomi Kurumagaeshi (turn of the royal carriage) variety, you might have to do the same thing when you go by this spring.

Kamogawa  |  Early April  | Free

Kamogawa Cherry Blossom
Photo by Ryosuke Yagi used under CC

A wonderful spot to stroll down, the Kamo river runs through the liveliest part of Kyoto but also extends to a calmer path which will no doubt be filled with cute couples and those ubiquitous blue tarps. This area is especially nice towards the end of the season as petals begin to fall and float along the river.




East: Gion, Higashiyama and Beyond

Arguably the prettiest part of Kyoto in general, if you add some cherry blossom to the winding streets of Higashiyama, you will honestly never want to leave.

Philosopher’s Path  |  Early April  |  Free

Photo by nate2b used under CC

A two-kilometer stretch from Ginkakuji to Nanzenji, this is a fantastic way to start off a (rather long) day of walking in Higashiyama during blossom season. Once the walking route of famous Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, he would meditate on the Meiji-era canal path as he made his way to Kyoto University each day. You can stroll off to seek out nearby temples and shrines or visit the cafes on the route as you enjoy the views, we have a full article here. It is one of the most popular spots, so early morning is your best bet for a peaceful walk.

Maruyama Park  |  Early April  |  Free

Maruyama Park
Photo by Wei-te Wong used under CC

Possibly the number one spot in the city, Maruyama park is Hanami central and is definitely more lively than peaceful. A fantastic place to visit during the evening, the grounds of Yasaka Shrine are filled with revelers, food stalls and festivities beneath lantern-lit sakura. Be sure to visit the Gion Shidare-Sakura, a weeping cherry tree grown from the seed of its 200-year-old predecessor. The beer may not be as cheap as the convenience stores, but not much beats being a part of the crowd when it’s a drunken hanami crowd.

Kiyomizudera  |  Early April  |  400 yen

Photo by Kyoto-Picture used under CC

Prepare yourself for crowds, but brave them because the views are worth it. Already a contender for top spot on a regular day, Kiyomizudera really comes into its own when filled with blossom. From the balcony, you can look out across to the city with blossoms beneath you and their sweet scent filling the air. The nearby pond has a lot of trees too, but you may find yourself queueing to get anywhere. They will have evening illuminations from the 30th of March to the 8th of April between 6pm and 9pm. Be warned: The main hall is currently under construction, although it remains open, it is not as pretty.

Shimbashi in Gion  |  Early April  |  Free

kansai region
Photo by Kyoto-Picture used under CC

Following the course of the Shirakawa Canal, Shimbashi is considered one of the prettiest streets in Gion and is incredibly popular with cherry blossom strewn across the flagstones. The most popular section is between Nawate-dori and Kawabata-dori, but you can’t really go wrong whichever end you find yourself in. During the evening the blossom is illuminated and you can peer into the bars and restaurants that line the river, even if you can’t quite afford to eat in them.

Heian Jingu Shrine  |  Early to Mid-April  |  600 yen

Heian Jingu Shrine
Photo by Wei-te Wong used under CC

Home to one of the biggest torii gates in Japan, Heian Jingu Shrine is a very popular spot thanks to the evening illuminations and stunning reflections of weeping trees in the pond. This variety blossoms slightly later than most so it’s great if you’ve caught the end of the season. The shrine grounds are free to enter, but you do have to pay 600 yen to enter the garden which holds the cherry trees which is just behind the main buildings.

Okazaki Canal  |  Early April  |  Free

Okazaki Canal
Photo by Kimon Berlin used under CC

Running past the Heian Jingu Shrine from south to east, the Okazaki Canal is a very, very popular spot and even has boat rides beneath the blossom on offer. The canal connects Lake Biwa canal network with the Kamo River and is always filled with keen photographers and selfie-snappers. You can stroll along the paths and watch boats go by, they’re actually not extortionate, costing around ¥1,000 per person so you can try them if you want a treat.

Keage Incline  |  Early April  |  Free

Keage Incline
Photo by Torne used under CC

Once used to transport boats between canals, the Keage Incline is a particularly beautiful spot, with the old train tracks adding an unusual twist. A relatively steep incline, it was in use between 1891 and 1950 but was restored in 1977 as a site of industrial heritage—it became a National Historical Site in 1996.

South

Not as many sightseeing spots are located below the main station of Kyoto, but that means you might be able to avoid some of the biggest crowds!

Daigo-ji Temple  | Early April  |  1,500 yen

Daigoji Temple
Photo by Torne used under CC

General Hideyoshi once held a famous hanami party in the grounds of Daigoji Temple and it has been a popular spot ever since. The blossom-filled landscape garden dates back to 1598 and was expanded for the famous hanami event, making it an excellent space to enjoy a variety of blossoms. The entrance fee is higher than most places which means it may be a little quieter, and the temple is worth exploring too, with parts dating back to 1115.

Headed to Tokyo? Check out our cherry blossom mega guide!






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