Kyoto can make even the gaudiest winter illuminations classy — it’s got the fanciest festive feels in the Kansai area. If you are still not filled to the brim with Christmas cheer, then head next door to Osaka’s top light-ups, too.

As a famously beautiful place, it might be hard to imagine Kyoto looking any better than it already does, but if you sprinkle a few thousand LEDs and wrap some fairy lights around a tree or two you’d be surprised. For more illuminations (that may finish a little earlier than Christmas), take a look at our Kyoto autumn leaves guide.

1. NAKED Yoru Mode at Heian Shrine

December 1 to 25
From ¥1,600; get tickets here
Heian Jingū Shrine, Kyoto

Suggested Activity
Brunch at Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Start your day the right way -- with a delicious brunch in "Kyoto's kitchen", also known as Nishiki Market. The market has a long history, going back more than 400 years. ...
Worth the visit. | Photo by NAKED via PR Times

This illumination is brought to you by light, projection mapping, and design wizards Naked Inc. It’s more of a light and projection mapping art project than a traditional illumination event, but it’ll still give you the light-up feels.

Explore Heian Jingū Shrine with a hand-held lantern, and interact with the lights on display. Tickets are ¥1,600 Mon. to Thu. and ¥2,000 on Fri., weekends, and holidays, if bought in advance.

2. Bambio Illumination

December 8 to January 8
Bambio Square Park, Nagaokakyō

If you’re already at Kyoto Station to see the twinkly lights, then it’s easy enough to jump on the Tōkaidō-San’yō Line and ride the train for 13 minutes to Nagaokakyō Station. Bambio Illumination is right next to the west exit of the station in Bambio Plaza Park. The highlight of the Nagaokakyō Illumination is that it employs traditional lanterns made with local bamboo (which the locals are quite proud of).

3. Twinkle Jōyō

December 1 to 25
Free, but a donation of ¥100 is encouraged

Twinkle, twinkle … | Photo by Kyoto Prefecture Tourism Federation

A little out of the way but still in Kyoto Prefecture, Jōyō City is fast becoming a top illumination destination. However, this is certainly not your standard light show. Twinkle Jōyō is a community project that uses displays donated by local groups as well as companies and organizations.

The event has food stalls, entertainment, and a serious number of Inst-worthy spots. Head to the Jōyō City Comprehensive Athletic Park “Recreation Zone” (or just follow the people from Jōyō Station). The park will be illuminated from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. There will be a shuttle bus available for ¥200 from Jōyō Station.

4. Sagano Romantic Train Light-Up

October 14 to December 29
¥880 (one way)
Saga Torokko Station, Arashiyama

In autumn and early winter, the Sagano Romantic Train in Arashiyama gets a little more, well, romantic. This sightseeing train will keep its normal route — departing from Saga Torokko Station (next door to Saga-Arashiyama) and winding its way along the Hozugawa River — but the familiar scenery will get a splash of light. From 4:30 p.m. until the last train, you’ll be able to spot lit-up tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs), bright mountainsides, and glowing bridges.

The journey costs ¥880 and tickets can be bought at Saga Torokko Station, which is only 17 minutes on the San-In line from Kyoto Station. However, tickets go fast.

5. Synesthesia Hills Illumination

All year
From ¥900
Rurikei Onsen, Kyoto

While this particular spot for music and illumination is open year round, it gets an honorable mention because, hey, it’s the season for bright lights and here they twinkle in spades. There are 12 different installations, including Crystal Lake, Aurora Experience, and Spiral Light Tunnel.

Tickets are ¥1,000 for adults on weekdays and ¥1,200 for weekends and holidays, but go up to ¥1,800 for a few days around Christmas (Decemeber 22–25). You can get a ¥100 discount on the official website.

It is a little far from Kyoto Station — 30 minutes by train to Sonobe Station on the San-In or Hashidate line and then another 30 minutes by bus to Rurikei Onsen.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published in December 2018. Last updated in November 2023, by Alex Ziminski.

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