Best Kyoto Autumn Spots | Kyoto in 4 days

Being the old capital of Japan (from year 794 to 1868), Kyoto is abundant with traditional Japanese cultural experiences and historical sites. In Autumn, it is especially beautiful, colored by red and golds of the autumn foliage. Though I've traveled to Kyoto more than 5 times, there's still much more to explore. 

One thing to know about planning an autumn trip to Kyoto is you need to research the night time light up dates and hours. They last anywhere from 2-6 weeks depending on the location, and temples will charge an extra entry fee during those times. 

Before we dive into the locations, here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your Kyoto trip:

  • Check the Kyoto autumn foliage forecast (google these words to find it, generally though you should aim for 3rd & 4th week of November)
  • Make use of the 1-day bus pass (¥700 all you can ride for a day)
  • Start early in spots that don't have opening hours (eg. 7am in Arashiyama bamboo forest, Togetsu bridge etc) 
  • Start the day from the outskirts spots and move your way back towards city center as the day goes on (city center spots will be crowded anyway, but if you go to out skirt spots earlier, there's less people) 
  • Take advantage of reservations: some autumn spots like Rurikoin or Somekobo Yumeyusai have an online reservation system to guarantee a spot for you at an exact time. Reservations = no time wasted standing in line 
Getting to Kyoto: 
  • Airport: the closest is KIX, Kansai International Airport, from there it's another 1.5-2hrs via public transport to get to Kyoto which costs about ¥2,000~ 
  • Shinkansen from Tokyo: The Tokaido Shinkansen line, Nozomi train, takes you from Tokyo to Kyoto station (city center to city center) in around 2hrs. Roundtrip will cost roughly ¥28,000. There are no rail passes for this line. 

Staying in Kyoto

The first time I went to Kyoto in 2015, I based myself in Osaka and commuted daily. Don't do that. Why? Kyoto gets crowded as early as 9am, so by the time you get there from Osaka, there's lines everywhere. Base yourself in Kyoto instead and stay  overnight so you can get an early start. Also there are plenty of amazing accommodations available in Kyoto.

🏨 Hotel Recommendations for Singles & Couples: 

Hotel Resol is not only affordable (roughly ¥6,000/night), it is also a perfect hotel to experience staying at a traditional Japanese inn but also have the comfort of western beds. Their rooms are traditionally decorated with lanterns and they also provide green tea as a welcome drink. The location is very convenient, and there's also a convenience store just downstairs. One downside of this hotel is that it does not have a large public bath area, which if that's an experience you want to try out, check out the next hotel below. 

Mitsui Garden Hotel is a chain of hotels that provide comfortable, modern, and affordable stays. There's a total of 6 locations in Kyoto, so in case this one in Shijo area is booked out, the other ones are also quite central as  well. This one has large onsens/public baths, and on top of that the rooms are also a nice mix of traditional Japanese and modern western styles. I personally like the Shijo branch no only because of the location but also because of the super pretty lobby with goldfish wall art and lanterns. 

🏨 Hotel Recommendations for Families & Big Groups:

Machiya Fukune is a group of 4 traditional Japanese houses (Machiyas) renovated for a hotel-like stay experience. The houses accommodate up to 5 people and you can also book the houses next to each other if you have 5+ people. Each house has a hot tub for an onsen experience and also both Japanese tatami rooms with futon beds as well as western style beds. Expect to pay about ¥50k a night for the entire house. The one displayed on top is the house called "Kinsho)

Kyoisuke is an old Japanese house (Machiya) renovated into a hotel-like stay experience which accommodates up to 6 adults + 3 kids. There are 2 large rooms upstairs with both western beds and tatami floor for futon beds. There's an rooftop outdoor onsen bath area as well. You can book out the entire house for under ¥60,000 per night. 

Bucket list Autumn Spots & How Crowded They Get

For all of these locations, I wont' be describing too much about their location, background story, opening hours, or anything else you can easily google. Instead I will be focusing on how crowded it gets as that is one of the biggest concerns when traveling in Kyoto. 

πŸ—Ί Google maps of every location pinned is at the end of this blog post. 

πŸŽ‹ Arashiyama Area is on the west side of Kyoto city. It takes about 20-30mins to get to from Kyoto Station, and there are 3 different train stations you can use. There is so much to see in Arashiyama area, so if it's your first time in Kyoto, I would allocate an entire day. I've only listed the top 5 most photogenic spots, however there's plenty of other places to see in Arashiyama. You can also rent a kimono, the process of getting dressed takes about an hour.

1. Togetsu Bridge: quiet before 9am, starts to get crowded after and is at peak crowds around noon and early afternoon.
2. Hozugawa River, boat tours: Boat tours start at 9am, same situation as #1. 
3. Park Observation Deck: relatively quiet as it's a little hike up lots of stairs and slopes. You can see Hoshinoya Hotel in the photo. 
4. Bamboo forest: get there for sunrise as this is one of the most iconic spots to photograph. My photo was taken at 6:30am in 2017/pre-pandemic and there was a small group of photographers already. Tripods are okay, although if there's a crowd please be respectful and put the tripod away. Getting into other people enjoying the spot is frowned upon, and also there will be locals jogging so please don't disrupt daily life. Also, carving and climbing on the bamboos is strictly prohibited
5. Somekobo Yumeyusai 塐山 η₯ζ–ŽδΊ­: Reservations only spot, 11/19~11/30 is special autumn time viewing and reservations/entry starts at 8am and lasts till 7pm which will have a special night time light up (sunset is usually 5pm). Use this site to book, it's in Japanese only so please use the google chrome auto translate function.  You are limited to a 30min visit for each time slot. I arrived at the 8am booking and it was packed! Floors are covered in Tatami so please do not use tripods as it damages the floor. You can ask another visitor to assist with photos if needed. Entry is ¥2,000 per person per 30mins.

πŸ’› North Kyoto: For whatever reason, I felt like the spots I visited in North Kyoto had a lot more Gingko trees. The bright golden yellow is so beautiful. 

1. Kitano Tenmangu: Their maple valley garden is an extra ¥1,000 to enter however it's pretty spectacular and worth it. They do not accept bookings, please show up on the day of. Arrive right when it opens to avoid crowds. Tripods are ok as long as they don't block other visitors. 
  • 2022 Maple garden hours: 10/29~12/4, 9am-4pm (3:40pm last entry)
  • 2022 Night time light up: 11/12 ~ 12/4, sunset - 8pm (7:40pm last entry) 
  • Official website linked here
2. Kawai Jinja (Beauty shrine with Face ema): they also have a large ginkgo tree, but most importantly their wooden plaques are wishes for beauty. It's too cute to miss out on! Shrine hours are 6:30am-5pm, the shrine office opens at 9am. 
3. Shimogamo Jinja: This is a pretty large shrine with both ginkgo and maple trees. It has a red bridge and small river below where you can go to dip your water fortune paper in. The shrine grounds are large so it doesn't get overly crowded. 
4. Kinkakuji: This is a world renowned spot so it will be crowded and there will be large tour groups. However the photo I took is from a spot where there is a barrier rope, if you squat down at a low angle, the photo is easy to get! It's shot on my phone too. No tripods or monopods are allowed in Kinkakuji at all times. 

πŸ’– North East Kyoto: this area is famous for the iconic Eikando Temple which has spectacular autumn leaves and light up as well. 

1. Eikando Zenrinji: This temple opens at 9am-4pm for day time visits and 5:30-8:30pm for night time light up (11/5~12/4 for 2022).  It will be crowded no matter when you go, the crowds are as intense as Kiyomizu Temple. But it is iconic and a must visit. Tipods, monopods, selfie sticks are strictly prohibited. Make sure you visit the inside of the buildings. There's all kinds of small gardens and window views of maple trees that are beautiful inside.
2. Nanzenji Temple: Just nearby Eikando, this temple is also a very popular spot. It's opened 8:40am-5pm, however I believe you can freely go just outside the entrance at any hour. By 8:40am the place will already be crowded, so go earlier than opening. Tripods, monopods are not allowed. Wearing costumes or modelling photoshoots are also strictly prohibited. 
3. Okazaki Shrine (Bunny shrine 🐰): Though this shrine doesn't have as much autumn leaves, it's a super cute shrine that's nearby #4 and it doesn't get too crowded. 
4. Shinnyodo temple: There's a little maple forest in this temple and it does get crowded throughout the day, but not as bad as other locations. Going there around mid-day is still fine. Tripods and photoshoots are not allowed, even for personal non-commercial shoots. My photo was taken swiftly by placing my phone on the ground and I didn't linger with posing and blocking other people visiting. I would suggest to take photos discreetly and quickly. 

🧑 Kiyomizudera area: Not only does this area have many iconic spots, it is also perfect for souvenir shopping and a snack or a meal. I would allocate at least half a day in this area if possible. 

1. Kodaiji Temple: This is another very iconic temple which will be crowded no matter the hours. Tripods aren't allowed, however it does have a bamboo grove if you don't have time to make it to arashiyama. 2022 light up dates: 10/21~12/11 (night time light up 5-10pm,  9:30pm last entry). Day time visits 9am-5pm.

2. Hokanji Pagoda & Kyoto Coffee: This road is an iconic spot you'll see in many guidebooks  and websites. There are no open/closing hours so go at sunrise for a good clean shot without people. Kyoto Coffee is just nearby if you are still there around 10am (On maps it's called Nittodo & Kyoto Cafe, closed on Tue/Wed). 

3. Ninenzaka, Sannenzaka Shopping streets: similar to #2 where Hokanji is located, this street does not have open and closing hours. If you wish to have a photo with no one in it, I'd suggest to come at sunrise. The shops generally start to open around 10-11am or so. There are lots of sweets and souvenirs. Check out the latest and hottest cafe "kumonocha" and also "Maccha House". 
4. Kiyomizudera + Jishujinja (Love shrine): Kiyomizudera has banned photoshoots for personal and commercial usage during non-opening hours, even if it's outside the gates. So you are not allowed to rise early and take photos in front of the temple. The temple opens at 6am, and between Nov 18- Nov 30 there will be night time light up until 9:30pm. The light comes on around 6pm, so light up is 6-9:30pm. I would suggest to go just close to sunset, so you can see both day and night time (I was there from 4:30pm - 6:30pm). The viewing deck will be very very busy, so go get your spot as soon as the sun sets. Staff will slowly guide each row to the front and you get a few seconds to take photos. Lingering, using tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed. 

πŸ’œ Other notable spots: these other spots aren't really anywhere near the places grouped above, so they have been put here in this section. All of them are spectacular and worth a visit! 

1. Toji Temple: This is a UNESCO world heritage site (founded in year 796, that's over 1,200 years old!) Night time light up for 2022 is from 10/29~12/11 (6pm-9:30pm, last entry 9pm) with ¥1,000 entry fee. Temple is opened from 5am and free to enter during day time. Tripods are ok since grounds are very large, however during the evening light up it is very very crowded. The line to get inside the temple stretched for the entire block of road outside and continued inside the temple. 

2. Shorinji (Hanachozu and Umbrella display): this is a small temple packed with lots to see, from flower basin to a Japanese garden full of autumn leaves and Japanese umbrellas. The also have beautiful Goshuin (proof of visit to temple) if you collect them. There are several temples with the same name so don't confuse them. This one is in Kyoto near JR Tofukuji Station. Autumn visit this year is 11/12~12/4 (10am-4pm). There is no light up for 2022. 

3. Daigoji Temple: This is an absolutely beautiful spot but it's also very popular amongst photographers. It's on the southeast side of Kyoto near Daigo Station. During the day it's opened from 9am-5pm (¥1,000). I arrived just before 9am to avoid the crowds and there was about maybe 3 groups of people doing a shoot. Tripods are ok however the lake is quite large so it's difficult to shoot across the lake. 2022's autumn light up is from 11/18~12/4 from 6pm-8:50pm and entry is 
¥1,000. You can make a reservation for early entry at 5:45pm and it costs 
¥1,300. The website is only in Japanese though. 

4. Komyoji (Nagaokatenjin station): This temple is on the southwest side of Kyoto in Nagaokakyo City. It is by far the most competitive Autumn leaves photography spot out of this entire list. No tripods or monopods allowed. Entry to the autumn leaves tunnel is from 11/15~12/4 between 9am-4pm and costs ¥1,000. I got there 15mins before opening and there was a long line of elderly photographers in front of me. As soon as they opened, everyone dashed for the maple tunnel. There was even an agreement and leader amongst the first group. We stopped every 3 meters so people could pause and take a photo of the scenery without other people walking in. Then when everyone agrees, we would move another 3 meters, until finally reaching the white curtain gate. Since no tripods were allowed, I found another photographer in the group to ask if he could take photos for me. The umbrella I brought was also very helpful as a prop. Everyone wanted to snap a photo of my umbrella, so in exchange of letting everyone take photos of it, I excused myself to get into the photo afterwards and everyone was happy! 

5. Bishamondo Temple: This is another crowded one, and they do have stairways with a carpet of maple leaves on the floor. However they had already swept up the leaves when I got there so I didn't get any photos. This spot gets very crowded and is popular amongst the elderly. It's quite the hike and climb up, but the views are well worth it. The goshuin is also out of this world, super beautiful! Though you do have to purchase the goshuin book from their temple in order to receive a goshuin. You can visit the inside of the building and I highly recommend it as that's where the beautiful spots are! 

🍸🍴 Restaurant and Bar recommendation in Gion Shijo Area

🍢 Gion Yuki (Izakaya): If you want an authentic Izakaya experience, go to Gion Yuki and go there early! After 7pm you can expect to wait 30-60mins for a spot as the place is packed. I'd only recommend this for groups of 1-2 people as they require reservations otherwise. The menu is all in Japanese calligraphy with no pictures, so you can ask for an English menu if you can't read Japanese. There are so many types of sake on offer, and their seafood is superb, especially the oysters from hokkaido and sea urchin. I love it for the lively atmosphere, the location, and also the quality of food.

🐝 Bee’s Knees (Speakeasy cocktail bar): this bar is hidden behind a mysterious door in a back street. But this bar is on the Asia's Top 50 Bars list and the bartender is well establish. His English is also excellent and he is very well travelled so even if you are there alone, you can chit chat with him. (If you show him my Instagram profile he'll definitely recognise me as this is my go-to spot every Kyoto trip I take). 

Google Maps of Everything

I really hope that this blog post will help you take the most spectacular autumn trip to Kyoto! Please show your support by following me on instagram or visit my kofi page for wallpaper downloads 

No comments:

Post a Comment