Kyoto is one of my favorite cities not only in Japan but in the entire world. I love it as much as I love Paris or Madrid, or even my hometown — Istanbul. Over the last decade, I have visited Kyoto at least a dozen times, and I always look for reasons that would bring me back to the old capital of Japan. Luckily, every autumn koyo season in Japan gives me a perfect excuse to re-visit the city, and the fall colors in Kyoto never disappoint.
When is the Best Time to View the Fall Colors in Kyoto?
Fall colors in Kyoto appear at around the same time as Tokyo, from mid-November, reaching their peak towards the end of the month. Depending on the weather in a specific year, the last week of November is usually the best time to visit Kyoto for the autumn leaves viewing experience.
I often use the Kishou website to follow the forecast for the best autumn color viewing times within Japan including Kyoto.
My Favorite Places for the Fall Colors in Kyoto
Compared to Tokyo, most places in Kyoto — despite being home to almost 2,000 temples — can be more easily covered on foot. I often start my days very early to visit Kyoto Imperial Palace Park and then move onto the more famous temples around their opening time for a more intimate koyo viewing experience.
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park: Enjoy the Koyo Season with Locals
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, as the name suggests, is home to the Imperial Palace that hosted Japan’s imperial family until the late 19th century, when Tokyo replaced Kyoto and became Japan’s new capital. The park is embraced today by Kyoto’s people who bike through the park in the early morning to commute to work or school.
This vast park sitting in a very convenient location always feels a little underrated in its scenic beauty. It is almost condemned to be overshadowed by hundreds of other touristic landmarks located in Japan’s one of the most visited cities. But the Imperial Palace Park, which is home to many different pockets featuring ginkgo and maple trees, is one of the best places to view the fall colors in Kyoto. It is also the perfect place to escape the crowds.
|Entrance Fee: Free|
|Opening Days & Hours: Open year-round|
|Nearest Station: Imadegawa or Marutamachi Stations|
|Transportation: It takes approximately 7 minutes from Kyoto Station to Marutamachi Station or 20 minutes to Imadegawa Station.|
Enkou-ji Temple: The Most Elegant Temple in Kyoto
During my last koyo viewing trip to Kyoto, I visited Enkou-ji Temple twice, once in the afternoon and once early in the morning, right after it opened its doors to the visitors at 9 am. The temple, built in 1861, is a great place to experience the picture-perfect autumn leaves scenery merged with Kyoto temples’ eloquent but modest architecture.
Although most visitors rightfully have a hard time leaving the main grounds of the temple and its serene atmosphere, I highly recommend you climb the stairs leading to the upper grounds for a little more intimate fall colors viewing experience. The temple requires reservation (along with a 1,000 yen fee) via the Enkouji Temple website for visits during the autumn colors viewing season.
|Entrance Fee: Adults 500 yen|
|Opening Days & Hours: 9:00 – 17:00; Special viewing period: 11/12 (Fri.) – 12/5 (Sun.) Gates open 8:00 – 17:00|
Admission: Adults 1,000 yen
|Nearest Station: 8-minute walk from Ichijoji Station|
|Transportation: It takes approximately 35 – 45 minutes depending on connecting trains and buses from Kyoto Station to Ichijoji Station.|
Anrakuji Temple: Hidden Autumn Viewing Spot with a Picturesque Entrance Gate
Since Anrakuji Temple does not often make it to the top ten spots for the fall colors in Kyoto, it is usually less busy than most other temples in Kyoto during the koyo season. The gatekeepers at the temple, which is opened only during certain periods (including weekends during koyo viewing season based on the Anrakuji Official Website schedule), will be happily welcome you.
Anrakuji Temple is located within a few minutes walking distance from Philosopher’s Path. The temple, which is smaller than the other temples in this list, rightfully earns its spot in the list of my favorite autumn foliage viewing spots in Kyoto with its picturesque and thatch-roof entrance gate.
|Entrance Fee: Adults: 500 yen|
|Opening Days & Hours: 10:00 – 16:00|
|Nearest Station: 15-minute walk from Shinyodo-mae bus stop|
|Transportation: It takes approximately 30 minutes by train and bus from Kyoto Station to Shinyodo-mae bus stop.|
Eikan-do Temple: Experience the Fall Colors Day and Night
Eikan-do Temple is among the most popular autumn color viewing spots in Kyoto. Fortunately, the temple occupies a large area, allowing for a peaceful koyo viewing experience, especially early in the morning or late afternoon. You can also visit the temple at night during the autumn season when the illumination event is on. You can check the Eikan-do Temple’s website for the latest illumination event calendar.
Given its popularity and the associated maintenance requirements, there is a 1,000 yen (600 yen outside the autumn season) entrance fee to enter the temple during the autumn colors viewing season. However, with its picturesque Hojo Pond, Tahoto Pagoda, and numerous halls, you may well end up spending hours in the temple grounds, which, in my view, is worth the fee.
|Entrance Fee: 600 yen|
|Opening Days & Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (Registration closes at 16:00)|
Special viewing period: Temple Treasure Exhibition, November 6, 2021 (Sat) – December 5, 2021 (Sun), 9:00 – 16:00 (Registration and gate closes at 17:00), Admission: 1,000 yen
Light-up (Amida Hall and Garden only), November 6, 2021 – December 5, 2021, 17:30 – 20:30, (Registration closed, Lights out and gates close at 21:00), Admission: 600 yen
|Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Nanzenji-Eikando-michi bus stop or 10-minute walk from Keage Station.|
|Transportation: It takes approximately 40 minutes by bus from Kyoto Station to Nanzenji-Eikando-michi or 17 minutes by train to Keage Station.|
Suirokaku Water Bridge: Architectural Wonder in Roman Style
It took me many visits to Kyoto to accidentally end up at Suirokaku Water Bridge located near the famous Nanzenji Temple. The aqueduct was built in 1890 to carry water from the nearby Lake Biwa to the city of Kyoto.
Suirokaku, which looks like a scene from a painting as a background to a blanket of fall colors, reminded me of my home city, Istanbul, once the beating heart of the Roman Empire, with its Roman-style architecture.
|Entrance Fee: Free|
|Opening Days & Hours: Open year-round|
|Nearest Station: Keage Station|
|Transportation: It takes approximately 17 minutes by train from Kyoto Station to Keage Station.|
Access to the Autumn Colors Destinations in Kyoto
All of my favorite places for koyo fall colors in Kyoto are all within reach in under an hour by train or bus from Kyoto Station.
Some of these places are already popular (like Enkou-ji Temple and Eikan-do Temple) but do not be discouraged by the crowds — they are very popular for all the valid reasons. After all, you can always run away to Kyoto Imperial Palace Park for a more secluded autumn-viewing experience. These are my favorite places for fall colors in Kyoto that I find myself repeatedly drawn to. Koyo is a great season to re-appreciate this uniquely elegant city and understand why it is a classic destination that will never fall out of fashion.