Autumn in Kyoto is a special time. Granted that any time of year is beautiful in Kyoto, but fall is especially lovely. Let's find out what makes the old capital such a foliage-charmer during this colorful time of year.

Kyoto’s best autumn leaves

Get your camera ready! Here are our top picks for places to see the koyo or colored leaves in Kyoto:

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Renowned for their springtime cherry blossom, Kiyomizu-dera Temple with its high deck views and long history may also be the #1 spot to hit for those famous autumn leaves. It will definitely be crowded but it will also prove to be a gorgeous autumn experience. Try to avoid the rush of crowds by visiting in the very early morning or on weekdays.

Kiyomizu burns bright in autumn
Kiyomizu burns bright in autumn (Photo: Siegfried Ehret / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Kiyomizu-dera Temple
音羽山 清水寺 4.6 10 Reviews
  • 1-294 Shimizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
  • 6:00 - 21:00 (Closed now)
  • ¥200 - ¥400

2. Tofuku-ji Temple

With a similar ambiance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Tofuku-ji Temple will entrance you with its canopy of crimson and gold leaves. You'll be able to see the surrounding forest from the observation deck. Once you've admired the trees from above be sure to go for a walk through the grounds for yet another charming view.

Tofuku-ji floats above a sea of crimson
Tofuku-ji floats above a sea of crimson (Photo: Cathy Cawood | JT)

Tofukuji temple
東福寺
  • 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
  • 8:30 - 16:30 (Closed now)

3. Tenryuji Temple and Sogenchi Garden

If you’re searching for a bit of meditation and solitude this autumn, you could do worse than a visit to Tenryuji Temple and Sogenchi Garden on its premises. This pay-to-enter area is praised for its pure atmosphere. The colored leaves reflecting on the garden pond and the distant colored leaves of Arashiyama make for a beautiful sight. Travel even farther to visit the nearby Kameyama Park and take a stroll through the leaves or the Arashiyama Monkey Park to see the red-faced primates also enjoying the autumn foliage.

Tenryu-ji Temple makes for a beautiful rendezvous
Tenryu-ji Temple makes for a beautiful rendezvous (Photo: chee hong / CC BY 2.0)

Tenryu-ji
天龍寺 5 2 Reviews
  • 68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga-Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
  • 8:30 - 17:00 (Closed now)
  • ¥500

4. Nanzen-ji Temple

The autumn leaves surrounding Nanzen-ji Temple’s rock garden make for a lovely contrast and create a space of ultimate Zen. Nearby, you’ll find an aqueduct overgrown with plants and moss, which become a perfect centerpiece for another scene of autumn with its red-brick arches ensconced by autumn leaves. This temple is also famous for its autumn night illumination.

Nanzen-ji's famous brick arches
Nanzen-ji's famous brick arches (Photo: Masayoshi Hirose | JT)

Nanzenji Temple
南禅寺
  • 606-8435 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Nanzenji Fukuchicho, 86
  • 8:45 - 17:00 (Closed now)

5. Shinnyo-do Temple

Picturesque pagodas framed by vermilion leaves and a stone walkway – this is what awaits at Shinnyo-do Temple in autumn. This little known gem remains uncrowded despite its autumnal beauty and lets visitors enjoy a leisurely walk unobstructed by crowds. Being only a 20-minute walk from Ginkaku-ji puts this spot on the must-see for autumn leaves.

Shinnyo-do's pagoda makes a great silhouette against the foliage
Shinnyo-do's pagoda makes a great silhouette against the foliage (Photo: Patrick Vierthaler / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Autumn events in Kyoto

While you're in Kyoto for the leaves, don't miss out on these other autumn events. Do remember to check the current status of these events in case of scheduling changes due to weather or Covid-19.

1. Kodai-ji Autumn Illumination

From late October to early December, guests to Kodai-ji Temple can slip into a fantasy world of illuminated trees spun from gold reflected in serene ponds like an oil painting on a black canvas. The light-up begins after sunset and goes until 9:30 pm. Be on the lookout for their special projection mapping events for an even more spectacular sight.

The autumn illumination creates a different world than that of day
The autumn illumination creates a different world than that of day (Photo: Hannah Sy | JT)

2. Gion Odori

Maybe not a famous autumn vista but it is indeed a famous autumn event. The Gion Odori showcases Kyoto's traditional maiko and geiko dances and music. This event is usually held in early November for ten days at Gion Kaikan near Yasaka and it is definitely a testament to the lifestyle and rigorous training that these ladies endure for their art.

Gion Odori offers a different take on Kyoto's autumn
Gion Odori offers a different take on Kyoto's autumn (Photo: Nullumayulife / CC BY 2.0)

3. Kobo-san Market

The Kobo-san Market is held on the 21st of every month but it reaches huge sizes during autumn, making this the perfect time to snag a deal. Held at To-ji Temple, the market is named to honor the anniversary of To-ji Temple's founder. This day sees the usually austere temple grounds transformed into a bustling market of wares; from kimono to plates to stationery to geta sandals, you can find just about anything!

Kobo-san Market gives passerbys some great fall deals
Kobo-san Market gives passerbys some great fall deals (Photo: peter-rabbit / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Autumn foods

Of course, what is autumn in Japan without some seasonal foods. Be sure to try these autumn dishes that Kyoto specializes in:

1. Kyoto matsutake mushrooms

These admittedly expensive mushrooms have been beloved in Kyoto for centuries. They grow under red pine trees, ergo the name matsutake or “pine mushroom”. These rich and smoky mushrooms are typically used in broths or cooked in rice to bring out their full flavor. Unable to be cultivated, matsutake are all harvested in the wild. Be on the lookout for matsutake gohan, tempura, or matsutake dobin mushi if you want to try these autumn Kyoto dishes.

Dobin mushi for a light umami meal
Dobin mushi for a light umami meal (Photo: 小草 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. Kuri gohan

The subtle sweetness of chestnuts is a hugely popular autumn treat all around Japan but kuri gohan or “chestnut rice” is a traditional Kyoto dish that dates back to long ago. Although roasting and peeling the chestnuts can be a laborious task, the final product is well worth the time. Sometimes, the dish is served with black sesame seeds or even a sticky-sweet sauce of sugar and soy sauce.

Kuri meshi or rice gives diners a sweet experience
Kuri meshi or rice gives diners a sweet experience (Photo: Naru-W / CC BY-SA 3.0)

3. Mizuna hotpot

This dish can be vegan or include meat for the carnivores out there. Mizuna is a type of locally grown leafy green also called Japanese mustard greens. It has a piquant and mild pepper flavor that lends itself well to use in soups and broths, making it perfect for hotpot. If you're lucky, your hotpot will also have some of those rare and delicious matsutake mushrooms in it too.

Mizuna hotpot will refresh you and warm you all at once
Mizuna hotpot will refresh you and warm you all at once (Photo: Masafumi Iwai / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Autumn in Kyoto: What to expect

The weather in Kyoto in autumn is much milder than the summer and just before the chilling sting of winter arrives. But most importantly, with the arrival of autumn comes those gorgeous colored leaves known as koyo. Look forward to temperatures between 23ºC and 28ºC.

Mid-November is generally the best time to see the colored leaves, but they begin changing from mid-October and usually last until mid-December. Be prepared for some crowds during peak season, especially at the more popular spots.

Autumn is generally one of the more popular times of the year for visits to Kyoto and for this reason, it is wise to book further ahead when it comes to accommodation and transport arrangements.