Reasons to Spend Autumn in Kyoto

Reasons to Spend Autumn in Kyoto

A city famed for its spring blooms, tranquil gardens, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, Kyoto was the ancient capital of Japan before Tokyo took the title in 1868. Located on Japan’s largest and most populous island, Honshu, the city is the cultural cradle of the country – boasting 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites – and is a non-negotiable on any itinerary. But when is the best time to visit Kyoto? Each season has its own draw, but autumn’s colours, culture and cuisine might just be the most enticing. Discover our top five reasons to spend autumn in Kyoto…


1. Admire fantastic foliage
2. See temples and shrines after dark
3. Attend festivals 
4. Enjoy balmy weather
5. Tuck into seasonal cuisine


Admire fantastic foliage

While spring’s cotton candy cherry blossoms often steal the spotlight, autumn’s vibrant foliage is just as breathtaking. A carpet of fiery bronze, crimson and amber leaves line Kyoto’s streets, temples and shrines between mid-October and early December. The best time to see the phenomenon known as koyo is mid-November, but be sure to check the foliage forecast (yep, it’s a real thing) beforehand. Some of the top places to admire the autumnal leaves in all their glory include the temples of Kiyomizu-dera, Tofuku-ji and Shinnyo-do. Wind past picturesque pagodas and peaceful pools as you marvel at the caramelised colours; momojigari (or maple leaf hunting) is a must-do while spending autumn in Kyoto.

Image by Jérôme Galland


See temples and shrines after dark

Visit Kyoto in autumn to discover some of the city’s most famous temples and shrines after dark. Opening their doors during the twilight hours, visitors can wonder at the ornate, ancient structures and their flaming foliage illuminated against the night sky. Admire the buildings in a new light (see what we did there?) as the brilliant colours become amplified in the gloom. This magical spectacle is one of the top reasons to spend autumn in Kyoto, and we recommend heading to temples such as Kodai-ji, Byodoin, To-ji, and Tofuku-ji for an unforgettable evening. Spaces are limited at the sought-after autumn illuminations, so make sure to snap up tickets in advance (we can help with that).


Attend festivals

Kyoto’s calendar is jam-packed with festivals and events all year round, and autumn is no exception. One of the most significant is the Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of the Ages, which occurs annually on 22 October. Marvel at the procession of people dressed in outfits from every historical period as they travel from the Imperial Palace to the Heian-Jingu shrine. For evening theatrics, head to the mountain village of Kurama for the Fire Festival. Join the jubilant crowds and catch a 30-minute train in time for the flaming torch parade held to honour the Yuki-Jinja shrine, followed by some drinks around the bonfire. Another must-see event is the Gion Odori, an annual geisha dance showcase from the Gion Higashi district. The only event of its kind held in the autumn, the November performances are an intimate affair at which to admire maiko (apprentice geisha) and geiko (geisha) traditions. For the ultimate cultural experience, why not attend a traditional tea ceremony before the show?

Image by Véronique Durruty


Enjoy balmy weather

The beauty of shoulder-season travelling means milder temperatures. While sweltering summer temperatures often exceed 30°C, autumn in Kyoto is blessed with cooler (yet still pleasant) weather. Temperatures hover around the mid-20s during September and October, meaning travellers can wander the labyrinthine streets and wooden buildings of the historic Higashiyama district without constantly seeking shade. Although temperatures drop off slightly in November (it’s still warmer than the UK), it’s a far cry from the biting chill of winter. This is the optimum season for walking through the beautiful Arashiyama Bamboo Grove or discovering Kyoto’s surrounding nature on hikes. One of the most beautiful trails winds through the Kiyotaki River Valley, shrouded in vermillion and chartreuse foliage.


Tuck into seasonal cuisine

Kyoto’s cuisine is mouthwatering at any time of the year, but autumn welcomes distinct (and delicious) flavours into the mix. Indulge in rice dishes and sukiyaki (a Japanese hot pot) championing the highly sought-after matsutake mushrooms—in season between September and December—but only if you can stomach the high price tag. Other specialities include sanma, or Pacific saury, known as the autumn swordfish, thanks to its seasonal abundance and knife-like appearance. Travellers in September can also take advantage of the warm temperatures and partake in kawayuka (or kawadoko), the experience of dining outdoors on platforms built over flowing water. Autumn in Kyoto isn’t complete without trying wagashi, Japanese sweets most often served alongside matcha green tea. Satisfy your sweet tooth with this combination, offered at Kyoto’s shrines and temples during autumn, and make sure to sample seasonal wagashi favourites such as chestnut parfait and pumpkin cake.

Image by Zoe Fidji

Written by Hannah Whitehall | Header image by Jérôme Galland