Koyo in Kyoto

Made even more picture-worthy and beautiful thanks to autumn colours, Kyoto in Japan is a wonderful destination for a trip later in the year.

Although Kyoto is delightful during spring’s cherry blossom season, autumn is also a fantastic time to explore this historic city. As well as traditional streets lined with restaurants, museums and tea houses, the attractions in and around the city really come alive towards the end of the year.

Known as ‘koyo’ in Japanese, Kyoto’s season of autumnal leaves starts in October and runs until mid-December. Views of temples and shrines become even more enchanting as they’re set against picturesque flame-coloured leaves. It provides the perfect opportunity to pick up your camera, start your engine and explore this fascinating region of Japan.

Cover Credit: Toji Pagoda – SeanPavonePhoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Credit: Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Sean Pavone

This famous temple is built into the side of a cliff, featuring a wooden viewing deck which floats over a bed of striking crimson trees. Explore the site and you’ll find a waterfall as well as lovely views of the city in the distance. You can also visit at night during the second half of November, when the pretty leaves are illuminated by atmospheric lighting.

Kurama Onsen

There are several natural hot springs and open-air spas hidden away in the colourful forest-cloaked hills outside Kyoto. Kurama Onsen is one of them. You’ll find it in the Sakyo-ku area, near forest hiking routes and the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple. The heated outdoor pool is a lovely place to relax, unwind and enjoy the rainbow of leaves around you as you bathe in the warm waters.

Philosopher’s Walk

Follow the Philosopher’s Walk route and it will lead you past plenty of picturesque koyo scenes. Ginkakuji Temple, also known as the ‘Silver Pavilion’, is a good place to start. The 15th century Zen temple is immersed in gardens laden with bold red maple trees and there’s a trail leading to a look-out point too. Then, pick up the Philosopher’s Walk again which runs along the canal and all the way to Eikan Hall amid trees in warm tones.

Tofuku-ji Temple

Credit: Autumn red color leaves at Tofukuji temple – boonsom

With its fiery red trees reaching their peak towards mid-November, Tofuku-ji temple in the southeast of Kyoto is well worth a visit. Dating back to 1236, its grounds include Hojo Garden which is filled with a kaleidoscope of autumn colours glowing brightly in the seasonal sunshine. The view of Tsutenkyo Bridge set against vibrant maple leaves is especially beautiful.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Just outside Kyoto, this famous Shinto shrine dating back to 711AD features a series of iconic red vermillion torii gates. It hosts several harvest celebrations during October and November, including the ancient Hitaki-sai fire festival in the main shrine. As well as smaller shrines and fox statues, there are hiking trails too. They’ll lead you through the surrounding forests of Mount Inari, where you’ll be able to discover colourful koyo around the sprawling site.

Arashiyama

Credit: Sagano Bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto – Casey Yee/Creative Commons license

Don’t miss the Arashiyama Momiji Festival in November; a celebration of the season’s red leaves, where decorated boats float along the Oi River to the sounds of traditional music. Nearby Tenryu-ji Temple and its serene gardens is another popular place to admire the intense crimson-coloured maple trees. You’ll also find the beautiful Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in the area, where, in contrast to the other fiery forests, the towering bamboo trunks retain their fresh green hue.

Why not celebrate the change of seasons in Japan with a visit to some of Kyoto’s most iconic autumnal sites? You’ll have no trouble seeking out the bright red maple trees dotted about the city’s many points of interest. Take a drive and see the spectacular colours of nature surround shrines, spas and forest paths as you discover a whole wonderland of koyo around the city of Kyoto.