Mid to late November is a great time to make a trip to Kyoto. The temples are amazing, but the backdrop of brilliant fall colors, or Koyou, is STUNNING. An autumn trip to Kyoto is candy for the eyes and soul.
Two popular ways to arrive to Kyoto Station are by JR Shinkansen or Overnight Bus (such as Willer Express). Either way, once you arrive at the station, tourist information centers can help you with maps, routes, bus tickets – all in English. The ease of travel and Japanese hospitality will enhance your experience so you can focus on enjoying your destinations.
To get around, you will be using Kyoto’s bus system. ENTER in the BACK and pay as you EXIT in the FRONT. You must give exact change, but most people purchase an all-day city bus pass for 500 yen. You can buy this at the Kyoto Station or from the bus driver directly. The only sightseeing area not covered by the city bus pass is Arashiyama, which is worth paying extra for.
While on the bus, the stops are announced in multiple languages including English, so there are no worries as to when to get off. However, Koyou viewing does bring a crowd, so expect to squeeze in between people as you take the bus from one place to another.
If you get annoyed, think good thoughts and buy yourself an autumn treat, such as sweet potato soft serve ice cream, roasted chestnuts, or Dorayaki (a sweet sandwich consisting of two pancakes with red bean paste in between). But trust me… once you see the highly anticipated Autumn Leaves, all of the “hassles” will be worth it!
While autumn leaves will encompass you wherever you walk, there are some particular sights that shouldn’t be missed. Keep in mind that last entry to temples are one hour before closing.
Ponder life, admire beauty, and get inspired as you walk the Philosopher’s Walk, which runs north-south between Ginkaku Temple and Eikan Hall. This isn’t on most people’s top picks for autumn spots, but this path has a special place in my heart.
It’s a quiet and pleasant walk, especially at dawn. There are small temples on the path, and trees with nice color can be spotted on and around this walkway.
(free to walk)
Reachable by the Philosopher’s Path, this place is a color bomb! The entrance is a little pricey, but most people come here and take their time to walk around these massive grounds. Plenty to see and walk around, areas to take respite, and dozens of beautiful photo opportunities.
Autumn colors are usually best in late November or early December, when the temple is opened in the evening for special night time illuminations. (600 yen, 11/8 – 12/4, 5:30pm – 8:30pm).
(1000 yen entrance in autumn, 9am – 5pm)
One of the most popular temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple is built on a hillside and has a wooden viewing deck that puts you in the midst the fiery red tree tops. The deck gives visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance.
Not to be missed are the special nighttime illuminations in the second half of November. (400 yen, 11/14 – 12/7, 6:30pm – 9:30pm).
(300 yen entrance, 6am-6pm)
Like Kiyomizu Temple, you will be able to admire the autumn colors by staring directly at the tree tops. I was completely entranced by how bright the colors stood out, each tree competing for my attention. The leaves’ bright reds, yellows, and oranges play with your camera, so your photos look three dimensional.
(most of the grounds are free to enter and view Koyou, 400 yen for Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, 400 yen for Houjo Rock Garden, 8:30am-4:30pm in November)
This area is not covered by the city bus pass, so you will have to pay extra as you arrive. However, this destination is well worth it, as it is at least a half-day experience with hikes, walking paths, smaller temples, bridges, rivers, and just overall breathtaking scenery.
(220 extra on top of the city bus pass to reach this area)
Even without a particular spot to get to, Kyoto is lovely to just wander. You will see Koyou along the way, and you will create your own special path.