When is the Best Time to Visit Kyoto?

Kyoto Travel Guide by the seasons

Deciding when to visit Kyoto depends a lot on what you hope to experience! One of the country’s attractions has to do with how distinct each season is, so the way you see the imperial capital may change a lot: cherry blossoms in spring, vibrant festivals in summer, spectacular foliage in autumn, and eerily beautiful snowscapes in winter. 

Whether you’re drawn to the pink panoramas of sakura, the lively summer matsuri, the golden hues of ginkgo trees, or the tranquil hot springs surrounded by snow, understanding the unique charms of each season can greatly enhance your visit. Undoubtedly, Kyoto is strikingly beautiful no matter when you visit, so here we provide some help to decide by introducing some of the main attractions that await you in Kyoto in each season!

Check also our seasonal guides for Japan: 

When is the Best Time to Visit JAPAN??

Japan by Month: The Best Time to Visit Japan

Spring in Kyoto

Spring in Kyoto is a breathtaking season marked by a flourishing of color and tradition. As cherry blossoms blanket the city in pink, the historical and cultural backdrop of Kyoto adds a unique depth to the viewing experience. The city’s numerous shrines, temples, and traditional gardens become the stage for both quiet reflection and vibrant celebration.

With a calendar full of festivals and special events, spring in Kyoto not only celebrates the fleeting beauty of sakura but also reconnects locals and visitors alike with Japan’s ancient heritage in a most enchanting setting!

More info: Best Things to Do in Kyoto in Spring

These are the highlights of the spring in Kyoto:

Cherry Blossom Viewing

Sakura in Kiyomizudera
Sakura in Kiyomizudera

Experience the splendor of cherry blossoms in Kyoto at iconic locations like Kiyomizudera Temple, renowned for its expansive views, and Maruyama Park, popular for its nighttime illuminations. A ride on the Sagano trolley offers a unique perspective with its path through picturesque landscapes adorned with blossoms.

More info: 15 Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Cultural Events

Aoi Matsuri
Aoi Matsuri

Engage with Kyoto’s heritage at the Nijo Castle Sakura Festival, featuring light-ups and cultural performances. The Oukasai at Hirano Shrine showcases historical reenactments, while Aoi Matsuri is an excellent opportunity to see parades that fully recreate Heian-era costumes.

Floral Festivities

Plum blossoms in Kitano Tenmangu
Plum blossoms in Kitano Tenmangu

Kitano Tenmangu and Nagaoka Tenmangu shrines are must-visits for their floral displays, particularly during the plum and azalea seasons. Hanezu Odori in Kyoto is another famous festival that celebrates plum blossoms with traditional dances.

Nighttime Illuminations

Toji Temple Light Up during sakura season
Toji Temple Light Up during sakura season

During sakura season, many shrines and temples as well as popular locations across Kyoto turn their enchanting lights for a magical evening. Places like Toji Temple, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine or Kiyomizudera Temple are some of the prime spots for springtime night illuminations.

Local Cuisine, Markets and Seasonal Foods

Nishiki MarketJump straight into Kyoto’s culinary scene at Nishiki Market, where you can sample an array of seasonal foods that reflect the local gastronomy, including unique sweets and snacks.

Check also the best things to do in Kyoto each month during Spring!

10 Best Things to Do in Kyoto in March

10 Best Things to Do in Kyoto in April

10 Best Things to Do in Kyoto in May

Summer in Kyoto

Kyoto is no exception to Japan’s daunting summerSummer in Kyoto is a vibrant fusion of cultural richness and natural beauty. The city comes alive under the warm sun, with lush greenery framing its historic temples and shrines. Festivals like the famous Gion Matsuri parade through the streets, showcasing elaborate floats and traditional garb, while the banks of the Kamo River invite locals and visitors to dine al fresco on raised platforms. 

Despite the heat, the atmosphere is electric, full of dance, music, and firework displays that light up the night sky, making Kyoto a profoundly dynamic place to experience the full energy of Japanese summer traditions.

More info: Best Things to Do in Kyoto in Summer

These are the highlights of the summer in Kyoto:

Gion Festival

Gion FestivalThe Gion Festival is a centerpiece of Kyoto’s summer, celebrated with a grand parade featuring ornate floats known as Yamaboko. These towering floats are a sight to behold, adorned with intricate tapestries. At night, the streets come alive during Yoiyama with lanterns that cast a warm glow, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Riverside Dining

Kawayuka terraces along Kamogawa RiverThe Kawayuka terraces offer a unique dining experience along the Kamogawa River. Here, you can savor meals from various cuisines while enjoying the cool riverside breeze, making for a delightful summer evening.

Nature and Gardens

Arashiyama Bamboo Groove
Arashiyama Bamboo Groove

Visit Tofukuji Temple to see the verdant summer maples or Kajuji Temple where the lotus ponds are in full bloom. These gardens provide a lush escape from the city’s hustle, showcasing nature’s vibrant colors and tranquil settings. Also, the bamboo grove in Arashiyama is not only visually stunning but also naturally cooling. Walking through this towering green tunnel, you’ll appreciate the whispering winds and the shade they provide.

Traditional Summer Attire

Summer YukataEnhance your Kyoto visit by purchasing or renting a Yukata, a lighter summer kimono. It’s particularly popular during summer festivals, allowing visitors to immerse themselves fully in the local culture and festivities.

Fireworks Festivals

Fireworks FestivalKyoto’s summer skies dazzle with fireworks festivals like Tango Yasaka and Kameoka Hozugawa. These events draw crowds with spectacular pyrotechnic displays that light up the night in a multitude of colors.

Cool Retreats

Kawadoko Restaurant in KyotoEscape the heat by visiting Kibune, a village famous for Kawadoko, riverside dining literally over the flowing waters, nature’s most perfect air contitioner! Kifune Shrine nearby is also a popular spot for a bit of spiritual solace amidst lush greenery.

Autumn in Kyoto

Autumn in Kyoto casts a spell with its fiery palette of red, orange, and yellow leaves. This season transforms the city into a canvas of breathtaking scenery, especially within its renowned temples and serene gardens. The cool, crisp air enhances the pleasure of exploring outdoor markets and participating in traditional tea ceremonies that reflect the season’s tranquility. 

Kyoto’s autumn also brings a host of festivals that celebrate the harvest and the historic culture of the region, offering a deeper connection to the timeless spirit of Japan amidst the spectacular fall foliage.

More info: Best Things to Do in Kyoto in Autumn & Best Places to Visit in Kyoto in Autumn

These are the highlights of the Autumn in Kyoto:

Autumn Leaves

Autumn leaves in Kinkakuji
Autumn leaves in Kinkakuji

The Beauty of Kyoto is definitely enhanced during Autumn with the spectacular display of warm colors that reaches everywhere, including some of the most iconic sights. Temples, shrines and gardens become tourist hotspots for the best autumn leaves views all over the city!

More info: Best Autumn Leaves Spots in Kyoto

Temple and Shrine Illuminations

Kiyomizudera Autumn Illumination

Autumn in Kyoto is famously celebrated with special nighttime illuminations at various temples and shrines, like Kiyomizudera and Toji, which showcase the vibrant autumn leaves against historic backdrops. Eikando Zenrin-jin is another much cherished spot to enjoy the beauty of autumn leaves after sunset.

Cultural Festivals

Jidai Matsuri costumes
Jidai Matsuri costumes

Experience local culture through events like the Jidai Matsuri, where historical reenactments parade through the streets, and the Kurama Fire Festival, which lights up the night with its fiery displays.

Natural Scenery

Philosopher's Path during Autumn
Philosopher’s Path during Autumn

Take leisurely walks along the Philosopher’s Path or enjoy the seasonal beauty from a different perspective with a riverboat cruise along the Hozugawa River, surrounded by colorful foliage.

Winter in Kyoto

Winter in Kyoto is a peaceful and contemplative season, marked by snow-dusted temples and steaming hot springs. The city quiets down from the bustling tourist seasons, revealing a peaceful, introspective side. Traditional events, like the stunning light-ups at Kiyomizudera, offer a magical evening view against the snow. 

Warmth can be found in the bustling markets and in seasonal delights like hot sake and comforting nabe stews. As Kyoto’s landscape transforms into a winter wonderland, visitors and locals alike partake in celebrations that light up the shorter days, creating a cozy atmosphere in this historic city.

More info: Best Things to Do in Kyoto in Winter

These are the highlights of the Winter in Kyoto:

Winter Onsen Retreats

Rotenburo or open air onsen

One of wintertime’s greatest pleasures is to relax at a hot spring and Kyoto’s winter charm shines at Kurama Onsen, offering a peaceful and refreshing escape with open-air baths amid snowy landscapes, ideal for recovering  and rejuvenating in a traditional Japanese hot spring setting.

Cultural Experiences

MatchaTake part in Japanese cultural activities, such as traditional tea ceremony or calligraphy and origami, providing a cozy indoor alternative on chilly days. You can also witness traditional kyudo archery competitions in January, including the visually stunning Omato competition at Sanjuusangendo, where participants aim to cleanse the soul for the new year. Or escape the cold by visiting Kyoto’s museums, such as the Samurai & Ninja Museum or the Kyoto National Museum, which offer rich cultural insights and indoor warmth.

Winter Sports

Oeyama Ski Resort
Oeyama Ski Resort

For the adventurous, Kyoto presents nearby skiing opportunities. Though less known for its slopes, resorts like Hirogawara or Oeyama Ski Resort will be right up the alley for ski enthusiasts, while Swiss Ski Village offers options for more experienced skiers.

Enjoy Winter Gastronomy

NabeSavor the warmth of Nabe, a popular Japanese hot pot dish, perfect for social gatherings and a tasty way to beat the winter chill. This is also the season for mochi pounding, a cherished winter tradition, and enjoy this sticky rice treat fresh, reflecting the seasonal spirit of togetherness and renewal.

New Year Celebrations

Yasaka Shrine on a snowy day
Yasaka Shrine in Winter

If you happen to be in Kyoto during the New Year festivities, then it’s the perfect opportunity to participate in Hatsumode, the first shrine or temple visit of the year, experiencing the festive atmosphere and traditional customs that welcome the new year in Kyoto.

Every season in Kyoto is distinctly beautiful, with its own charms and activities. Which season do you think suits you best? Hopefully this guide helped you to decide for your next visit!

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Written by

Photographer, journalist, and avid urban cyclist, making sense of Japan since 2017. I was born in Caracas and lived for 14 years in Barcelona before moving to Tokyo. Currently working towards my goal of visiting every prefecture in Japan, I hope to share with readers the everlasting joy of discovery and the neverending urge to keep exploring.