It is hard not to fall in love with this season when you are in Japan. As nature slowly unfolds its beauty, the ancient capital of Kyoto, with its abundance of temples and shrines, small rivers, and its narrow streets, becomes the one of the most desired destinations for locals and tourists alike.
You need only go for a short stroll anywhere in town to be presented with a wealth of photo opportunities. Do a bit more exploring, however, and you’ll be greeted by true seasonal splendors. Allow me to share with you my favorite spots—some more obvious, some hidden away off the beaten path—to appreciate the autumn leaves in all their glory.
One of Kyoto’s most famous tourist spots is truly a must-see during this special time of the year. As you walk up the narrow and winding streets leading up to the temple, you will not only catch a glimpse of colorful trees, but also the exquisite sight of people wearing kimonos that perfectly match the season. You might be tempted to fill up your camera’s memory card here, but make sure to leave some space as the highlight is just a few steps away—Kiyomizu-dera itself surrounded by all the colors of autumn. And while you’re there, why not take the time to immerse yourself in this spiritually and culturally significant place? You’re sure to come away with a deeper understanding of Buddhism and how it relates to Japanese daily life.
Known as “Tetsugaku no Michi” in Japanese, this popular local destination is named for Kitaro Nishida, a prominent philosopher who regularly traversed the route during his time at Kyoto University. Stretching some two kilometers alongside the Lake Biwa Canal, it passes small temples and shrines and through local neighborhoods. The tranquil path presents the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and is all the more photogenic when it takes on the vivid colors of autumn. Make sure you take your time, and follow the Philosopher’s Path to relax and find your inner calm, just as Kitaro Nishida did.
The banks of the Kamo River have long been a popular walking spot for local residents, and are growing more and more popular with visitors. With cafes and restaurants opening their balconies overlooking the river, you can grab a seat and enjoy traditional Kyoto cuisine while enjoying the beautiful view. Savor the change of seasons not just with your eyes, but also with your tastebuds, with autumn flavors and colors appearing on every menu and plate in town.
Tenryuji in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district is famous not only for its temple buildings, but also for its exquisitely crafted and meticulously maintained garden. A masterwork of the famous Zen master and landscape designer Muso Soseki, it stands in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Though the buildings have been destroyed in fires and rebuilt multiple times over the centuries, the garden itself is still as picture-perfect as when it was originally conceived. With its mirror pond reflecting the surroundings and the Arashiyama mountains for a backdrop, this enchanting landscape is not to be missed.
This famous wooden bridge crossing the Katsura River in the west of Kyoto offers incredible views of the Arashiyama mountains and their equally picture-perfect surroundings. It has been featured in movies, and anyone who visits will immediately understand why, as the sight is simply breathtaking—especially in autumn with the change of the leaves. Prepare yourself for a sea of red and golden hues and a panoramic view of the mountains that will leave you speechless.
One thing is for certain: Kyoto’s rich culture and traditions, historic architecture, and above all, its stunning natural beauty are sure to enchant any visitor. Personally speaking, every time I take a walk through its streets, I discover something new. What a magical time to visit this historic city—for me, autumn really is the most beautiful time of the year!