Top 10 Temples and Shrines for Koyo & Momiji in Kyoto

Kyoto is the ultimate autumn experience in Japan.

Autumn is the most picturesque time to visit Kyoto, as the city turns bright with fiery hues. To experience the best of the season, visit some of the most striking and enchanting displays of koyo (fall foliage) at the city’s many temples and shrines.

We start the list with some of the most famous temples — expect them to be crowded. Try visiting either very early in the day, or late, to avoid the worst of the crush. As the list goes on, these are some of the lesser-known fall destinations that may not be as packed with tourists. (Keep in mind: Estimated viewing times are approximate, depending on the weather and most temples have an entrance free ranging from ¥300 to ¥700.)

Eikan-do

The beautiful view can get crowded here.

For centuries this temple has been synonymous with momiji (maple trees) in autumn. Its exquisite gardens turn bright with color. Among the many beautiful buildings, the two-story pagoda is renowned for its view of the temple grounds and the city of Kyoto. Eikan-do’s popular nighttime light-up display runs from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the peak autumn period.

Tofuku-ji

Hojo (Abbot Hall) of Tofuku-ji Temple.

Hojo (Abbot Hall) of Tofuku-ji Temple.

It is hard to surpass the impact and expanse of Tofuku-ji Temple’s maple garden, which stretches across a valley traversed by bridges. The viewing route takes you not just through the trees but up above them, too, to peer down on a blanket of color. During the crowded peak season, photography from the main bridges over the valley is formally forbidden, and the temple opens early from 8:30 a.m.

Kiyomizu

Illuminated autumn leaves at Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto, Kansai

One of the most famous of Kyoto’s temples, Kiyomizu never fails to impress. In autumn, its main building sits atop a blaze of fiery-colored maple trees. Take advantage of its longer opening hours compared with other temples (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) to avoid the worst of the crowds. In the peak autumn season in the latter half of November, Kiyomizu holds a glorious nighttime illumination session that ends at 9 p.m.

Kodai-ji

kodaiji

Photo by: David Hsu The autumn illumination at Kodai-ji.

The extensive gardens here are designated as both a national historic site and a place of scenic beauty. A popular seasonal light-up display illuminates the autumn leaves and the bamboo grove and creates sparkling reflections in the ponds. A short projection-mapping show is laid onto the wide, sculpted Zen pebble garden.

  • Map
  • Closest bus stop: Higashiyama Yasui
  • Best time to view: mid-November to early December
  • http://www.kodaiji.com/e_index.html
  • Autumn light up: Oct. 19 to Dec. 9th, sunset to 9:30 p.m. (entrance cut-off time)

Enko-ji

Japanese zen garden during autumn at Enko-ji.

Along with the fiery hues of autumn, Enko-ji adds green to the palette via the shrubs and moss in its main garden and bamboo grove. The red carpet-lined view from the shoin study is picturesque, and gorgeous also when the leaves have fallen. Take the side path off the garden and up the hill to get a bird’s-eye view of the temple and the city.

Shinnyo-do

Shinnyo-do Temple.

Shinnyo-do Temple.

The hilltop location keeps the tour bus crowds at bay, helping maintain a sense of serenity here even during its busiest season. The grounds are modest in size but the various areas—the pagoda, the pond, and the quiet garden tucked away behind the main hall—provide a range of enchanting views. Leave by the back exit for a view of the nearby Higashiyama mountains.

Kitano Tenmangu

Colorful maple trees at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

The scenery at this shrine’s “Momiji-en” maple garden is unique: about 350 maple trees line the banks of a stonewalled gully and almost cover the sky in color. A curving red bridge midway along creates a great highlight for photos. During the evening light-up of the leaves the bright colors above are reflected in the stream below.

Daigo-ji

Daigoji, Kyoto, Japan

The iconic view of Daigo-ji Temple in autumn.

Key views at this world heritage site include a maple tree “tunnel” along the approach to the temple and the red-trimmed Bentendo hall at the pond’s edge. Somewhat shrouded in secrecy is the Sanboin and its garden, which features bright maple trees, but where photography is not allowed. For an extra fee, you can hike the forest path to the original temple grounds on the mountainside for a panorama that can stretch as far as Osaka.

Daikaku-ji

Illuminated garden of Daikakuji temple.

Illuminated garden of Daikakuji temple.

In both its gorgeous buildings and grounds, this temple retains the grandeur and expanse of its original function as a villa for Emperor Saga. The kilometer-wide artificial lake provides beautiful reflections of autumn leaves and of the two-tiered, vermillion pagoda that sits lakeside. .

Daitoku-ji

Koto-in is probably one of the most popular temples in Daitoku-ji.

This is a beautiful complex of more than 20 sub temples connected by stone-paved pathways and rows of pine trees. Among them, Koto-in Temple is known for its autumn colors, particularly its entranceway strewn with red leaves. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovation until the end of March 2019. Oubai-in also has a fantastic autumn display, but photography there is only allowed in its (free-to-enter) front garden, which is crowded with maple trees.

More on GaijinPot Travel…

  • All around Japan: travel.gaijinpot.com/japan-sightseeing-essentials/top-10-unknown-autumn-destinations-japan
  • Where to see fall foliage in Tokyo: travel.gaijinpot.com/japan-sightseeing-essentials/autumn-leaves-tokyo
  • Check out more autumn travel: travel.gaijinpot.com/category/autumn

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