The Best Time to Visit Kyoto

Kyoto

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There’s no wrong time to go to Kyoto, with charm in every season, but the best times to visit this cultural capital are in the spring or the fall. October and November have long sunny days, mild temperatures, stunning colored leaf displays, and an abundance of seasonal food. March and April are ever popular with warming weather and delicate cherry blossoms. Both times are understandably crowded, so if you don’t mind missing the fall colors and sakura, Kyoto still has plenty to offer the rest of the year.

best time to visit kyoto
TripSavvy / Lara Antal

Weather in Kyoto

Kyoto can be quite cold in winter, with temperatures averaging around 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) from December to February, and occasional snow. It’s also dry, with heaters in many public places and old inns exacerbating the situation. Since so many of Kyoto’s attractions are outdoors and there is so much walking, it’s essential to wear warm layers during this season.

Spring brings an uptick in temperature, though it can still be brisk. With the advent of the cherry blossoms in late March and early April, this is Kyoto’s most popular season (along with fall leaf-peeping time). Though it’s warmer than winter, sakura season necessitates spending extended periods outdoors in parks and gardens, so gloves and an extra layer are recommended.

With June comes tsuyu, or rainy season, and this often lasts until mid-July. Expect torrential rain and even sometimes flooding. Come prepared with a rain jacket, boots, and an umbrella and be equipped with a Plan B involving a nice museum or other indoor activity in case Plan A is rained out.

July and August are characterized by extreme heat. Average temperatures hover around 80 degrees F (27 degrees C), and while that may not sound hot, the high humidity reduces many to a sweaty puddle. Japanese people don’t tend to dress scantily, but instead often wear loose, sun-protective clothing. Remember to hydrate, and consider alternate transportation to walking like taxis and power-assisted bicycles.

September and October mark typhoon season, and the region experiences at least a few per year. Expect strong winds and wet weather, including transportation delays and shop closures for the stronger storms.

Once the stormy weather passes, autumn settles in. October and November are temperate, with lots of bright, sunny days and temperatures averaging around 60 degrees F (15 degrees C). In late November, the trees start changing color, bringing brilliant yellows, reds, and oranges on the gingko, maple, and oak trees. This is light jacket weather, and it’s excellent for strolling and other outdoor activities.

Crowds and High Season

Kyoto is undeniably magnificent, but the secret is out, and it does get congested. Major tourist attractions get crowds that can resemble a rock concert, and it can put a pall on the quiet beauty of the place.
If you’re headed there during the high season, try to schedule your visits to the big sights (like Kiyomizudera, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, and Fushimi Inari Shrine) on a weekday, and better yet, in the early morning. By mid-morning, the tour buses will start pulling up and it can be hard to navigate.<br/>And it always pays to get a little lost, to allow time for wandering and discovery. Visiting quieter sites might not bring as many bragging rights, but the payoff–in time to enjoy at your leisure–will be huge.

Key Festivals and Events

At New Year, rather than parties, most people spend time at home with their families. However, going to pray for good fortune is a significant event, and at midnight on New Year’s Eve, people throng to major shrines and temples to do the symbolic “first visit” of the year.

In the spring, every park is filled with cherry blossoms, and under every tree, you’ll find picnickers and blossom hunters.

The fall foliage starts to blaze in mid to late October, reaching its zenith around mid-November. Maples, gingkos, oaks, and other trees put on their brightest colors to create a glorious tapestry that looks stunning against the backdrop of Kyoto temples and gardens.

January

January is cold and dry, with occasional snow. Outside of the first few days of the year (see New Year, above), this is the low season, with fewer crowds than other times of the year.

Events to check out:

  • Hatsumode takes place Jan. 1 through 3. Every shrine will have lots of visitors, but try welcoming the new year at Heian Shrine.

February

Another cold, clear month with a few days of rain or snow. Again, not many visitors, so if you hate crowds, this is a good month to visit.

Events to check out:

  • Feb. 3 is setsubun. This festival involves throwing beans at demons to keep the bad luck away. Many shrines host bean-throwing activities; try the one at Yasaka Shrine, which includes Kyoto geiko.

March

It’s starting to warm up, and the end of the month brings the first cherry blossoms. Tourists will begin to flood in to experience the pink wonderland, but it can still get quite cold, so don’t forget to bring layers.

Events to check out:

  • Late March kicks of hanami. A few favorite spots to enjoy the blooms are Maruyama Park and Kyoto Imperial Palace.
  • March 25 through April 7 is Kitano Odori. These traditional dances are performed by geiko (Kyoto’s name for geisha).

April

Cherry blossom season continues into the first week or so of April, and spring is in full swing, with warmer weather, some rain showers, and plenty of pollen. There are also loads of visitors, both domestic and international. Golden Week begins at the end of April.

Events to check out:

  • April 1 through 27 is Miyako Odori. Dances by Geiko and maiko (apprentice geiko) are performed three times a day at the Minamiza theater.

May

May is warm and balmy, with many sunny days and gardens in full glory. There is no shortage of tourists this month, especially in the first week, as it coincides with Golden Week, the string of national holidays from April 29 to May 5 that means that many Japanese people take a vacation during this time.

Events to check out:

  • Aoi Matsuri, on May 15, is a festival where a stately procession of actors dressed in Heian-period clothing parade from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines.

June

The weather in early June is warm and pleasant, feeling like late spring. Around mid or late June, the rainy season begins, with torrential downpours that can last days at a time. This is the shoulder season.

Events to check out:

  • Kifune Matsuri is on June 1. The Kifune Festival at Kifune Shrine is an homage to the water gods, a parade, and a sacred dance in costume.

July

As the rainy season subsides, the heat starts to set in, and along with it, the humidity. Expect to sweat and to seek air conditioning.

Events to check out:

  • Gion Matsuri, held on July 17, is Kyoto’s biggest festival. People congregate in the streets dressed in yukata and jinbei, eat street food, dance, and pull huge floats in the parade.

August

The heat and humidity continue unabated. Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Lots of people escape to the mountains or seaside this month, or go to their hometowns for Obon, a traditional holiday for ancestor remembrance.

Events to check out:

  • To pay respects to the ancestors, Obon festivals are held all over Japan, with Gozan Okuribi, held on Aug. 16, one of the most famous. Kyotoites light bonfires on five mountainsides around the city to light the way for the ancestors to get back to heaven after a visit to their earthly families.

September

The heat of summer starts to mellow, and fall begins to tinge the air. Crowds start to pick up after the doldrums of the hot season, but haven’t reached full fall frenzy. You may see some typhoons this month.

Events to check out:

  • Sept. 14 is Seiryu-e, where a procession garbed in blue escorts a blue dragon through the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera, one of Kyoto’s most splendid temples. The parade of the blue dragon is meant to ward off bad luck.

October

The weather tends to be sunny and mild, with the occasional typhoon. This is high season, so expect lots of tourists and higher prices/tighter availability for hotels and activity bookings.

Events to check out:

  • The Kurama Fire Festival, on Oct. 22, is held in the mountain village of Kurama north of Kyoto. Villagers parade in loincloths and carry enormous torches as well as portable shrines, culminating in a massive bonfire.
  • Also on Oct. 22, hundreds of people dressed in period garb parade through Heian Shrine for the Jidai Matsuri. You’ll see people dressed as samurai, lords, merchants, princesses, and peasants, all dressed to the hilt in period-perfect garb.

November

Sunny, bright days continue, with fair weather and some cold days here and there. Leaf peepers abound, so expect plenty of competition for the perfect foliage photo. For excellent foliage, try visiting Tofukuji or Honen-in temples for a glimpse of autumn beauty.

December

You’ll see many sunny and dry days in December, but the cold will begin in earnest this month. It’s less crowded than November.

Events to check out:

  • Ring out the old year on Dec. 31, literally, by ringing the temple bell at Nanzen-ji, before proceeding to a shrine after the stroke of midnight to usher in the new.
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