As the heat of summer finally gives way to the golden hues of autumn, Kyoto emerges as a destination like no other. This ancient city, with its rich history, cultural heritage and natural beauty, becomes a mesmerizing canvas painted with the stunning reds, oranges and yellows of fall foliage. However, what makes Kyoto truly exceptional during this season is its tradition of illuminating the autumn leaves, turning the city into a fairytale-like wonderland. In this article, we will guide you through the top five fall foliage illuminations in Kyoto recommended by staff at The Millennials Kyoto. From historic temples to serene gardens, these illuminated sites are not to be missed during the fall season in the ancient capital of Japan. Book a stay at The Millennials Kyoto, where you will have convenient access to all the top fall foliage illuminations in the city.
Eikando Zenrinji nestled in Kyoto’s eastern hills is a tranquil haven with a rich history dating back to the 8th century. During autumn, the temple hosts captivating fall foliage illuminations, making it a top destination. From early November to early December, the temple’s gardens burst into brilliant reds, oranges and golds, enchanting visitors. Thousands of lanterns and LED lights strategically placed throughout the temple grounds create a magical, fairy tale-like ambiance that visitors can enjoy from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. during the peak season of fall foliage. As daylight wanes, the leaves seem to radiate an inner light and the atmosphere is simply enchanting. Visitors can wander through the pristine gardens and take photos of the illuminated pond and trees at night.
The Eizan Railway travels through the Momiji tunnel, but not only does it pass through the brilliant fall foliage, the train slows down and turns off its lights so you can see the maximum beauty of the illuminated maple leaves. The Kurama line runs from Demachiyanagi Station in north Kyoto to the scenic villages of Kibune and Kurama. The Momoji tunnel lies between Ichihara Station and Ninose Station and consists of a 250-meter section with a dense growth of maple trees on both sides of the tracks.
Visitors can ride the Eizan Railway to Rurikoin, a remote yet popular destination for fall foliage illuminations. Nestled at the western base of Mt. Hiei in the northern mountainous area of Yase, Rurikoin is the former villa of a Meiji period statesman whose elegant residential home was later converted into a temple. It is famous for its second-floor view of the maple leaves reflecting on the building’s polished interior. Since it is quite popular, visitors should make a reservation in advance and be prepared to pay 2,000 yen, a steep fee but worth the price of seeing the meticulously landscaped Japanese garden reflected on the surface of the polished interior.
Although about one hour away from the city center and The Millennials Kyoto, Jingoji offers a unique and immersive experience of fall foliage illuminations since it is located deep in the mountains of Kyoto. This secluded temple, perched on the slopes of Mount Takao, is known for its pristine natural surroundings and spiritual significance, making it a hidden gem for those seeking a more intimate connection with the changing seasons. The highlight of the temple in autumn is the long illuminated staircase covered by red maple leaves. The warm, gentle glow of the illuminations accentuates the natural beauty of the foliage, creating an enchanting and serene atmosphere that feels almost otherworldly.
A 15-minute walk from The Millennials Kyoto, Kodaiji is a treasure trove of cultural and natural beauty and it comes alive during the autumn season with its enchanting fall foliage illuminations. This historic temple, founded in the late 16th century, offers a captivating blend of history and nature. From late October to early December, visitors can see a visual masterpiece of mesmerizing hues of crimson, gold and orange from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Visitors can explore the temple’s serene Zen gardens, admire the illuminated trees reflected in the tranquil pond and even venture into the bamboo grove for a unique sensory experience. Kodaiji’s fall foliage illuminations offer a harmonious fusion of history, culture, and nature, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the enchanting beauty of Kyoto’s autumnal splendor.
Visitors can buy a combination ticket to Entokuin with their ticket to Kodaiji. Entokuin is a tranquil temple nestled in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district and although relatively lesser-known compared to some of Kyoto’s larger temples, Entokuin boasts its own unique charm that truly shines during the autumn season. The fall foliage illuminations at Entokuin, typically held from late November through early December, transform the temple’s serene grounds into a captivating display of nature and light. Visitors can meander through the temple’s elegant rock gardens, cross serene bridges and enjoy the sight of leaves reflecting in peaceful ponds. The intimate and contemplative atmosphere at Entokuin offers a quieter alternative to some of Kyoto’s more popular illuminations, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the serenity and the timeless charm of the autumn season.
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