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Best Time To Visit Kyoto, Japan

By Yuri Takemura
06 February 2020
Best Time To Visit Kyoto, Japan

By Holly Stark

Whether you’re looking for autumnal Zen gardens or sublime sunlit temples, Kyoto has something to offer whatever the weather. Kyoto transforms from a frosty, sublime paradise of ornamental shrines and traditional teahouses to a high-season buzzing masterpiece of a modern city. With four definitive seasons, Kyoto welcomes city dwellers and nature lovers alike. Kyoto in spring brings the budding sakura (Kyoto’s cherry blossom season) trees, which align the Kamogava river. You can find pink tunnels at the heights of the Inari mountain, a mild breeze, colourful flowers and lush shaded spots. Each season has a distinct feel and Kyoto weather changes a lot, but with many of the city’s cultural attractions, atmospheric temples, stunning shrines, craft-beer bars and old-school noodle joints being open and accessible year-round, Kyoto makes a great travelling spot whatever the day.


Pick a season


How you want to spend your trip correlates to the time you visit. If you’re a nature lover wanting a peek at burnt crimson maple trees, see Kyoto in autumn and head there in late October or November to see a fall foliage like no other. If you’re a wintertime explorer eager for frosty days bundled up exploring shrines, temples and off the beaten track hikes, head to Kyoto in winter, during the colder months of January and February. Summer (June, July and August) in Kyoto is hot and humid, while winter (December, January and February) in Kyoto is cold. There is a rainy season which begins around mid-June and ends in late July so that’s probably not the best time to visit Kyoto, but it doesn’t rain daily and you can still enjoy the beautiful Japanese surroundings. Whatever the Kyoto weather, you won’t struggle to fill your itinerary with Kyoto attractions.

Autumn


Autumn is a beautiful and comfortable time to travel to Kyoto, with many sunny days, fewer tourists and at a dazzling natural spectacle of colours. October has an average high of 22 celsius, and a low of 13 celsius, while November has an average high of 17 celsius and a low of 8 celsius. There are some fun festivals to witness during the season, including Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) at the end of October. The festival sees a parade of people dressed in intricate outfits walking from the Kyoto Gosho (Kyoto Imperial Palace) to Heian-jingu Shrine.

Around the same time, the Kurama-no-Himatsuri (Kurama Fire Festival) takes place during dusk. Located in the village of Kurama, a short train ride north of Kyoto, young men dress in traditional loincloths and bear flaming torches through the streets. But late November may well be the best time to visit Kyoto, and with sunny skies overhead and stunning vegetation, Kyoto in autumn rivals the famous cherry blossom sakura spring season.


 

Winter


The winter months in Kyoto are clear, cold and frosty with occasional snow. If you’re visiting Japan for the snow, head north to Hokkaido island. January and February temperatures average between 1 and 9 celcius in Kyoto, so be prepared with winter clothing. After New Year Shogatsu celebrations, the city is quieter than usual; so it’s a good time to visit if you’re not keen on crowds. Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the New Year and locals and tourists can be found heading to Heian-jingu Shrine, Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine and Yasaka-jinja Shrines to celebrate. Mid-January sees the arrival of the famous Toshiya (Archery Contest) at Sanjusangen-do Temple. The cool winter weather carries into February, along with the city’s exciting celebrations. Head to the hill east of Kyoto University on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th of February to experience the Setsubun Matsuri nighttime fire festival at Yoshida-jinja Shrine. A visit to Arashiyama, located west of Kyoto, tucked along the base of the Arashiyama Mountains, is not to be missed.

Spring


Kyoto weather warms up in March. But it may be cold, cool or warm out, so pack for all eventualities! During the middle of the month, the flowers begin to bud. Join the locals as you discover lush parks and botanical gardens and adopt the ancient Hanami way of life; living the Japanese traditional custom of mindfully enjoying the transient beauty of flowers and blooming petals. The last week of March tends to start filling with cherry-blossom seeking crowds. Spring fully announces its arrival in April and the pink cherries usually reach their peak during the first week of April. There are plenty of things to do in Kyoto in Spring. During the annual April Miyako Odori, Kyoto’s geisha communities perform their arts in a public show; a highly stylized, tightly choreographed, graceful dance while wearing lavish kimonos and ornate hairstyles. The show also has an orchestra playing traditional Japanese music. There are four performances each day which last an hour, at 12:30pm, 2pm, 3:30pm and 4:50pm. This schedule is maintained every day throughout the whole of April – when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Many locals consider May to be the most beautiful month in Kyoto. It’s warm and there are many clear days with colourful flowers and an abundance of greenery.

Summer


Nestled in a mountain embrace, Kyoto starts to really feel the heat in June, which prospers the plant life and encompasses the city in a leaf-covered haze. June is warm with many sunny days. However, towards the end of June, afternoon showers are common as the rainy season starts. Throughout the city’s many shrines and temples, purification rituals ensue, to celebrate the completion of the first half of the year, the changing of the season, and in prayer for the second half of the year. July is hot and humid with regular rain and fewer crowds. In mid-July, the biggest festival of the year takes place: Gion Matsuri. Decorated floats, partying locals and pedestrian traffic fill the streets in celebration during Kyoto in summer. By August, the rain usually passes and the city becomes humid and sunny. September temperatures in Kyoto may be anywhere between 20 and 28 celcius. September proves to be an excellent time to travel in Kyoto, with sunny, hot and humid weather at the beginning of the month, and sunny and warm weather at the end of the month. High-season is over, so you can often grab a bargain when travelling during September.