I had the great privilege of visiting Kyoto in the fall during a business trip in Japan and, to this day, this experience stays as one of the most aesthetically pleasing from all my travels.
The city is every inch as beautiful as I was expecting it to be and being there in the fall, while not intentional, revealed itself as being a real treat: Kyoto dressed in autumnal colors is simply magical.
These are my impressions from a beautiful fall day in Kyoto.
A day in Kyoto, why even a short visit is worth it
Kyoto is the city that I most dearly wanted to visit, while in Japan.
Ancient imperial capital and now UNESCO world heritage site, it is said to be the city where you are most likely to see the Japan of your imagination and indeed, if you think of Japan as bamboo groves, pebbled gardens, shrines, temples and hidden interiors, Kyoto is where you will meet your fantasy.
Like many culturally rich cities, spending a day in Kyoto is not enough to even start scratching the surface of all this city as to offer.
All it takes is a look at this selection of things to do in Kyoto at night to see you really need an overnight stay!
However, sometimes all you can do is make the most of the time you have and if you have one day in Kyoto let me tell you: it is a wonderful opportunity to fill your eyes with a beauty you will never forget!
Want more than just a taster of the city? Find additional resources at the end of this post.
Oh before you go ahead: let me apologize for the quality of the photos. I wasn’t equipped with my usual camera (this was a non-blogging work trip) and I know these are not great shots but Kyoto was so stunning, I couldn’t resist sharing them anyway! Thank you for your patience 🙂
Why go to Kyoto in fall
The most popular time for visitors to flock to Kyoto is the cherry blossom season, a short time window in the spring when cherry blossoms fill the eye of the visitors with dreamy vision of flowery beauty.
However, foliage season is also a wonderful time to visit Kyoto.
In the fall, the city dresses itself in incredible natural colors ranging from the deepest reds to the brightest yellows and musky greens and has a calm, pensive atmosphere that found exceptionally conducive to sightseeing and cultural exploration.
As well as the stunning foliage, there is another reason to go to Kyoto in the fall and this is the lower number of visitors.
While this time is popular, I found the crowds very manageable and I did find several locations in town and several temples where I was if not alone, almost on my own.
The best time to see foliage in Kyoto
Fall colors usually arrive in Kyoto in October and peak in the middle of November.
At this time, the temperature in the city is cold enough (think coat and scarf) but still pleasant for sightseeing and you can easily spend the whole day out exploring the city, with stops in the many shops around or the city’s delicious restaurants.
To make the most of your day in Kyoto, I recommend you dress for the weather and opt for good walking shoes: you will not want to miss anything and are guaranteed you find yourself clocking in thousands of steps!
One day in Kyoto: impressions
These are the impressions from my day in Kyoto.
If you are in the area, I strongly suggest you spend a few days in the area and follow a Kyoto itinerary that will show you the best of the city.
I went to Kyoto with a local colleague, who was kind enough to act as my guide for the day.
We got to Kyoto reasonably early in the morning, along with the big crowd of Saturday tourist hoping, like us, to get a glimpse of this incredible city.
We joined the river of people heading towards the ancient part of town and, leaving behind the neon lights and shops of the station district, we soon found ourselves in the Kyoto of the history books.
The houses, the temples, even the river reminded me of the many books I had read set in Japan (I was reading Murakami at the time) and the incredible foliage of mid-November added to the magic of the place.
I don’t know Japan enough to gauge how authentic Kyoto still is, but I thought it was beautiful, evocative and, to me, a taste of a kind of Japan I hadn’t encountered yet in the high rise offices of the modern cities.
Kyoto is full of temples: it counts over 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 shinto shrines and when you walk down its streets you immediately realise how big this number really is.
Temples, shrines and religious buildings are everywhere:
Along with statues, rivers and gardens:
Walking among the many religious buildings I noticed that many tourists were carrying out acts that, it seemed to be, had ritual meaning.
One of them in particular had to do with fountains: I noticed that in the precinct of many temples there were fountains equipped with wooden buckets that people would fill and pour with a certain sequence of gestures.
Both Japanese and foreigners seemed to take part and I wondered if the Japanese would consider this offensive.
Growing up in a catholic country, I was always told religious gestures should never be carried out by a non-believer, and I doubted the many foreigners armed with cameras and backpacks were followers of Shintoism.
But my guide told me I was wrong: she said that in Japan what is really important is the ritual and joining in is considered an act of respect.
I didn’t need anything else and soon found myself pouring water in the beautiful surrounding of the religious garden.
We spent our day mostly meandering around the city and entering any temple that took our fancy.
At regular intervals, we picked restaurants for a restorative cup of tea or bowls of ramen and explored the many local workshops.
I got fascinated by a man hand painting a tea set and before I knew it, I had bought 4 small cups that I still cherish at home.
Every time I see them, I remember this day and the impressions I got from this magical city!
In terms of nature, the most impressive sight in Kyoto were the colored leaves but I would be lying if I said that Kyoto’s bamboo forest didn’t catch my attention.
My guide walked in as if it was the most normal place in the work but if you haven’t been to Japan, this truly is new: the bamboos are unbelievably tall!
Between temples, bamboo and ramen, my day drew quickly to an end and so did my week in Japan: in the morning, the bullet train to Tokyo and then a plane to Seoul were expecting me.
Kyoto brought to the close one of the most amazing trips I have ever experienced