Our 3-day Kyoto autumn itinerary offers an efficient, step-by-step touring plan that features the best fall foliage spots in all of Japan. You’ll see the Kyoto’s koyo highlights, including free temples & shrines, gardens, and nighttime illuminations. It’s a great plan of attack for seeing as much as possible while also having time to savor each stop.
One part of the research process for this blog is talking to other tourists, trying to determine the average length of stay in Kyoto. While we recommend 5 days, the vast majority of people simply cannot swing that much time. In our (admittedly anecdotal) conversations, we’ve found that 3 days is far more common.
As such, we’ve decided to build upon our 2-Day Kyoto Fall Colors Itinerary by adding a third day that balance fall colors points of interest along with regular things to do in Kyoto. This third day is more laid back and less temple heavy, as we assume you might be starting to feel some temple fatigue…and regular fatigue…by this point. Additionally, since our 2-day itinerary was already 2,500 words, we are cutting all of the descriptions of days 1 and 2 from here. We’d recommend referring back to that itinerary as necessary for navigation tips or why a certain spot is suggested.
If you have more than three days in Kyoto, we’d recommend pairing this itinerary with one of our normal 1-day Kyoto itineraries. Which one depends upon your priorities. If you want more fall colors away from the crowds, our 1-Day Northern Kyoto Itinerary or 1-Day Southern Kyoto Itinerary are good options. If you want a day-trip outside of Kyoto for more fall colors, our 1-Day Nara, Japan Itinerary is great. If you’re good on fall colors, consider our 1-Day Kobe, Japan Itinerary.
With that said, here’s our recommended 2-day fall colors itinerary for Kyoto…
We’ve actually modified the first day slightly, as it was really ambitious in our previous itineraries. Gone are Fushimi Inari and Tofukuji Temple, which have been moved to the third day where they’ll be easier to accomplish without a break-neck pace. Added is Gioji Temple, which is incredibly small but a solid option for its picturesque views of moss juxtaposed against koyo. You’ll also want to start with Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, seeing it before the crowds.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Tenryuji Temple
- Togetsukyo Bridge
- Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Okochi Sanso Villa
- Jojakkoji Temple
- Gioji Temple
- Chionin Temple
- Kodaiji Temple (Night Illumination)
- Kiyomizudera Temple (Night Illumination)
No changes to this day. As before, we’d strongly encourage you to research Kuramadera Temple before committing to heading to Northern Kyoto. It’s typically a half-day (at least) trip, but this itinerary only accounts for it taking the morning. If you have a fourth day, you’re definitely much better off doing our 1-Day Northern Kyoto Itinerary in full, and skipping Kurama on Day 2.
- Kyoto Gyoen or Kurama
- Enkoji Temple
- Silver Pavilion
- Path of Philosophers
- Honenin Temple
- Shinnyodo Temple
- Nanzenji Temple
- Eikando Temple (Night Illumination)
- Tenjuan Temple (Night Illumination)
- Shorenin Temple (Night Illumination)
Fushimi Inari Shrine – As this itinerary is slightly more laid back in the morning, you can either do Fushimi Inari first, arriving at 6:30 a.m. for sunrise and being done by 8 a.m., or doing it after Tofukuji Temple. Either way, you really need to be at Tofukuji at or before its 8:30 a.m. opening time.
Fushimi Inar is our favorite place in all of Japan, and we love doing early a.m. hikes through the torii gates with the crisp morning air and without the crowds, so that would be our recommendation. However, if that’s too early for you to get up, do it second. You’ll want plenty of time to savor Fushimi Inari, and it’ll still be relatively uncrowded (once you get beyond the Senbon Torii) at around 10 a.m.
If you do Fushimi Inari second, consider stopping at Vermillion Cafe for matcha and dessert (or breakfast) once you’re done with the shrine. It’s a great spot to decompress, and the location tucked away by the exit of the shrine (not the one near the station) is very quiet and relaxing.
Tofukuji Temple – As noted above, it’s imperative that you arrive at Tofukuji just before the temple opens. Tsutenkyo Bridge is the must-do here, and it’s the single most crowded spot in Kyoto during fall colors season, with tour buses dropping people off by the hundreds even first thing in the morning.
After you’re done in this area, you’ll either catch the bus directly to the next stop, or you can take JR Nara Line to Kyoto Station if you want to grab a meal or a snack. (We’d recommend just taking the bus.)
Kyoto Railway Museum – A nice change of pace from all of the temples, the indoor Kyoto Railway Museum is (obviously?) not a fall colors spot. It might have a maple tree or two outside, but that’s not why you’re here.
Kyoto Railway Musuem is the best museum in the city, a must do for everyone regardless of train interest levels. This museum highlights the importance of trains in daily life, the history of trains in Japan, and technical progress. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Kyoto Railway Museum.
Ninnaji Temple – The next few temples are listed because they are quintessential Kyoto experiences, not because they are particularly notable fall colors spots. We wouldn’t recommend skipping any of them, but feel free to do so if you’re “templed out.”
To access Ninnaji, take the bus or the JR San-In Line via Tambaguchi Station. Ninnaji Temple’s free main grounds are moderately impressive, but it’s the paid Goten building that earns it a place on this itinerary. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Ninnaji Temple.
Ryoanji Temple – Around the corner from Ninnaji is Ryoanji, home to Japan’s most famous rock garden. In terms of fall colors, you’ll actually find a decent amount in the stroll garden around the main pond, and there’s some interesting landscaping throughout.
However, the main draw is the rock garden. Sit and contemplate the meaning of this rock garden that has confounded academics for centuries, and try to view all 15 rocks at the same time. Click here to read and see more in our full post about Ryoanji Temple.
Golden Pavilion – Once you’ve solved the riddles of Ryoanji, do the 20 minute walk to Kinkakuji Temple, more commonly known as the Golden Pavilion. This is one of the most heavily-attended temples in Kyoto, and the only public transit to it is the bus–which tends to be standing room only, packed in like sardines.
The good news is that towards the end of the day, the heavy crowd that are endemic to the Golden Pavilion should be dissipating. This is another stop that doesn’t feature much in the way of fall colors, but it’s a popular destination for visitors to Kyoto. Click here to read and see more in our full post about the Golden Pavilion.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (Day & Nighttime Illumination) – From Golden Pavilion, it’s about a 20 minute walk to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Even if you linger at Golden Pavilion until it closes, you still should arrive here with enough time to experience sunset and the nighttime illumination in the Momiji-en (autumn maple garden) where one can see 350 maple trees.
While Kitano Tenmangu Shrine’s main areas are all free, they offer just a small scattering of autumn foliage as compared to the paid garden. We’d highly recommend doing that garden, and timing your visit to coincide with sunset and evening. Plus, you’ll get tea and a sweet!
Toji Temple (Nighttime Illumination) (optional) – By this point in your touring, you will have done a pretty good job of hitting all of the major evening temple openings for fall colors season (and some minor ones!). The only significant one remaining is Toji Temple, which is the city’s iconic pagoda south of Kyoto Station. It’s a bit of a trek to get to it (hence the “optional” status), but we like this nighttime illumination.
You might notice that Toji Temple is conspicuously absent from all of our other itineraries despite being a symbol of Kyoto. That’s because it’s out of the way and sort of a one-trick pony. However, during autumn, it offers a breathtaking view of the lit-up pagoda with fall colors reflected in the foreground (this was the main promotional image of Japan’s fall colors campaign last year). This alone is worth the price of admission, but beyond that, the temple also opens its treasure halls, which are very cool to see.
Evening Gion (optional) – If you’ve had enough of all things temples and fall colors, consider wrapping up your visit with an evening in Gion instead. This is Kyoto’s famed geisha district, and one of the ritziest places in the city for fine dining, entertainment, and desserts.
In addition to food and fun, it’s just a lovely area to stroll. The converted machiya are preserved and well-maintained, and some streets in this area impart a sense of ‘old world’ Japan (much like the Higashiyama District). Click here to read and see more in our full post about Gion.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Any other locations you’re considering for your 3-day fall colors Kyoto itinerary? Have you visited Japan during autumn? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does a trip to Japan during fall colors season interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!