I think one of my most favorite memories in Japan was waking up in the dark of the morning to the quiet sound of drums beating in the temple complex behind our apartment.
And I feel like that’s just the perfect representation of what it’s like to live in Kyoto.
It’s the original capital of Japan, and it’s a place where I’ve heard that the Japanese people say they visit so that they can truly feel Japanese.
You’ll just be walking down a quiet narrow street and come across a small quaint temple with a plaque. And when you read it, you’ll realize it was built all the way back in the year 700(?!).
Or there will be geishas walking the streets, a 300+ year-old sweets shop, and a restaurant that dates back to 1465.
But then you also get this modern side of Japan as well. There are Pinteresty chocolate shops and a “fire ramen bar.” So if you want to see both sides, then it’s easily available.
Menbaka Fire Ramen – one of our favorite places to eat!
We had stayed there for around 3 months and it was honestly the perfect place to get a really good feel for the history of Japan and its culture.
And while I’d love to go to Tokyo the next time I visit, I was definitely happy to stay here and watch the leaves turn bright colors and explore temple grounds. 🙂
Japan is very proud of their cultural heritage; they keep it alive and well and it can be easily seen in their incredible museums (Japan made me a museum person.. I’m NOT a museum person), their festivals, and the arts.
Also, Kyoto made me feel like I was living in a Miyazaki movie. And with the green moss, gardens, and narrow traditional streets and homes, I could easily see where he got his inspiration.
And with that long introduction finished, here are some things to do when visiting Kyoto in the fall. 🙂
Side Note: You’ll notice that some photos have a “Photo by…” underneath them. Yeah.. don’t be silly like me and forget to take photos of the places you visit. I had to ask permission to use other people’s photos for certain locations. 🤦♀️
Take the Spiral Brick Tunnel to the Temples
Nejiri-mampo, or the spiral brick tunnel, is right across the street from the Keage Station (if you’re taking the subway). And as you walk through it, you’ll be let out onto a walkway that’s lined by different temples you can enter. Some of them do charge, but it’s definitely worth it!
Here are my favorites to see in that area:
- Daineiken Temple
- Konchi-in Temple (big and super gorgeous!)
- 南禅寺 三門 (Sorry! You’ll have to copy & paste since I can’t find its English name.)
Pro Tip: Head over to Blue Bottle, an awesome coffee house right in the same area. It makes for a nice break from all the walking around. 🙂
A Japanese Bathhouse Turned Cafe – Cafe Sarasa Nishijin
Photo by Oluolu.h
Japan is known for its bathhouses and this one was turned into a super cute cafe! And it’s such a great place to go on a date (or by yourself with a book) and relax with a cozy drink out of the cold fall air.
I really enjoyed their hot drinks and cakes. 🙂
Definitely bring your camera though! It’s very photogenic.
Photo by onsidih
Walk Along the Kamo River
There’s a beautiful river that runs through the city and at night, all the restaurants, shops, and homes along the waters start to light up and make for an incredible atmosphere.
It’s a great place to relax on a sunny Autumnal day, hear music playing, and stop into a tasty eatery or bakery.
And I PROMISE you, it looks a lot better than this photo. 😆
Take Part in a Tea Ceremony
We were honestly blessed enough to come across and befriend a tea master in Japan and attend one of his tea ceremonies (on the grounds of a shrine! 😃). But thankfully, there are plenty of people in Kyoto who professionally teach and demonstrate tea ceremonies (while also allowing you to be apart of it).
And for those who don’t know what this is, it’s basically a ceremonial way of preparing and sharing tea and enjoying each other’s company in the calm atmosphere apart from the busy and fast-paced everyday life.
So if you ever get the time while in Kyoto, I would definitely do this!
Visit a 305-Year-Old Sweets Shop
Again, there are SO MANY things in Kyoto that date back hundreds of years! And this Japanese sweets shop is one of them.
Wagashi is a traditional sweet that is really tasty and pairs quite nicely with a matcha latte. And I think that Sasaya Iori is one of the best places to have it. 🙂
The Ōbai-in Temple is Another Great Place for Fall Colors
Another great spot for seeing the turning of the leaves is Ōbai-in Temple! It’s filled with beautiful red and orange and yellow trees, lush green gardens, and places just to stop and look at the incredible landscaping.
If you want a quiet afternoon, then I would definitely head over here. 🙂
Pro Tip: There’s a small Indian restaurant not crazy far away called Cinnamon. I get it, it’s not Japanese, but it is pretty bomb and I LOVE their cheese naan.
The Gion District
Photo by Ryan Newburn
The Gion District is filled with impressive buildings like traditional theaters and temples and shops. I really loved walking through it and seeing girls in their beautiful kimonos, small pretty restaurants, and incredibly large buildings that held performances. Also, you might spot some geisha while there (my husband was lucky enough to see some when I wasn’t with him 😂 ).
Here are some of the top places to check out in the Gion District:
- Hōkan-ji Temple
- Ishibe-koji Alley
Photo by Holly Farrier
Photo by stephenwrigh7
Hit Up the Chocolate Shops in Kyoto
There are SO many chocolate shops here in Kyoto! And as someone who loves chocolate, this was a very good thing. 😉
Also, their chocolates and shops are just really pretty, so it makes for a fun date or dessert.
And if you’re not into chocolate, then don’t worry, their chocolate shops have a lot more to offer. 🙂
Here are my favorites:
- Bel Amer – They make such delicious but also intricately designed chocolates!
- Cacao Market – Go here! They have a TON of yummy desserts and it’s such a cute shop!
- Lindt Chocolate Cafe – Now this one was a favorite date spot of mine. With a thick hot chocolate and some macarons, it’s the perfect place to be. 🙂
I love the covered streets that stretch down the long roads! They’re so pretty and full of fun restaurants, cute shops, and old temples and buildings.
I would definitely suggest putting this into your schedule as there’s a lot to see and do and fun things to try!
Here are my favorites:
- Teramachi Street Shopping District
- Nishiki Market
- Sanjo Dori
Breizh Café Crêperie
Guys, this is probably one of the tastiest places to eat in Kyoto. You need this on your list!
Basically, it’s a restaurant with some of the foods from the region of Brittany in France and it’s delicious.
You can get some amazing Breton style crepes and delicious drinks. Plus, it’s also very close to the Teramachi Street Shopping District which makes it a nice lunch or dinner if you’re already there. 🙂
A great location for seeing beautiful fall colors and incredible temple grounds. There are so many beautiful buildings to check out and scenic ponds and landscaping that make it a great place to relax.
We went here on a cool fall afternoon and it was such a great experience to see the architecture and have the sun pop out every once in a while to light up the moss-covered trees and shrines.
A Happy Pancake
I LOVED this place for breakfast. They have great original recipes, but if you come during the fall, then they have some fun autumnal dishes!
Just know that it’s a bit of a wait if you don’t get there early or during the slow part of the day.
Kyoto has a TON to offer, so I hope I was able to help either a.) inspire you to visit, or b.) if you are visiting, narrow down what exactly you want to check out.
It really is an incredible city in Japan and a perfect spot for looking at the changing leaves. And if you ever plan on going, then definitely send me some photos! I’d love to see them. 🙂