Are you thinking about visiting Kyoto in Winter? Then you’re in the right place!
I’ve always heard that Kyoto is beautiful no matter what time of year and winter is no exception. Having been lucky enough to explore this city in summer and winter, I can confidently say that a winter visit to Kyoto is the perfect addition to your Japan itinerary.
Here’s my guide that provides a curated list of things to do in Kyoto in the winter & tips to ensure that your visit to the cultural heart of Japan is nothing short of magical!
- Kyoto Winter Weather
- Overview of Things to Do in Kyoto in the Winter
- The Best 8 Things to Do in Kyoto in the Winter
- 1. Visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple [All Winter]
- 2. Stroll through Gion [All Winter]
- 3. Walk Through the Gates of Fushimi Inari [All Winter]
- 4. Explore Arashiyama Bamboo Grove [All Winter]
- 5. Visit To-ji Temple [Best in December]
- 6. Walk Through Kifune-Jinja Shrine [Best in January]
- 7. Explore Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) [Best in January]
- 8. See Plum Blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine [Best in February]
- 7 Additional Places to Visit in Kyoto in the Winter
- What to Skip When Spending Winter in Kyoto
- What to Wear in Kyoto in the Winter
- Where to Stay in Kyoto in the Winter
- Tips for Visiting Kyoto in Winter
- Winter in Kyoto Isn’t for You If…
- FAQs About Kyoto in the Winter
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Kyoto Winter Weather
Winter in Kyoto is usually cold but mild, bringing in the occasional rain and snow. The average temperature ranges from the mid-30s(°F) to high of low-50s(°F). The weather in Kyoto is fairly dry so while it might snow, it won’t last more than a few days.
- December: average high of 53°F (12°C) / average low of 36°F (2°C). December tends to be cold and dry, where you’re more likely to encounter chilly, clear days than rain or snowfall.
- January: average high of 48°F (9°C) / average low of 33°F (1°C). January is when you’re most likely to see some snow, though it’s often light and melts quickly.
- February: average high of 50°F (10°C) / average low of 34°F (11°C). By February, temperatures will start to gradually rise, bringing warmer days. Snow is also less frequent, making it an excellent time to visit if you prefer milder winter conditions.
While a Kyoto winter does get cold, layers will help you weather the temperature fluctuations throughout the day so that you can enjoy the serenity and beauty of the city at all hours.
Overview of Things to Do in Kyoto in the Winter
Kyoto in December
If you missed a visit to Japan in the fall but still want to see the last traces of fall foliage, Kyoto in December is perfect for you. Early December is ideal to see the remnants of orange and red hues before the trees shed the last of their leaves. You’ll also encounter milder temperatures and minimal amount of rainfall during this time.
Holidays & Festivals in Kyoto in December
- October through December 11 (Toji Temple Evening Illuminations): During the first 2 weeks of December, lights will illuminate the last of the autumn leaves at Toji Temple.
- December 25 (Christmas): Although Christmas is not an official holiday in Japan, it is growing in popularity and celebrated in a commercial way. Popular destinations including Kyoto come alive with beautiful Christmas light installations that embody the holiday spirit.
Kyoto in January
If you’re looking to see the city in snow, January is the best month to visit. Being the coldest of the winter months, you’re most likely to find snow-white landscapes during this time of year.
Holidays & Festivals in Kyoto in January
- January 1-3 (Shōgatsu): Shōgatsu, also known as New Year’s Day, is one of Japan’s most cherished traditional holidays. During this time, people take a break from their daily routines and head to the shrines and temples for Hatsumōde, the first prayer of the year. If you’re in Kyoto in the New Year period, be sure to visit any one of the main shrines – like Fushimi Inari – to participate in this timeless tradition yourself.
Kyoto in February
If you can’t visit Japan in spring, you want to see flowers bloom, and you hate the cold, then February is a good time of year to visit Kyoto. Ideally, you’ll want to visit in mid to late February to catch the plum blossoms in full bloom. While not as prolific as cherry blossoms, the blooming plum trees are just as beautiful and equally worth seeing.
Holidays & Festivals in Kyoto in February
- February 25 (Baiksai Plum Blossom Festival): Held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, the Baiksai Plum Blossom Festival is a popular event in Kyoto in February. Not only is the shrine one of the best places to see plum blossoms in Kyoto, but you’ll have the unique chance to be served tea by a maiko on this specific day only.
The Best 8 Things to Do in Kyoto in the Winter
1. Visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple [All Winter]
Kiyomizudera, also known as the “Pure Water Temple,” is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and a must-see while in Kyoto. Established in 780 AD, Kiyomizudera and its large wooden terrace stands atop a hill that provides panoramic views of the city and trees below. This is my absolute favorite thing to do in Kyoto for any season – even the streets (Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka) leading up to Kiyomizudera are beautiful!
❄️ Kiyomizudera in Winter: Depending on when you visit in winter, the surrounding landscapes undergo a stunning transformation where vibrant, fall hues gradually give way to a serene, white canvas. It’s also less crowded in the winter so you’ll be able to appreciate the temple’s beauty in a more tranquil setting compared to the busy cherry blossom or fall foliage season.
2. Stroll through Gion [All Winter]
Gion is Kyoto’s famous geisha district whose atmospheric streets will have you feeling like you’ve transported back to ancient Japan.
The heart of Gion is Hanami-koji Street, which is lined with well-preserved machiya (wooden) houses and ochayas (tea houses). In the evenings, Gion comes alive with glowing lanterns that illuminate the streets. This is not only one of the most picturesque time of day but the most opportune to spot geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices) wandering down the alleyways in their exquisite kimonos.
❄️ Gion in Winter: Kyoto in the winter is still a great time to experience the timeless charm of Gion’s lantern-lit streets, geisha culture, and traditional wooden houses. Some of these establishments have even been been converted into restaurants that serve Kyoto specialities such as kaiseki ryori (Japanese multi-course meal) or Nabe (Kyoto-style hotpot primarily served in winter).
3. Walk Through the Gates of Fushimi Inari [All Winter]
Fushimi Inari is another one of Kyoto’s most recognizable sites. Known for its 10,000 vermillion torii gates, this impressive complex of shrines spans 4 kilometers at the base of Mount Inari.
❄️ Fushimi Inari in Winter: As you follow the shrine’s winding paths, take the time to look up at the snow-covered gates and the picturesque backdrop around you.
If you’re in Kyoto at the beginning of the new year (typically January 1-3), don’t miss the opportunity to partake in Hatsumode – the first shrine visit of the year. As you follow the winding paths and admire the snow-covered torii gates of Fushimi Inari, pray for blessings and good luck for the year ahead.
4. Explore Arashiyama Bamboo Grove [All Winter]
In the northwest part of Kyoto, you’ll find Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. One of Japan’s most-visited bamboo forests, Arashiyama is filled with tall, bamboo stalks that are split apart by a path that stretches as far as the eye can see.
❄️ Arashiyama in Winter: While a popular destination year-round, the forest takes on a different kind of beauty in the winter. When covered with snow, snowfall delicately blankets the trees to create a magical, winter wonderland that’s ready to be explored.
5. Visit To-ji Temple [Best in December]
Toji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s best known for its towering five-story pagoda. Although not as popular as Kiyomizudera, it’s still worth walking around the temple grounds as well as exploring the Kōbō-ichi flea market which is only held on the 21st of each month.
❄️ Toji Temple in Winter: Depending on which month you visit in winter, you can either catch the last bits of fall or the first snowflakes of the season. If you’re visiting during the first 2 weeks of December, you might even catch the final days of the evening autumn illuminations.
6. Walk Through Kifune-Jinja Shrine [Best in January]
Take a walk through Kifune, Kyoto’s oldest waterfall shrine. Legend says that the goddess Tamayoro-hime instructed the people to build a sacred site, which they dedicated to their local god Takaokami no Kami (the god of providing water).
❄️ Kifune Shrine in Winter: Kifune Shrine is one of the most beautiful spots to visit in Kyoto in the winter. Located just 30 minutes from the main center, see for yourself why the Kifune winter landscape is beautiful enough to be featured in promotional material for the city.
7. Explore Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) [Best in January]
Kinkakuji is a Zen temple whose top two floors are gilded with pure gold leaf, giving it the moniker the “Golden Pavilion.” As you explore the grounds, you’ll be in constant awe of the temple and its reflection on the Kyoko-chi pond below.
❄️ Kinkaku-ji in Winter: Winter is one of the best times to see Kinkakuji Temple. It’s especially picturesque in January, when its roof and surrounding gardens are most likely to be covered in snow. There will also be less people who visit during this time of year so you’ll have a greater chance of basking in the magical and tranquil ambiance of Kinkakuji undisturbed.
8. See Plum Blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine [Best in February]
Head to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in the northern part of Kyoto to witness the first sightings of plum blossoms (“ume'”) for the season. Often associated with the start of spring, plum blossoms or “ume” are some of the earliest flowers to bloom, typically in mid-February through mid-March.
❄️ Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Winter: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the most famous spot to see the plum blossoms in Kyoto. If you find yourself in Kyoto on February 25th, 2024, don’t miss the enchanting Baiksai Plum Blossom Festival which offers the unique opportunity to be served tea by a geisha.
7 Additional Places to Visit in Kyoto in the Winter
Now that we’ve explored the must-dos of Kyoto in winter, here are 7 hidden gems that are worth checking out if you’re looking for even more of Kyoto’s winter charm:
- Nijo Castle – This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts camellias (December-April), plum blossoms (mid-February – mid-March), and snowscapes (most likely in July) through the winter season.
- Sanzenin Temple – This serene temple in rural Ohara (~1 hour north of Kyoto Station) offers a peaceful escape from the crowds of Kyoto. Its beautiful gardens and traditional architecture make it a popular spot to visit during the winter season.
- Amanohashidate – Known as “The Bridge to Heaven,” Amanohashidate is a breathtaking sandbar that’s one of Japan’s 3 most scenic views. The snowy landscape adds a magical touch to this already incredible natural marvel. Note, while technically within Kyoto prefecture, Amanohashidate is a 2 hour train ride from Kyoto Station.
- Hozukyo Gorge – With its towering cliffs and turquoise river, Hozukyo Gorge is a beautiful and tranquil place for a walk during the winter.
- Ryoanji Temple – Famous for its Zen rock garden, Ryoanji Temple makes for a truly serene and meditative experience whilst enveloped in the peaceful, snow-covered surroundings.
- Philosopher’s Path – This picturesque stone pathway along the canal is a popular destination in any season, though it won’t be as picturesque as when the cherry blossoms or fall leaves are in full force.
- Nishiki Market – Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, Nishiki Market is a great place to stop by one of the food stalls to taste Kyoto- and seasonal- specialities.
What to Skip When Spending Winter in Kyoto
- Kurama Onsen – Unfortunately, Kyoto’s most popular onsen has been indefinitely closed since the pandemic.
- Hanatouro Bridge – While this used to be one of the most popular places to see winter illuminations in Kyoto, this event permanently ended in 2021.
- Kayabuki no Sato – Although quite picturesque, this is ultimately the home of working locals in the area. If you do visit, please treat the village and its people with the utmost respect.
- Kyoto Hirogawara Ski Resort – If you’re interested in skiing, the ski resorts in Nagano or Hokkaido are world-renowned and just all-around better suited for skiers and snowboarders.
- Togetsukyo Bridge & Tenryuji Temple – While both sites will be less-crowded, they’re also much less scenic compared to spring and fall.
What to Wear in Kyoto in the Winter
The key to staying warm and comfortable in Kyoto is layers! You’ll want to bring thermal undergarments (leggings & shirt), lightweight sweaters, a waterproof or water-resistant jacket, and a scarf.
While not 100% necessary, it will be nice to have a pair of waterproof boots especially if you’re visiting in January.
Where to Stay in Kyoto in the Winter
The best location to stay in Kyoto is in the Gion district. Although pricier compared to other parts of the city, this area is undeniably the heart of the city that makes Kyoto charming and timeless.
Below are some of the best places to stay in Kyoto in the winter, ranging from traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) to modern hotels. If you’re having trouble finding a place to stay either because everything is booked out or prices are too high, consider broadening your search to neighboring cities like Osaka.
- TOP RYOKAN OVERALL: Tawaraya Ryokan Often regarded as one of the best ryokans in Japan, Tawaraya offers impeccable service and traditional charm. Bookings are coordinated via email.
- CENTRAL RYOKAN: Gion Hatanaka (⭐️ 8.1) Located in the famous Gion district, this ryokan has all the traditional elements and is located in a central location.
- BEST AFFORDABLE RYOKAN: Gion Ryokan Karaku (⭐️ 8.6) A more affordable option in the Gion district with a warm, traditional ambiance at ~$200/night.
- CENTRAL HOTEL: Hotel The Celestine Kyoto Gion (⭐️ 8.7) Situated in the heart of the Gion district, this contemporary hotel combines traditional Kyoto charm with modern luxury. It’s also a short walk from Kiyomizudera and Hanami-koji.
- BOUTIQUE HOTEL: Kyoto Granbell Hotel (⭐️ 8.7) A chic boutique hotel located 2 minutes from the Gion-Shijo Subway Station.
Tips for Visiting Kyoto in Winter
- 🌅 Start your day early. Even though Kyoto is less busy in the winter, there will still be crowds at the most popular sites.
- 🚶🏻♀️There is so much beauty in walking around Kyoto. Plan to see 2-3 things to do each day so that you have enough time to savor every minute of your visit, wander random alleyways, and discover new hidden gems.
- ✈️ The closest airport to Kyoto is Osaka International Airport (Itami), which is about an hour away. However, Itami primarily services domestic flights so Kansai International Airport (KIX) will be your main access point to Kyoto if you’re coming from another country. It takes about 90 minutes by express train to get into Kyoto.
- ❄️ Your Kyoto winter itinerary will change depending on the month you visit. If you want to see the last bits of fall foliage with milder temperatures and minimal rain, then come in early December. If you want to see the city and its sights covered in snow, January is your best bet. For plum blossoms, come towards the middle or end of February.
Winter in Kyoto Isn’t for You If…
- You don’t like being cold
- You’re trying to avoid the rain
- You want to see vibrant foliage like fall leaves or cherry blossoms
- You’re only planning to visit in the first few days of the New Year when businesses are mostly closed
- You want to go sightseeing without layering up
FAQs About Kyoto in the Winter
Yes, Kyoto is 100% worth visiting in the winter! It’s your chance to see the city transform into a snowy landscape, as well as catch the last leaves of fall or first blossoms of spring.
Winter in Kyoto runs from December to February. Temperatures range from an average low of 22°F to an average high of 53°F throughout the season. You can generally expect cold temperatures but clear skies in December, snowy days in January, and warmer days starting in early February.
Yes! Kyoto experiences a mild winter that does have the occasional snow. It is most likely to snow in January, though snowfall can happen anytime between mid-January to mid-March.
Yes, there may be some snow, but it won’t be enough to transform the city into the enchanting winter wonderland you might imagine. On average, December sees around 4-5 days of snow each year, but any snowfall is likely to melt quickly and vanish by the following day.
Similar to any other time of year, Nara, Osaka, and Hiroshima remain popular day trips when spending time in Kyoto.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Kyoto in the Winter
Visiting Kyoto during the winter months is absolutely incredible.
With smaller crowds at the famous attractions, you’re more likely to have peaceful moments that allow you to truly appreciate the serene beauty of this city. Not only that, you’ll find breathtaking snowy landscapes at sites like Kifune shrine that provide an allure you won’t find in other seasons.
While it’s undeniable that the best time to explore the city is between late March to early April during cherry blossom season, there’s something truly magical about Kyoto in the winter.
If you decide to visit, I always recommend getting a Japan Rail pass as the best way to maximize your time in the country.