The beauty of Kyoto is apparent whatever the season, but head to this historic Japanese city during January to February time and you may be greeted with the breathtaking sight of a soft layer of snow blanketing its famous landmarks. There is no lack of things to do and places to see in Kyoto during its fantastical winter, so here are the top ten must-see locations to visit in Japan’s cultural capital during the cold season.
Read on for the best insider information - whether it’s special winter-only events, delicious seasonal food, or the best hidden onsen hot spring and sento spots, this guide has it all!
Why you should visit Kyoto during winter
Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Winter
According to the ‘Comprehensive Survey of Tourism in Kyoto‘ published by the Kyoto City Industrial Tourism Bureau in 2008, the number of overnight visitors to Kyoto is lower in winter from January to February compared to other months.
Both domestic and international tourists flock to Kyoto when the cherry blossoms bloom in spring and the autumnal foliage turns red and yellow in fall, so there is plenty of incentive to avoid the busy peak season and visit during the quieter months instead.
As well as being able to enjoy the lack of crowds and snap the perfect trip photos, there are many other merits of visiting Kyoto during the winter.
【The best things about travelling to Kyoto in winter】
・Depending on the weather, you may be able to enjoy stunning snowy scenery
・Return tickets for Shinkansen and planes are easily available
・Buses - which are a key method of transportation for tourists in Kyoto - are relatively empty compared to the peak season
・Popular sightseeing spots are much less crowded compared to other times of the year
In addition, facilities like coin-lockers, such as those around Kyoto Station, are notoriously in-demand during the peak travel seasons. Travelling in winter means you don’t have to worry about things like finding a locker, and you can leave your luggage behind while you explore.
【Temples and shrines】See the cultural icon ‘Kinkaku-ji’ temple dusted in snow
When it comes to Kyoto’s most famous temples and shrines, the Golden Pavilion is one of the first places that comes to mind. Although this extravagant gold-leaf coated temple is widely known as Kinkaku-ji (lit. Golden Pavilion), the official name is ‘Rokuon-ji’. The temple and surrounding gardens were created in the Buddhist image of ‘Sukhavati’ or ‘Land of Bliss’, in a mandate by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun during the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
With its dazzling and unique golden exterior, Kinkaku-ji never fails to draw in a crowd during the peak travel season. Take advantage of the quiet winter to take some breathtaking pictures of the temple lightly dusted with snow – a beautiful sight you will surely never forget.
【Opening hours】9:00 – 17:00
【Entry fee】Adults (age 15 and over) 400 yen, children (age 6 and over) 300 yen
【Access】Take Kyoto City Bus No. 12 or other buses to Kinkakuji-michi bus stop.
Kinkaku-ji in winter
Kinkaku-ji in winter
【Temples and shrines】Watch the winter sun light up the grounds at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple in winter
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is frequently ranked as one of the top sightseeing spots in Kyoto. The beautiful grounds and stunning mountainside scenery are unparalleled, and its special evening light-up events during spring, summer and fall bring in tourists from far and wide.
Although there are no evening light-up events during the winter season, the glorious winter sunsets spreading across the temple grounds provide a natural play of light. Experience the stillness of winter and wonder of nature at this peaceful spiritual haven.
Many guidebooks suggest visiting in the early morning to avoid crowds, but the hour after sunset is also surprisingly quiet. Enjoy strolling around the temple grounds at your own pace, immersed in your own winter wonderland.
【Opening hours】9:00 – 18:00
【Entry fee】Adults (age 15 and over) 400 yen, children (age 6 and over) 200 yen
【Access】Take Kyoto City Bus No. 206 or other buses to Gojo-zaka bus stop
The temple grounds at dusk
Enjoy the peaceful quiet of winter at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
【Temples and shrines】Walk amongst 1,500 plum trees in full bloom at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and feel the call of early spring
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the head of a group of over ten thousand Tenmangu and Tenjin shrines throughout Japan dedicated to scholar Sugawara Michizane, known in Shinto as the God of Learning.
This impressive shrine is most famous for its 1,500 plum trees of over 50 varieties that bloom from early February to the end of March. Every year on February 25, the shrine holds the Baikasai Plum Blossom Festival and Nodate Ocha no Yu tea ceremony event, where it is possible to enjoy fresh matcha tea served by geisha from the Nishijin district of Kyoto.
On the day of the festival, the temple grounds are lit up from after sunset until 21:00, creating a truly magical atmosphere.
【Plum tree garden opening hours】Early February to late March 9:00 – 16:00
【Entry fee】Adults (age 13 and over) 1000 yen, children 500 yen, 10% discount for groups of over 30 people (excluding 25th of each month, Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays) ※ includes matcha and sweets
【Access】30 minutes’ drive from Meishin Expressway Minami IC or Higashi IC. 5 minutes’ walk from Kitano-Hakubaicho Station on the Keifuku Kitano Line.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Plum blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Omikuji fortunes at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
【Nature】Gaze upon one of Japan’s three great vistas, Amanohashidate
Amanohashidate is renowned as one of Japan’s three great vistas, and it’s easy to see why. This 3.6km-long pine covered sandbar juts out to sea in a rare topographical formation that looks almost like a bridge.
Stroll along the scenic beaches and take in the view from one of the many observation points along the way. The iced winter trees and mystical white snowy beaches are a major winter attraction that is not to be missed.
In spring, cherry blossoms bloom in the foreground at Kasamatsu Park, creating the perfect photo opportunity for an Instagram-worthy shot.
Amanohashidate: 5 minutes’ walk from Amanohashidate Station on the Kyoto Tango Line
Kasamatsu Park: From Amanohashidate Station on the Kyoto Tango Line, board the local bus for 25 minutes to Kasamatsu Cable.
Amanohashidate in winter
- Kyoto Miyadushi Monju
- Free walking
Private Sightseeing Cruise of Amanohashidate, Kyoto
【Event】Bask in the warm glow of the Arashiyama Hanatouro Illuminations
Every December, the Saga and Arashiyama area of Kyoto is bathed in a breathtaking display of light for a ten-day event called the Hanatouro Illuminations. Popular tourist spots such as Togetsu-kyo Bridge and the bamboo groves are lit up with elegant lanterns and romantic lights that accentuate their beauty and mystique.
During the event period, temples and shrines in the area stay open extra late, and Arashiyama’s traditional Yakata-bune sightseeing boats offer special night-time tours. You can also enjoy a cute stamp rally campaign featuring Arashiyama’s local mascot characters, as well as traditional rickshaw rides and more!
【Illumination times】17:00 – 20:30
【Event period】During December – exact dates differ each year.
【Place】Saga and Arashiyama area
Arashiyama Hanatouro Illuminations
【Night view】A snowy day exclusive: see the winter illuminations at Kifune-jinja Shrine
Out of all the winter illuminations in Kyoto, the winter light-up at Kifune-jinja Shrine is the rarest and most elusive. Since this shrine’s illuminations are only held on Saturdays when there is moderate snow cover, your chances of seeing them depend a lot on luck.
On the day of the light-up, an announcement is made at 15:00 on Kifune-jinja Shrine’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. If there is snow on the ground during your stay in Kyoto, be sure to check out this shrine for this unique opportunity! We recommend travelling there by public transport, as roads may get icy.
【Illumination times】Sunset – 20:00
【Access】30 minutes’ walk from Kibune-guchi Station on the Eizan Line, or 5 minutes’ walk from Kyoto City Bus No. 33 Kibune bus stop
Kifune-Jinja Shrine during the daytime in winter
【Cafe】Visit the stylish % ARABICA Kyoto Arashiyama café just in front of Togetsu-kyo Bridge
A popular café spot where queues often form during the peak season
Kyoto is known for its many fashionable cafes and trendy coffee shops, and its most popular establishments can generate huge queues during the peak season. Luckily, the cold winter offers a respite from the foodie crowds, and a great chance to enjoy the trendiest cafes in the city with no long wait.
% ARABICA Kyoto Arashiyama is a renovated one-story building in the popular Arashiyama tourist area. The large café windows look out onto some of the best scenery in Kyoto – the quintessentially Japanese Togetsu-kyo Bridge against the beautiful Arashiyama landscape.
Enjoy a delicious espresso-based café latte, or for non-coffee drinkers, a refreshing lemonade, amongst other options.
【Opening times】9:00 – 17:00 (weekdays) / 9:00 – 18:00 (weekends)
【Access】5 minutes’ walk from Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line
％ ARABICA 京都 嵐山 ※リニューアル前
% ARABICA Kyoto Arashiyama
【Onsen】Warm up at Fu-fu-no-yu Onsen, located just a stone’s throw from Togetsu-kyo Bridge
Kyoto Arashiyama Onsen, Fu-fu-no-yu
Kyoto Arashiyama Fu-fu-no-yu Onsen is the first hot spring facility in the Arashiyama area that caters to day trips.
Take a long soak in the indoor and outdoor baths, sourced directly from the natural hot springs. The water from this region is said to relieve fatigue, improve health and beautify skin. Both the men’s and women’s facilities include a sauna and cold plunge bath for added health benefits.
Treat yourself to a massage at the massage corner, read one of the many manga books in the library and enjoy a warming and luxurious rest day.
【Opening times】12:00 – 22:00 (last entry 21:30)
【Entry fee】Weekdays: Adults (age 13 and over) 1000 yen, children (age 3 – 12) 600 yen, infants (age 2 and under) 300 yen
Weekends: Adults (age 13 and over) 1200 yen, children (age 3 – 12) 600 yen, infants (age 2 and under) 300 yen
【Access】1 minute’s walk from Arashiyama Station on the Hankyu-Arashiyama LineView All
Fufu-no-Yu Onsen Ticket in Kyoto‘s Arashiyama
【Onsen】Soak in therapeutic and carbonated springs for silky smooth skin at Sagano Onsen Tenzan-no-yu
This expansive onsen has a wide variety of baths and saunas to choose from, all from pure hot spring sources. The water here naturally contains large amounts of sodium and calcium, as well as chloride ions measuring nine times the standard value, making this onsen a highly effective therapeutic spring for moisturizing and renewing skin’s vitality.
During the weekends, visitors can enjoy rare carbonated springs, as carbon dioxide is dissolved into the onsen water for reported health benefits such as increased blood flow. The temperature of these carbonated springs is set to lower than that of a regular onsen, since carbonated water is more efficient at warming the body. As this option is far less stressful on the heart and less likely to make you sweat, you can enjoy a long and relaxing soak in this unique Japanese onsen.
【Entry fee】Adults (age 13 and over) 1050 yen, members 950 yen, children (age 4 – 12) 500 yen, infants (age 3 and under) Free. ※Various discounts available
【Access】3 minutes’ walk from Arisugawa Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line
Sagano Onsen Tenzan-no-yu
【Sento】Enjoy retro vibes at Sauna no Ume-yu bathhouse
Walking inside the retro, neon-lit entrance of Sauna no Ume-yu feels like stepping back in time to Japan’s swinging 60s, with its classic wooden shoe boxes and vintage beckoning cat statue.
Continue into the bath area and the retro vibes continue – with vivid yellow plastic buckets for washing hair that were so typical of sento in Japan back in the day. Behind the bath area, there is a 120-degrees Celsius dry sauna to sweat out any stress or tension, and glasses of fresh milk are available for refreshment afterwards.
Entry fees are reasonable, so stop by after a day of sightseeing in Kyoto for the ultimate experience of retro Japan.
【Entry fee】Adults (age 12 and over) 430 yen, children (age 6 – 11) 150 yen, infants (6 years and under) 60 yen
【Access】6 minutes’ walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Main Line
Sauna no Ume-yu exterior
Sauna no Ume-yu exterior
- Sauna no Ume Yu
- Kyoto Kyoto-shi Shimogyo-ku Iwatakicho 175