With over 2000 temples and shrines to choose from, you’ll have a hard time deciding where to go when you’re visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto. Especially during autumn, when Kyoto’s fall colours beckon you to explore all if its treasures. The lush reds and yellows provide the perfect backdrop for your photography. But since there are only so many places you can visit during your stay, here are a couple of suggestions for your Kyoto photography.

1. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Kinkaku-ji ranks high among Japan’s most famous buildings, and rightly so. The top two stories of this Zen-Buddhist temple are covered with pure gold leaf, and the beauty of the temple itself is rivalled by that of its surrounding gardens.

How to get there from Kyoto station
Kinkaku-ji is located in the far north west of Kyoto, a bit out of the way from other attractions. Bus #205 from Kyoto station will take you there in about 40 minutes.

Kyoto Golden Pavilion

2. Eikan-do, Zenrin-ji

Famous for its fall foliage, Eikan-do deserves a prominent place on this list of Kyoto photography tips – despite its crowds, which can get on your nerves if you spend too much time here. A tranquil pond in the main temple garden allows you to play around with reflections a bit, and the richly coloured maple leaves make for interesting photo subjects as well.

How to get there from Kyoto station
Take a city bus, route 5, and get off at Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi. It’s a 3-minute walk to the temple precinct. See the temple’s website for its current opening hours: http://www.eikando.or.jp/English/eikando_e.html

kyoto eikan do
kyoto nanzen ji temple autumn foliage
Kyoto Eikan Do

3. Nanzen-ji

Located south of Eikan-do is Nanzen-ji Temple, which is surrounded by spacious grounds and lanes of trees that take on beautiful fall colours. Not as crowded as Eikan-do, which makes it a more relaxing place to explore with your camera.

How to get there from Kyoto station
See no #2 on this list. It’s best to combine both in one visit.

kyoto nanzen ji temple

4. Fushimi Inari Shrine

It doesn’t really matter whether you visit this place during spring, summer, autumn or winter, but how could I leave Fushimi Inari Shrine off this list? Its hundreds of red/orange torii never cease to inspire photographers from all over the world. A must-have in your Kyoto photography collection.

You can take a 1-1,5 hour hike to the top of Mount Itari, passing 10,000 torii along the way, but you might as well stick to the lower parts of the trail if you just want to get some good photos. I highly recommend that you go there early in the morning, to avoid the crowds. (I shot my photos around 8 a.m.)

Tourist attractions in Kyoto can get very crowded during the autumn season. Plan your visits early in the morning.

How to get there from Kyoto station
Take the train to JR Inari Station. Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside the Station. Alternatively, take the train to Fushimi Inari Station. It’s just a short walk to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine

5. Daigo-ji

Another beautiful temple complex in Kyoto, Daigo-ji is a World Heritage Site that features a five-story pagoda (see photo below) with large surrounding grounds. Expect to see a lot of red maple leaves here around mid November.

How to get there from Kyoto station
Take the train to Yamashina Station and then transfer to the Tozai Subway Line. Get off at Daigo Station. Daigo-ji is a 15 minute walk from there.

Kyoto Diago Ji
kyoto nanzen ji temple autumn foliage
kyoto nanzen ji temple autumn foliage

6. Arishayama Bamboo Grove

When you’re done visiting Kyoto’s temples and shrines, don’t forget to take a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It’s really a very small area, so don’t get your expectations up too high, but you’ll find it hard to keep your camera in your bag when walking among these searing stalks of bamboo. Again, it is essential that you go there early in the morning to avoid the crowds. People start flocking into this area as early as 8 a.m.

How to get there from Kyoto station
Take a train to Saga-Arashiyama Station. From Saga-Arashiyama Station, it’s a 5-10 minute walk to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

Kyoto Arashiyama

What is the best time to capture autumn colours in your Kyoto photography?

This is a tricky question – unfortunately, nature doesn’t follow a fixed schedule (which can be hard to accept when you’re a planning freak like I am). On average, the foliage season in Kyoto lasts from mid October to mid December. Based on my experience, I’d say you have a good chance of catching the autumn colours in Kyoto at their peak around mid November.

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