While spring and autumn are the two most popular seasons to visit Kyoto, there are a wide variety of seasonal events and festivals that allow tourists to embrace the beauty of the ancient capital throughout the year.
Here's a monthly guide to all of Kyoto's major events, so be sure to check them out if you want to brighten your itinerary.
ー Sunrise viewing at the Kyoto Tower
Seeing sunrise on New Year's Day is believed to bring luck for the entire year, which is why people flock to the observation deck of the tallest landmark in the city - the Kyoto Tower.
It takes place from 6:30 am to 8:00 am but is on a first-come-first-served basis, so try to arrive there before it opens.
Admission is 1,000 yen for middle-schoolers and above.
ー Special Winter Light-up Event at Kifune Shrine
Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the god of matchmaking and is famed for its free, special winter light-up event on snowy Saturdays between late January and February.
If the event is to be held, they’ll announce it at 3:00 pm on Kifune Shrine’s official social media accounts.
Temporary shuttle bus services between Kibuneguchi Station and Kibune bus stop are available on event days.
ー Setsubun Festival
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Setsubun (節分), a traditional event, held on February 3rd every year.
People throw beans to drive away evil spirits on this day and many shrines and temples in Kyoto host admission-free Setsubun Festivals.
The festival usually falls on either 2 or 3 days around February 3rd.
They usually involve traditional dance or lots of stalls, as well as bean-throwing.
Yoshida Shrine, Yasaka Shrine, and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine are all popular destinations in Kyoto.
ー Aodani Bairin Plum Blossom Festival
Aodani Bairin Plum Blossom Festival
Late February to late March is the best season to enjoy the beautiful plum trees in Kyoto.
Aodani Bairin Plum Blossom Festival (青谷梅林 梅まつり) in the gently rolling hills of Joyo City is known for its one million plum trees.
This festival usually takes place between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, with visitors enjoying the view of pink petals and stalls selling plum-based foods.
ー Higashiyama Hanatouro
Hokanji (Yasaka Tower) (C) Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council
Creative Lighting Design Competition (C) Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council
In early to mid-March (March 6th to 15th, 2020), the ancient streets of the Higashiyama area are wrapped with beautiful lanterns to create an atmospheric nighttime scene.
The illumination starts at 6:00 pm and ends at 9:30 pm daily.
While walking along the illuminated streets, you can visit famous sites like the Yasaka Jinja, Kodaiji and Kiyomizu-dera, as well as beautiful Ikebana Promenade.
Lanterns and Flower Lane(Neneno-michi Ave.) (C) Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council
ー Cherry Blossom Viewing and Light-up Event
The best time to see cherry blossom trees in Kyoto is from late March to early April when the city hosts numerous viewing events and night illumination festivals.
Maruyama Park is an admission-free park that’s renowned for its weeping cherry tree that enchants visitors.
Nijo Castle transforms into a real life kaleidoscope at night (6:00 pm - 7:30 pm), with colorful projection mapping and fascinating illuminations.
Admission is 600 yen for adults.
ー KYOTOGRAPHIE International Photography Festival
KYOTOGRAPHIE（C) JR Kyoto Isetan
One of the few international photography festivals in Japan, KYOTOGRAPHIE runs from mid-April to mid-May in Kyoto.
Exhibition venues are scattered across the city, displaying photographs of various cultures and backgrounds.
Admission fees vary depending on the venue but visitors can also purchase an inclusive festival pass or one-day pass to visit multiple sites.
KG＋, an open-entry art festival for emerging talents, is also held during this festival period.
ー Green Maple Leaves and Night Illumination Events
While Kyoto's autumn colors are undoubtedly gorgeous, the new leaves that sprout between late-April and June are also definitely worth your time.
Rurikoin Temple is a renowned spot, featuring a breathtaking reflection of its green garden on a shiny, black table.
Ikkyuji Temple in Kyotanabe city shouldn’t be missed either, with a beautiful tunnel of young maple leaves and moss grounds decorating its cobblestone approach.
ー Aoi Festival
Aoi Festival is one of Kyoto's three great festivals, along with the Gion and Jidai Festivals.
It takes place every year on May 15 to demonstrate the aristocratic culture of the Heian period with a large procession.
Backed by beautifully decorated hollyhock leaves, more than 500 participants wearing traditional costumes parade from The Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30am before arriving at Kamigamo Shrine around 3:30 pm.
You can reserve a paid seat in advance or find spots on the roadside for free.
ー Kawadoko River Terrace
Kawadoko River Terrace
Many restaurants along the Takao (other areas such as Kibune and Kamo River) set up temporary wooden terraces every year between May and mid-September, providing peaceful dining spots called Kawadoko／Noryoyuka (川床／納涼床).
Kyoto's summer can be insanely hot but traditional Japanese restaurants (such as Beniya and Momiji-ya) in remote mountainous areas offer a seasonal dining experience combined with refreshing mountain air and relaxing river sounds.
ー Ajisai Festivals
June and July are usually rainy in Kyoto but you can still enjoy the water-loving, colorful hydrangeas.
Yokokuji Temple attracts tourists with its water-filled basins, which are decorated with eye-catching arrangement of hydrangeas.
Mimurotoji Temple (also known as the “Hydrangea Temple”) boasts a collection of one million hydrangeas and offers weekend-only night illumination events (7:00 pm - 9:00 pm), as well as a daytime viewing festival.
ー Gion Festival
Gion Festival is an annual festival at Yasaka Shrine that takes place over the entire month of July.
While various religious ceremonies and events are organized, the highlight is definitely the large procession known as Yamahoko Junko (山鉾巡行).
It features 25-meter tall floats decorated with colorful Nishijin textiles.
The procession routes will be closed to traffic and filled with food and drink stalls instead. The dates of Yamahoko Junko vary by year, so be sure to check the schedule in advance.
ー Yoru no Suizokukan (The Night Aquarium)
Yoru no Suizokukan
From July to December, the Kyoto Aquarium occasionally stays open at night (5:00 pm - 8:00 pm), inviting visitors to see the nocturnal lives of its aquatic animals.
The aquarium is illuminated by mystical lights and music plays as visitors observe the whimsical activities of nocturnal creatures like salamanders, as well as cuddly penguins sleeping in groups.
Visitors can explore the facility with hand-sized lanterns, making it a particularly exciting adventure for children.
ー Wind Chime Festival
Shoujiin Temple is well-known to Instagrammers for its eye-catching ceiling painted with colorful flowers and the heart-shaped window of its guest hall.
The temple gets even more vibrant between July and mid-September when the soothing sound of thousands of wind chimes resonate through the temple grounds.
The temple opens from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and there are night illumination events on weekends (6:00 pm-8:00 pm).
The admission is 700 yen during the festival (500 yen for regular seasons).
ー Mitarashi Festival
From mid to late July, worshippers gather at Kyoto's cultural heritage site, Simogamo Shrine, to pray for good health throughout the year.
Admission is 300 yen, allowing you to wade into the knee-deep pond with a candle and place it at the sub-shrine.
Once you come out of the pond, you dry your legs (bring your own towel) and drink sacred water. The festival is held from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
ー Kyo no Tanabata Festival
Kyo no Tanabata Festival
Tanabata generally falls on July 7 when two heavenly lovers are allowed to reunite over the starry sky.
In Kyoto, the Kyo no Tanabata Festival (京の七夕) takes place around mid August across the city, based on the lunar calendar.
Sites like Nijo Castle and the Kamo River are mystically decorated with illuminations and paper lanterns at night, inviting those who honor the tradition of "making a wish once a year."
ー Kyoto Gozan Okuribi
Kyoto Gozan Okuribi
Every year on August 16, six giant bonfires in the shape of Chinese characters make appearances on the mountainsides of Kyoto city, sending dead ancestors back to the spirit world.
Kyoto Gozan Okuribi (京都五山送り火) is part of the Obon holiday when Japanese Buddhists commemorate the spirits of their ancestors.
If you plan to capture the most popular character 大（big）, you should head to the Yoshidayama Green Space around 8:00 pm.
ー Digitized Forest at the World Heritage Site of Shimogamo Shrine Art by teamLab - TOKIO INKARAMI
Presented by the collaborative art group, teamLab, Shimogamo Shrine is transformed into a colorful canvas of immersive art every year from around mid-August to early September.
The event runs from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm and admission is 1,300 yen on weekdays, 1,500 yen on weekends, and primary school children or younger are free.
ー Fireworks Festivals
Kameoka Peace Festival and Hozugawa Citizens' Fireworks Show
Miyazu Toro Nagashi and Fireworks Display
Summer in Kyoto is one of the most eventful seasons of the year.
But you definitely can’t miss the fireworks festivals when pyrotechnicians proudly show off their spectacular skills over the night sky.
Kameoka Peace Festival and Hozugawa Citizens' Fireworks Show boasts 8,000 artistic fireworks as part of their display while the Miyazu Toro Nagashi and Fireworks Display offers a beautiful combination of ascending fireworks and softly-lit lanterns on Miyazu Bay.
Both of the festivals take place around mid-August.
Miyazu Toro Nagashi and Fireworks Display
ー Japan Umeshu Festa
Japan Umeshu Festa
If you want to drink Japanese alcohol other than sake, you should try umeshu (plum wine). The Japan Umeshu Festa in Kyoto takes place over a four-day period in mid-September every year at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
You can sample or even purchase more than 140 brands of umeshu from all over Japan. Pre-sale tickets are available for 1,300 yen at 7-Eleven convenience stores and same-day tickets are available for 1,500 yen.
ー Jidai Festival
Jidai Festival is one of Kyoto's three major festivals. It celebrates the long-established culture and history of Kyoto with a two-kilometer-long procession displaying historical costumes and characters from the ancient Heian to Meiji periods.
The first edition of this festival dates back more than 100 years and was held to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding.
It takes place on October 26 this year (and October 22 next year).
ー Kurama Fire Festival
Kurama Fire Festival
In the remote mountain village of Kurama, the Fire Festival sees torch bearers loudly chant and walk past houses lit by bonfires.
Later in the evening, the procession is joined by mikoshi float bearers and heads to Yuki Shrine on the slopes of Mount Kurama.
Being one of the most eccentric, spectacular festivals in Japan, it tends to get very crowded and sometimes sparks can fly, so visitors are advised to wear non-flammable clothing.
The event kicks off at 6:00 pm.
ー Autumn Foliage and Night Illumination Events
Autumn Foliage and Night Illumination Events
Between November and early December, changing leaves beautifully decorate the mountains, historical sites and other sightseeing spots in Kyoto.
Many places, including the Kiyomizu Temple and Kodaiji Temple, hold seasonal night illumination events, making this captivating season even more special.
Autumn in Kyoto is on many tourists' radar, so travel around the city without using a bus, taxi or car and plan your trip using trains.
The best autumn color spots in Kyoto for 2019
ー Arashiyama Hanatouro
Illuminated Togetsukyo Bridge (C)Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council
Illuminated Arashiyama (C)Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council
Every year around mid-December (December 13th to 22th, 2019), glowing lanterns and elegant ikebana flower arrangements envelop the Saga and Arashiyama area from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm.
There are two popular spots you shouldn’t miss: the Togetsukyo Bridge features a tranquil waterfront with a dramatic backdrop of radiant mountain leaves while the well-lit Bamboo Forest walkways offer a dreamy, mystical feel.
Bamboo Forest (C)Kyoto Hanatouro Promotion Council