We've already covered Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo, and now we're bringing you the best places for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. For a guided experience, book the Kyoto Cherry Blossom Food Tour!
The cherry blossom, or sakura, is widely recognized as one of the national flowers of Japan (the other being the chrysanthemum), and the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) is one of the most celebrated traditions across the nation. Whenever the cherry blossom festival nears, people gather for hanami (cherry blossom viewing). Hanami is typically celebrated with a picnic party, as people get together to appreciate the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossoms and feast on sakura snacks.
Although the best places to see cherry blossoms in Japan are often a topic of debate amongst many, Kyoto is one of the most popular cities in Japan for hanami, and cherry blossom trees in Kyoto can be found across the city. Many historical monuments, shrines, and parks are home to these cherry blossoms, serving as popular hanami spots. Kyoto is also famous for its plethora of traditional tea houses, which are also popular cherry blossom viewing spots where you can sip tea and enjoy the view.
Japan’s cherry blossom schedule differs slightly year to year, depending on the weather, and cherry blossom trees across Japan peak at different periods as well. As the sakura are only in mankai, full bloom, for a week, locals and tourists eagerly await the annual forecast of the blooming period, to catch the best time to see cherry blossoms in Japan.
In Kyoto, cherry blossoms typically bloom between the end of March to mid April, and this year, the estimated start date to catch sakura in Kyoto has been forecasted to be around March 27th, 2020. However, we recommend heading to the spots listed below between early to mid April, to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Kyoto.
Here are some of the best sakura viewing spots in Kyoto!
Nijo Castle is famous for its annual sakura matsuri illumination, a grand scale celebration that includes digital projections on the castle and the cherry blossom trees, as well as the traditional art performances. Home to over 300 cherry blossom trees and 50 cherry blossom variants, the cherry blossom trees bloom at different times throughout the sakura season, allowing visitors to enjoy hanami all through the blooming period.
The Kiyomizudera Temple is one of Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing places and has been designated as one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994. Come sakura season, it is also one of the most beautiful sights in Kyoto to behold. A viewing platform can be accessed from the main hall, where upon stepping out, visitors can be greeted by a sea of cherry blossoms, with the city of Kyoto looming in the background. Kiyomizudera also offers a night view of the cherry blossoms which is a spectacle not to be missed.
Heian Shrine’s cherry blossoms typically bloom later than the other cherry blossoms around Kyoto. Many often visit the shrine towards the later end of the sakura season to admire these late bloomers. The cherry blossom trees are planted in the heart of Heian Shrine’s Japanese garden, and an instrumental concert is usually held in the garden at the beginning of April, to commemorate the blooming of the cherry blossoms.
Maruyama Park cherry blossoms are a favorite among many in Kyoto, with several tea houses around the area to enjoy hanami. Many flock to Maruyama Park for its weeping tree, also known as a shidarezakura. Maruyama Park’s weeping cherry blossom tree is also one of the tallest cherry blossom trees in the Gion district. The park is also illuminated at night during the sakura season, and watching over 800 cherry blossom trees light up is a truly amazing scene.
Situated beside a canal lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, Philosopher’s Path is one of the most popular spots for hanami in Kyoto. If you choose to walk down the path, it will take you no more than half an hour and provide you with plenty of photo-taking opportunities. Many often pay a visit to Ginkakuji, Kyoto’s Silver Pavilion, before heading over to a spot along the Philosopher's Path for a leisurely stroll.
As Japan’s oldest and most comprehensive botanical gardens, Kyoto Botanical Gardens houses over 200 variants of the cherry blossom, and is home to over 500 cherry blossom trees, making it one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the sakura flower all through the entire cherry blossom blooming period. The Kyoto Botanical Gardens also host walking night tours during the cherry blossom season, and visitors can join a walking tour to learn more about the different cherry blossom trees grown in the garden, whilst enjoying the cherry blossom illumination.
You can’t get more famous than having a location dedicated to you on Google Maps, which is what the famous weeping sakura tree in the Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens has managed to achieve. A short stroll through the grounds of the palace will give you access to the hundreds of cherry blossom trees planted around the Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden. The Konoe’s Palace Garden cherry blossom tree is situated on the south of the palace, and is a regular on many Instagram pages.
Head to Okazaki Canal for a picturesque moment as you sail down the canal on the Jikkokubune boat tour, conducted only during the sakura season. The boat tour operates from the end of March to the first week of May, and takes you from Nanzenji-Temple to the Kamo River. For a truly spectacular view of these cherry blossoms, take the boat ride at night, when the cherry blossoms are illuminated.
Adjacent to Okazaki Canal is the Keage Incline, another popular spot that houses over a hundred cherry blossom trees. The Keage Incline cherry blossoms frame an old discontinued railway track, along a 582 meter long slope, up a gentle incline. When the flowers are in full bloom, a gentle breeze is often enough to send a cascade of raining petals down, creating a truly breathtaking view.
While most people jostle for the best hanami spots in downtown Kyoto, a mere 30-minutes train ride to the outskirts of Kyoto city will take you to one of Kyoto’s best hanami spots. Embossed on the back of the 10 yen coin, Byodoin Temple is one of Japan’s most iconic temples and lies in the heart of Uji. Although famous for its wisteria trellises in May, many visit Byodoin Temple during the cherry blossom season for hanami as well, as several varieties of cherry blossom trees grow around Aji-ike Pond. During the sakura season, these cherry blossom trees seem to frame the temple, creating a magnificent scene. The evenings are also some of the best times to visit the temple, as the cherry blossoms are illuminated for night viewing.
As one of Japan’s favorite cities to view cherry blossoms, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a hanami spot in Kyoto. Cherry blossoms are notorious for being one of the most short-lived flowers. But perhaps that is its true beauty, serving to encourage the appreciation of the beauty of the present moment. So when these transient beauties are in season, grab a mat, friends, family, and a couple of drinks, and you have the recipe for a perfect hanami!
While you're in the ancient capital, why not explore food experiences in Kyoto!