For foliage spotting, there is hardly any better place than Japan’s imperial capital, Kyoto. The city of 1.5 million is nestled in a basin surrounded by forested mountains. Hundreds of temples and shrines intersperse the city and its outskirts. Many of them feature gardens painstakingly kept to allow for most impressive autumn colors. During foliage season almost all temples and shrines are open to the public. Opening hours are usually from 9am to 5pm, many places charge an entrance fee of around ¥500.
Most striking are the crimson tones of the Japanese maple, even more so for visitors from regions that do not have this species anymore. In Europe, it went extinct during the ice ages. In Japan, maple trees are so omnipresent that momiji, as the Japanese call it, has become synonymous with autumn foliage in general.
Progress and intensity of the colors vary naturally from year to year, depending on the weather. If you go in the second half of November, you should see some brilliant colors for sure. A great resource when laying down your itinerary are the autumn color reports from japan-guide.com.
Kyoto is a bicycle city. Many places of interest are within a radius of 5km or even less. Since the city’s street layout is based on a grid pattern, negotiating your way is easy. You can resort to many low-traffic, one-way backstreets, thus avoiding busy main roads. There are bike rental shops throughout most of the city.
For longer distances, better use rail services. A great deal for accessing the city’s eastern districts is the one-day pass from Keihan Railways for ¥500. Hankyu Railway, which lines go as far as Osaka, is offering another attractive one-day ticket for ¥800.
There is also an extensive network of local buses. Kyoto’s congested thoroughfares, however, make using the bus less effective. Hiring a car is no better. Also, it requires doing some paperwork in advance and is rather expensive. Rates usually start at ¥5,000–10,000 per day.