During autumn, Kyoto shows some intense colors. The deep crimson tones of the Japanese maple are probably most intriguing for those, who like me come from a place where it does not exist anymore. In fact, this variant of the species went extinct in Europe during the ice ages. In Japan, however, it survived, dominating the color palette until today. Its presence is that strong that the Japanese term for it, momiji, has become synonymous with autumn foliage in general.
The former Imperial capital of Japan lies in a basin that is surrounded by mountains and natural woodlands. The entire area is interspersed with hundreds of temples and shrines. Many of them have gardens that are painstakingly kept to facilitate impressive foliage. During high season (autumn foliage and cherry blossom) almost all temples and shrines are open to the public. Opening hours are usually from 9am to 5pm, the entrance fee is mostly around ¥500.
The colors’ intensity and progress varies, of course, from year to year, depending on the weather. If you go in the second half of November, you should see some brilliant autumn colors for sure. A great resource for finetuning your trip while you are there 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, 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 (¥500). Hankyu Railway, which lines go as far as Osaka, is offering another attractive one-day ticket (¥800).
There is also an extensive network of local buses. The traffic congestion on Kyoto’s main thoroughfares, however, makes this a rather tedious option. Hiring a car is no better. Also, it requires doing some paperwork in advance and is rather expensive (rates start at ¥5,000–10,000 per day).