After visiting Kyoto in autumn, I promised I will come back during spring as well and spend more than just three days. Maybe a dream that started from Yasunari Kawabata’s books or the many movies about Japan that I have seen, but seeing cherry blossoms (sakura) in the Old Imperial Capital (Kyoto) with my own eyes was one of those bucket list things I had to do. So the two main reasons I took another trip to Kyoto was one: the cherry blossoms and two: seeing the places that I haven’t had time to visit last time, including several UNESCO sites. Of course, there are still many other places I haven’t covered this time either, so another trip to Kyoto (maybe in summer) is a must! Ok, you can call me Kyoto crazy, because I really am! I love it!
Spring or cherry blossom season might be Kyoto’s busiest season, but with some early planning, it can be done! And even if you hate crowds, not all places in Kyoto are bound to be overly crowded. I think I reserved my accommodation about 5 months before, just to make sure I will go, haha. It was the last stop of my spring trip throughout Japan (Osaka-Himeji-Kobe-Hiroshima-Kyoto), and I spent about a week just in Kyoto, from the end of March until the beginning of April. I called this trip around Japan also a UNESCO site chase, as I wanted to see as many as possible. It wasn’t mankai (full bloom) for all the cherry blossoms in Kyoto yet, but I could see some wonderful kinds of sakura in full bloom in a few places.
So, in this post, I want to show you my favorite places for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Kyoto, some great UNESCO places, along with other tips for a great spring trip in this amazing city! It was hard to choose among the hundreds of photos I had taken, but I enjoyed looking at them again and reminiscing about those times. I hope you will also like them!
1. Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) 京都御所
The most beautiful cherry blossoms I have seen in Japan, and maybe in my entire life, were found in a small park near Kyoto Imperial Palace. They were of the kind shidare zakura (weeping cherry tree), and maybe that is why I was so fascinated by them because it was the first time seeing this kind of cherry blossoms. I recommend entering the Imperial Palace as well since it is free and they have English tours at certain hours (you have to register at the nearby office). But if you are short on time, just go there for the cherry blossoms. They are worth it, believe me! And if you don’t trust me, just take a look at the photos below.
2. Nijo-jo Castle 二条城
Another wonderful place to admire the cherry blossoms. They have a limited light-up session as well, and even though the cherry blossoms weren’t in full bloom when I went there, the light up made it seem like they were, haha. The artificial cherry blossoms on the white wall were cute too, and at the end of the tour, we could enjoy a traditional music concert. But since I only went there for the light-up, the castle wasn’t open at the time, and I heard its interiors are superb, also being listed as a world heritage site. So, don’t miss it out, like I did!
3. Sanjusangendo 三十三間堂
A temple famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. As taking photos inside was strictly prohibited, I cannot show you the breathtaking interior, but the temple’s surroundings were also impressive. This temple can often be omitted from most tours, but it is definitely worth paying a visit.
Uji is not exactly in Kyoto, it is about one hour away by train, a small town famous for green tea and for the Byodo-in temple, another amazing UNESCO Heritage site. Although these two were my main goals for going there, I was surprised to see that Uji has much more to offer. Among these, the Usagi Shrine (Rabbit Shrine) or the Genji Monogatari museum. So if you are also a lover of matcha and of Japanese history and literature, don’t miss it!
5. Yasaka shrine&its surroundings 八坂神社
Perhaps the most famous shrine in Kyoto, the place where the Gion festival takes place in July. During spring, there is a real matsuri (festival) there. The biggest hanami party spot in town, with people eating, drinking, having fun under the cherry blossoms.
6. Gion 祇園
Not only wonderful in spring, but in any season! The famous Geisha district of Kyoto. I was lucky to spot some real geisha&maiko (among the many fake ones, as geisha makeup and clothing is now available for rental). But if you see them, don’t forget the manners, and try not to annoy them too much. I just took a few harmless photos.
And a little treat for you because you made it to the end of this long post! Hanami dango 🙂