Seeing the cherry blossoms in Kyoto is a tradition that dates back centuries. During the Heian period, court royalty gathered under the flowering trees for picnics called hanami, a tradition that has carried on to the modern era. People come from all over Japan to see Kyoto’s stunning sakura trees, and it’s a top bucket list item for travelers from all over the world. Here are the 10 best places in Kyoto to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
Okazaki Canal, located near Heian Shrine, is a waterway that connects to Lake Biwa Canal, the main canal that brings water to the city of Kyoto from Lake Biwa over 20km away. The lovely sight of weeping cherry blossoms reflected in the canal waters draws people from near and far. Take a cherry blossom viewing boat tour down the length of Okazaki Canal or a stroll on the walking path alongside the canal.
Get away from the more touristy areas of Kyoto and head west to the Arayashima district, an area that’s well-known for its graceful bamboo forest but also for its lovely riverside view of the cherry blossoms. The iconic Togetsukyo, or ‘Moon Crossing’, Bridge spans the river and adjacent to the bridge is a park with dozens of sakura trees.
The Philosopher’s Path, or Tetsugaku No Michi（哲学の道）is 2km stone path that follows a narrow canal. It gets its name from a famous Japanese philosopher and founder of the Kyoto School of philosophy, Kitaro Nishida, who used this path as a meditation spot on his walking commute to Kyoto University. The Philosopher’s path is lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, which make it an unforgettable sight during this season and one of the most popular hanami spots in all of Kyoto.
Hirano Shrine is one of Kyoto’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spots, dating back as early as the Heian era. The shrine grounds are planted with more than 400 cherry blossom trees that span over fifty different varieties, including many rare species that can’t be seen anywhere else in Kyoto. These various types of sakura create a gorgeous spectrum of color ranging from pure white to brilliant pink.
If you’re looking for a lively and social place to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the centrally-located Maruyama Park is one of the most popular places in Kyoto to drink and mingle under the sakura trees, come day or night.
Nijo Castle enjoys a long hanami season, thanks to the various species of cherry blossom trees located on the castle grounds, which bloom from as early as the beginning of May until late April. The castle was once the Kyoto residence of Ieyasu Tokugawa and later the Imperial family, and now the castle belongs to the city of Kyoto. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
The Keage Incline was once a railway used to transport ships between the Lake Biwa Canal down to the Okazaki Canal, which sits at a lower elevation. Today, the railway tracks still remain but the incline has become a walking path and popular cherry blossom viewing spot in the springtime. The sakura tree-lined track creates a tunnel of blossoms to walk beneath.
Daigoji is a Buddhist temple that has been a popular hanami spot for centuries. It was here that Hideyoshi Toyotomi had 700 cherry blossom trees planted and held a famous hanami party during the 16th century. Today, there are almost 1,000 sakura trees at Daigoji Temple, including the iconic Somei Yoshino; the weeping cherry blossom, shidarezakura; and the yamazakura, or wild mountain cherry blossom.
Ninnaji Temple is a hanami spot famous for the sensational sight of its five-story pagoda swathed in pink cherry blossoms. It’s best to visit in late spring, as the omurozakura variety of cherry blossom which grows here blooms later in the season than others.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is located on Kyoto’s Mount Otowa, which has nearly 1500 cherry blossom trees growing on its slopes. You can get a stunning panoramic view of the blossoms from the temple’s veranda, which extends straight out from the mountainside and is supported by massive wooden columns. Other excellent sakura viewing spots are the base of the temple’s three-story pagoda and the pond located near the temple exit.