You’ve probably seen the photos: fluffy, pink cherry blossoms in the springtime, and rich, red maple leaves in the fall. Japan is known for its distinct seasonal conditions, and Kyoto’s climate can be particularly extreme. So what’s the best time to visit Kyoto? And what will the weather in Kyoto be like during your visit?
Kyoto is located in a valley surrounded on three sides by mountains to the north, west and east. Due to this geographical feature, the city experiences hot and humid summers and chilly winters. You’ll hear a lot about Japan’s beautiful “four” seasons, and you can enjoy the best of all of them here in Kyoto, but there are actually a few more than four…
Spring (March - May)
Spring weather in Kyoto is mild, and the cherry blossom displays make it a popular time to visit. Temperatures start to rise day by day from mid-March and visitors can appreciate warm, sunny weather while exploring the outdoors–if you like to stretch your legs a bit, it’s a great time to go out for a hike in Kyoto!
Beginning in March, the city will be colored by a variety of seasonal flowers and plants, starting with plum blossoms, and then cherry blossoms, azaleas, wisteria, and irises, all blooming in succession. The April cherry blossoms are particularly beloved by visitors and locals alike, and for the short period that they bloom, it’s common to hold picnics and parties under the trees.
Warmer weather means people can stay out into the evenings, too, and enjoy the blossoms in a different light.
“Tsuyu” Rainy Season (June - July)
Bring your umbrella! Between early June and mid-July, Kyoto sees a lot of rainfall. This season is called “tsuyu” in Japanese, and is a typical weather pattern across Japan, China, Korea, and other East Asian countries. The humidity can be very high during this period, and temperatures may go up and down as the rains pass, but they can bring out the bright green of Kyoto’s flora as well. In June and July, catch a glimpse of raindrop-laden hydrangeas around the city. If you’d like to venture a little outside the city center, the rainy season is a wonderful time to visit the Rakusai area.
The mountains on Kyoto’s three sides most affect the city’s climate in the summertime. These mountains block any cooling winds, so the air in the city remains hot and humid during these months. You may break out in a sweat without even moving (the perfect opportunity to make use of your new Kyoto-style fan! You’ll see many of the locals carrying fans to generate a cool breeze in the summer). Temperatures often rise above 35 degrees in mid-summer. Another characteristic of Kyoto’s summer is sudden outbreaks of heavy rain and thunderstorms in the afternoons.
In the summertime, “kawayuka” dining on riverside terraces is a popular pastime. It’s an experience you can enjoy both downtown along the Kamo-gawa River, or slightly to the north for a cooler experience.
Autumn (September - November)
In Kyoto, autumn, like spring, is a season with largely mild and sunny weather, and a popular time to visit the city. Temperatures in Kyoto stay quite warm through October, but cool down into November, bringing about the season’s greatest spectacle: the deepening colors of the autumn maple leaves.
Many temples have beautiful displays, and because the nights in autumn aren’t yet too cold, their doors will often open at night for colorful illuminations of autumn foliage. Kyoto’s Takao area is particularly well-known for its autumn leaves.
Autumn weather is also great for exploring the city of Kyoto on foot, or with a bicycle tour!
Winter (December - February)
Just as the mountains around Kyoto make it hot and humid in the summer, they make for extremely chilly winters when cold winds blow down from the mountains. Despite the cold, however, Kyoto doesn’t receive much snow. When it does, though, be sure to take out your camera: the historical city covered with white snow is unforgettably beautiful.
If you visit during winter, consider staying at one of Kyoto’s many traditional ryokan inns, which feature cozy baths (daytime-only hot springs, or onsen, are also available) and unsurpassed hospitality.
No matter the season or the weather, there’s a way to enjoy a different side of Kyoto.