12 Best Things To Do In Kyoto In Winter

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I loved Kyoto.  I had no idea I was going to visit Japan when I left home for Taiwan.  When I first got there, I was not enjoying it. 

I had planned five weeks in Taiwan and decided to cut it short and spend a week in Japan before heading to the Philippines.

Planning to see a lot of Japan? Buy a JR Pass! A JR (Japan Rail) Pass cover travel on all (except a couple) JR lines throughout Japan, including in Tokyo. This is a really good option if you plan to use the Shinkansen frequently.
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My experience in Kyoto in February

I found a cheap flight and one of my friends that I met in Taiwan decided to meet up with me again in Japan!  We spent a couple days in Tokyo then headed down to Kyoto for one last day before she left. 

If you have a little more time than I did, you can visit Kyoto and Osaka pretty easily.  I probably could have, too, but I loved Kyoto in winter and didn’t want to leave.

I had a little extra time in Kyoto and got to do a little more exploring.  One thing I didn’t think about was what it would be like weather-wise in Japan in February.  Of course, some places (like Sapporo) are going to be a lot colder and snowier than others.

Kyoto in February was the perfect taste of winter.  It was cold, but I wasn’t buried in snow, which is really good, because I was not prepared for that.  At all.  I mean, I was packed for fall weather and beach.  I didn’t plan my packing all that well.

Turns out, Japan is awesome in the winter.  It’s not all that busy and it’s still super easy to get around.  Kyoto does get snow, we just didn’t when we were there. 

Either way, these are some of the best things to do in Kyoto in the winter.  These aren’t all specific to visiting Kyoto in winter, but it will give you plenty of things to keep you busy no matter the time of winter you visit.

Great things to do in Kyoto in winter

There are so many amazing things to do in Kyoto in winter, it can be hard to narrow it down with limited time. Hopefully I can help! But you may just end up with and even longer Japan bucket list.

Go temple hopping

There are SO MANY temples in Kyoto, it’s nuts.  You could easily spend weeks temple hopping, for reals, there are like 1600 temples in Kyoto, but for the sake of this, we’re going to pretend you have one day just for temples. 

Some are free, some have entrance fees, some are open to the public, and some aren’t.  This is a great thing to do in Kyoto in winter because you can warm up when you go into the temples.

I would say for temple hopping, plan based on your budget and which ones you really want to see. 

Location will also be important, but don’t skip one you really want to see just because it’s not close to others. 

You can either rent a bike to get to some of the closer ones or get around by train, taxi, bus, or subway, or a combination of those.

I loved just wandering around and popping into some of the smaller ones I passed along the way.  Plus, since it’s not as busy in Kyoto in winter, the temples won’t be as busy.

Though the big, really popular ones may still have sizeable crowds.  Just make sure to go early in the day.

Some of the best temples in Kyoto are:

  • Chion-in
  • Kinkaku-ji (this is probably the most well-known one in Kyoto, even if you don’t know what its called)
  • Myoshin-ji
  • Ginkaku-ji
  • Honen
  • Nanzen-ji
  • Saiho-ji Kiyomizu-dera
  • Sanjusangen-do
  • Tenryu-ji
  • Gio-ji
  • Tofuku-ji
  • Nembutsu-ji

If you’re lucky, you may get to see a temple or two with a dusting (or more!) of snow! If you want to see that, you may want to visit Kyoto in January or early February.

Relax in an Onsen

While there may not be tons of onsen in Kyoto, there are some that are still worth visiting.  Onsen are natural hot spring baths that can be found across Japan and a must-do when visiting Japan that I, admittedly, didn’t do.

There are two great ones in Kyoto: Kurama Onsen about a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto and Tenzan-no-yu Onsen near Arashiyama.  Kyoto Yunohana Onsen Syoenso Hozugawatei is another great option near Kyoto.

You can also stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese Hotel, with onsen in them, but they can be pretty pricey, so if you’re on a budget, I wouldn’t recommend them. 

Here are some other onsens near Kyoto to check out if you have time and a really great guide to check out before booking a ryokan.  And what better time to enjoy hot springs than February in Kyoto?

Visit some Kyoto museums

There are tons of museums in Kyoto waiting for you to visit them! No matter your interests, I’m sure you can find one to pay a visit.

This is a particularly great thing to do in Kyoto in winter to escape the cold weather. Here are some museums in Kyoto to choose from:

  • The Museum of Kyoto
  • Mirei shigemori garden museum
  • Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
  • Kyoto National Museum
  • Kyoto Railway Museum
  • Kyoto International Manga Museum
  • Lake Biwa Canal Museum
  • Raku Museum
  • Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art
  • Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

Attend a traditional tea ceremony

This is a must-do if you’re visiting Kyoto in winter, or anytime, really. This ceremony takes place at Jotokuji temple but there are others, too.

You’ll learn the rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony as well as the social cultural significance. I would love to do one of these next time I’m there.

Book your tea ceremony here before it sells out!


Wander around Gion and Higashiyama

Gion and Higashiyama are the historic districts of Kyoto.  Higashiyama District is along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. 

The best area in Higashiyama to experience traditional Kyoto is between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine.  This is where you’ll see the narrow walkways and wooden buildings. 

The streets are lined with small shops, cafes, and restaurants making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon walking around.

Join a Higashiyama walking tour here!

Gion is the area that you’ll find Geisha, known as Geiko in Kyoto.  Gion is the traditional entertainment district.  This is where you’ll find a lot of bars, restaurants, and tea houses.  The best time to visit Gion is in the early evening.

You’ll most likely see geisha around on their way to appointments, but you’ll also get to see the streets lit up by the lanterns.  But don’t worry, it’s still really cool to be in this area during the day. 

Pop into some temples and check out the Minamiza Kabuki Theater while you’re here. This was one of my favorite things to do in Kyoto in February when I was there.

Join a Gion night walk tour here!


Go to the Festival of Lights in Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

This is a fun activity that only happens in Kyoto in winter! No matter when you visit, you should go see the Arashiyama bamboo forest. 

But, if you’re there at the right time, you should go during the day to see the forest, explore the area, and come back to the forest once it’s dark so you can see the festival of lights. 

This actually happens twice a year: once in December in Arashiyama and once in March in Higashiyama.

You can find exact dates for the festival of lights here.  For about ten days every December in Arashiyama you’ll find a 5km route through the area lit by open-air lanterns and flower arrangements. 

You’ll be able to see the bamboo forest, temples, and other historical areas in Arashiyama lit up.

You can get a map showing all of the lit areas or you can just wander around and follow the crowds. 

I would highly recommend visiting the Arashiyama bamboo forest during the day too.  It can get pretty busy, but when we were there, the crowd was really just in one spot, but we walked a little further and didn’t see anyone.

Like the picture above, it was just empty, I didn’t photoshop the people out.  Plus, I just don’t know how to do that. 

So if you see the crowd, walk through it and past them.  This is extremely easy to see as a day trip from Kyoto.


Admire the plum (ume) blossoms

While the plum blossom season may not be as well known as the cherry blossom season, it’s still worth seeing.  It may technically be in spring, but it starts in February, so it counts as winter in Kyoto, too. 

You can find them blooming from early February to late March.  There aren’t many best specific places to see the plum blossoms, but Kyoto and Tokyo will be the most popular.

Some of the best places to see the plum blossoms near Kyoto are the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Umenomiya Taisha, Zuishin-in Temple, Nijo Castle, and Kyoto Imperial Park. 

If you want to go a little further to see some, you could head towards Osaka to see them at the Osaka Castle Park or the Osaka Expo ’70 Park.  If you’re visiting Kyoto in February, definitely keep an eye out for these!

Spend an afternoon at Nara Deer Park

I won’t lie, Nara Deer Park was one of my favorite things I did in Japan.  Visiting Nara Deer Park in winter is super easy, just make sure you dress appropriately. 

And by appropriately I mean in layers, but without lots of loose or dangling things.  The deer will pull on and nip at any loose things, like sweaters, purses, sleeves, you get the idea.

They want the biscuits and they’ll make sure you know that.  For around 500 Yen you can get a little pack of the biscuits I’ve mentioned, to give to the deer. 

Nara Deer Park, or Nara in general, is a great day trip from Kyoto.  Just a train or bus ride away is a park full of deer waiting to spend the day with you.

Not only do you get to feed the deer and hang out with them (they will follow you if they know you have biscuits you don’t give them, they’ll also bow to you if you hold them up in front of them) you can explore temples in the park, too. 

We spent an afternoon here and could have easily spent an entire day wandering around.  There is no fee to enter Nara Deer Park.

Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine

This is one of those things in Kyoto that you just have to see (that I did not, pretend there’s a facepalm emoji here). 

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the Shinto Shrine made up of thousands (10,000!) of orange torii gates leading 4KM up Mount Inari.  Each gate was donated by a business. 

Along the way, you’ll see quite a few fox statues, more shrines, kiosks, and vending machines.  There are a few restaurants along the way, too.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is free to visit and is open all day and night.  If you plan to walk all the way to the top of Mount Inari, it will take two to three hours. 

The gates will be busy at the bottom, but the higher you go, the fewer people you’ll see.  Consider combining a trip to the shrine with a visit to the Tofujuki Temple, which is one stop away on the Keihan Line. 

It’s farther away from most of the other things to do in Kyoto.  In winter it can get slippery, so be careful.

Join a Fushimi Inari Shrine hidden hiking tour here!

Head up Monkey Mountain in Arashiyama

I would do this when you visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.  Not too far from the bamboo forest is Monkey Mountain, or Monkey Park Iwatayama

In the park, you’ll find 120 snow monkeys.  These are the same monkeys you’ve probably seen pictures of relaxing in the hot springs.

The best part of this is that the monkeys are free to roam and not kept in cages.  If you want to feed the monkeys, you actually have to go into a building to do it and the monkeys stay outside. 

To get to the main area, you’ll have to walk up a bit from Iwata Mountains base.  The views from the top are also worth going up to see.

If you want to visit, set aside one to two hours.  Tickets can be purchased at the park entrance for 550 Yen. 

You can additionally purchase snacks for the monkeys at the top.  However, there are a few rules if you visit. Don’t stare into the monkeys’ eyes.

They can take this as a threat and get aggressive.  Don’t touch the monkeys because they’re wild monkeys.  Finally, don’t feed them outside of the building at the top.  I loved doing this because we got to see a little snow here!

Take a day trip to Osaka to eat

Osaka is the food capital of Japan.  I don’t know if that’s official, but we’ll pretend it is for the sake of this. 

After all, Osaka is home to 212 Michelin starred restaurants.  How’s that for impressive?  If you want to experience some of these, head to the Dotonbori neighborhood.

The best time to visit and explore Dotonbori is in the evening to see it all lit up, but if you want to eat all the things, I’d go all day.  There are restaurants galore, but you can also find street ramen: open-air ramen stalls.

I don’t even know where to start on food in Osaka, or Japan in general, but definitely read Super Sushi Ramen Express and Rice, Noodle, Fish before you go.

Join an All-Inclusive Night Foodie Cultural Extravaganza in Osaka here!

Go to a festival or two

Chances are pretty good there will be a festival going on near Kyoto in winter.  Of course, that’s not guaranteed, but keep an eye out if you like going to festivals. 

And if there is one you really want to go to, maybe consider planning a trip around it.  Toshiya and Setsubun are the most famous.

Festivals in Kyoto in December

  • Hyakumanben Tedukuri Flea Market (December 15)
  • Hari Kuyo (December 8)
  • Shimai Kobo (December 21)

Festivals in Kyoto in January

Toshiya is an archery competition for young women officially becoming adults when they turn 20. They practice archery in Kimonos and it is held around January 15th.

  • Hatsumode to Fushimi Inari Shrine (January 1-3)
  • Kemari Hejime (January 4)
  • Enmusubi Hatsu Taikoku Festival at the Jishu Shrine (January 1-3)
  • Toka Ebisu Festival at the Ebisu Shrine (January 8-12)

Festivals in Kyoto in February

Setsubun is held at the Yasaka Shrine in Gion to celebrate the end of winter around February 3rd.  Maiko and Geisha chase away bad spirits by throwing dried beans into the crowd.

  • Kyoto Restaurant Winter Special (February 1-28)
  • Godai Rikison Ninno-e Festival at the Daigoji Temple (February 23, if you like mochi, check this one out!)
  • Baikasai at the Kitano Shrine (February 25, this is all about the plum blossoms)

Festivals in Kyoto in March

  • Kitano Odori Geisha Dance (25 March-31 March, until 7 April)
  • Higashiyama Hanatoro (March 3-12)
  • Southern Higashiyama Temple Illuminations (mid-March to the end of March)

The festivals may not be on these specific dates every year, just around these times, so check before you go just to make sure you know when it’s happening.

Does it snow in Kyoto?

Yes! But not very much and not very often. January is most likely to get snow but Kyoto typically only gets 7-8 inches of snow per year.

Best month to visit Kyoto in winter

I personally enjoyed visiting Kyoto in February. It wasn’t super busy and it wasn’t absolutely freezing.

Honestly, all winter months in Kyoto seem pretty similar weather wise, so if that’s your only thing to plan around, I don’t think you can choose wrong.

Christmas in Kyoto might be a fun experience but I have no idea what it would be like there around then. I’m sure it’s busier than other times in winter.

Kyoto in winter weather

Kyoto in winter can be fairly mild and gets less snow than other areas of Japan, but it can still be quite chilly and you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for that.

Kyoto in December

Kyoto in December is typically in the high 40s or low 50s during the day, dipping into the high 30s at night. It averages just over two inches of precipitation.

Kyoto in January

Kyoto in January is typically in the high 40s during the day, and the mid 30s at night. It averages just over two inches of precipitation, too.

Kyoto in February

Kyoto in February is typically in the high 40s or low 50s during the day, and the mid 30s at night. It also averages just over two inches of precipitation.

Is it worth visiting Kyoto in winter?

So, should you go to Kyoto in winter?  Yes!  If you don’t mind cold weather, it’s perfect.  It’s not as busy, which is probably my number one reason to go in winter, but I also just really like traveling in the off-season. 

Where to stay in Kyoto in winter

Kyoto Takasegawa Bettei – This is a sustainable ryokan in the heart of Kyoto. There are river and garden views, and each room has a private bathroom.

Kyonoyado Gekkoan – This is in the Nakagyo Ward district in Kyoto, near Nijo Castle.

Ryokan Hostel Gion – This traditional Machiya style hostel is in the Gion area of Kyoto. This would be the perfect budget option in a great location.

The Millennials Kyoto – This has, a direct quote from Hostelworld, a “high tech & multi-functional sleeping pod which can be completely controlled by an iPod (provided at the check-in).” It looks new and hip and good for socializing.

What to bring to Kyoto in winter

Warm hat – You’ll obviously want to keep your ears warm in the winter. Check out the hat here.

Gloves – If you plan on being outside all day, you’ll probably want thicker gloves, but these are perfect for a few hours.  Buy my gloves here.

Warm socks – I love my Darn Tough socks. I only have one pair right now but I think next time I need hiking socks, I’ll get these again.

Patagonia Synchilla – I think of my Patagonia sweatshirts, the Synchilla is the warmest. I have two of these and really like them.


Tips for visiting Kyoto in winter:

  • It does get pretty cold here, so be prepared for that.  I was in Kyoto in January and had to buy a hat and gloves.  They were a game-changer.  I would definitely bring a warm jacket, hat, scarf, gloves, and warm boots/socks.
  • It does snow in Kyoto, but only a few times a winter and doesn’t last long.
  • While it may get really cold outside, it is SO HOT inside businesses.  Like, plan to take all your layers off once you step inside any building for more than two minutes.  One good thing about this is that you can pop into a 7-11 to warm up a bit if you’re freezing when you’re walking around.
  • Contrary to what you usually read about buses around the world (I’m looking at you Mexico) being really cold, the night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto that we took was like, 85 degrees.  So I can’t stress layers enough for a trip to Japan in the winter.
  • Consider bringing an umbrella.  It was pretty rainy when I was there.  But don’t worry if you don’t have one, a lot of hostels have umbrellas you can borrow.

Planning to see a lot of Japan? Buy a JR Pass! A JR (Japan Rail) Pass cover travel on all (except a couple) JR lines throughout Japan, including in Tokyo. This is a really good option if you plan to use the Shinkansen frequently.
Buy your JR Pass here!


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Have you been to Kyoto in winter?  What did you think of it?  What was your favorite thing you did there?

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