10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

Dreaming about a trip to Japan but don’t want to deal with mass tourism when visiting Kyoto? Don’t worry! I am here to share the best tips to avoid crowds in Kyoto.

Kyoto has been suffering from mass tourism in recent years and I am sure you have heard complaints about how packed it is. But then again, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so can you really blame other tourists?

For reference, I visited Kyoto during cherry blossom season, which is considered the peak season in Japan. Yet, I still managed to avoid the crowds in Kyoto, and have many pictures to prove that.

In fact, whenever I post my content from Japan, everyone wants to know where are the crowds. Some even accuse of heavy use of Photoshop or other tools simply because they cannot believe how empty it is.

This is the main reason why I am writing this Kyoto travel guide. I truly believe these tips will help you to avoid crowds in Kyoto and allow you to enjoy this beautiful city without pushing your way through masses of people.

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How to avoid crowds in Kyoto?

1. Wake up early to see Kyoto empty

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

First and foremost, there is no magic trick. If you want to avoid crowds at the popular attractions in Kyoto, you will need to set up your alarm early every single day. And by early I mean around sunrise.

Look from the bright side: Kyoto is not a popular party destination, so you can easily be in bed by 10 pm and still get enough beauty sleep for the day after. This is a good reason to enjoy your dinner earlier than usual and avoid the lines at the restaurants at the peak time. Win-win!

I naturally wake up early, so this was not a difficult task for me, but I know that we are all different. If the alarm is not your friend, you will enjoy other tips in this guide, but just think about seeing the empty streets of Kyoto with your own eyes. It might be worth it at least once!

2. Visit Kyoto during the low season

most beautiful places in Kyoto - 10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

The low season in Kyoto provides a different perspective of this beautiful city and it comes with fewer crowds & other benefits. Let’s discover when is the peak season and when is the low season in Kyoto.

Peak Seasons in Kyoto

  • Cherry blossom season – late March to early April.
  • Autumn Foliage Season – mid-November to early December.
  • Golden Week – late April to early May
  • New Year Period – late December to early January

Low Seasons in Kyoto

  • Post-New Year – after the New Year holidays until mid-February (low temperatures)
  • Rainy Season – typically from early June to mid-July (frequent rainfall)
  • End of Summer – late August to early September (high temperatures and humidity)

Low season is a great alternative for budget travelers as the accommodation prices tend to be more affordable. This also gives you a wider choice of possibilities if you are booking last last-minute trip.

Also, you can enjoy seasonal differences and discover different landscapes, like snow-covered temples in winter and lush greenery with blooming hydrangeas in the rainy season. As some people say: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

3. Avoid popular events & local holidays

How to avoid crowds in Kyoto?

Japanese love to travel around Japan as much as tourists do, so make sure you avoid popular events, local holidays, and long weekends in Kyoto. Generally, I would try to plan to stay in Kyoto on a weekday and spend my weekend somewhere else.

I will not go into detail to talk about all public holidays in Japan, but this is a great resource that will help you plan accordingly. Also, I would avoid international holidays as people tend to take time off during those periods.

Major Festivals in Kyoto to avoid:

  • Gion Matsuri (July)
  • Aoi Matsuri (May)
  • Jidai Matsuri (October)
  • Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (August)

4. Stay away from popular spots

How to avoid crowds in Kyoto?

So let’s say that you dream about visiting Japan during cherry blossom season or fall foliage and you simply cannot get yourself out of bed early in the morning. Your best bet is to stay away from the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto.

Most crowded attractions in Kyoto:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
  • Kiyomizu-dera
  • Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
  • Heian Shrine
  • Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka
  • Hōkan-ji Temple (Yasaka Pagoda)
  • Nijō Castle
  • Eikan-dō (Zenrin-ji) Temple in fall
  • These cherry blossom spots in the spring

Now, you might be wondering what there is left for you to see in Kyoto. Don’t worry, I am here to help you with that as well, so keep on reading.

5. Discover hidden gems in Kyoto instead

How to avoid crowds in Kyoto?

Busy time of the day during peak season in Kyoto is the best time to leave popular attractions and discover some hidden gems instead. I will share some of the places that I found almost empty during cherry blossom season meaning that you have the same opportunity.

Less crowded attractions in Kyoto:

  • Kodaiji Temple’s Bamboo Forest (photo above!)
  • Tenjuan Garden near the Nanzen-ji 
  • Toji Temple
  • Hike from Fushimi Inari Shrine to Mount Inari (book a local guide here)
  • Fushimi Momoyama Castle
  • Santuario Seimei-jinja
  • Daitoku-ji Temple
  • Nyan-nyan-ji
  • Okazaki Shrine
  • Yasaka Kōshin-dō

I have to say that considering the popularity of Kyoto, it is hard to find hidden gems in Kyoto. But these are places that most tourists miss as they have limited time so you can enjoy a peaceful atmosphere any time of the day.

Extra tip! Do you want a photo of the iconic Hōkan-ji Temple? Head to Tamamizucho (next to the Kyo Yuba Kobo). Everyone is so focused on Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka that they quickly pass this street. With a bit of patience, you can snap the beauty of pagoda.

6. Don’t be afraid to get lost

How to avoid crowds in Kyoto?

I usually make an extensive list of places that I want to visit and things I want to do, which means I have to have a plan whenever I travel. But! It is so important to wander off the usual route and simply get lost.

Whenever you are around a popular attraction, head to the opposite side of the crowd. One observation I made during my time in Kyoto: people are eager to visit the temples and completely miss the gardens of the temples.

Kodaiji Temple’s Bamboo Forest is just one of the examples. The temple itself is packed with people even at the opening time, but only a few people follow the path that leads to the Bamboo Forest. Sure, it is not as massive as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, but it is a great alternative.

On the day that we rented kimonos, we passed Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka around 11 am when the place was completely packed. But we found a little entrance that led us to Seiryu-en Garden, which is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Kyoto.

So even if you are someone like me and you want to stick to the plan, don’t be afraid to get off the popular route and discover something new.

7. Head to the outskirts of Kyoto

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

Most popular day trips from Kyoto include Uji and Nara, however, if you want to escape crowds in Kyoto head to explore the outskirts of Kyoto instead.

Kyoto is not a small village, so most tourists prefer to stay in central Kyoto and explore attractions nearby. This means that attractions located further away from Central Kyoto are often empty, even during peak hours.

One of my favorite places on the outskirts of Kyoto is the Lake Biwa. The southern part of the lake is easily accessible with public transport in less than 2 hours. The best places to visit around Lake Biwa are Omihachiman, Otsu, and Ukimido (Floating Hall in the photo above).

Hikers will love Mount Kurama instead. Don’t miss Kuramadera Temple and Kifune Shrine when you are visiting the area.

Miyama and Kyotamba give you a chance to see kayabuki and discover local crafts. This is a perfect place for you if you want to learn more about Japanese culture but don’t want to deal with crowds in Kyoto.

8. Relax at the ryokan with a private onsen

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

Another great way to avoid the crowds in Kyoto is to book a ryokan with a private onsen and enjoy this highlight of Japan in complete privacy. I have to warn you that this comes with a bit of a splurge, but it is so worth it for a night or two.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with classic local architecture. Nowadays, many ryokans provide modern comforts and even luxury amenities. Having a private onsen in your room is a wonderful experience and a great way to unwind & stay away from crowds in Kyoto.

—> Click here to discover the best ryokans in Kyoto with a private onsen

Don’t have the time to read the full article? Our top picks for ryokans in Kyoto with private onsen:

9. Plan strategically 

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

I know that this might sound very obvious, but this is your reminder to plan your Kyoto itinerary strategically. What does it mean?

To avoid crowds in Kyoto, focus on the popular attractions early in the morning and hidden gems later in the afternoon. When we were in Kyoto, we would wake up for sunrise, stay out until lunch, and then go back to the hotel to rest.

Noon is the busiest time in Kyoto and there is no point in visiting the central part during this time. Instead, you can use this time to plan some chill time or even a nap. Some local experiences guarantee privacy as well.

10. Embrace the crowds

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

Last but not least, make sure you embrace the crowds once in a while. Certain places simply call for crowds and I am sure you will love the lively atmosphere of these attractions.

Nishiki Market is one of the popular markets in Kyoto and I truly enjoyed the traffic of crowds as I was eating my matcha ice cream in one of the cafes located inside the market. 

Another great example is Gion. During the day, it’s bustling with locals and tourists dressed in kimonos. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a maiko. 

I’ve seen many postcards featuring scenes from Gion, but experiencing it in person is simply fantastic. The beauty and atmosphere of Gion come to life in a way that postcards can’t capture.

While it is nice to stay away from the masses, complaining about crowds won’t make it any better. We all want to see Kyoto, so can you really blame others? 

Are you a photographer? You will love these tips!

  • Look for viewing platforms
  • Bring your zoom lens and capture details
  • Try out different angles and perspectives 
  • Anything with a pond can help you cut the crowds
  • Don’t forget your patience!

Read next: 25 Best Photo Spots in Kyoto

In conclusion…

10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

This is the end of the best tips to avoid crowds in Kyoto and I am sure you know all the right shortcuts to enjoy the peaceful side of Kyoto.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any feedback or additional tips, leave a comment below. Also, check out my Instagram for regular travel videos and travel inspiration. Or explore other destinations on this travel blog.

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10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto
10 Tips to Help You Avoid Crowds in Kyoto

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