Kyoto has four distinct seasons, but spring and fall are the most pleasant times to go. Spring temperatures range from the 50s to the 70s; fall is slightly warmer, from the 60s to the 80s. After a short rainy season in June, the summer becomes hot and muggy—or mushiatsui, as the Japanese say. Winter temperatures vary from the low 30s to the high 40s.
Because Kyoto’s weather is difficult to predict, timing your visit around the brief cherry-blossom season can be a challenge, but a safe bet is late March or early April. The autumn foliage is usually at its best and brightest in late October and early November, when the maple trees in temple gardens turn gold and crimson. Be forewarned, however: spring and fall remain the most popular seasons for Japanese tourists to visit Kyoto, and hotels and ryokans need to be booked far in advance.
Travelers may want to visit during one of the city’s major festivals. Aoi Matsuri (May 15), or Hollyhock Festival, dates to the seventh century— and includes ceremonies at two Shinto shrines with a procession of 500-plus people wearing aristocratic finery from the Heian Era (794–1185). Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in Japan, first took place in 864; it spans the entire month of July, but peaks in a parade on July 17. As part of Jidai Matsuri on October 22, more than 2,000 people march through the streets dressed in costumes from every era of the 1,100 years that Kyoto was the capital of Japan.