Arashiyama (嵐山), one of Kyoto's most beautiful districts, is crowded with visitors at any time of the year. This is doubly true when the cherry trees are in bloom. It's well worth fighting the crowds, though, as Arashiyama is extra-picturesque in the spring. Cherry trees burst into color along the Katsura River (also known in different segments as the Oi River and the Hozu River) and Mount Arashi (a.k.a. Arashiyama), painting a peerless landscape.
Despite the crowds, it's not hard to stray from the chaos of the main areas and find more secluded spots for some peaceful hanami (cherry blossom viewing). Arashiyama is easily reached from downtown Kyoto: take the Tozai Line to Uzumasa Tenjingawa Station before transferring to the rickety, but quaint, Keifuku Electric Railroad. Alternatively, hop on the Hankyu Kyoto Line to Katsura, where you can transfer to the Hankyu Arashiyama Line.
4. Kiyomizu-dera (Higashiyama)
After strolling up the lovely cobbled streets of Matsubara-dori to Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), reward yourself with Kyoto's most famous view. In late March and early April, the hills around the temple are frosted in light pink from the shrine's 1,500 cherry trees. The temple also hosts nightly illumination, shining a new light on Japan's favorite blossoms.
3. Maruyama Park (Gion-Shijo)
By day, stroll through Yasaka Shrine's quiet grounds and up into Maruyama Park (円山公園・Maruyama Koen), welcomed by cherry trees all the way. The park is home to a famous, giant weeping cherry tree called the Gion Shidare-zakura (祇園枝垂桜). The tree was planted in 1949, grown from a seed that belonged to the park's original weeping cherry tree, which reached nearly 200 years old before it died in 1947.
By night, the park adopts a definite festive flair, with beer stalls and yatai (food stands) for as far as the eye can see. Buying an admittedly expensive beer grants you a table beneath the sakura and paper lanterns, where you can kick back and relax with friends. There's nothing quite like it, and Maruyama Park's cherry blossom festival draws both locals and visitors alike each year.
2. Kamo River (Eastern Kyoto)
The Kamo River (鴨川・Kamogawa) is Kyoto's backyard. At the first touch of warm weather, Kyotoites flock to its banks to soak in the fresh air. In the spring, the Kamo River is lined with blooming cherry trees for miles.
Head north toward Demachiyanagi and Shimogamo Shrine, where the tourist crowds thin and you can take in the cherry blossoms in peace. The Kamo River is especially beautiful when the petals begin to drop, coating the paths and the river's surface in a layer of pink.
1. The Philosopher's Walk (Higashiyama)
The Philosopher's Walk (哲学の道・Tetsugaku no Michi) stretches all the way from Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) in the north to Eikan-do Zenrin-ji in the south. Along the way you'll pass by countless shrines and Buddhist temples. It's a wonderful, relaxing walk and a great way to take in the city.
During cherry blossom season, the canal-lined path is covered in a miles-long canopy of swaying cherry blossoms, making this one of Kyoto's must-see sakura spots.